Assembly Budget Letter on Climate Change
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Letter to Assembly re climate change and budget
Dear Assembly Speaker Heastie

We urge the Assembly to include in its budget resolution funding for two studies that will assist in the effort to address climate change:

- funding requested by Assemblymember Colton for Cornell University to do a study of how New York State could move to 100% clean, renewable energy as quickly as possible (e.g., 2030). The proposed funding is $200,000 a year for three years;
- $50,000 in funding requested by Assemblymember Cahill to conduct a study on a carbon tax for New York State.

Both proposals are based on pending legislation (A7497, A8372) and provides a way to help build momentum for the bills.

We applaud the leadership you have shown in creating an Assembly Climate Change Task Force. These proposals would build on that initiative.

At COP 21 in Paris in December, world leaders agreed that it was time to end the use of fossil fuels and to transition to renewable energy as soon as possible. In seeking to reduce the target for capping global warming at 1.5 degrees centigrade rather than 2 degrees, world leaders recognized that we need to reduce carbon emissions twice as fast as previously planned (e.g., 6 to 9% annually). Most of New York’s existing climate change goals (e.g., reducing carbon emissions levels by 80% by 2050) are based on the old goal of 2 degrees.

Last week, scientists published a new study recalculating the estimate of the amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere before we reach a catastrophic global crisis, cutting it in half from 2,390 billion tons to 1,240 billion tons.

Cornell professors previously collaborated on a report with Prof. Mark Jacobson of Stanford University and others that showed that using existing technology, New York could transition to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030. What is needed is more detailed plan with the specific steps, timelines, benchmarking and costs to make that occur. The development of offshore wind for instance remains a critical need in New York. The study will also look more closely at the issue of how best to convert New York’s heating needs away from in-building use of fossil fuels, an issue that has been understudied so far.

Towards that end, we support the inclusion in this year's budget of the geothermal tax credit and sales tax exemption bills that were passed unanimously by both houses last year. Geothermal is likely to be a key technology in moving past fossil fuels for heating buildings.

One of the biggest obstacles to transitioning to clean energy is that the market prices of coal, oil and gas don’t include the true costs of carbon pollution. It is estimated that burning fossil fuels in NYS annually leads to an additional 3,000 deaths and $30 billion in increased health care cost. A carbon tax also encourages alternative energy by making it cost-competitive with cheaper fuels.

Most of the world’s political, economic and business leaders agree on the need for a carbon tax – even the NYS Business Council. The disagreement lies over what level of government should impose the tax, how high should it be, and how should the revenues be distributed / invested. There are two carbon bills pending in the State Assembly.

At least five other states are also considering state carbon taxes. A state-level carbon tax would be one way to comply with the Clean Power Plan. Studies performed in other states such as Oregon and Massachusetts have proven the dual environmental and economic value of such a policy. The reason for this is that shifting out of energy industries that employ fewer workers into consumer-based industries that employ more workers creates jobs. This policy will also benefit New York by promoting the transition to renewable energy, which is a trend that is likely to be implemented going forward.

Additional research is necessary to fully evaluate the impact of a carbon tax on businesses, consumers, taxpayers and the economy. We need to establish some important facts to determine the total impact on households and firms, including answering the following questions: 1) How much of the tax will be passed on to households by firms? 2) What evidence can be found from other nations that have already implemented this tax to support this assertion? 3) How will firms respond to the tax in their consumption and production patterns? 4) How will households act in turn? It should also examine how the tax should be designed to avoid being regressive and how the funds could be used to provide real benefits for New Yorkers in terms of jobs and opportunities, in addition to climate protection.

Climate change is a serious threat to the well-being of New Yorkers. New York City is one the most vulnerable cities on the planet to sea level rise; Long Island communities are threatened as well. Recent studies by Dr. James Hansen and other scientists show that the threat is much greater than previously predicted.

The frequency and severity of extreme weather – droughts, hurricanes, flooding, heat waves – is increasing and has already impacted New York. Higher temperatures and more intense rainfall will impact on our food system and lead to the spread of tropical diseases.

New York has positioned itself to be a national leader on taking action on climate change. These two initiatives would help with that effort and we urge the Assembly to support funding for them.

Sincerely,

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