Inside the Battle to Get New York Off Fossil Fuels

Elected Officials and Organizations Demand Cuomo Administration Enforce State Climate Law and Create Plan to Get New York Off Gas

For Immediate Release:

Contact: 
Jessica Bumpus, 315-810-2109
Communications Director, Senator Rachel May
Jennifer Lyons, lyonsj@nyassembly.gov, 857-272-4178
District Office Director, Assemblymember Anna Kelles 
Renee Vogelsang, 315-380-2708
Renewable Heat Now
Jessica Azulay, 917-697-4472
Renewable Heat Now 

New York – The Cuomo administration has no plan to ensure gas utilities comply with New York’s climate law. The Public Service Commission (PSC), a board of utility regulators appointed by Governor Cuomo, is under increasing pressure from elected officials and advocacy organizations to stop allowing utilities to invest their customer’s money into new gas infrastructure and instead, to create a comprehensive plan for an orderly, equitable, and rapid phaseout of the gas system. These actions are urgently needed to ensure utilities meet the targets of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which requires New York to slash emissions 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050. 

Over 40 elected officials and legislative staff met for a statewide summit last week to discuss how to ensure that the Cuomo administration requires gas utilities to stop fueling climate change. 200 elected officials and 130 organizations have signed onto letters demanding that the PSC enforce greenhouse gas reduction targets for each utility and develop an affordable and equitable plan to replace gas with renewable heating, cooking, and hot water services. However, the latest state proposal filed in the PSC’s gas planning proceeding in February 2021 ignored those demands, opting instead for incremental changes to utility plans that largely preserve the status quo. 

The Public Service Commission is the state regulator of gas utilities, which essentially have a private monopoly over our gas distribution systems. By failing to create any plan that would move New York off of reliance on fracked gas, they have made it clear that they will continue to prioritize utility shareholder profits over the survival of our planet. But these legislators and activists are fighting back.

“In 2019, New York State took a historic step by adopting the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. But it doesn’t mean much if we’re not setting and achieving concrete, annual metrics to move us rapidly toward zero emission utilities,” said Assemblymember Emily Gallagher (North Brooklyn). “We have no time to spare. I am honored to work alongside elected officials, advocates and experts from across New York to push the Public Service Commission to enact a comprehensive plan and bring every utility in line with our urgent climate goals.”

“There is no way that we can reach our critically important Climate Leadership and Community Protection (CLCPA) greenhouse gas emissions reductions without a transparent process that outlines incremental action steps,” said Assemblymember Anna Kelles (Cortland, Tompkins) after the elected officials summit. “To ensure that the transition is just, it must also include solutions that account for the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized and low-income communities.” 

Senator Rachel May (Onondaga, Madison, Oneida), who co-convened the summit with Kelles, Gallagher, and several other state and local officials, said, “New York’s clean energy transition will require a seismic culture shift for all but it is a challenge we must face head on and with determination; our climate goals demand that we wean ourselves completely from our fossil fuel reliance and this will require our state agencies like the Public Service Commission to fully address the range of issues that come with that work. This strategy session of elected officials will hopefully send the message that we are paying attention and we fully expect the just transition in the timeframe set forth in the CLCPA.”

Advocacy organizations such as Alliance for a Green Economy, Mothers Out Front, Food and Water Action, Earthjustice, and NYPIRG are also demanding urgent and more aggressive action from the PSC. In comments filed Monday, May 3, in the gas planning proceeding, groups said the state’s proposal would set New York up to miss the critical climate targets. 

“The climate emergency we face and our ambitious climate law require us to go well beyond slowing gas expansion,” wrote the Renewable Heat Now campaign, which represents 16 organizations from across New York, in comments filed Monday in the gas planning docket. “We have just 9 years to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels. The current gas utility business model is directly at odds with New York’s climate mandates, and Commission intervention is needed now to restructure utility regulations, incentives, and plans in alignment with the CLCPA. Failure to act with urgency to dramatically change business as usual will have major financial, health, safety, and environmental consequences for the residents of New York.”

The Renewable Heat Now campaign is encouraging individuals who are concerned about the Public Service Commission’s lack of climate action to submit a public comment using this template, and to testify at the Public Service Commission’s public hearings on May 12 and May 13.

