New York Needs $15 Billion in Climate Funding Now – Not!

One of the most glaring omissions in New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) is the fact that it did not include a funding mechanism.  In the leadup for the New York budget NY Renews has organized a $15 billion budget demand for climate justice in the New York State 2022-2023 budget.  This post comments on an opinion piece written by New York State Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles supporting the demand and the CLCPA.

I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy outstrip available renewable technology such that it will adversely affect reliability and affordability, risk safety, affect lifestyles, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change in New York, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   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.

NY Renews Budget Demand

This post is not going to address the budget demand described here directly.  Instead, I am going to focus on the opinion piece written by the Assemblymember in support of it.  For background here is a summary of the demand:

NY Renews is currently organizing around a $15 billion budget demand for climate justice in the New York State 2022-2023 budget. We are calling on the New York State legislature to allocate funds to the priorities outlined in the Climate and Community Investment Act: community investment, good green jobs, building a renewable economy, making polluters pay for the just transition, protecting ratepayers, and ultimately making New York the nation’s climate leader.

Budget Demand Materials:

      • One-page description of why New York State needs $15 billion for climate, jobs, and justice in the 2022–2023 state budget
      • Where our $15 billion ask comes from

Anna Kelles Opinion

Democratic Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles represents the 125th District, including Tompkins County and the southwest of Cortland County.  This district includes the metropolitan areas of Ithaca and Cortland as well as 17 smaller municipal towns and villages in both counties. For those readers unfamiliar with the area Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College and a college in the State University of New York system is in Cortland.  This is not a conservative rural district.   On March 11, 2022 her opinion piece “New York Needs $15 Billion in Climate Funding Now” was published in The Ithaca Voice.  Because I think it is a good summary of the views on climate change of the progressive wing of the New York Democratic Party I have provided the text with my indented and italicized comments on it below. 

Last week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a comprehensive report on the impacts of climate change on humanity and our planet. UN secretary-general António Guterres called the report “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” Our window to mitigate the very worst impacts of climate change is narrowing. Across the globe, we are already experiencing destructive storms, flooding, droughts, and fires. To protect our planet, preserve our food systems, and adapt, we must take bold, transformational action now.

There is another side to the report released by the IPCC.  Roger Pielke, Jr. writes that the IPCC is “an important organization with a primary purpose to assess the scientific literature on climate in order to inform policy” but notes that the IPCC report “has strayed far from its purpose to assess and evaluate the scientific literature, and has positioned itself much more as a cheerleader for emissions reductions and produced a report that supports such advocacy”. He goes on to explain that there are many examples where the report cited by Dr. Kelles does not accurately represent the literature used to reference its claims of impacts due climate change that are being used to justify mitigation actions like the CLCPA.  He also points out that damages are based on what would happen if climate changes projected for 2100 are imposed upon current society. These studies have in fact eliminated the possibility of adaptation in projecting the future even though the report is supposed to consider adaptation.

 Any impacts of any air pollution assessment are directly proportional to the projected emissions considered.  Pielke notes that many of the studies used as the basis for the scarier claims are based on emissions from “the out-of-date and implausible extreme RCP8.5 scenario to project climate changes for 2100. So not only is society frozen in time, unable to adapt — which is clearly implausible, but future climate change is projected based on an extreme scenario that is also implausible. Implausibility built on implausibility offers no practical insight as to the role of adaptation in reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience. We might expect this sort of thing from a passionate advocacy group spinning science for theatrical effect, but not the IPCC.” 

Three years ago, New York State took a critical first step. We passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which requires us to achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030, 100% zero-emission electricity generation by 2040. The law also mandates that we cut climate change pollutants by half by 2030 and an 85% reduction by 2050. The CLCPAion Council (CAC) established by the CLCPA recently outlined a plan to reach these goals. According to a NYSERDA analysis in the plan, the state needs to spend $10 billion annually, with increases every year, to meet our 2050 goal of a fully net-zero economy. Other researchers, including those at the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), put the yearly number at $31 billion. We will not achieve the substantial infrastructure change in our energy grid, buildings, transportation system, agriculture and other critical sectors needed to meet our climate goals with our current planned investments.  

The estimate that the state needs to spend $10 billion annually comes from an Integration Analysis claim that “in the early years on the order of $10 billion per year, equivalent to 0.6% of GSP in 2030 and that in the later years on the order of $50 billion per year, equivalent to 2.0% of GSP in 2050”.  The problem is that the numbers are not documented well enough to determine if they are credible claims and the fact that other researchers project costs three times higher suggests that the cost estimates are suspect.  In addition, I believe that Dr. Kelles does not realize that the NYSERDA analysis gives net direct costs relative to a reference case that includes expenses needed to reach the CLCPA targets which makes the net direct costs presented lower than what will be the case.  I believe that the renewable energy deployment  costs are vastly underestimated.

The truth is that we cannot afford not to act now and invest the necessary funds to meet our climate goals. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), each ton of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) causes more than $125 in damages. Given the DEC’s most recent 2019 estimate of net CO2 emissions (350 million metric tons) this results in nearly $30 billion annual cost as a result of climate pollution in New York State. Every storm that hits the downstate region, every warm winter reducing tourism in the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes, every flood destroying crops upstate, has a significant direct cost to New Yorkers. Every child and medically vulnerable individual that requires costly medical care and hospitalization from breathing in polluted air is a substantial and unnecessary cost to our state. All those who experience a disproportionate level of air pollution in predominantly black and brown communities due to our current fossil fuel-based energy production system is a healthcare cost and a loss of economic productivity. We can reduce all of these costs by prioritizing emissions reductions. 

