On Wednesday, April 6, the Climate Action Council (CAC) held a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall, seeking public input for its draft-scoping plan, which includes a series of environmental goals meant to combat climate change. The meeting was packed and went into overflow seating, with many in favor of the plan and many against it as well, including hundreds of union employees.
CAC is a 22-member body, convened to create the scoping plan based on New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), also called the Climate Act, which was signed into law in 2019 and is considered one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world. The Act has several key goals for combating climate issues, including creating a carbon-neutral economy with an 85 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels, with a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.
Another key point is to make the state 100 percent zero-emissions on electricity by 2040. The strategy for achieving this goal is to enact energy-efficient measures, including transitioning “from fossil fuels to electrification in buildings” and to “eliminate fugitive methane emissions across the waste, agriculture, and energy sectors.”
The switch from natural gas to electricity is what most people were protesting about the plan.
“Basically, we don’t have the infrastructure in place to go electric yet,” said Sean Ryan, IBEW Local 1049, who attended the hearing with fellow members, all wearing uniform T-shirts.
Ryan believes the state is moving too fast and that it could cost regular New Yorkers in the end. He isn’t alone; others in the labor field agree, including members of the Utility Labor Council of New York State and the newly formed Clean Energy Jobs Coalition – NY. Hundreds of their members packed out the meeting to protest a timeline they deem to be short, a loss of union jobs in their sector, unknown costs to consumers, and the reliability of a 100 percent renewable energy grid.
“Many legislative proposals to electrify everything from buildings to appliances to cars and trucks, while worthy goals, are being developed with arbitrary deadlines and no understanding of the state’s electric supply or capabilities of today’s distribution grid. There needs to be substantial increases in electric generation first, along with significant and costly upgrades to our utility distribution grids, before we start banning energy resources that are needed to keep the lights on and homes warm,” said James Shillitto, president, Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2.
But others, like Mariah Dignan, regional director, Climate Jobs NY, came out to support the plan, calling it an opportunity to create different union jobs.
“We support the CLCPA’s ambitious goals to decarbonize and address the staggering economic inequalities throughout the state. There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve these goals by creating good union jobs that will help ensure that our residents, businesses, and communities not only survive, but thrive,” said Dignan.
CAC also said there is an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and that the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action by $90 billion. The plan includes four possible scenarios that will help achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of this century. There is still time to comment on the plan, by heading to climate.ny.gov before July 7. The next part of the plan to be hammered out is the Disadvantaged Communities Criteria, which is meant to provide fairness to disadvantaged and poor communities.
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