Oct 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Cuomo adviser: New York is "putting equity at the center" of climate work

Photo of a climate activist holding a sign with the words "Go green, no pipeline!"
In a line that stretched upwards of a mile, over 700 New Yorkers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on April 18, 2019 to demand Gov. Andrew Cuomo to block the controversial Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas through New York Harbor. Photo by Erik McGregor via Getty

The challenges of race, equity and the environment are “intersecting and interconnected," and New York is “putting equity at the center,” Ali Zaidi, New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment, said at an Axios event on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Low-income communities and communities of color are most at risk from climate change, experts say. Because climate change determines who benefits and suffers from the consequences of greenhouse gases, racial justice has become increasingly critical in the pursuit of environmental justice.

The state of play: Clean energy is a goal in a growing number of states. New York has set its own standard — 70% renewable electricity by 2030 — and Zaidi says equity is a key piece in the implementation of policy.

  • New York’s distributed solar program, which Zaidi said saw a record of deployments in the third quarter, has helped bring jobs back, revitalized commute and reduced dependence on polluting sources of power, “which directly relate to the public health of the communities that are most vulnerable in the face of this pandemic.”
  • The state reduces burden on families by investing in the turnover of old and inefficient appliances, which helps the grid and indoor air quality, according to Zaidi. The governor announced grants to increase support for communities disproportionately impacted by pollution in August.
  • “So it's an opportunity to advance jobs. It's an opportunity to advance justice. And it's an opportunity to advance our climate ambitions. That's the playbook Gov. Cuomo has laid out," Zaidi said.

Yes, but: Not everyone agrees with Zaidi’s assessment. Climate activists flooded a hearing on environmental funding in January and chanted, “We call bullsh*t on the government’s budget.

  • Cuomo also found himself a target in 2018 when activists called his policies “half measures,” according to HuffPost.

The big picture: The Trump administration has struck down parts of the federal government’s climate work over the years, leading environmental activists like Greta Thunberg to endorse Joe Biden in the presidential election. Biden has set his eyes on carbon-free electricity by 2035.

  • “This is the time to go in,” said Zaidi, who is also advising the Biden campaign. "It's the time to gain those yards rushing on the things we know how to do and continue to take those passes down the field, innovate the technologies that we're going to need."
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