The DEC analysis of the damages caused by a ton of CO2 is biased and flawed.  I have found that the CLCPA manipulates emissions to increase benefits and uses a lower discount rate than current Federal guidance resulting in societal benefits of GHG emission reductions that are 5.4 times higher for 2019 emissions than other jurisdictions.  The largest impact of the CLCPA for these benefits is based on an incorrect guidance for calculating benefits.  In particular, the benefits of reductions are counted multiple times.  Kelles statement that the avoided cost benefit is a nearly $30 billion annual cost, indicates that she has made the same mistake.  It is incorrect to count the avoided cost benefits calculated out to 2300 more than once.  To do so would be the same as if claiming that if you lost five pounds ten years ago that you lost 50 pounds total.  If only that error is corrected then the costs are greater than the benefits for the CLCPA.

Kelles statements about storms causing significant direct costs and that we can reduce those costs by prioritizing emissions reductions fails on two counts.  In the first place she does not understand the difference between weather and climate.  It is very unlikely that every aspect of every storm that is deemed unusual and thus caused by climate change by the media and opportunistic politicians is, in fact, due to changes in the climate.  Instead, the majority of those impacts are due to natural weather variability.  Ultimately, the claimed existential threat of climate change is hype.  In the second place, even if reducing CO2 emissions could be proven to have an effect on New York weather, New York’s emissions are less than half a percent of the world’s emissions.  Because global emissions have been increasing by more than a half a percent annually for several decades, any effect on any of the impacts alleged to occur because of climate change from the CLCPA CO2 emissions reductions will be erased by increases elsewhere in less than a year.

It is clear that it is significantly cheaper to invest in climate solutions than to stand behind business as usual. I’m calling on my colleagues in the legislature and the Governor to allocate $15 billion for climate, jobs, and justice in this year’s budget. This investment is both reasonable and necessary to meet New York’s climate goals, protect our state from the worst elements of the climate crisis, and prepare our workforce for the important green jobs of the future. 

A quick review of what has happened in Europe as they have tried to implement their own version of a new-zero energy economy demonstrates that it is not cheaper to invest in climate solutions.  As Europe took apart its electric system by closing coal and nuclear operating for its idealized energy future costs have sky-rocketed.  In the 4th quarter of 2021, the International Energy Agency reported that average European wholesale electricity prices were more than four times their 2015-2020 average. Households are set to pay an average of 54% more for energy than they did two years ago.  Until we have affordable and reliable low-carbon energy, the rush to the net-zero goal of the CLCPA will come at enormous expense to the public.

Last year, New York State took in nearly $13 billion in greater revenue than expected. Although it is important to replenish our reserve funds, investing a portion of these gains into reducing our fossil fuel dependency, building up our renewable energy infrastructure, expanding our green jobs sector, and investing in environmental justice communities that will reduce future costs and provide clear social and economic protections is a prudent investment. Every year we spend $1.5 billion on tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry prolonging our commitment and dependency on dirty and economically volatile fossil fuels. This is another source of funding that could be diverted to an effort to move our physical infrastructure and economy forward into the new green economy instead of backwards on fossil fuel dependency.  Finally, we need to reexamine our economic development investments through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council’s. Instead of prioritizing large scale initiatives averaging about $9 billion annually that are politically motivated and provide little economic return and even fewer jobs, we can shift investments to a transparent and comprehensive focus on green energy manufacturing and infrastructure development. Rather than focusing taxpayer dollars on direct investments in for-profit companies, we should prioritize our communities and build a transition to a fully renewable and stable economy. 

I have no knowledge of the New York State budget so I won’t comment on most of the claims of this paragraph.  I do wonder about the claim that “Every year we spend $1.5 billion on tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry”.  In other analyses that make similar claims it turns out that a significant portion of the fossil fuel subsidies claimed turn out to be home heating assistance programs that help low-income residences pay their fossil fuel bills. 

I believe a winning social and economic strategy for New York is to listen to the world’s leading scientists, stop funding fossil fuels, and start funding climate, jobs, and justice starting today with the recommended annual $10-15 billion in our state budget.  

I disagree. As proposed, I believe New York’s CLCPA will markedly increase the cost of energy and lead to blackouts which will severely impact those least able to afford the resulting costs.

Conclusion

A recent article by Judith Curry, “A ‘Plan B’ for addressing climate change and the energy transition” in the latest issue of International Affairs Forum, Climate Change and Energy sums up the problem with all net-zero energy transition programs:

“In a nutshell, we’ve vastly oversimplified both the problem of climate change and its solutions.  The complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity of the existing knowledge about climate change is being kept away from the policy and public debates.  The dangers of manmade climate change have been confounded with natural weather and climate variability. The solutions that have been proposed for rapidly eliminating fossil fuels are technologically and politically infeasible on a global scale.” 

I would only add that the CAC has not provided a feasibility plan for the CLCPA that proves rapidly eliminating fossil fuels in New York is technologically feasible.  She goes on to describe a framework for an alternative approach:

Here’s a framework for how we can get to a Plan B.  A more pragmatic approach to dealing with climate change drops the timelines and emissions targets, in favor of accelerating energy innovation. Whether or not we manage to drastically curtail our carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decades, we need to reduce our vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events.

Ultimately the problem is that today’s renewable energy technology is just not up to the task.  I have described other more reasoned approaches consistent with Dr. Curry that recognize technological limitations and are at odds to the path advocated by the CLCPA and Kelles (here and here).  Based on my evaluation of the CLCPA in over 170 blog posts, the failure to accept that we just don’t have acceptable options for the net-zero transition on the schedule proposed can only end badly for New York. Throwing $15 billion towards CLCA implementation could be better spent on water infrastructure, low and middle income energy efficiency programs, and energy innovation.  Any money spent implementing existing wind, solar, and energy storage technology is a waste.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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