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New York's Aggressive Battle Against Climate Change


New York is set to enact one of the country's most aggressive plans to address climate change. A new law passed this week will require that the state reduce its carbon pollution by 2050 to zero. But as North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, it's not clear exactly how that's going to happen.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island, talks about New York's new climate law which he pushed through, he's talking about rewiring New York's entire energy system, making the world's 13th-largest economy carbon-free in just a few decades.

TODD KAMINSKY: We're envisioning people driving electric cars in 2050, heating their homes using renewable energy in 2050, going to work in buildings that are emitting far less carbon than today. So this is sweeping, and it's important.

MANN: The benchmarks in this measure are ambitious - a hundred percent of electric power production carbon-free by 2040, 85% of greenhouse gas pollution gone by 2050 with the other 15% offset by some kind of carbon credits - all of that mandated in state law.

PRIYA MULGAONKAR: So we're seeing a real watershed moment.

MANN: Priya Mulgaonkar is with the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the green groups that lobbied hard for this measure.

MULGAONKAR: What it really does is just set framework and a road map for all of New York state's government agencies to figure out how they're going to tackle reducing our emissions.

MANN: Other states have made similar pledges over the last year. In theory, New York's law goes farther, affecting the entire economy, making the cuts mandatory. But critics like Gavin Donohue say the law doesn't explain how vast amounts of renewable energy will get made or distributed. He heads an energy trade group called the Independent Power Producers of New York that oppose this bill.

GAVIN DONOHUE: There's promises here with no details, big numbers that say we're going to get there and we're going to do this - with zero backup. We have not done a technical feasibility study. We haven't done an impact on - for consumers and costs.

MANN: This law creates a new council that, once appointed, will work with state agencies over the next two years to fill in the details. Donohue says those decisions will affect how New Yorkers work and live.

DONOHUE: This isn't just about electricity generation and production. This is about New York state's economy - manufacturing, real estate. But the implications are incredibly huge.

MANN: There's also no new money in this law, which makes implementation harder. But Governor Andrew Cuomo said this law puts climate change, with its costly storms and flooding and heat waves, at the top of the agenda.


ANDREW CUOMO: I believe climate change is the issue of our generation.

MANN: Speaking yesterday on WAMC Public Radio, Cuomo said the goals in this law will be followed by action - even before the comprehensive plan is in place.


CUOMO: We're about to announce a project off Long Island - multibillion-dollar investment for wind turbines that bring those businesses here...

MANN: That sounds ambitious. But for this climate law to work by 2050, even supporters say the scale of planning and projects will have to get a lot bigger fast.

Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann