Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of the State of New York
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pictured here at the University at Albany on Thursday, Jan. 12, rolled out a series of ambitious environmental proposals last week, including $2 billion in clean water infrastructure, investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and an aggressive plan to reduce carbon emissions.
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is thinking green.
A series of aggressive proposals rolled out last week during his state of the state addresses offer big ticket approaches to position New York as a national leader in environmentally-friendly policies.
Those include $2 billion in clean water infrastructure funding, investments in offshore windmills and electric vehicle charging stations and a goal to significantly reduce carbon emissions over the next decade.
Drinking water systems across the state need to be upgraded, said the governor, due to standard aging paired with increased state and federal safeguards.
The governor’s three-pronged approach would fund new “state of the art” drinking water treatment systems, replace failing water infrastructure and protect drinking water at its source.
“I want to make sure we have state of the art water filtration,” Cuomo said at Farmingdale State College on Long Island last week. “We’re protecting our water source. These are our children who are drinking it. I don’t want to find out in 10 years that our water had a chemical that was causing some disease. We have to have the best water system in the country, period.”
The proposal came the same week the state Senate released a report revealing the discovery of “potentially dangerous contaminants” in the water supply in Newburgh, Orange County, and as the village of Hoosick Falls weighs a legal settlement with a private company over carcinogenic chemicals in their drinking water.
“We’ll have our local communities work together to come up with a joint plan so water districts cooperate and this state will fund,” Cuomo said.
Adirondack communities are facing $100 million in infrastructure needs, according to an Adirondack Council-penned report analyzing the region’s inventory.
The environmental group called the governor’s initiative a “huge game changer,” noting local governments can’t bankroll the improvements without state financing.
“These communities want to pay their fair share, but they cannot do it alone,” Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said.
The disrepair also jeopardizes the state’s efforts to develop tourism infrastructure and accommodations, said Janeway, who tied the funding increase directly to lobbying efforts by advocates and local government officials last November.
“Two billion dollars will be transformative in how the state can help Adirondack communities from Lake George to Old Forge preserve clean water, protect the environment our children will inherit, and help Adirondack communities we want to see become more vibrant,” Janeway said.
Local government officials, too, welcomed the proposal. But they also said the state needs to engage in long-term planning with municipalities.
“I would prefer to see some sort of Department of Environmental Conservation master plan for how they’re going to deal with this,” said Essex County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Shaun Gillilland.
“Using the same methods — going after water grants, Regional Economic Development Council programs — you’re basically closing your eyes and throwing band-aids up in the air,” Gillilland said.
Cuomo also said he’d advance legislation requiring the testing of private wells, which provide water to four million state residents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not require testing. But under Cuomo’s proposal, wells would be tested upon their construction and upon sale of the property. Landlords would also be required to engage in periodic checks.
The proposal comes on the heels of legislation signed into law last September requiring all state school districts to test for lead and notify parents and local authorities of the results.
$300 MILLION FOR EPF
The governor proposed $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) in the spending plan, the second year in a row the EPF has been fully funded.
Programs bankrolled by the fund range from habitat and historic site restoration, waterfront remediation, land purchases for the state’s Forest Preserve, programs to combat invasive species, recycling programs and capital infrastructure improvements.
Protect the Adirondacks, an environmental group, applauded the decision, citing the need for stormwater control and climate change infrastructure retrofits.
Peter Bauer, the group’s executive director, said he’d like to see that number eventually grow to $1 billion annually.
“We’d also like to see a line in the EPF state lands stewardship account for a special focus on the High Peaks to rebuild trails and improve public education,” Bauer told the Sun.
The Nature Conservancy, too, applauded the proposal, calling it a “testament to the importance of a healthy environment.”
The state’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 30 percent by 2030 — the most ambitious plan in the nation.
The United States, read the proposal report, now faces an “unprecedented reversal of federal climate and energy policy,” a development that spells danger for a state already rocked by natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, which devastated swathes of Essex County in 2011.
As an antidote, the governor is proposing massive investments in renewable energy and research.
Among the keystone projects is a wind farm southeast of Montauk, Long Island. If approved by the Long Island Power Authority, the governor said the facility would be the largest offshore wind project in the nation’s history, creating 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, or enough to power 1.25 million homes.
“It’s jobs. It’s clean energy and it’s inexpensive energy which then drives the economy,” Cuomo said. “And we are not going to stop there.”
