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Blair Horner: Some Good News

The scandals and controversies that have engulfed Albany surely feed public cynicism.  However, the vast majority of the time, government is providing services that help people, and it does so in a reasonably efficient and ethical way.

But that doesn’t make news.

Last week, there was evidence of how effective New York’s policymaking has been – at least compared to the rest of the nation. 

Recently, the Obama Administration unveiled its plan to combat global warming by ordering a cut in carbon emissions from power plants.  The plan calls for a 32 percent nationwide carbon reduction in power plant emissions by the year 2030.

The President’s plan makes sense.  2014 was the hottest year in recorded history.  The world’s experts have stated that global warming is largely due to human activity—primarily the result of reliance on fossil fuels.  They argue that the only way to respond to this crisis is to dramatically slash the use of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, which, when burned, emit the greenhouse gases warming the planet.   

New York State has been responding.  In June, the state’s energy plan committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, decreasing energy consumption in buildings by 23 percent, and making sure half of the state’s energy is produced from renewable sources.  These goals are part of the state’s overall effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, the goal set by the world’s climate experts as part of the overall worldwide strategy to reduce the impacts of global warming.

While the federal plan focuses on power plants, the state’s energy plan also looks at other sectors – such as heating buildings and the transportation industry – to boost energy efficiency. 

New York’s plans – if enacted – would ensure that the state meet the Obama Administration’s deadline a full decade ahead of the federal mandate. 

New York’s head start is the result of its policymaking.  A key component has been New York’s participation in a nine-state effort known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps each state’s annual carbon emissions and requires power plants to purchase pollution allowances at auction, with the money supposed to be reserved for clean-energy projects in each state.

The potential program that could dramatically boost the state’s global warming efforts is New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (also known as “REV”) plan.  REV is under active development before the state’s Public Service Commission.  REV has the potential to fundamentally reshape the production and distribution of electric power and significantly reduce the creation of heat-trapping carbon emissions through the use of energy reductions, efficiency measures and the move to reliance on alternative energy sources, such as solar power. 

The REV is also the vehicle for modernizing the state’s energy system.  Under the current utility structure, the power sector in New York is on track to spend an estimated $30 billion to replace and modernize the state’s aging energy infrastructure over the next decade.  REV offers a way to modernize that system in a “green” and affordable way.

New York’s REV offers a vision for how to modernize the energy grid while mitigating the impacts from global warming.  At the moment, it is just a plan.  But if it succeeds, it can offer a model for the nation and perhaps the world.

And it is an example of innovation in state government.  It’s easy to get depressed by the news coming out of Albany.  It is, however, important to keep the bad news in perspective.  There is a lot happening in New York that’s good, too.  The state’s efforts to tackle global warming are examples of its positive efforts to respond to the most daunting issue of our time.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.  

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