This post was first published at Watts Up With That.
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) Scoping Plan framework for the net-zero by 2050 transition plan has been under development for the last two years. A meeting of the Climate Action Council to vote on the Draft Final New York State Climate Action Council Scoping Plan
will be held on Monday, December 19, 2022, at 1:00 p.m. This post describes my overview impression of the process and the likely outcome of the vote. I think it is relevant outside of New York because it gives a template for implementing a net-zero transition program.
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 outline how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.” In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric grid with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040. The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies. That material was used by staff from various State agencies to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council is required to finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the 2022 so this meeting will meet that requirement. If anyone has a masochistic desire to view the meeting, details are available at the Climate Act meetings and events page.
Legislation enacting net-zero targets by 2050 are political ploys catering to specific constituencies. The prime narrative of the Climate Act is featured on their web page:
Our Future is at stake and that’s why New York State is committed to the most aggressive clean energy and climate plan in the country. Each of us has a role in protecting our communities and ensuring a sustainable future for every New Yorker. If we each do our part, we’ll lower harmful emissions in the air we breathe while transforming New York’s economy, creating new jobs, and building more resilient communities.
The authors of the Climate Act legislation believed that meeting the net-zero target was only a matter of political will. I believe that any similar legislation will follow the script used in New York. Despite the apparent objectivity of the implementation framework, it is just is a façade. The Climate Act established the Climate Action Council to direct the development of the Scoping Plan. It consists of 22 members that were chosen by ideology not expertise. There are 12 agency members: all appointed by the Governor, and 10 at-large members: two non-agency representatives appointed by the Governor, three representatives appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one representative appointed by the minority leader of the Assembly, three representatives appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, and one representative appointed by the minority leader of the Senate. Not surprisingly, the legislation passed when both the Senate and Assembly were controlled by the Democratic party so all but two Council members are slanted one way. The upcoming vote on the Scoping Plan must pass by a super majority of 15 votes but it is purely a formality because of the makeup of the Council. The only question is whether anyone will cast a symbolic “no” vote for approval.
Similar programs will make a big deal about public participation. The Council has bragged about their stakeholder process noting that the comment period was longer than required. The Climate Act public comment period covered six months and included eleven Public Hearings where 700 people spoke. Approximately 35,000 comments were received but around 25,000 comments were “potentially the same or substantially similar”, i.e., form letters. That left on the order of 10,000 unique comments. It was obviously impossible for the Council members to read them all so agency staff had to read, categorize, and summarize all the comments. That filter certainly shaped the response to the comments because they got to pick and choose which comments received attention.
Agency staff presentations to the Council described themes of the comments with very little specificity. There was clear bias in the theme presentations – anything inconsistent with the narrative was disparaged, downplayed, or ignored. I recently noted that the Climate Action Council treatment of stakeholder comments basically ignored anything that conflicted with the narrative of the Climate Act. I suspect that any similar program will also have a phony public participation process.
There is another problem I believe will be common with other initiatives. The Council emphasis was on the language in the Draft Scoping Plan and not on any technical issues. I spent an inordinate amount of time evaluating technical issues associated with the Integration Analysis this year and prepared a summary that described all my comments. No comments associated with Integration Analysis technical methodology or errors were discussed at any of the Climate Action Council meetings and it is not clear that the Council members are even aware that specific integration analysis issues were raised. I have no illusions that my comments were necessarily important but the fact that technical comments from organizations responsible for the New York electric grid were also ignored is beyond troubling.
The political motivation for the Climate Act was we must do something to address the existential threat of climate change. In the political calculus the important thing was to establish a politically correct target and ignore implementation details. In New York the biggest missing piece was how to fund all the necessary components of the net-zero transition. When something similar comes to your state watch the bait and switch between supporting legislation that is subject to voter disapproval and agency regulation which is more or less at the whim of the Administration.
Next year the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will promulgate enforceable regulations to ensure achievement of the Statewide GHG emission limits. The regulations will be based on the Scoping Plan framework. The Plan does not include a feasibility analysis so it is not clear how regulations can be promulgated when the implementation risks to reliability, affordability, and the environment are unknown. When questions arose about those nasty little details came up at Council meetings the response by the leadership was that the Scoping Plan was just an outline and those issues would be addressed later. I fully expect that when the regulations are discussed in the public consultatin process the nasty little details will be ignored because the Hochul Administration will say the Scoping Plan is a mandate of the legislation. The circular argument can only end badly.
The New York Scoping Plan approval vote will be on December 19. I predict that the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of approving the Plan. Each council member will be given the opportunity to make a statement when they vote. I predict those statements will be laden with emotion and likely fact-free. I also predict that if the ideologues continue control the implementation process then costs will sky rocket, that there will be a catastrophic blackout that causes death and destruction, and that blanketing the state with wind mills and solar panels will cause significant environmental harm.
I will publish an update with the highlights of the meeting when they post the link to the meeting recording.