Last month, New York lawmakers signed into law an aggressive climate plan that aims to create an environmental “net-zero economy.” And if recent trends are any indicator, the state won’t be the last to do so.
In the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, the state of New York reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent. Now, over the next 11 years through this climate plan, the state wants to reduce emissions by 70 percent of 1990 levels, with the goal of getting that to 85 percent by 2050. The state expects the remaining 15 percent could be eliminated through yet-to-be-created measures that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
While other states across the U.S., including Pennsylvania, have passed some form of a climate plan since President Donald Trump took office, New York’s is the most aggressive yet. If it were to reach its goal, this plan would require massive overhauls to the state’s energy infrastructure. While renewables are on the rise for good reason, the boldness of this plan would deliver massive cost increases not just to energy companies, real estate communities and others businesses, but to the many New Yorkers who get their current energy from affordable alternatives, such as natural gas. It would require changes to the way the state powers and heats industrial facilities, residential homes and offices. In theory, a zero emissions state would force the elimination of all gas-powered vehicles in New York.
In New York City, local politicians recently passed a law that requires the city’s biggest skyscrapers to become more energy efficient, with an estimated cost of more than $4 billion. But this newest statewide law could mean thousands of buildings all over the state will need to be retrofitted in order to comply, costing exponentially more.
This is all to say that New York’s climate plan isn’t just lofty, but quite impractical as it currently reads.
A bleak picture for these types of legislation
Countries from Europe to South America that have put forth similar plans offer a less-than-ideal look into what New York’s future may hold. Norway, for example, set a goal of reducing its emissions 40 percent below its 1990 levels by 2030, yet less than four years into the plan, the country’s emissions are projected to decrease by only 7 percent by 2030. Other countries are seeing similar results. Even Oregon, a state known for its more liberal views towards climate change, saw a climate bill fail last month when Senate Republicans left the state capitol to prevent a quorum. The bill also didn’t have significant support from industry and environmental justice advocates alike, making it a difficult one to pass even before Republicans’ boycott.
Meanwhile, New York’s plan, along with similar ones drafted in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington, comes during times of increasingly affordable natural gas and falling emissions. In 2018, natural gas consumption reached a record high of 31 quadrillion Btu just as greenhouse gas emissions have universally fallen across the U.S. Yet, challenges still remain in getting this resource to customers. In New York, gas utilities provider National Grid announced in May a suspension on processing new natural gas service applicants in some of its territories until the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) gas pipeline receives permits to move forward.
The Edge: Despite the plan’s challenges, this is just the beginning
As states all over the country are showing, momentum for these green energy plans is growing. New York won’t be the last to pass legislation aimed at all but eliminating emissions over the next few decades. Yet, as early results have indicated, getting to net zero emissions isn’t as easy as simply passing a bill.
Obviously, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an admirable and worthwhile goal. It’s part of the reason cleaner burning natural gas is such an important resource in Appalachia, Texas and elsewhere across the U.S. And it’s why natural gas, because of its affordability and usability in the downstream, should be used alongside renewable energy sources as part of a “healthy mix” energy plan.
However, it’s important that legislators understand the challenges that come with these go-green plans and what the effects are on businesses, communities and consumers alike.