Jobs, Climate Protection, and a Green New Deal for New York State

 

October 10, 2010
Howie Hawkins for Governor
Green Party of New York State

 

  • Make New York State a Leader in the Fight to Drastically Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Create “Climate Jobs” – in both the public and private sectors
  • Scale Up Renewable Energy -- 100% by 2020
  • No to Hydrofracking, Nuclear Power, and “Clean Coal”

The Green Party of New York State is committed to a rapid Clean Energy Transition that will create hundreds of thousands of good jobs, stimulate economic recovery, advance social justice, and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in a decade. In 1931, what became the federal New Deal was initiated in New York State by Governor Roosevelt, Francis Perkins, and Harry Hopkins with a public jobs program as the Great Depression deepened. It is now time for New York State to again lead the nation in the face of persistent high unemployment and pending climate catastrophe, this time with a Green New Deal in which a Clean Energy Transition is the centerpiece for stimulating an economic recovery with full employment and for stabilizing the global climate on the precipice of runaway global warming.

 

Green Party candidates go into the NYS elections on November 2 united behind an urgent agenda to convert to a carbon-free economy and energy system in order to stave off accelerating global warming and climate catastrophe. The consensus of climate scientists has converged around the goal of now says stabilizing atmospheric carbon levels below 350 parts per million (ppm) in order to have a 2 in 3 chance of averting runaway climate change. To reach that level (we are now at 390 ppm), the world must limit carbon emissions to 750 gigatons (billion tons) between now and 2050. If that carbon budget is allocated per capita, the United States will use up its carbon budget in 6 years at current rates of emissions.

 

To fulfil our obligations to posterity and to lead the way toward climate stability, New York State must convert its energy system to zero net carbon emissions by 2020 with the same urgency, speed, and commitment of resources that our country demonstrated in converting to war production for the mobilization for World War II. A model for New York's Climate Action Plan can be the Zero Carbon Australia plan developed at the University of Melbourne for a net-zero carbon economy for Australia by 2020. The needed technologies already exist. What is missing now is the political will, which the Greens intend to provide. (For more details on the basis for this goal in climate science, the US contribution to carbon emissions, and the technology currently available for a carbon-free energy system, see the answer to question 4 in http://howiehawkins.com/2010/images/stories/2010/LeagueOfConservationVoters.pdf).

 

The Clean Energy Transition is not only an environmental imperative; it is the economic program for full employment and economic recovery. We see enormous potential benefit in the creation of good green jobs in energy conservation, renewable energy, grid modernization, public mass transit, sustainable agriculture, and clean manufacturing to support these industries.

 

New York State’s Climate Commitment

 

GPNYS applauds the initiative behind Governor Paterson’s Executive Order 24, which commits NYS to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. But the goal is utterly too little and too late to address the climate crisis. The “80x50” target, while ambitious, lags far behind the latest scientific evidence, which shows that the predictions of rates of global warming and related adverse environmental changes in the latest International Panel on Climate Change report in 2007 were much too conservative.

 

A Green administration will revise Executive Order 24 and re-issue it to raise the goal to net-zero carbon emission by 2020, which the climate science and our greenhouse gas emissions levels require for NYS to play its needed role in averting catastrophic climate change. We will then urge the legislature to turn the revised and more ambitious goals of this Executive Order into law as soon as possible.

 

State officials and agencies from the Governor’s Climate Change office and NYSERDA have drafted a Climate Action Plan for New York State in accordance with Executive Order 24, a copy of which will be released for public review on November 1. If elected, GPNYS officials will make the Plan, and its revision to meet the higher goals we will set, a top priority. The Climate Action Plan should be a real plan of action, not a document that gathers dust. The next governor must turn this plan into action with clear time frames and deadlines. GPNYS will reverse the recent staffing cuts in State agencies that will need to be fully operational to carry out this important work. A Green administration will also make sure that the staffing of the relevant State agencies are committed to the mission of a Clean Energy Transition, not people captured by, and seeking future employment in, the incumbent fossil fuel and nuclear energy corporations.

