As the New York governor scrambles to fend off a primary challenger, will he finally back state lawmakers trying to pass the nation’s most ambitious climate bill?
By Alexander C. Kaufman
ALBANY, N.Y. ― Since 1970, New York’s average statewide temperature has climbed 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is just starting to feel the heat.
On Friday, Cynthia Nixon, the activist and actor whose progressive primary challenge to Cuomo’s bid for a third term is garnering surging support, unveiled one of the most ambitious climate platforms in the nation, calling for 100 percent renewable energy, a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure and penalties for polluters.
And on Monday, 19 buses carrying more than 1,500 activists from across the state converged on the state capital to protest Cuomo’s failure to do more about climate change in his eight years in office, and make demands that looked identical to Nixon’s platform. It was the largest environmental protest against Cuomo since anti-fracking activists staged demonstrations in 2014.
The protest started in a historically black neighborhood on Albany’s Sheridan Avenue. The state plans to build a 16-megawatt gas-fired power station there in the same location where, until 1994, a trash incinerator plant had showered the neighborhood with soot. Nixon joined the activists shortly after noon, and though she didn’t formally address the crowd, she took photos with activists and spoke to reporters.
The neighborhood “has a really terrible racist history of environmental pollution,” Nixon said, and reiterated her call to move the state to 100 percent renewable energy. “Fracked gas is not a bridge to a cleaner energy economy.”
After a few speeches, the protesters marched about a mile under a blistering sun to the state capitol, chanting, “Heyo Cuomo, walk the talk, the power of the people cannot be stopped” to a tune similar to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
To some, Cuomo’s status as a climate pariah may be surprising. In 2014, he put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas in the state. In 2015, Al Gore joined the governor as he announced plans to cut the state’s greenhouse gases emissions 40 percent by 2030. Last June, Cuomo loudly rejected President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, ramping up New York’s pledge to produce half its electricity from renewables by 2030 and forging a new alliance with the governors of Washington and California to stick to the goals agreed to by former President Barack Obama. “Climate change is a reality, and not to address it is gross negligence by government,” said Cuomo, according to a new page on the state website with the banner: “Environment Leadership.”
Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary, unveiled a climate platform Friday that wowed environmentalists who feel frustrated with the incumbent governor.
But Cuomo’s policies still fail to meet even the baseline targets scientists say are needed to make a difference on global warming. His reduction targets focus exclusively on power plants, ignoring the majority of the state’s emissions that come from buildings and vehicles. He has no plan to get the state to 100 percent renewable electricity, and has offered little to protect low-income communities and neighborhoods of color that suffer most from the impacts of climate change. The state’s pension funds remain invested in fossil fuels, and polluters face no penalties in the form of fines on climate-linked damage or taxes on emissions.
Cuomo’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
As Nixon gains in the polls and lands magazine covers, Cuomo is scrambling to act on long-neglected progressive demands. Three weeks ago, over coffee and cookies at a Manhattan steakhouse, the governor made a deal to disband the Independent Democratic Conference, known as the IDC. The group of eight breakaway Democrats in the state Senate caucused with Republicans, guaranteeing a conservative majority in the chamber ― now only one holdout, Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, has left Republicans with a flimsy one-vote majority.
Cuomo also signed an executive order last week restoring voting rights to felons on parole and voiced support for legalizing recreational marijuana, a policy Nixon made a platform issue in her campaign. On Friday, almost simultaneous to the release of Nixon’s climate platform, Cuomo denied a water quality permit to a new natural gas pipeline environmentalists have protested for months, and announced a new energy efficiency initiative that would account for one-third of the emissions cuts required to meet his 2030 target.
On Monday, Cuomo announced plans to introduce a state ban on plastic bags, despite signing a moratorium to block New York City from putting a 5-cent fee on plastic bags last year.
But Cuomo’s next big test on climate change is one he has already failed twice. For the third time in as many years, the state assembly is slated to vote this week on the latest version of the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, known as the CCPA. The bill is widely considered the most ambitious and egalitarian climate legislation introduced anywhere in the nation. Heather McGhee, president of the left-leaning think tank Demos, and the economist Robert Reich called it “the most progressive climate-equity policy we’ve seen.”
The legislation, first introduced in 2016, calls for 100 percent renewable energy statewide by 2050 and orders state agencies to draft plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, buildings and vehicles. It requires 40 percent of state energy funding to go to the low-income neighborhoods and communities of color most vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather, and includes wage standards backed by labor unions for all state-funded green energy projects. If enacted, the bill’s proponents say it would create more than 100,000 jobs.
Source: Huffington Post article