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Green Fever Dreams

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Green Fever Dreams

Environmental virtue signaling and political patronage rule the day at New York’s Climate Action Council. August 4, 2021
New York
Infrastructure and energy
Politics and law

New York’s Climate Leadership and Protection Act, signed into law in 2019 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, aims to usher in an era of green energy to the state by 2050. To that end, the act established a Climate Action Council tasked with releasing an all-encompassing, government-mandated plan to transform the state.

Last month, the council’s meeting included a presentation by members of the Climate Justice Working Group. The working group’s vision is a socialist grabbag that includes such items as divesting from a “Consumerism and Colonial Mindset” and calling for a movement to “Democratize wealth and the workplace,” in order to move from an “Extractive Economy” to a “Living Economy.” (Ironically, the working group also calls for eliminating jargon in favor of “plain speak.”)

Embracing electric cars, Cuomo intends to phase out internal-combustion vehicles, including a ban on their sale beginning in 2035, but that’s not good enough for the Climate Justice Working Group. In addition to recommending that the state “electrify everything that moves,” the group wants all private vehicles phased out, so as to address “the root cause of runaway transportation emissions,” which, it claims, are linked to racism and poverty.

The working group rejects market-based solutions, including cap-and-trade programs. Economists have long considered such policies as the lowest-cost means to achieve emission reductions, but the working group claims that they represent environmental racism.

The working group also demands new consumer protections, including a utility-customer bill of rights that would “guarantee renewable energy to every household” and public education to “alleviate the opaqueness of the energy system,” along with “clawback provisions to defend against rate increases, gentrification, and displacement.” The Climate Justice Working Group also faults the Power Generation Working Group for failing to emphasize “energy democracy.”

What all of this rhetoric boils down to is a demand for money—and lots of it—in the form of subsidies for minorities and low-income consumers.

Yet the group’s other recommendations—eliminating all natural-gas infrastructure, closing down all fossil-fuel power plants by the end of the decade, building 15,000 megawatts of battery storage—would harm those it wishes to protect because the costs of these measures would be staggering.

Building 15,000 megawatts of battery storage—capable of providing back-up power for just four hours—would cost around $45 billion. Building the 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind called for would cost another $45 billion. Based on a study I performed that estimated the cost of electrifying New Jersey’s housing stock, it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to do the same in New York. And replacing the state’s vehicle stock will cost hundreds of billions more. A study prepared for the Heartland Institute last year estimated the cost of electrifying New York’s entire economy at almost $1.5 trillion.

Subsidies don’t come from on high; someone has to pay for them. Perhaps the Climate Justice Working Group doesn’t realize that. Or perhaps it believes that rich New Yorkers will pony up more billions of dollars rather than leaving the state, along with energy-intensive businesses.

Meantime, none of this will have any effect on global climate. New York’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions are equivalent to about two days of global emissions, and only about half the annual increase in those emissions. The policies being developed by the Climate Action Council and the Climate Justice Working Group are just green virtue signaling, coupled with old-fashioned political patronage.

Some things never change.

Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images

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