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Gov. Hochul on the global stage and the scrutiny that comes with it

Governor Hochul was globetrotting last week with a trip to Italy to see the Pope and then to her ancestral home in Ireland. The trip to Rome was in her capacity as the newly selected co-chair of the U.S. Climate Alliance. 

The Alliance sent a delegation of governors to meet with the Pope about the worsening climate emergency. Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home, was a clarion call for action to address the climate crisis based on religious, moral, scientific and self-preservation grounds. 

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of governors working to achieve the nation’s net-zero future by mid-Century, consistent with the call by the world’s climate experts. Governor Hochul was appointed co-chair in early May. 

In his welcoming comments, the Pope said “The road ahead is uphill and not without danger. The data emerging from this summit have shown that the effects of climate change loom over every aspect of our lives.” 

The conference was organized around keynote addresses by the mayor of Paris and the governors of California and New York. While California is ranked seventh in oil production, Governor Newsom used his speech to highlight the state’s strides in shifting toward a reliance on non-fossil fuel power. 

Governor Newsom said “California has exceeded its nation-leading environmental goals. I come here today on Day 32, 32 straight days, over one month, where California’s economy is literally being run with 100 percent clean energy.” 

Like California, New York has set aggressive climate goals. In 2019, then-Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature agreed to a new law that set climate goals consistent with the best climate science available at that time. The new law required that state achieve 

· 70 percent renewable energy by 2030;

· 100 percent zero-emission electricity by 2040;

· 40 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030; and

· Net zero emissions statewide by 2050. 

While laying out an aggressive plan of action, New York is struggling to achieve those climate goals. 

A recent audit by New York State Comptroller DiNapoli revealed the state’s slow pace. The audit found it is taking the state more than three years just to get a permit in New York to start a Renewable Energy Project. Those delays, the Comptroller said, put the state in jeopardy of not reaching climate goals that were put into law in 2019. 

In addition to the slow pace, projects are faltering due to rising costs – exacerbated by a slow permitting process. Last month, it was reported that three ambitious projects to build offshore wind farms folded. 

Despite that, in her speech at the Vatican Governor Hochul used the state’s climate law as the cornerstone of New York’s strategies and pledged to meet those goals. 

Of course, the DiNapoli audit and the failure of three offshore wind farms make it at best unclear if those goals will be met. The governor chose instead to focus her remarks on climate catastrophes: more intense storms, heat waves, and rising sea levels. She then announced nearly $300 million in climate resiliency funding. 

While $300 million is significant, it falls far short of the billions needed by the state to address expected climate costs. Moreover, while committing hundreds of millions of dollars, Governor Hochul did not mention that those monies would come from taxpayers. It was the governor who blocked a legislative budget plan to make the biggest oil companies financially responsible for at least some of the state’s mushrooming climate costs leaving taxpayers on the financial hook. And it was last year that the governor advanced a budget plan to weaken New York’s efforts to rein in methane gas emissions. 

The Hochul Administration inherited an aggressive climate plan but is so far not doing enough to meet those goals. Ironically, her appointment to the Climate Alliance and papal visit may lead to some uncomfortable scrutiny of New York’s climate track record. The challenge now is to make the law reality by meeting the goals, withstanding the pressures to backslide, and providing the leadership to overcome the inevitable political, fiscal, and practical obstacles that always arise with undertakings of this magnitude. 

While New York is only one of fifty states, its economy is one of the largest in the world. It makes sense for New York’s governor to be part of the global discussion over how to avert the worst of the unfolding climate catastrophe. Yet the state’s halting pace to tackle the climate crisis raises an important question: Is New York’s climate law really about optics and rhetoric, not about performance? The world is watching. Time will tell.

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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