Shared from the 3/4/2020 Albany Times Union eEdition

Climate panel has heavy workload

Council will have to come up with plan to meet aggressive clean-energy challenges


The 22-member group that will be writing the playbook for future energy use and regulations in New York held its first meeting Tuesday, and all agreed that they have a busy three years ahead of them.

“It’s setting us on a new path. We know it won’t be easy,” said Alicia Barton, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, who with Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos is leading the newly formed Climate Action Council. The council will create ground rules for meeting the goals set out in the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“This may be the most consequential work that any of us do,” Seggos added.

The council has two years to devise a sweeping preliminary plan for meeting the act’s goals. The final plan is due a year later, with implementation in another year — which would be four years after the bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The climate act sets aggressive goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from all aspects of life in New York, ranging from transportation and housing to factories, farming and even waste disposal.

The law calls for reducing emissions by 85 percent by 2050, based on levels from 1990. It also calls for 100 percent carbon-free electricity production by 2040 and 70 percent renewable energy production by 2030.

Those changes will be carried out by countless regulations and policies across state government, but the council is tasked with telling them how to get there.

Members include environmentalists, industry representatives, scientists and state agency heads.

The council will have regular meetings that will be open to the public. Information can be found at

Council members will be helped by special advisory panels that will focus on subtopics like transportation, housing and agriculture. The advisory panels won’t be subject to open meetings laws, but NYSERDA said members will “actively engage stakeholders” and set up their own system for seeking public input.

The plans also have a social justice component, designed to ensure that traditionally under-served groups such as the poor or minorities have their voices heard.

While Tuesday’s meeting was uneventful and interactions were cordial, remarks by members signaled the tough questions the group will be grappling with in coming months and years.

“How do we assess the cost of all this?” asked Donna DeCarolis, president of National Fuel Gas, a western New York energy company.

Dennis Elsenbeck, head of energy and sustainability at Phillips Lytle Energy Consulting, suggested creating an advisory panel that would look at the costs involved in carrying out some of the carbon reduction policies, which will likely rely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar that are heavily subsidized.

“Let’s not surprise our manufacturing communities,” Elsenbeck said. “That will raise their ire.”

Quantifying current air emissions is inexact now, let alone 30 years ago, noted Paul Shepson, dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the State University at Stony Brook. That speaks to the challenges in establishing baselines from which to work.

The questions and complications surrounding the council’s work, though, won’t detract from its importance, said Columbia University climate scientist Radley Horton. Climate change consequences, he said, are hard to ignore — and they are coming faster and harder.

Increasingly, he said, New York will likely see more torrential and destructive downpours and more dangerously hot days where temperatures reach triple digits. These extreme weather events are creating an “urgent threat,” he said.

“We need to dramatically reduce our emissions,” he said.

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