New York State is on the verge of passing one of the nation’s most ambitious economy-wide climate laws.
The Community and Climate Protection Act, or CCPA, would not only require New York to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2040, but also pave the way for the complete transition of New York’s economy to clean energy. The CCPA is the result of years of work by grassroots activists and leaders within the New York Renews coalition, demonstrating that with persistence and determination, momentum on the ground has the potential to achieve big things in climate policy.
Ensuring that New York is on a path to becoming a national climate leader is not only about the future – it’s about today, too. New Yorkers are already feeling the impacts across the state, from superstorms to extreme heat. With each passing year of inaction, we face increasingly dire threats from climate change.
Elected officials in Albany have only a handful of days left before the end of this legislative session, but we cannot afford to wait another year before ensuring that New York has a climate law on the books. If New York succeeds in passing this historic legislation, it will be critical that state officials take a hard look at the largest and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions: transportation.
Tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and buses are the largest source of pollution in New York, as it is throughout the United States, and is responsible for 43% of New York’s climate emissions. Transportation is also a leading source of particulate matter and other forms of toxic air pollution that harm the health of our communities every day, particularly communities near highways and ports.
Implementation of the CCPA must therefore include a big-picture vision for how New York builds a clean, modern transportation system that works for everyone. Here’s what we believe to be the essential components of that vision:
We should electrify everything
Electric vehicles (EVs) are here, and they are increasingly available in all models and vehicle classes. Electric vehicles are also awesome. It’s a better mousetrap. Electric engines use energy far more efficiently, which means a great automotive experience with lower costs for consumers. They have fewer moving parts, which mean lower maintenance costs and greater longevity. By plugging into the grid and managing EV charging strategically, we can power EVs with renewable energy, make our electric grid more efficient, and help facilitate the transition to renewable energy.
But the better mousetrap doesn’t always win in the constrained market for vehicles. Gasoline and diesel vehicles still have major market advantages, in terms of infrastructure, consumer expectations, and upfront vehicle cost. Transitioning the 11 million vehicles operating in New York to electric vehicles will be a challenge that requires more ambitious policies. We need to build out the infrastructure that makes keeping an EV fully charged even more convenient than filling up at a gas station. We need to expand incentives to reduce the upfront vehicle cost for consumers, especially low- and moderate-income consumers and rural residents who currently cannot afford an EV. And we need to do more to make the buying of an EV a simple and easy process for consumers.
Electric vehicles are not only a solution for passenger vehicles, but also for heavy duty vehicles such as buses and trucks. We commend New York City for their commitment to achieve the complete electrification of their transit bus fleet by 2040 and we encourage other cities and RTAs operating in New York to make similar commitments. New funding from New York State could help transit agencies and fleet operators replace diesel engines with zero-emission alternatives, which in turn would help reduce fuel and maintenance costs and improve service for riders.
We should invest in alternatives to driving, through improved public and active transportation
Electrification alone cannot solve all the problems impacting New York’s transportation system. We also need to do more to provide New Yorkers with alternatives to driving, through enhanced public transportation, and improved infrastructure for walking, biking, and micromobility solutions such as electric scooters.
This year the legislature took a big step toward improving public transportation in the New York City metro area by approving congestion pricing and allocating significant new resources to the MTA. But we know that we need to do more to fully fund the national treasure that is the MTA and make it the first-class public transportation system New York City needs and deserves. And we also know that we need to do much more to improve public transportation services throughout the state. All New Yorkers deserve to be able to get where they need to go without a car, regardless of where they live.
We should build more affordable housing near public transportation
Issues of transportation emissions and congestion are inextricably linked to housing and land use. People want to live in neighborhoods that have strong public transportation services – if they can afford it. But for many low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, finding affordable housing close to public transportation is impossible. Expanding public transportation services to new communities without investing in affordable housing can inadvertently encourage gentrification. Climate policy in New York should look to expand the production of permanently affordable housing near public transportation so that more New Yorkers can get to work and the places they need to go without driving.
Solutions should focus on communities shouldering the greatest burdens from transportation pollution
Pollution from transportation impacts all communities in New York, but the communities suffering under the weight of the greatest burdens are those near major traffic corridors, highways, and ports. These impacts fall disproportionately hard on communities of color. For example, in the Bronx, where over 70% of the population is non-white, over 20% of children have asthma and the rate of asthma-related deaths is over three times the national average. We believe that the current CCPA language directing 40% of funds towards solutions in disadvantaged communities would be a good start and a potential model for other states looking to solve transportation challenges in these communities.
We should create a market-based limit on transportation emissions
The CCPA would also authorize one of the most important tools in achieving limits on emissions from transportation and other sectors: a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
New York State already participates in one market-based climate program: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI works by setting an overall cap on emissions from power plants, requiring polluters to purchase allowances based on their emissions, and investing the proceeds from those allowance sales in efficiency and clean energy. RGGI, together with other smart programs like the Renewable Energy Standard as well as the switch from coal to gas, has helped put the Northeast region on track to reduce emissions 65% by 2030.
An expansion of this policy model into transportation fuels could create an enforceable limit on overall emissions from transportation and provide one source of funding for the investments we need in clean vehicles, public transportation, and affordable housing.
Our regional partners are at work on a policy that would build on the success of RGGI. Last December, nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic along with Washington DC made a commitment to design a market-based program similar to RGGI, covering transportation fuels through the Transportation and Climate Initiative. The CCPA would authorize New York State to join this important initiative.
Enact the CCPA
This is the time to act.
It has taken activists and champions years to get to this point, but today the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly have all indicated their support for ambitious and comprehensive climate legislation this session. It is important to get the details right, but it is also important to get this legislation done so that that hard work of implementing the CCPA can begin.
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.