 

The Energy Future of New York State

 

While supporting the State’s commitment to reduce emissions, the GPNYS opposes some of the policies being put forward in the Climate Action Plan to ‘decarbonize’ the production of electricity. In particular, we oppose:

 

The proposed deployment of as many as 20 new nuclear reactors

 

Nuclear is expensive and unsafe. It creates fewer jobs than renewable energy. It is not a carbon-free option given the full life-cycle realities of building power stations and mining uranium. The “new generation” of nukes are coming in years behind schedule with huge cost overruns, now coming to total costs of $12-$15 billion per nuke, in countries around the world, including the US. Vogtle, the one active new reactor project in the US, has already hit Georgia ratepayers with unplanned overcharges, with more rate hikes promised, as projected costs have already soared to $14.5 billion, far above the $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees that were originally supposed to insure the costs. Spending $240-$300 billion for electric generation for 20 nukes in NYS that won’t come on line for at least a decade would be a foolish diversion of capital and precious time away from the conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy sources that can be implemented in the meantime at far less cost.

 

The development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) options for coal

 

CCS is unproven. Its projected costs are very high. Carbon dioxide is deadly if it leaks our of underground sequestration. Being heavier than air, carbon dioxide displaces oxygen and suffocates animals if it escapes. Like nuclear power, it will depend on massive amounts of public dollars in the form of subsidies and incentives – money that should be invested in carbon-free sources that are available now: renewable energy and energy conservation and efficiency.

 

Hydrofracking

 

Natural gas is a dirty fossil fuel that releases carbon like coal and oil, but also releases methane. Methane, which is 23 times more potent than carbon as a greenhouse gas over the course of century, leaks from well-heads, pipelines, and compressors. Depending on natural gas will waste the scarce time we have to convert to a carbon-free energy system. Hydrofracking, moreover, puts our upstate water resources and our upstate landscape at risk, due the problems with toxic hydrofracking fluid backflow and isolation from the environment. Water is becoming more and more valuable to due to the pollution, aquifer depletion, and drought induced water shortages through the nation and the world. Water should be an asset that attracts businesses and people back to New York. Fishing, hunting, and other forms of tourism in upstate New York depend on clean water and a natural landscape. Hydrofracking would make a sustainable green economic prosperity impossible in upstate New York. (For more info, see http://howiehawkins.com/2010/images/stories/2010/Ban-Hydrofracking-Statement-2.pdf)

 

GPNYS proposes to meet NYS’ energy needs in the following way:

 

Scale up Renewables

 

We support a Renewable Energy Standard for NYS as a way to increase the deployment of wind, solar, tidal, and ground-source heat (“geothermal”) energy. The proposed 30% by 2015 target is, however, not aggressive enough and depends too much on the voluntary consumer market for premium priced renewable energy. Renewable energy has the potential to be deployed more rapidly and with more emphasis on generation at both the centralized generator large scale and the customer-sited generator small scale. Both scales require smart grid modernization.

 

At the large scale, New York should give serious consideration to developing a regional “super smart grid” that through High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cables linking southern states with greater solar potential to the higher wind potential, offshore and onshore, in NYS and neighbouring states. The European Union-North Africa super smart grid proposal shows what might be possible in eastern half of the United States. The upfront costs for modernization of the grid along these lines are high, but the operational costs will be low as a result of the necessary investment. Furthermore, the construction of a super smart grid will create more jobs and generate local green supply chains.

 

While the large scale faces the political and regulatory obstacles of forging federal and interstate cooperation for a large investment, the smaller customer-sited generator scale has the advantage of lower political and regulatory hurdles and immediate and piecemeal implementation. The small-scale distributed generators such and roof-top photovoltaics and vertical wind generators can be added site by site, without requiring the risk and underwriting difficulties of a massive HVDC project. But it will still require a large-scale investment in a smart grid at the state level in order to handle distributed generation, net metering, and site-based efficient use of electricity at lower off-peak prices.

