New York Is Poised to Pass Unprecedented Climate Legislation. Will Other States Follow?

The bill outlines clear goals for decarbonization, stipulating a 40 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050.
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Haze covers the lower Manhattan skyline seen from Staten Island on May 17th, 2019, in New York City.

Haze covers the lower Manhattan skyline seen from Staten Island on May 17th, 2019, in New York City.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that the state's legislative leaders had come to an agreement on climate policy. The legislation, known as the Climate & Communities Protection Act, outlines clear goals for decarbonization, stipulating a 40 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050. The remaining 15 percent will be offset by projects such as afforestation, sustainable forest management, and other ecosystem restoration efforts. The plan was hammered out just days before the end of the legislative season.

Cuomo had previously disputed portions of the legislation. But the governor and lawmakers came to an agreement on Sunday, after negotiating certain contentious parts (like whether the state can offset or sequester fossil fuel emissions as opposed to eliminating and decarbonizing completely). Lawmakers were still working on amendments on Monday, but Cuomo said on the radio station WAMC's The Roundtable that he believes the new legislation will pass this Wednesday.

If the new legislation passes, it will be one of the most significant state climate policies instituted since President Donald Trump, who has consistently pursued vast environmental rollbacks, took office in 2016.

Here's what you need to know about New York's climate plan and what other states are doing to combat climate change.

New York's Plan

The legislation stipulates that, by 2040, all electricity generation should come from carbon-free sources, and it includes mechanisms to help ensure that the state is meeting its goals. A Carbon Action Council will be created to oversee progress on the new goals, in part by releasing recommendations to guide the transition to renewables.

The bill also contains elements of the Green New Deal as it emphasizes equity during the transition to a clean economy: It requires that at least 35 percent of the revenue from the change to clean energy be reinvested into "disadvantaged communities," which the bill loosely defines as communities with disproportionate environmental and socioeconomic burdens. In addition, energy projects financed by the state will pay union wages.

What Are Other States Doing?

Though New York's legislation has been hailed as the most ambitious state environmental policy in the country, other states have also instituted 100 percent clean electricity targets, including Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Washington (similar targets were also set by Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.).

But when it comes to cutting emissions, clean electricity is just a start: In New York, for example, electricity only represents approximately 20 percent of the state's emissions; nationally, it represents 28 percent of emissions. New York's plan is the first to include goals to decarbonize all sectors of the state's economy.

Some states, however, are becoming more ambitious: California was the first to move forward with a carbon-neutral electricity plan, with a target of 2045. The governor also signed an executive order pledging that California would achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2045. The order extends beyond electricity, including other fossil fuel-intensive processes such as transportation and heating and cooling buildings. (Because executive orders aren't binding, there is some skepticism regarding the feasibility of the plan, Vox reports.)

As states move toward decarbonization, they are employing diverse tactics. Some states, like Maryland and Nevada, are focusing heavily on renewables. Others are oriented toward penalizing carbon use, including Oregon, which on Monday voted to join California in its carbon cap-and-trade system.

In general, states are increasingly taking initiative to back environmental policies: 23 states (and Puerto Rico) have pledged their support for the United States Climate Alliance, an agreement that seeks to keep the U.S. on track to uphold its pledged goals from the Paris climate agreement, even though Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2017.

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