New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) has a legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”. As part of their responsibilities the Council was required to hold public hearings as I described in March. This post describes my impression of the Syracuse Public Hearing.
I have written extensively on implementation of the Climate Act 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.
Climate Act Background
The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Act requires the Climate Action Council to “[e]valuate, using the best available economic models, emission estimation techniques and other scientific methods, the total potential costs and potential economic and non-economic benefits of the plan for reducing greenhouse gases, and make such evaluation publicly available” in the Scoping Plan. The integration analysis developed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants was used to develop the Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment on December 30, 2021.
The last of 11 public hearing was on May 12, 2022. Nine of the hearings were held in person across the state and there were two virtual meetings. I am aware of a couple of hearing summaries that also described impressions of the meetings.
Climate Action Council member Peter Iwanowicz attended every one of the meetings that I checked out. At 2:41:54 on the video (use the double arrow option to move to that point in the recording) of the All-Electric Building legislation hearing he gave testimony for the proposed legislation that included a summary of the hearings he attended. He said that the number of people who supported the Draft Scoping Plan “far outweigh” those speaking in opposition. For most of the meetings he said that it is typical that two thirds of the speakers support it. At the last virtual hearing 83% supported it.
Francis Menton writing at the Manhattan Contrarian wrote a couple of articles about his experiences at the Brooklyn public hearing. In his first article he described position of the commenters he heard speak:
A summary of the 60 or so comments before me will give you readers an idea of what we are up against. Of the 60, exactly 4 were not fully on board with the crash program to replace all fossil fuels in New York with some combination of wind and solar “renewables,” storage, and/or the magical not-yet-invented “DEFR” (Dispatchable Emissions Free Resource) often mentioned in the Scoping Plan. The four who were not fully on board consisted of two advocates for nuclear power (note that New York just closed its last downstate nuclear plant last year, well before the end of its useful life — so nuclear is clearly going nowhere), plus one representative of each of the two large utilities, Con Edison and National Grid. In the case of the utilities, the message was, of course we’re on board, but we’ll just have to work together, and maybe you might need to go a little slower and maybe allow for some so-called “green” hydrogen in the mix, or something.
I managed to sit through the entire Syracuse Public Hearing so I can give my impression of the commenters (video recording) there. Like Mr. Menton, I kept score on the positions of the speakers. My notes indicate that there were 79 speakers but I am not going to sit through the recording to check my numbers. Overall, three quarters supported the Climate Act.
I broke down the speakers as follows. Twelve were opposed and eight were opposed because they supported nuclear power. I count the eight nuclear supporters as “agenda-driven”. In other words, their comment was driven not directly because they oppose the Climate Act but because they have caught on that there are loud voices on the Climate Action Council that oppose nuclear power. I counted 26 in support of the Climate Act and another 17 supporters that supported it because they had an agenda that appeared to me to be the primary motive for supporting the net-zero transition. I was kind of surprised that only four crony capitalists showed up to encourage the state to fill their trough with more slop.
The Syracuse public hearing was held at the School of Environmental Science and Forestry so I expected that there would be a large number of students. There were only 12 and most of those came from a class at Cornell University associated with the Climate Change Minor. Apparently, the assignment for the class was to read a section of the Draft Scoping Plan and provide a comment. Everyone picked up on an inconsistency or other problem with the section they reviewed. It was a useful exercise for the students but I would put their class right up alongside my son’s courses in wine appreciation for future career applicability.
Menton also described the common themes of the supporters which I believe capture the beliefs of the supporters at the Syracuse hearing too:
The overriding message was an emotional plea to the Climate Council to please, please save us from these evil fossil fuels before it is too late for ourselves and our children and our planet. Several used the opening line, “I’m here today because I’m scared.” Multiple speakers choked back tears. Easily 20 speakers invoked Hurricanes Sandy (2012) and Ida (2021), as if reducing usage of natural gas could somehow end the risk of severe storms. An overlapping group of at least 20 went on about the increasing incidence of childhood asthma, as if atmospheric CO2 has something to do with that. Another overlapping group of at least 20 asserted that climate change was differentially harming what they called “justice communities” (when did that term come into vogue?); and therefore “justice demands” the elimination of fossil fuels. One lady focused specifically on the increasing rate of teen suicide, which she asserted was entirely attributable to fossil-fuel-induced climate change.