 

Transit Oriented Development and Public Transport Systems

 

Globally and domestically, emissions from transport are growing faster than in any other sector. The main culprit is road transportation – there are too many cars and trucks on the road and the vehicles we drive are built for speed and power and not to maximize miles-per-gallon.

 

Reducing emissions and pollution from motor vehicles will require reducing vehicle miles travelled (VMTs). This can be done through ‘smart growth’ land use policies that create walkable communities where homes, shops, schools, jobs, parks, civic spaces, and transit are within walking distance. These policies, in turn, require an expanded and modernized public transit system, including buses, bus-rapid transit (BRT), interurban and intra-urban light-rail trains, high-speed rail, and subways.

 

In the New York City metropolitan area, as well as upstate, public transit has a major role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector for several reasons. The expansion and improvement of public transit routes and service provides an attractive, affordable and convenient alternative to private vehicles. Combined with mixed land use patterns where essential services are within close proximity of each other, public transit can operate even more efficiently.

 

Reducing the number of vehicles on the road by scaling up public transit would help to reduce congestion and improve road safety. The New York City MTA is by far the nation’s leading public transit system.

 

The MTA and other public transit systems should have dedicated and sufficient sources of funding. The Greens favor dedicating a portion of higher gasoline taxes to public transit. Gasoline taxes are now the half of what they were in the 1975. The Greens also support a carbon tax escalating over time to send clear, predictable market signals that investing in carbon-free alternatives will pay off. The revenues of a carbon tax should be partially rebated as a per capita and progressively graduated refundable tax credit that protects low and moderate income people. The other part of the revenues should be dedicated to the Clean Energy Transition program, including public transit.

 

For the MTA and New York City, the Greens would implement the congestion pricing plan developed by Ted Kheel and Charlie Komanoff to raise $1.5 billion a year for the MTA while reducing or eliminating fares and increasing ridership. (See http://www.nnyn.org/kheelplan/kheel_komanoff_plan.html) Congestion pricing in London has been successful far beyond expectations in increasing public transit ridership, decreasing car usage, decreasing traffic congestion, and reducing greenhouse emissions. We should bring it to New York City.

 

With its vast infrastructure, it is essential that the MTA network be maintained and expanded. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that improvements in the system coupled with reasonable pricing leads to increased usage. That is why investments in the MTA and similar regional systems are some of the most efficient ways to both improve the quality of life in the metropolitan region, and reduce carbon emissions. Upstate, where smaller urban areas are trying to recover from a 40-year decline in the manufacturing sector, concentrating public investments in urban revitalization is crucial to economic revitalization. Rebuilding downtowns starts with public transit. By controlling sprawl, this helps protect agricultural lands close to urban centers, along with forests, watersheds, and other open spaces. Finally, public investment in electrifying buses and trains using renewable energy sources would reduce emissions from public transit to near zero.

 

Developing commercially-viable, low-carbon light-duty and heavy-duty electric vehicles is also an important part of reducing transport emissions in NY State. However, improvements in vehicle fuel and energy efficiency only applies to new vehicles (with a 25 year vehicle fleet turnover rate in the U.S.) and does not address the other harmful effects of auto-oriented mobility and goods movement, like road safety, affordability, congestion, and mobility options for the young and old. Significant reductions in transport emissions will only be reached through restructuring land use to reduce VMTs and by providing affordable, accessible, safe and low or zero-carbon public transit.

 

GPNYS supports an Avoid-Shift-Improve approach to reducing transport emissions where travel needs are reduced, high-carbon modes of travel are shifted to carbon-free modes of travel (short-haul air flights to high-speed rail; private auto to public transit; and road freight to rail freight), and the fuel and energy efficiency of transport is improved. Integral to reducing emissions in the transport sector is reducing the movement of goods and people that rely on an environmentally unsustainable system of globalized production and consumption, including low transport costs and cheap labor.

 

A massive scale-up of public transportation requires public investment in workforce training for the development, maintenance and operation of low or no-carbon public transit. Public transit is an important service for working families in NY State and an important source of good, union jobs for NY residents.

