Update: There is an update to this issue available here: Climate Act – Global Warming Potential 4/11/2023
According to Merriam-Webster a kerfuffle is a disturbance or commotion typically caused by a dispute or conflict and it perfectly describes the response to the Hochul Administration’s proposal to make some changes to the greenhouse gas emissions accounting approach in the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (Climate Act). It is being described as revisions that will gut the Climate Act and reward the evil fossil fuel industry. This post explains why I think it injects a bit of sanity in the transition plan but misconceptions abound on both sides of all the ramifications.
I have been following the Climate Act since it was first proposed and have submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and written over 300 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good. 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 established a New York “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines 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 gride 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 to write a Draft Scoping Plan. After a year-long review the Scoping Plan recommendations were finalized at the end of 2022. In 2023 the Scoping Plan recommendations are supposed to be implemented through regulation and legislation.
Greenhouse Gas Emission Accounting System Revisions
The proposed S.6030 (Parker)/A.6039 (Barrett) legislation has been endorsed by the Hochul Administration. The Business Council explains that the bill:
– Reverts New York’s emissions accounting methodology to one using a one hundred year timeframe for assessing the global warming impact of emissions, moving away from the demanding accounting system mandated by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. In doing so, this makes New York’s approach comparable to that employed by the IPCC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the three other states – California, Oregon, and Washington – that have explicitly adopted a GHG accounting methodology.
– It specifically requires using full life-cycle analysis (using the Argonne Labs GREET model) for all systems resulting in GHG emissions in New York State, which will align the state with recent federal green incentive programs adopted in the Inflation Reduction Act. Access to those federal incentives will promote additional green energy investments in New York.
– Consistent with the use of full life-cycle analysis, it specifically requires the inclusion in the state’s emission inventory emissions related to the production and transmission of biofuels imported into New York State.
– It more appropriately measures the net emissions from renewable fuels, making these clearer alternative fuels available to New Yorkers at lower costs, by excluding from the state’s GHG inventory CO2 emissions from the combustion of biomass and biofuels. This approach is consistent with the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s accounting approach, and the GREET model, as these emissions were recently removed from the atmosphere and will be removed again in future growing seasons.
The Hochul Administration claims that changing the accounting methodology will also change the costs to consumers. Climate Action Council co-chairs Doreen Harris and Basil Seggos argued that:
“First and foremost, the governor is trying to maintain New York’s leadership on climate. It’s a core principle that she brought into office and we have been carrying that out for several years,” said Seggos.
But Gov. Hochul instructed both the DEC and NYSERDA to look at the affordability of Cap & Invest.
“We began running the numbers on that, based on some of the metrics being used by Washington state and some of our own, and revealed some…potentially extraordinary costs affiliated with the program,” Seggos explained. “So that’s really what this is. It isn’t a focus necessarily on methane itself, or any particular pollutant. It is how do we implement the CLCPA in a way that doesn’t put extraordinary costs on the pockets of New Yorkers.”
The task before DEC and NYSERDA is three-fold: To launch Cap & Invest, generate revenue to offset the cost of the transition and keep the whole system affordable.
The Climate Action Council’s scoping plan was released in December using the 20-year methane metrics. When asked if there had been a more recent analysis, NYSERDA’s Doreen Harris said yes.
“What the governor has asked us to do, and what we have now delivered, is an analysis around one piece (of the CLCPA), answering the question of how does one get from here to there,” Harris said. “This Cap & Invest proposal is an important part of not only capping emissions, but also investing revenues toward the change that we seek.”
Harris explained that under the CLCPA’s accounting framework, New Yorkers would be paying “substantially more out of their pockets, at the pump, to heat their homes and beyond.”
At the same time, she agreed that the original cost analysis of the transition by the Climate Action Council indicated that the benefits of action, using the 20-year methane metric, far outweighed the costs of the transition.
I don’t know what to make of these arguments. In the first place they offered no documentation to support it. In the second place Harris re-iterated the claim that “the benefits of action, using the 20-year methane metric, far outweighed the costs of the transition” without mentioning the caveat that the Scoping Plan only considered the costs of the Climate Act and not the costs of already implemented programs so the total costs of the transition were not considered in the claim. Importantly all the costs will directly affect New Yorkers but the benefits are societal benefits that provide indirect benefits. When all the costs and benefits are unraveled the Hochul Administration claim that the benefits out-weigh the costs are nothing more than a shell game. Finally, I think the Hochul Administration is worried about the ratepayer costs of the cap and invest program but that is only a revenue stream. The actual, and yet to be provided, costs are those associated with all the control strategies buried in the Scoping Plan recommendations. I am not sure how much of an effect, if any, the 20-year GWP accounting has on the amount of wind, solar, and energy storage resources needed for the net zero transition.
Activist Responses to the Proposed Revisions
In one word the response to the legislation has been “meltdown”. For example, NY Renews, a coalition of over 300 environmental, justice, faith, labor, and community groups that bills itself as the “force behind the nation’s most progressive climate law” had this to say:
S6030/A6039 is part of a larger pattern of attacks by the fossil fuel industry that threaten to sabotage New York’s nation-leading climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, and roll back hard-won standards for accurately accounting for the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane. If passed, the bill would change how the state measures methane and carbon dioxide emissions, pave the way for polluting corporations to emit without consequence, and harm the health and well-being of frontline community members who live, work, play, and pray in neighborhoods across NYS.
