- Big Environmental Justice Test Awaits Cuomo

For Immediate Release: September 1, 2016

Big Environmental Justice Test Awaits Cuomo

Impending Clean Power Plan/RGGI Decisions to Impact Governor’s Environmental Justice, Climate Legacy

Albany – Members of the Cuomo administration have pledged that Environmental Justice is one of their “top priorities” as millions of New Yorkers in communities of color and low-income communities statewide are hurt by climate change and toxic pollution from power plants and other sources, like vehicles. Issuing the call for Governor Cuomo to step up as a leader for frontline communities hurt most by these realities, NY Renews has urged him to submit to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a robust state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan that includes reforms to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to ensure New York’s climate programs and investments prioritize action in frontline communities.

By acting, the Governor will lead an unprecedented effort to prioritize disadvantaged communities, which will reduce pollution and dedicate investments into areas reeling from the most devastating effects of climate change, in particular those home to communities of color, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.

The letter sent to Governor Cuomo on August 30th outlines the following recommendations:

  • Decrease the carbon cap on power sector emissions by 5 percent each year in order to reduce carbon emissions economy-wide 80 percent by 2050;
  • Define and identify Disadvantaged Communities that bear the brunt of environmental pollution and the effects of climate change;
  • Maximize reductions of greenhouse gases and co-pollutants in Disadvantaged Communities;
  • Ensure that at least 40 percent of climate and clean energy funds are dedicated to projects that directly benefit Disadvantaged Communities;
  • Perform an equity analysis of RGGI and other climate investments regarding the specific needs of Disadvantaged Communities;
  • Formulate a plan for community-driven Just Transition processes to identify the needs – and the resources necessary to address those needs – of whole communities impacted by the shift away from a fossil-fuel based economy;
  • Prohibit the deployment of generating facilities that utilize waste-to-energy or wood combustion technologies as Clean Power Plan compliance options; and
  • Prohibit allowance trading with states that fail to adopt plans that cover both new and existing power plants.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of New York City Environmental Justice Alliance said, “Frontline communities are making their voices heard as New York State crafts climate policies that will affect us for generations. NY Renews is not just about the environment. It's about health, it's about jobs, and it's about justice. We cannot continue to allow disproportionate environmental burdens on the most Disadvantaged Communities – instead, we need good local jobs in the new renewable energy economy.”

An Impending Decision

In September, New York State is expected to issue a draft implementation plan for compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan for how it intends to cut climate pollution from fossil-fuel fired power plants; RGGI reforms are expected to be a key component of that plan. The state is currently in negotiations with the eight RGGI partner states that will ultimately decide the trajectory of power sector pollution reductions across the Northeast.

Climate Change and Environmental Justice

According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the economically disadvantaged, communities of color, and immigrant populations are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The American Lung Association found that more than 390,000 children suffer from asthma in New York, and 2.3 million adults have lung disease. A report by the New York State Department of Health shows that one out of every ten adults and children has asthma, with low-income communities and communities of color experiencing disproportionately higher rates. Additionally, the NYC Climate Justice Agenda highlights that the siting and clustering of polluting infrastructure that emit high levels of greenhouse gases and co-pollutants cause many of these public health issues in environmental justice communities.

Clarke Gocker, director of policy and strategy with PUSH Buffalo said, “Since 2011, PUSH Buffalo has served as a Constituency Based Organization in the Green Jobs-Green NY program and has provided comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit services to approximately 500 households in low-to-moderate income communities across Western New York. The majority of these projects have been aggregated and delivered to a network of local NYSERDA contractors. In exchange, contractors have made commitments to hire workers from disadvantaged communities and pay workers living wages. Targeted investments in energy efficiency are a proven least-cost approach to reducing household energy burdens, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and creating good green jobs. PUSH understands first-hand the transformational impact of targeting investments within vulnerable communities and calls on Governor Cuomo to prioritize equity in all state climate and clean energy initiatives, including RGGI.”

Conor Bambrick, air & energy director for Environmental Advocates of New York said, “Governor Cuomo has put issues of justice front and center in his administration, be it economic or social equality, and now he has an opportunity to elevate climate and Environmental Justice by prioritizing actions and investments in communities on the front lines of climate change. An aggressive and equitable Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and a comprehensive response to the EPA Clean Power Plan will vault New York to the cutting edge of real climate action.”

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE said, “As grassroots environmental justice organizers, UPROSE plays an integral role in the NY Renews coalition. We have frontline knowledge of the devastating effects of climate change – therefore, we support this urgent call on the Governor to lead the country on climate policy. New York has a unique opportunity to use the EPA's Clean Power Plan to prioritize Environmental Justice while reforming the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to level the playing field for EJ communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions more holistically to address co-pollutants in addition to CO2 emissions that have devastating effects on climate and community health.”

Mark Kresowik, regional deputy director for the Sierra Club said, “Since the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative began, pollution from power plants has plummeted and revenue investments from the program have created thousands of jobs and saved families money. Not surprisingly, the program has proven to be overwhelmingly popular as a result. But more needs to be done to hit state climate goals and reduce pollution degrading air quality in overburdened communities. By strengthening pollution limits to decline 5 percent annually and only partnering with states that limit pollution from both existing and new power plants, New York and the other RGGI states will stay on track to create quality jobs and invest in underserved areas.”   

About NY Renews    

NY Renews is a groundbreaking coalition built of community organizations, environmental justice groups, labor unions, faith groups, business leaders, and other advocates fighting for equitable climate policies. Read the letter here.