Initial Impression of Climate Action Council Response to Public Comments on Transportation

The 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 comment period for the Draft Scoping Plan that outlines how to meet that goal recently ended.  The last two meetings of the Climate Action Council have offered some insights into the plans to address those comments.  I am not encouraged by what I have seen so far.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  I submitted comments on the Plan and have written extensively on implementation of New York’s response to that risk because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease.  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 Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  They were assisted by Advisory Panels who developed and presented strategies to the meet the goals to the Council.  Those strategies were used to develop the integration analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants that tried to quantify the impact of the strategies.  That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. Since the close of the public comment period in early July staff has been updating the Integration Analyses and working through the comments to provide the Council with summaries for their review.

In this article, I will describe the response to the Transportation sector comments relative to the comments I submitted on this sector.  I submitted two comments on electric vehicles.  I noted that the Integration Analysis is making assumptions about future zero-emissions transportation implementation strategies without providing adequate referenced documentation.  The other comment addressed electric vehicle costs.  I also submitted a comment on high-speed intercity passenger rail transportation that is relevant to the September 13, 2022 Climate Action Council Presentation that will be the focus of this article.

Transportation Comments Response

The discussion of Transportation Summary Themes at the September 13, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting included “Several commenters suggested investments in rail infrastructure, to connect cities and move freight”. 

The staff recommendations stated that few changes in response to public comments were needed.  Relative to the railroad theme they noted that: “Emphasize that improving intercity passenger rail service, including High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail transportation, and strengthening the freight rail system is an important component of New York State’s economic future and environmental sustainability.”

I submitted a comment on high-speed intercity passenger rail transportation that is ignored in this response.  The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in cooperation with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) completed the Empire Corridor Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2014 to “evaluate proposed system improvements to intercity passenger rail services along the 463-mile Empire Corridor, connecting Pennsylvania (Penn) Station in New York City with Niagara Falls Station in Niagara Falls, New York.” This is the primary reference for Draft Scoping Plan Scenario 4 high speed intercity passenger rail transportation upgrades.

I evaluated the transportation sector vehicle miles traveled difference between Scenarios 2 and 3 compared to Scenario 4 due to rail passenger improvements.  Note that this basically proposed the development of a dedicated high-speed rail corridor between Buffalo and Albany.  The Draft Scoping Plan claims that “Incremental reductions from enhanced in-state rail aligning with 125 MPH alternative detailed in Empire Corridor Tier 1 Draft EIS” will provide a reduction of 200 million light duty vehicle miles at a per unit cost of $6 per mile or $1.2 billion.  I estimated that the only valid cost for the difference between the rail alternatives is $8.4 billion and that it would only provide a vehicle mile reduction of 64.7 million miles. 

Discussion

There are multiple issues associated with the presentation response to comments.  At the previous meeting the State acknowledged that they had not worked their way through the comments submitted as attachments.  My comment was submitted as an attachment so it is possible that it has not even been reviewed yet.  In my opinion, the only way to make detailed comments is through an attachment so I think many of the substantive comments may not have been evaluated yet.

It is not clear whether this presentation was only meant to be an overview of the comments received.  Alternatively, it could represent the entirety of the discussion of the comments for each of the sectors (Transportation, Agriculture and Forestry, Land Use, Local Government, and Waste) discussed. My specific comment was not mentioned and it is not clear if this was because they have not reviewed it yet or whether it was inconvenient for them to respond.  If this is supposed to be the final word on the comments for each of these sectors then it is clear that the stakeholder public comment process is just window dressing and that no meaningful revisions will be incorporated.

At one point the Council promised to provide all the comments for public review.  Of course, the odds that the comments will be provided in format that enables it to be evaluated easily is another thing.  I believe all the comments should be available by topic in a searchable formatted document.

I believe my specific comment has to be addressed on two levels.  On the first level, I identified a problem with their numbers.  Shouldn’t they have to respond to that error?  While it might not rise to the level where an explicit Climate Action Council decision is needed, I do think the Council has to decide what level of high-speed intercity passenger rail transportation improvements they are recommending. The response to this topic at this meeting “Emphasize that improving intercity passenger rail service, including High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail transportation, and strengthening the freight rail system is an important component of New York State’s economic future and environmental sustainability” is just a bunch of words devoid of meaningful comment.

I also noticed a bias in the comment descriptions.  For example, “Generally, there was strong support for electrification policies in the draft plan” compared to “Some commenters expressed concern over the costs of electrification, particularly in rural communities and for larger vehicles” inappropriately indicates the rates the level of support based on numbers.  The value of a comment is the quality of the argument not the number of people who submitted the argument.  The statement “Several detailed comments supported the development of renewable and/or low-carbon fuels, while many commenters expressed opposition, describing such fuels as a ‘false solution’ “ is particularly problematic because it suggests that no matter how strong the technical argument, if enough ideologues using slogans oppose it that the Council is going to side with the slogans. 

Conclusion

I am not surprised that my comments were ignored.  However I am terrified that the Council may ignore the comments submitted by the New York Independent System Operator and the New York State Reliability Council.  There was no mention of any need to reconcile the Integration Analysis with the recent NYISO 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook report.  The projections are significantly different and the citizens of New York deserve to have them reconciled clearly and transparently.  It is entirely inappropriate for the state to be committed to go down a transformational energy policy path based on the work of unelected bureaucrats who are not responsible for keeping the lights on without incorporating the input of the state’s experts who are responsible.

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.

One thought on “Initial Impression of Climate Action Council Response to Public Comments on Transportation”

  1. Your “conclusion” section accurately describes the situation with addressing comments. The committees are populated by political activists who are going through the motions of taking comments, but really have no intention of actually dealing with them. They know what they want to do, and as you’ve pointed out many times, they’re convinced that the only thing delaying implementation of their plans is that government hasn’t forced the necessary actions.

    Liked by 1 person

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