 

The Greens strongly oppose any cuts in the bus and subway services in New York. Ridership is up on our buses and subways – which is good for the environment and our quality of life. Cutting budgets and reducing services at this time flies in the face of the State’s declared climate protection goals.

 

Finally, the Greens support much stronger and more effective anti-sprawl provisions and a commitment to creating walkable communities where homes, shops, schools, jobs, and recreational and civic centers are in close proximity. A 2003 Brookings Institute study, “Sprawl Without Growth: The Upstate Paradox,” found that sprawl in upstate New York is among the worst in the nation and exacerbates a host of economic, social, and environmental problems. The key reform needed to reverse sprawl and create sustainable, walkable communities is to shift land use planning shift from town zoning and planing boards to elected county/regional/metropolitan planning boards. The competition for tax base among suburban towns is the biggest driver of sprawl. The regional planning process should give towns a role in the regional process, but the process should remove the competition for tax base that now makes sprawl inevitable.

 

Energy Efficiency and Conservation.

 

The biggest, quickest, and cheapest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and climate job creation are to be found in the field of energy efficiency and conservation. Other industrial nations in Europe and Japan produce GDP per capita comparable to the US using half or less of the energy per capita. An ecological plentitude is possible with energy conservation and the efficient use of clean renewable energy sources.

 

The goal of our economy should not be growth in GDP and energy consumed per capita, but production and consumption of a decent standard of living consistent with a sustainable environmental productivity. The environmental services of ecosystems are the foundation for the human economy. This ecological model of sustainable human development require more equitable distribution of what we produce and consume, which in turn requires reduced income gaps between labor on one side and management and capital on the other within private firms and, in the public sector, more progressive tax structures and publicly funded benefits such as health insurance, affordable housing, mass transit, and job and income guarantees. Extravagant luxury consumption steals environmental services and the means of decent livelihood from the poor and all posterity. The environment cannot sustain the lavish lifestyles of the rich.

 

New York has to significantly cut the per capita consumption of energy. Our present lifestyles, especially such a huge dependency on cars, are unsustainable. The US consumes twice as much energy per capita as Europe, which has a similar standard of living to us, and 30 times as much as India. Developing renewable energy alone can not solve the problem

 

NYS needs a massive energy conservation program. Efficiency standards and building codes for all new buildings (both residential and commercial) must be raised, and all existing buildings should be weatherized and retrofitted to make them more energy efficient. Local planning rules need to support energy reduction (e.g., orienting building to the south to maximize solar gain), The Greens support scaling up the goal of the Green Jobs Green NY program enacted earlier this year from 1 million homes in five years to all 7 million homes in New York State in 10 years. The Greens also insist that the program be enacted as intended with on-bill financing through utilities, living wage floors, and affirmative action to insure equal opportunity for minority and low-income workers, contractors, and communities. The Green support additional legislation to achieve these goals, which NYSERDA and the Public Service Commission are failing to achieve in their implementation plans. A similar program should be enacted for energy auditing and retrofitting all public, commercial, agricultural, and industrial buildings in the state in 10 years.

 

The building sector has the single largest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and can often be done at little or no cost. In addition, energy efficiency promises to have a positive impact on employment as money saved on energy is redirected into the community and creates employment in other sectors. Because of the building sector’s unique potential to both reduce emissions and create employment at little or no net cost, the trade union groups supports the full adoption of policies and practices that maximize energy efficiency, including those policies that promote the construction of green buildings with high efficiencies, scale up retrofitting and weatherization projects, efficient building operations and maintenance, and encourage strong, vital communities through the promotion of smart growth, among others.

 

We fully support the CAP’s emphasis on energy efficiency for reducing emissions. We strongly encourage financing options (such as on-bill recovery and PACE Financing) for energy efficiency programs so that working families and communities do not have to bear the upfront cost for efficiency programs in their homes, schools and communities. On-bill recovery is where loans to pay for the clean energy improvements are paid back over time through surcharges to your utility bill. PACE stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy. It is where a city gives you a loan for clean energy improvements and you pay it back through property tax bills over time.

