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State Comptroller warns NY may not meet its climate goals

While lawmakers, public officials, lobbyists, and reporters have a reasonably good sense of how much and where New York State government spends money, there is very little publicly available about how well Albany delivers services. When it comes to spending money, legislation is introduced, hearings are held, financial plan updates are issued.

New York State government does not issue a publicly available, comprehensive report on whether that money is being well spent. The concept of such a government compiled report is not hypothetical. New York City government does it.

That report is called the “Mayor's Management Report (MMR).” Compiling the data and the public reporting of the MMR is mandated by the New York City Charter. The MMR serves as a public account of the performance of City agencies, measuring whether they are delivering services efficiently, effectively and expeditiously.

The report is a way to hold government publicly accountable for its performance in using taxpayers’ dollars for services and programs.

New York State government needs just such a report for all of its services and programs, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than when it comes to measuring progress toward the state’s climate goals.

In 2019, Governor Cuomo and former Vice President Al Gore held an event to commit the state to ambitious climate goals as part of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The goals set were; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050; and require 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040.

Elected officials agreeing to goals that are years away is not new.

In 2004, then-Governor Pataki had the state’s Public Service Commission adopt a goal to achieve 25% renewable energy for electricity by 2013. That goal was increased to 30% by 2015 and then to 45% under then-Governor Paterson. In 2015, the state met the goal to achieve 30% renewable energy, but not the revised goal of 45%, which New York has yet to achieve eight years later. And the lion’s share of renewable energy produced in New York today is the result of hydroelectric power generated from plants built decades ago.

A report released last week by the state Comptroller showed that the state is not moving at the pace necessary to meet the CLCPA goals. While the Hochul Administration – and its predecessor – ballyhooed its approval for new solar and wind projects, the Comptroller’s report found that due to the nation’s longest timetable for project completion, “Since 2015, only approximately .294 gigawatts, or 3.1%, of the total renewable electricity generation capacity under contract awards have become operational."

In addition to long timetables from approval to operation, the report found about 11% of renewable energy projects between 2005-2023 have been cancelled. Thus, announcements of projects are no guarantee that they will actually happen.

The result? In 2021, 3% of New York’s energy was generated by wind and another 3% by solar. Both well short of the pace needed to meet the goals of the CLCPA.

The state’s pace toward achieving its goals is not because the goals are too ambitious. The goals were based on science. The world’s experts have made it clear that in order to avoid the most devastating consequences of climate change, each nation must commit to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century – which is exactly what the CLCPA did.

The problem is with government processes and lobbying by the oil industry and its allies who throw up roadblocks, advance disinformation campaigns, and supply sympathetic lawmakers with talking points to undermine the momentum to achieve the necessary climate goals.

Which brings us back to the report card mentioned earlier. The public needs to weigh in and it can’t cut through the smog of oil industry public relations efforts if the government is unwilling to honestly, objectively report on what it’s accomplished. In the face of stiff industry opposition, climate progress will only come about from determined public pressure -- and that pressure requires a motivated public armed with accurate information.

A government that is more concerned about controlling the narrative and obscuring its slow progress is not the leadership New Yorkers deserve – and need. While the Comptroller has done an important public service by reviewing the state’s recent work on renewable energy, it’s no substitute for an annual comprehensive Climate Report Card.

Blair Horner is executive 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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