New York could see an infusion of funds to help reach its climate goals, if the House of Representatives follows in the Senate’s footsteps to pass a sweeping federal clean energy, health and tax bill.
The state and city are primed to take advantage of those funds, experts and officials say.
The Inflation Reduction Act marks the most significant federal action on climate change yet, with about $370 billion of the $433 billion package teed up for green investments across the country.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told THE CITY in an interview that the legislation could be a boon for New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which was signed into law three years ago. The state calls the CLCPA one of “the most ambitious climate laws in the world.” It sets a goal for a carbon neutral economy across the state by 2050, mainly through the expanded use of clean energy sources and extensive electrification.
“It’s going to help implement the CLCPA because one of the things missing in the CLCPA was enough money to implement it,” Schumer said. “Now there will be plenty of money to help.”
The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday, where it will need a majority of votes to pass. If the bill were to significantly change, the Senate would need to vote again on the amended version.
Show Us the Money
The IRA — which passed the Senate along party lines, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ 51st vote as the tie-breaker — includes a slew of tax credits, grants, rebates and financing opportunities to encourage individuals, businesses and local governments to transition to greener energy and greater efficiency.
“States that are prepared, that are well positioned, are going to be able to take advantage of this bill better than others,” said Justin Gundlach, a senior attorney at NYU School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity. “New York is very, very well positioned to do that.”
Reaching the CLCPA’s target will cost roughly $300 billion, according to estimates by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA.
Because of the years-long planning process of how to implement the goals of the climate act, New York has a “head start,” said the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.
“Having so many of these very robust funding pots will certainly help us reach those goals in a timeframe that we believe is both urgent and realistic,” he said.
Raya Salter, an energy justice attorney and a member of Climate Action Council, the group tasked with figuring out how to meet the state’s commitments under the CLCPA, echoed that optimism.
“New York’s open for business,” she said. “We’ve modeled out what we need.”
It’s estimated the provisions in the federal bill would enable the nation to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 — although that’s 10% less than mandated by the Paris Agreement.
And New York’s CLCPA has a more aggressive goal of reducing emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels, which were lower domestically than in 2005.
Climate scientists have warned that without urgent action, the planet will see devastating impacts to physical and mental health, the environment, global economies and cultures.
NYSERDA’s president Doreen Harris tweeted that the act represented “a huge opportunity to both scale up and accelerate our already ambitious commitments” in the state.
The state Climate Action Council in December drafted a plan that recommends strategies to hit the targets laid out in the CLCPA. The state would need to expand transit, reduce miles driven and increase battery storage, among many other projects.
The council found that to decarbonize on pace with what the CLCPA requires, roughly 1 to 2 million homes would need to have high-efficiency heat pumps installed and about 3 million zero-emissions vehicles would have to be sold statewide by 2030.
What It Means for You
For households facing soaring energy bills, the federal climate package could decrease costs by between $730 and $1,135 per year by 2030, according to an analysis by the policy research firm Rhodium Group.
The country moving away from burning coal, gas and oil won’t just help mitigate climate change, but could lead to more stable energy costs, because fossil fuels are subject to wild price fluctuations in the global commodities markets.
The IRA’s injection of funds should make it less expensive for buildings and homes to become greener through the installation of solar and more efficient appliances, and for drivers to purchase certain electric vehicles — all of which decrease energy costs and dependence on fossil fuels, as well.
“It is a clear signal that the state ought to be a little braver, and ought to enact stronger policies to move faster here,” said Alex Beauchamp, Northeast region director for the nonprofit Food and Water Watch.
He suggested that Albany lawmakers should pass the All-Electric Building Act, which would ban gas hookups in new construction and stalled in the most recent legislative session.
The increased federal funds should also inspire lawmakers to pass legislation that’s more aggressive in transitioning state’s fleet to zero-emissions vehicles, or that sets emissions limits on buildings across the state, akin to New York City’s Local Law 97, Beauchamp noted.
Included in the federal bill are rebates and tax credits for eligible homeowners to install heat pumps to warm and cool homes, electric stoves and solar panels. There’s also money available to insulate homes and upgrade wiring to accommodate new electrical cooking appliances.
Certain building owners looking to comply with LL97 may be able to take advantage of some of these incentives. And scaling up green energy broadly could mean landlords will have to do less to meet the local emissions caps.
A New Green Deal
Schumer did have to make some trade-offs in order to get more moderate senators — namely, West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin — on board with the bill.
That included a provision that required federal land to be leased for oil and gas before federal land can be leased for solar and offshore wind.
Separately, the Senate as part of negotiations agreed to take up another bill that would streamline the approval of new energy infrastructure projects like gas pipelines.
“We were disappointed to see investments in fossil fuels,” said Dana Johnson, senior director of strategy and federal policy at the Harlem-based nonprofit WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
“It does nothing to help us reach our goals for reducing emissions and improving air quality in communities,” she argued.” It slows down our transition to an energy economy that is economically viable.”
Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice for nonprofit New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said the bill is a “capitulation,” not a compromise, because it comes at the expense of the often poor, majority non-white communities who shoulder disproportion burdens of pollution. Schumer touted $60 billion in the IRA earmarked for projects and initiatives to advance environmental justice, which span from Superfund cleanups and port modernization to efforts to reduce pollution in places designated as disadvantaged communities.
“As you know, when decisions about energy have been passed, all too often poor people and people of color pay the biggest price,” Schumer said. Some federal money could be used, for example, to address the air pollution caused by bus depots full of soot-emitting diesel buses.
A climate think tank’s analysis of the IRA calculated the environmental justice-focused funding to be much less than the number Schumer gave, however.
Some of those funds would come in the form of competitive grants, an approach to which Rogers-Wright took umbrage.
“It’s disgusting to indicate that environmental justice groups and the communities they are accountable to have to enter into some sort of ‘Hunger Games’ competition, to be able to invest in communities that have been purposely selected as energy and economic sacrifices,” he said, referring to the science-fiction trilogy featuring a fight to the death among captive competitors.
Johnson of WE ACT pointed out the need for advocacy groups and government officials to help communities navigate the process.
“There’s a space for WE ACT and others like us, to be, I think — a bridge for communities to be sure that this money gets where it’s supposed to go,” she said.