 

Good Green Jobs

 

GPNYS also supports a real commitment to workforce development and training standards. We believe that strong policies for workforce standards and training programs are essential for being able to maximize energy efficiency. Policies that do not specify quality assurance, workforce standards and training programs often encourage the adoption of low road work practices and poor quality work greatly reduces efficiencies in the building sector and decreases the life span of the work, thus increasing overall cost. For example, if workers who install energy efficient windows that are not properly trained, these windows are more likely to leak energy, will not result in the full potential for energy savings and ultimately need to be corrected or replaced a second time.

 

Second, if workers are not adequately trained for the jobs that are needed, many energy efficient projects could be delayed because there are not enough trained people to do the work, thus prolonging needed energy efficiency improvements and increasing overall cost. By training the workforce in the highest standards as reflected in worker certifications and licensing, creating career ladders that are true pathways out of poverty accessible to all New Yorkers, and compensating the labor force (at a minimum) with living wages that increase over time and with step increases in conjunction with increased training levels, an experienced workforce can be retained and overall quality and longevity of energy efficiency upgrades is increased.

 

The Public Sector Must Lead

 

NYS’ Climate Action Plan supports many of these goals, but turning genuine commitments into reality will require government financing and hands-on involvement. NYS is typical of many states in that its stated goal is to offer grants and incentives for green-tech companies to invest in the State – a model that has failed and promotes ‘race to the bottom’ corporate welfare.

 

The GPNYS sees a much larger role for the public sector and advocates for a ‘public works’ approach to key economic activities like mass transit, heat and electric utilities, and mass retrofitting and weatherization of buildings. This will create hundreds of thousands of steady good-paying jobs and get the work done much faster. Private markets have a role to play, but they will not take the widespread initiatives needed without a massive public stimulus to create private business opportunities that make the profit motive work in tandem with social and environmental needs. Taking a public sector approach also opens to door to regional cooperation to develop best practices and sharing of knowledge – whereas competition between states impedes the flow of knowledge and experience and is, therefore, ultimately counter-productive.

 

GPNYS also insists on an integrated national approach to energy and climate protection, one that uses a suite of policies to raise revenue – like a carbon tax and a financial transaction tax. In tackling climate change, the Federal government must partner with states to achieve science-based emissions reduction targets and revitalize local economies. By expanding public ownership and democratic control of energy and power generation in particular, energy options can be pursued on the basis of social and environmental value. Under out federal system of government, the initiative must often come from the states. It is now time for New York State to take the initiative and set an example for other states, the federal government, and the world to follow.

 

Decarbonizing the world’s energy systems will entail scaling up hundreds of innovative technologies, some of which don’t yet exist, as well as rewiring humanity’s ecological consciousness. Only a carbon tax can drive the across-the-board transition from fossil fuels to renewable and efficient energy, quickly. Its key attributes make it far superior to cap-and-trade:

 

  • Price-certainty — Carbon-critical decisions — where to locate a home or facility; how to design a product; indeed, which products to create — must be made with the fullest knowledge of future carbon prices. The clear price signals from a ramped-up carbon tax stand in stark contrast to the price volatility endemic to cap-and-trade.
  • Simplicity and immediacy — British Columbia enacted and implemented a carbon tax in five months. North America’s only comparable carbon cap-and-trade system, RGGI, covering the Northeast U.S., took five years of negotiation and rule-making.

For more information on the carbon tax, see http://www.carbontax.org/.

 

New York should also provide more leadership in examining agriculture and climate change. The Greens support substantially reducing if not eliminating the use of fossil fuels in agriculture (e.g., pesticides and fertilizers), moving to a more sustainable, locally-based food system. New York will also have to help assist farmers in how to respond to climate change, as changes in temperature, precipitation cycles, and severe weather will have many effects upon farming. A warmer climate may have some positive impacts for agriculture in some regions, although current evidence suggests that the negative consequences will outweigh the positive. Changes in temperature, precipitation cycles, and severe weather will have many effects upon farming. (For more info. see http://www.ucsusa.org/greatlakes/glregionnew_agr.html)

 

Additional information