Martha Robertson (Tompkins County Legislature) said, “The PSC White Paper was a strategic opportunity for the PSC to look forward, and to move the utilities and the state toward the transition we all know is absolutely required. Unfortunately, the paper fell short, failing to even acknowledge the goals of the CLCPA and failing to envision a state without gas. New Yorkers know that the utilities are not going to change ‘business as usual’ on their own; we need leadership from our PSC if we’re going to have any chance of meeting the urgency of this moment.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that a statewide plan to phase out gas infrastructure while ramping up green alternatives like electric heat pumps and energy efficiency measures is necessary. However, not only has the Cuomo administration failed to propose a plan to phase out existing gas infrastructure, the PSC continues to consider hundreds of millions of dollars of new gas infrastructure construction each year through utility rate cases. For example, in a current upstate National Grid rate case, the utility has proposed raising gas bills by $41.8 million/year to pay for new projects to expand the gas system and replace old infrastructure that should instead be phased out. Meanwhile, in New York City, regulators have allowed National Grid to build the controversial North Brooklyn pipeline ignoring over 40,000 public comments in opposition to the project, which along with an expansion of Grid’s Greenpoint LNG storage depot is slated to cost nearly half a billion dollars for local residents. Similarly, Central Hudson has also proposed a $14.4 million rate increase on its gas customers, largely driven by a proposal to replace old pipelines with new gas infrastructure. Much of this infrastructure would be paid off (with interest) by customers over 50+ years, meaning that these pipelines would either lock us into climate-destroying emissions far past our 2050 climate targets, or force ratepayers to waste millions on useless infrastructure when they need to be shut down early. Organizations such as Alliance for a Green Economy and Sane Energy Project are intervening in these rate cases to try to prevent these rate hikes and the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. The PSC will likely rule on these cases this summer around the same time it makes decisions in the gas planning proceeding.

Catherine Borgia (Westchester County Board of Legislators) said, “We are in a unique moment where the increase in Federal infrastructure spending, coupled with the cessation of Indian Point Nuclear Facilities, provide a perfect opportunity to invest in renewables to strengthen our grid. When Con Ed set its moratorium on new construction using natural gas, we learned that we were too reliant on fossil fuels and infrastructure of the past. It’s time to move to the future in order to increase our energy independence and economic prosperity.”

The 130 organizations and 200 elected officials have also called for the Public Service Commission to repurpose the billions of dollars of ratepayer-funded fossil fuel investments for renewable heating infrastructure and beneficial electrification instead. They requested that the PSC direct the utilities plan for an increase in renewable energy, electric grid resilience, and reliability, which will be essential as we electrify our buildings, stoves, and transit systems. Finally, they also called for the PSC to provide guidance and resources to cities and towns for responsible development, which could include more affordable collective climate solutions such as renewable district heating systems, community solar arrays, and energy efficiency measures. The PSC’s gas planning procedure failed to address any of these urgent needs. 

Vanessa Agudelo (Peekskill City Councilmember) said,With every day that the Public Service Commission fails to lead on regulation, small towns and cities like mine are given no other choice but to invest millions of dollars on projects that end up reliant on stranded assets and further jeopardize the health and safety of communities already at risk. Our environmental justice communities can not afford to continue to bear the brunt of this “business as usual” behavior from corporations that always put profit over people. It’s time we get serious about getting off fracked gas, move towards 100% renewable energy and work to ensure that no community gets left behind.”

Robin Wilt (Brighton Town Councilmember) stated, “To continue on a path to a truly sustainable future, and to meet the goals set forth in the CLCPA, our communities need the Public Service Commission to provide guidance and resources to municipalities for responsible development, as well as require steps to ensure affordability and resilience of the electric grid. Incremental steps that leave our gas economy fundamentally intact will only pose further and untenable risks to our frontline, directly-impacted, and marginalized communities. It is out of a sense of conscience and duty to our respective communities that we are convening to demand more of the PSC, and to strategize around solutions that will meet the challenges of the climate crisis we currently face.”

David Vinjamuri (Trustee for the Village of Pleasantville and candidate for Westchester County Legislature, 3rd District) said,We must plan the conversion to renewable energy now. Clean energy is an economic justice issue. The burden of pollution, particularly with particulates, falls heavily on our most vulnerable citizens. It is a legacy we cannot afford to leave to our children.”

The April 30th statewide summit of elected officials from all levels of government to address the PSC’s failures was convened by Senator Rachel May (SD 53), Westchester County Legislator Catherine Parker, Assemblymember Dr. Anna R. Kelles (AD 125), Town of Brighton Councilmember Robin Wilt, Assemblymember Emily Gallagher (AD50), Senator Julia Salazar (SD18), and Senator Brian Kavanagh (SD26).

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About Renewable Heat Now:
Renewable Heat Now is a campaign organized by Alliance for a Green Economy, New Yorkers for Clean Power, NY-GEO, HeatSmart Tompkins, Fossil Free Tompkins, Sane Energy Project, Frack Action, Pace Energy and Climate Center, Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow, Earthjustice, Mothers Out Front, NYPIRG, Climate Solutions Accelerator of the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region, Acadia Center, Food and Water Action, and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

We have joined together to accelerate the adoption of ground-source (geothermal) and air-source heat pumps in New York to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to heat and cool our homes and workplaces. We educate the public about heat pumps. We also advocate for New York State policies that will enable all New Yorkers to afford to make the switch to these renewable-ready heating and cooling technologies.