He added: “We have a mandate of 50 percent renewable power by the year 2030. We are not going to stop until we reach 100 percent renewable because that’s what a sustainable New York is really all about.”
Cuomo also asked the state legislature for $360 million to bankroll 11 additional renewable energy projects across the state, and “leverage $4 billion” to build an additional 35 by 2020.
The governor also directed the state DEC and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to undertake a comprehensive study to determine the “most rapid, cost-effective and responsible pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide.”
In the past three years, emissions have consistently been below cap levels, from 5 percent below the cap in 2014 to a projected 8 percent below the cap in 2016, according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo also called for members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a coalition of nine northeastern states — to reduce the emissions cap from 78.2 million tons in 2020 to 75.1 million in 2021.
By 2030, the number would decline to 54.6 million tons.
Through that program, member states sell their emission allowances through auctions and invest the proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other consumer benefit programs.
Economies in those states, according to the governor’s office, have outpaced the rest of the country, and electricity prices within the region have fallen even as prices in other states have increased.
The RGGI program in New York has led to a 46 percent reduction in carbon emissions from affected power plants and a 90 percent reduction in coal-fired power generation.
To date, the state has generated close to $1 billion in RGGI proceeds, which fund the state’s clean energy and emission reduction programs.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos called the initiative a “groundbreaking market-based tool.”
“Once again, Gov. Cuomo is continuing to show world leaders the economic power of reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy, and I urge our fellow RGGI states to join with us in this proposal,” said Seggos in a statement.
Bauer, the Protect the Adirondacks executive director, said the proposal for carbon pollution reductions comes with some real teeth.
RGGI and California, he said, are leading the nation in carbon pollution reduction programs now that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan has fallen under the shadow of President-elect Donald Trump.
The governor, Bauer said, should bolster his commitment to reducing carbon by showing his statesmanship and “sweet-talking” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to have his state, which bowed out in 2012, rejoin the coalition.
“Now that Christie is no longer running for president, perhaps he could get real again about climate change and bring New Jersey back into the program,” Bauer said. “That would be a great accomplishment by Gov. Cuomo who supposedly works well with Christie.”
The governor also announced the closure of Indian Point nuclear power plant by 2021, a measure the state says presented a threat to public safety and the local environment.
ELECTRIC VEHICLE INFRASTRUCTURE
To promote electric vehicle use, the governor proposed the construction of 500 new workplace charging stations and 69 new stations along the New York State Thruway, a proposal that comes with a $3 million price tag.
Creating an expansive network of electric vehicle infrastructure, said the governor, plays a chief role in reducing emissions, another signature issue contained in his proposals.
“It’s clearly the wave of the future as we move from hybrids to fully electric vehicles as the battery capacity of these vehicles increases and they become more affordable,” said Bauer. “I talked recently with a friend who lives in Ticonderoga who drove his electric car to New Orleans and back and found that with a little planning, it was very easy.”
JOCKEYING FOR 2020?
Cuomo’s bold proposals have sparked discussion that the Democrat is positioning himself as a national leader ahead of a 2020 presidential run.
John Catsimatidis, host of the CATS Roundtable, directly asked the governor about the rumors during his Sunday morning appearance on the program.
“I’m running for re-election as governor in 2018,” Cuomo said. “I hope that I am blessed by the people of this state with a chance to continue to serve. We have a lot of good things going on right now and I want to make sure that we finish what we started. So, that’s the only plan that I have now, but the rumor is flattering, even if not true, John.”
But the governor, however, did admit the bold proposals, known as the Middle Class Recovery Act, are a direct response to what he said was unprecedented “citizen anger, frustration and anxiety” in the country following last year’s presidential election that saw Trump win the White House.
“People are really distrustful of government,” said Cuomo, “and I wanted to say to them this year, ‘I’m coming to you. I’m bringing government to you.’ I’m not going to sit in Albany and talk to the politicians and expect that you’re going to go to Albany or you’re going to figure out how to find out about what government is doing. I’m going to come to you. I’m going explain our vision and what it means for you in your region.”
The governor’s proposed executive budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year is due on Tuesday.
The ambitious wish list, including a free tuition plan for state schools, comes when the state is facing a projected $3.5 billion spending gap due to declining personal income and sales tax receipts alongside the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The state budget deadline is April 1.