NY Renews unequivocally opposes the inclusion of this bill in the state budget and any deal that would include it. We’re calling on the state legislature to uphold the Climate Act as written into law and reject amendments that would threaten its power to protect and prepare New Yorkers facing the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Another example of the response is the April 3, 2023 “Save the CLCPA Action Party” webinar. It was an hour-long rally the troops to contact elected representatives. The meeting was in coordination with the Climate Action Now application that simplifies lobbying with actions in the app:
Like contacting your elected officials, emailing CEOs, or Tweeting at celebrities to step up – can be taken with just a few touches in just a few seconds. We’ve done all the work for you so that you don’t have to. Don’t know who your elected officials are? Give the app your location, and it will tell you. Don’t know how to contact them? The app has their phone numbers and Twitter handles. Don’t know what to tell them? We give you personalized, boilerplate messages that you can accept or modify.
As a result of the webinar 1500 messages were sent to elected representatives claiming that this legislation will eviscerate the Climate Act.
Finally, in an example of “if we don’t get our way we aren’t going to play” there was a Climate Act meeting boycott. On April 3, 2023 the Department of Environmental Conservation announced a meeting of the Climate Justice Working Group for the next day. This meeting was to include the approval of minutes from the previous meeting and a group discussion following the finalization of the disadvantaged communities criteria on March 27. All the Environmental Justice members of the Working Group boycotted or left the call because of this legislation so the call ended after only 45 minutes.
I think this legislation introduces some rationality into the implementation process. There are no changes to the basic structure and objectives of the Climate Act so the claims of egregious harm of the proponents are unwarranted. The emission reduction targets and schedules stay the same but it will have several significant beneficial impacts.
The ideologues who wrote the Climate Act placed an inordinate emphasis on vilifying the use of natural gas to the point that they mandated a unique accounting methodology. Global warming potential (GWP) weighs the radiative forcing of a gas against that of carbon dioxide over a specified time frame so that it is possible to compare the effects of different gases. The Climate Act mandated the use of a 20-year GWP at the time when every other jurisdiction was using a 100-year GWP. One of the cornerstones of the Hochul Administration’s plan to fund the transition is a market-based program called cap and invest. If New York is ever to become a part of such a program with other jurisdictions it is necessary that our accounting is the same as everybody else.
There are effects on the achievability of the Climate Act reduction mandates relative to the use of the 100-year GWP rather than the 20-year GWP. It will reduce baseline and observed emissions on the order of 20 percent. It also shifts the emphasis on what needs to be controlled in each sector and the relative importance of sector emissions. I have no idea whether that makes achieving the targets easier or not.
I am intrigued by the provision that requires using full life-cycle analysis using the Argonne Labs Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) model. I am not familiar with that model but I believe that it is necessary for New York State’s cap and invest model to use standardized and replicable emissions accounting for the proposed cap and invest program. This model will likely fulfill that requirement.
Proponents of the proposed legislation claim that it will allow investors in New York to access significant federal tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) credits for clean fuel and clean hydrogen production, as these tax credit programs specifically require the use of the GREET model to determine climate impact scores. The discussion at the “Save the CLCPA Action Party” claimed that Senator Schumer had said that there was no link between the IRA and whether New York uses GWP-20 year accounting. I suspect that there is a technical issue here. If the IRA requires the use of GREET and GREET uses 100-year GWP, then I think it is an implicit requirement.
Ultimately NY Renews and its membership have an irrational hatred of methane that was exemplified by the 20-year GWP accounting methodology. During the “Save the CLCPA Action Party” each speaker argued that Dr. Robert Howarth’s vision of methane and the 20-year GWP accounting was correct and that he represented the best science on the subject. It is not clear to me why the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University is considered a climate scientist with impeccable qualifications that preclude any criticism of his arguments. His understanding of the role of methane on global warming is flawed. I charitably ascribe his incorrect views to his lack of background in atmospheric physics. I have summarized the methane issues ignored by Howarth. For starters, the measurements that quantify the difference between carbon dioxide and methane effects on radiative transfer are done on a molecule-to-molecule basis. The effect of those pollutants on global warming, which is the reason for the Climate Act, should account for the differences of those pollutants in the atmosphere not in the lab on a molecule-to-molecule basis. If the world outside a laboratory effects of concentrations in the atmosphere, the molecular weights instead of mass, the wavelengths where methane acts on outgoing radiation, and the saturation effect of GHG concentrations are considered correctly, the use of the 20-year GWP is not justified as mandated in the Climate Act.
On one hand it is encouraging to see that the Hochul Administration has recognized that their plans will have significant affordability impacts and are trying to do something about it. On the other hand, there still is no comprehensive accounting for their cost projections so we have to guess at the effects. In any event, the proposed legislation is a marked improvement over the existing Climate Act. If the goal is an ideologically pure green new deal then opposition is warranted. On the other hand, if the goal is to implement a GHG emissions reduction program that has an improved chance of actually working then it makes sense.
The following picture describes the Climate Act as it stands. As long as the State goes straight and does not have to consider what happens if we have to make a turn then it might work. When that does not happen there will be consequences.
9 thoughts on “Climate Act Revisions Kerfuffle”
LOL!!! If picture is worth a thousand words, your analogy is worth a million.
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When I saw it I knew it would be useful someday.