Update 2/26/21: On Date: Fri, Feb 26, 2021 at 1:44 PM Suzanne Hagell, PhD, a Climate Policy Analyst, Office of Climate Change from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation responded to the email that precipitated this post. The response is added at the end. I will leave it to the reader to determine if the response was appropriate.
I have been trying to get involved and stay involved in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) implementation process over the past year. This post documents the lack of responsiveness within the process to this point.
I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker. I have described the law in general, evaluated its feasibility, estimated costs, described supporting regulations, listed the scoping plan strategies, summarized some of the meetings and complained that its advocates constantly confuse weather and climate. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
According to the Climate Act webpage the Climate Action Council will lead the transition:
The New York State Climate Action Council (Council) is a 22-member committee that will prepare a Scoping Plan to achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda. The Council will also oversee the establishment of sector-specific advisory panels and working groups and will work in consultation with the Climate Justice Working Group and the Environmental Justice Advisory Group.
In order to get involved with the process I have been following the advisory panel activities as well as I can. The webpage explains how the public can provide input:
The advisory panels of the Climate Action Council and the Just Transition Working Group will host public meetings throughout 2021. The advisory panels will hold sector-specific discussions that will provide recommendations to the Council for consideration as it develops a Scoping Plan to achieve New York’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. The Just Transition Working Group will help ensure an equitable transition for New York’s workforce in the State’s renewable energy economy.
The Advisory Panel meetings and materials page announces meetings and provides summaries of the public meetings. However, the lack of updates in general and the process in particular does not lend itself well to providing meaningful comments. In the first place the Power Generation panel has not updated its meeting materials for three weeks despite the fact that there have been two meetings held at the date of this writing. I blame that panel for some of the lack of responsiveness.
However, there is a systemic problem. At the bottom of the page it says “Past meeting materials are updated on this page every Friday. Meeting notes and presentations received from Panels by 5 p.m. ET. Tuesday will be added to the website by Friday of that week.” I take issue with it taking three working days to get ready to post the material. That is not that big an effort but is an inconvenience for some state worker. Furthermore, why wait until Friday? If the State process truly wants to have public involvement then assign several people who make posting material received from the advisory panels within two working days.
Unfortunately, that is not the biggest problem. The CLCPA law mandates that there be public involvement. However, whether any of the information received is actually considered by any of the panels or addressed by any of the agencies is another matter.
Consider, for example, that I found an error in New York State guidance document Establishing a Value of Carbon, Guidelines for Use by State Agencies (the “Guidance”). I sent an email to several staff who I know have responsibilities associated with the issue and two weeks after submitting my comments I have not received any response.
In particular the Guidance includes a recommendation how to estimate emission reduction benefits for a plan or goal. I believe that the guidance approach is wrong because it applies the social cost multiple times for an emission reduction so I recommended that the Guidance be revised.
In the Guidance section entitled “Estimating the emission reduction benefits of a plan or goal” an example is included that states:
The net present value of the plan is equal to the cumulative benefit of the emission reductions that happened each year (adjusted for the discount rate). In other words, the value of carbon is applied to each year, based on the reduction from the no action case, 100,000 tons in this case. The Appendix provides the value of carbon for each year. For example, the social cost of carbon dioxide in 2021 at a 2% discount rate is $127 per metric ton. The value of the reductions in 2021 are equal to $127 times 5,000 metric tons, or $635,000; in 2022 $129 times 10,000 tons, etc. This calculation would be carried out for each year and for each discount rate of interest.
The IWG damages approach value is the net present benefit of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by one ton. The calculation methodology determines that value from the year of the reduction out to 2300. It is inappropriate to claim the benefits of the annual reduction over any lifetime. Consider that in this example, if the reductions were all made in the first year the value would be 50,000 times $127 or $6,350,000, but the guidance approach estimates a value of $37,715,000 using this methodology.
I did not catch this error until after the comment period ended so I sent the email. However, in my comments on their stakeholder webinar I made the comment that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority practice of calculating lifetime savings in a similar fashion was incorrect. In order to verify my understanding, I contacted Dr. Richard Tol, Professor of the Economics of Climate Change at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex who has direct experience estimating the social cost of carbon. He graciously responded and explained that “The SCC should not be compared to life-time savings or life-time costs (unless the project life is one year).”
My email concluded that the Value of Carbon guidance example methodology in the Guidance section “Estimating the emission reduction benefits of a plan or goal” inappropriately considers lifetime benefits. That is inconsistent with social cost damages approach methodology used to derive the social costs so it should be revised.
While the CLCPA mandates that the public be involved in the development of scoping plan, those are just words and the reality is different. The system does not encourage meaningful participation because meeting information is available promptly after the meetings. There is no indication that the panel members are aware of comments received. Worse is the lack of response from agency staff responsible for guidance documentation when errors were noted. I posted this article to document these issues.
Update 2/26/21: In response to the email I sent Wednesday, February 10, 2021 2:27 PM I received this:
From: Hagell, Suzanne E (DEC)
Date: Fri, Feb 26, 2021 at 1:44 PM
Subject: Re: Value of Guidance Document Emission Reduction Benefit Calculation Example
To: Roger Caiazza
Cc: Pandich, Jason P (DEC)
Hi, Roger. My apologies for not getting back to you right away. This is really useful. Jason and I will take a look at the issue that you’re raising and talk to our colleagues at NYSERDA as we develop the accounting for the Scoping Plan.
I expect that we will be making additional updates to the Value of Carbon guidance and this would be one update that could be addressed.