Demise of Gasoline Cars? What We Know About N.Y.’s Ambitious Climate Goals

Source: By By Anne Barnard, New York Times • Posted: Friday, June 21, 2019

The sweeping climate plan that New York lawmakers have agreed to pass sets the country’s most ambitious goals for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions: getting planet-warming carbon emissions almost down to zero by 2050.

The law would transform the way New York State residents get their electricity. By 2030, the state would have to draw 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and, 10 years later, reach a point where the electricity it uses generates zero carbon emissions.

But what do those numbers mean for the way people across the state live, work, move around and spend money?

The bottom line is, the details need to be worked out. Still, here is what we know so far about the potential impact.

The plan would phase out gasoline-powered cars

The measure does not envision a day when individual car owners will be required to turn in their old vehicles, proponents say. Rather, new regulations would force automakers to accelerate the trend toward producing more and cheaper electric vehicles.

Now, electric car ownership is almost exclusively for single-family homeowners who can plug in cars at home. Charging stations would be needed, for instance, all over New York City, which plans to experiment with putting plugs on existing streetlamps. Customers would plug in cords with built-in meters to charge them for the power.

It would mean no oil- and gas-burning heaters and boilers

“The furnace in an average New Yorker’s home will no longer be fossil fuel fired,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates, a lobbying group. “It will probably be electric.”

The transformation would most likely start with regulations on new construction, backed by incentives for homeowners and landlords to retrofit existing heating systems, experts said.

The plan aims for industries to bear most of the financial burden

Those who oppose the law’s approach say it could increase people’s power bills and push companies out of the state. Proponents counter that the legislation envisions grants and incentives to ensure low-income residents do not bear additional costs, and that the measure will eventually boost the economy over all.

“The costs of not acting on climate are vastly greater,” said Pete Sikora, director of climate and inequality campaigns at New York Communities for Change, a group that supported the legislation. “New York City will bake and drown under rising seas while hit with extreme weather events. What’s the value of avoiding that? Almost incalculable.”

Business and conservative groups, however, called the plan “a potential shipwreck” and “a green monster.”

Darren Suarez, the senior director of government affairs at the Business Council of New York State, said in a statement, “If our companies are not competitive there is risk of job loss to other jurisdictions with weaker standards, ultimately resulting in higher global greenhouse gas emissions.”

It could transform air and neighborhoods

“You’re going to be living in a city with less respiratory illness,” said Costa Constantinides, the environment chair of New York’s City Council.

There is no way the goals can be met, Mr. Constantinides said, without dismantling the 24 polluting power plants in the city, many of which are in low-income areas and contribute to elevated asthma rates.

Old power plant sites could be transformed into public green space, supporters say. The bill requires that the plan direct more than a third of its financial and community benefits to low-income communities of color that have suffered disproportionate environmental harm.

New York City could become a hub for green jobs

A recent study found that 141,000 jobs could be created to meet the city’s requirements to reduce skyscraper emissions alone. Mr. Constantinides said the state law could “multiply into the hundreds of thousands” of jobs in fields like retrofitting and renewable energy.

The wind power plans alone could make New York a hub of that industry, supporters say, with jobs in construction, ports and supply-chain work.

But the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Albany, said in a statement that the wind power component would cost “$48 billion in upfront capital costs — all borne by ratepayers.”

The big changes are far away, but work must start

The deadlines for major emissions reductions are a decade away. The state has two years to produce specific recommendations on how to meet the goals.

And some environmental advocates say the only reliable way to address global warming is to drastically reduce not just fossil fuel use, but all energy consumption.

“Unless you believe in the tooth fairy,” said Walter Hang, who runs a business that identifies environmental hazards, the plan is “a well-intentioned but meaningless pie-in-the-sky wish list to achieve renewable energy goals that have proved unattainable in New York for literally decades.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, a Long Island Democrat who sponsored the climate bill in that chamber, said he expected “a clamor from the public” to move fast.

Barbara Lifton, a Democratic assemblywoman from the upstate Finger Lakes region, said that for the plan to work, “things are going to have to start to happen right away.”

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting.

Read more about how officials plan to address climate change in New York City