Two state regulators miss key New York climate law deadline

How will the state cut greenhouse gas emissions by 85%? Consult the “pre-proposal outline.”

The Ravenswood Generating Station in Astoria

The Ravenswood Generating Station in Astoria Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Jan. 1 marked another important deadline that New York was supposed to hit in order to meet the ambitious climate goals laid out in its landmark 2019 climate law. But two key state agencies blew past the deadline to define their plans for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the latest in a series of delays in implementing the law.

Under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency were supposed to release and circulate regulations to ensure New York meets its greenhouse gas emission limits. Under the law, that means reducing emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and hitting an 85% reduction by 2050. But instead of releasing completed regulations, the two agencies released a “pre-proposal outline” for the cap-and-invest program established in last year’s budget they were tasked with fleshing out. It serves as the main driver for the state’s emission reduction goals. 

The cap-and-invest program will place caps on major businesses' emissions and require them to purchase exemptions if they want to exceed that limit, with the number of permitted exemptions decreasing each year. In a statement sent to City & State, the DEC said it is “working diligently to meet the ambitious goals” of the state’s climate law. The agency said it generated the pre-proposal through “robust statewide stakeholder outreach” and that additional input will be gathered this year.

The agency also said that it is “actively addressing the Climate Act’s statutory deadline to promulgate regulations” through a variety of means both already enacted and in the works. That includes regulations announced on Dec. 28 last year to reduce hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride emissions, as well as regulations finalized in 2022 meant to ensure facilities and entities regulated by the DEC are complying with the climate law.

The Environmental Defense Fund released a statement praising the release of the pre-proposal as representing “a clear commitment from (Gov. Kathy) Hochul and her administration to doing the important and challenging work required to tackle climate change.” But other climate advocates were less happy with yet another missed deadline. “Hochul just blew past the key deadline of the law she calls ‘nation-leading,’” Pete Sikora, senior adviser at New York Communities for Change, said in a text. “But no big deal, it’s just the fate of humanity.” He said that he didn’t expect everything from the scoping plan approved with climate change mitigation recommendations – which included cap-and-invest – to get done in time. “But effectively zero done at the legal deadline for completion is not great,” Sikora said.

DEC and NYSERDA aren’t the first state agencies to miss a deadline – and they weren’t helped by others’ tardiness, nor the ambiguity of the law. The Climate Action Council, an advisory group formed by the 2019 climate law to make recommendations on how to hit its ambitious goals, did not finalize its scoping plan until December 2022. The law as written set both a two-year and a three-year deadline after the effective date to release a scoping plan. Although some have interpreted the two-year deadline as set for a draft plan, the law does not specify this, whereas the three-year deadline explicitly says “final scoping plan.” The council released a draft plan within two years, and approved a final plan within three, but some advocates considered the two-year deadline more prudent. Under the three-year deadline, the DEC was left with only one year to come up with regulations, a hefty undertaking, rather than two years if the council followed the earlier deadline. The 2023 legislative session was the first opportunity for Hochul and lawmakers to take action based on the scoping plan, giving the DEC and NYSERDA a matter of months before their own regulatory deadline loomed for a massive undertaking like cap-and-invest.

Correction: The state’s 2019 climate law set gave the Climate Action Council three years to approve a “final scoping plan,” but it also set a two-year deadline to approve “a scoping plan.” This story has been updated to reflect the ambiguity of the law and how that affected statutory deadlines.

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