By Joe Martens
I’ve had a long career in the environmental arena. I’ve worked in the legislature, at the Adirondack Park Agency, the Open Space Institute and at the helm of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. I have helped craft and witnessed the passage of lots of progressive environmental laws. But passage of the “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act” has me speechless. Well, almost speechless. It was just enacted by the New York legislature and is awaiting the Governor’s signature, which will happen since it’s a Governor’s program bill. It’s the product of lots of hard work by non-profit organizations like the Alliance for Clean Energy NY, coalitions like NY Renews, a wide spectrum of national and international environmental groups like Sierra Club and NRDC, and earnest, three-way negotiations between the Governor and the legislature.
In fact, the bill is an amalgam of a bill the Governor submitted as part of his budget and a bill that has passed the Assembly, but until now not the Senate, for three years running. It is the most ambitious, aggressive, powerful and comprehensive bill (soon to be law) addressing climate change in the country, perhaps in the world. You read that right. If it succeeds, it will all but end the release of climate warming greenhouse gases in New York and will put us on a path to 100% renewable electricity generation. Yes, you read that right.
While the many stakeholders, legislators, staffers and the Governor deserve to celebrate its enactment, the sobering reality of what lies ahead suggests that the celebration should be brief. We have a lot of work to do. Already, the bill’s critics and some pundits are saying that the law will be wildly costly to implement, will cripple the economy and drive New Yorkers to more lenient, less proactive states. That’s the challenge people. We need to make this bill (soon to be law) work so we can prove to the naysayers that addressing climate change and the transition to clean energy can be done in a way that improves the economy, provides good paying jobs and promotes the cause of environmental justice.
So while the Climate Bill is cause for celebration, let’s make it brief and get on with the hard work of making the soon-to-be-law work. If there was ever a time for the environmental community to come together and work toward a common goal, it’s now. There’s no time to gripe about the bill’s shortcomings and the need to fix them. There will be lots of folks out there that want it to fail, and their task, I’m afraid, will be easier than ours. But with unity comes strength and, hopefully, success. The planet depends on it.