FAR-REACHING: Wes Gillingham, Catskill Mountainkeeper’s associate director, spoke about the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in his offices in Livingston Manor. Osei Helper photo

Saving the planet, one state at a time

New legislation aims to curb fossil fuel use

 By Osei Helper | Manor Ink

Sullivan County, NY – On June 20, the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the most sweeping climate bill in New York history – and in the country.

The goals of the Act call for an 85-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 70 percent of electric generation to be produced by renewable energy systems by 2030, statewide electrical systems to produce zero emissions by 2040, and multiple forms of renewable energy systems to be implemented. The bill also will prioritize investments in disadvantaged communities. The main purpose of the legislation is to lay the framework for converting the state to purely renewable energy resources. Wes Gillingham, associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, and cosponsors Senator Jen Metzger and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther believe the CLCPA’s goals are necessary.

Gillingham and Catskill Mountainkeeper, as part of the New York Renews Coalition, were instrumental in helping to lay the groundwork for the legislation. “This is really exciting that New York has taken this step to codify our transition away from fossil fuels, but in a way that’s not just switching from one piece of energy to the other,” said Gillingham. “It’s also addressing issues of equity and what we call a just transition.”

In fact, women, people of color and low income communities are disproportionately affected by pollution and the extreme weather created by energy generation. The CLCPA ensures that a minimum of 35 percent of clean energy funds be invested in disadvantaged communities. That money might go for insulating homes and could also provide opportunities for job training in the green economy.

CLCPA will create oversight groups

As the climate crisis worsens, extreme weather events will only become more deadly. There have already been multiple floods in Livingston Manor’s past, and the number and intensity of storms has increased. Children in the Bronx are already dealing with increased probabilities of asthma, so much so that the Bronx has the highest rate of asthma in all of New York State.

The new legislation includes the formation of a Climate Justice Working Group and a Climate Action Council that will work together on allocating investments in disadvantaged communities while offering expertise in environmental issues and environmental justice, as well as labor and industry regulation.

The CLCPA also requires the formation of an Agricultural Advisory Committee to advise the Climate Action Council and come up with an implementation plan for eco-friendly farming techniques to help small farmers. The committee would also help those same farmers receive compensation for creating environmental benefits such as improving the soil, reducing water contamination and sequestering carbon.

In time, the entire state will proceed with the implementation of different forms of energy. There will be more solar panels on houses, schools and public buildings, as well as energy production from wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power. It is expected that this transition away from fossil fuels will create many job opportunities.

There will be employment in putting up solar panels and other related jobs, as well as work for designers of new energy resources and engineers to build those designs. Although there are critics who say the change would be too expensive, others point out that the cost to our environment for not implementing the bill would heavily outweigh the savings from doing nothing.

Sen. Jen Metzger, 42nd Senate District, on the CLCPA:

“The CLCPA requires that New York achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2040, and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and creates a framework to develop statewide policies and programs that will get us there. We need to greatly ramp up clean energy investments in our state, which will boost the economies of our small towns and rural communities and create thousands of good-paying green jobs while protecting the environment we depend on.”

A crucial first step

“If this catches on, and New York State is able to show how it isn’t jobs versus the environment, that we actually, by switching over to renewable and clean sources of energy, are providing jobs and the economy is improving because communities are becoming more resilient to the climate impacts, it will be a success story that will travel across the country,” said Gillingham.

It is notable that New York State has taken this crucial step toward saving our environment, but this can’t be done alone.

“This has to be a collaborative effort between all of the states, and our president has to get on board and believe there is climate change,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. “I’m not being political, but I’m saying that we need the leader, our leaders, to get on board and react in the appropriate way to create change… because one state can’t do it alone.”

The legislation is far-reaching and requires the dedication of leaders as well as citizens well into the future. “I hope it will be incredibly effective,” said Gillingham. “It is the job of the public in general to pay attention to the implementation process so that we make sure this law is working.”

Will the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act fulfill its mandate?

“Well, Catskill Mountainkeeper is going to work its damnedest to make that happen,” said Gillingham. “The CLCPA is a framework for us as a whole society to start transitioning away from fossil fuels, and … the implications of that are huge. “But this will help guide us so that we can get there faster and more efficiently, and actually have an impact before it’s too late.”