In his second post on the public meeting he described the drivers for those themes. As shown above fear was a driver. In the second post he explained that another emotional driver was anger that was also present at the Syracuse hearing. He explained that:
The anger is directed at the fossil fuel producers and distributors who the commenters, with near unanimity, seemed to believe were hell-bent on destroying the planet. A substantial majority of the 60 or so comments that I listened to expressed this anger in one form or another, and it was an implicit undercurrent in most of the rest.
He went on to explain that this anger with fossil fuels is despite that all of these peoples use them.
They use fossil-fuel-burning cars and furnaces and stoves because those vehicles and appliances are cheaper and/or work better than the alternatives. And yet, somehow these people have convinced themselves that they have no responsibility at all, and the use of gasoline and natural gas by them and others is a fault of evil producers and utilities.
Climate Action Council member Peter Iwanowicz is the Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York. There are a couple of applicable points to be made about his complete video testimony for the all-electric buildings act. Organizations like his have turned the New York comment process into a charade because the political hacks that run the agencies use the number of supporting comments as an indication of how their preferred political base at the moment will vote so those numbers matter. Environmental NGOs are very good at getting out those numbers so his argument that most people support the Climate Act just reflects that reality. Iwanowicz mentions that the gas and oil PR campaign against the Climate Act seems to be “inspiring people” who have electrified their homes with limited incentives to come out and make comments at the meetings. He emotionally states “They come to share the true cost of electrification” and implies that those speakers represent reality. I have no doubt whatsoever that the environmental organizations put out a call to their minions to find people who have electrified their homes to ask them to testify. However, think about that subset of the population. In the first place you have to have disposable income to spend on the electric alternatives. To this point NYS subsidies have been for more efficient equipment and you can spend less on a furnace upgrade rather than a conversion. You have to have excess disposable income to pick the more expensive alternative. I also believe that many of those who have gone electric are signaling their virtue. I don’t think the inspired people represent most New Yorkers.
Menton and I agree that emotional anecdotes are a primary rationale for most of the speakers who voiced support for the Climate Act at the public hearings. The Iwanowicz testimony relies on emotional anecdotes because it is a very effective approach. Given the large number of people who turned out to support the Draft Scoping Plan, it appears to be working. The ultimate problem is that reality often conflicts with the dreams. For just one example, consider the magical not-yet-invented “DEFR” (Dispatchable Emissions Free Resource) mentioned by Menton. In the most recent New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) projections for the future, the power capacity for this not-yet-invented technology is projected to be approximately equal the total of today’s entire generation capacity. In addition, the projections for power capacity indicate an enormous amount of generation is also needed. Experts called that result “stunning” and asked whether anyone on the Council is looking at what this means. I believe that the number of people who provided comments supporting the Climate Act at all the public hearings and actually understand what the NYISO projections mean could be counted on one hand.
I ran into a colleague from long-ago at the hearing. His testimony at 3:22:15 of the video recording is worthwhile for two reasons. He made his point in a very effective and unique way and the energy transition point he made is very important. In particular, Gary Schoonmaker argued that the proposed energy transition to net-zero is very different than past transitions. He persuasively argued that in the past the transitions occurred because they were advantageous and cheaper so people wanted to do it. However, the net-zero transition has disadvantages and will be more expensive so now the government is going to have to force compliance. Gary and I agree that it is very unlikely that this will end well.
In my opinion, the Climate Action Council is going through the motions of the public comment process. I have no doubt that the final tally will show more support than opposition. That clearly will be used by supporters to say that we should proceed. The real question is whether anything will change in the final scoping plan.
There is a major flaw in the energy policy by popularity approach. Physics. The fact is that there are physical and technological constraints for an electric grid system that is dependent upon wind and solar generation needed for the Draft Scoping Plan transition. The Climate Action Council and the Advisory Panel membership included very few people who had the relevant education and background to understand those constraints. Consequently, the Council approved a Draft Scoping Plan that does not adequately address the risks and uncertainties of the proposed zero-emissions electric grid by 2040 target.
The ultimate question for the comment response is whether the minority comments that rely on physics to argue for changes to maintain current affordability and reliability standards will be considered. The environmental advocacy community is well-organized and can turn up the volume and quantity of comments at will. Is someone in the current Administration going to have the courage to step up and take the tremendous heat from the environmental advocates when they don’t get their way. Thomas Sowell said “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong”. That is exactly what we will be doing if the Council does not listen to the minority comments from the experts.
For what it is worth I described my comments in an earlier post. My high school speech teacher would be horrified to see how poorly I made my points at 43:50 in the video recording. I blame the two minute limit.