Even as the rising threat of climate change has garnered growing attention, policymakers around the globe have made halting progress in addressing it. Yet at least one bright spot in the battle to protect the planet is the headway made in New York, whose track record in recent years could serve as a model for other states and countries. This year alone, the state has taken steps toward phasing out carbon emissions by making investments in offshore wind power, blocking proposed repowering projects that would rely on natural gas and awarding contracts for transmission lines that will deliver renewable energy to the downstate region.
Of course, these efforts – along with other environmentally friendly policy changes in New York’s energy industry – are not universally embraced, with critics warning that trying to eliminate carbon emissions too abruptly will risk undermining the reliability of the electrical grid. Other fierce battles have been waged over the shuttering of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in the Hudson Valley, the burgeoning Bitcoin mining industry in upstate New York and proposals championed by state lawmakers to transition to public power and impose fees on polluters.
City & State’s Energy & Environment Power 100 identifies the public officials, energy executives, environmentalists, activists, academics and others who are in the thick of these debates – and reinventing how New Yorkers get their power.
Not only did Basil Seggos stay on as commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation during the transition from the Cuomo regime to the Hochul administration, he turned heads in October with his agency’s decision to block permits for proposed repowering projects in Queens and upstate New York. This was done on the grounds that investing in natural gas infrastructure is contrary to the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Seggos, who has led DEC since 2015, also co-chairs the New York State Climate Action Council, which is tasked with implementing New York’s ambitious climate change law.
Rory Christian was appointed to the state Public Service Commission in June, then named as chair and CEO in September, abruptly becoming one of New York’s most influential energy policymakers. A KeySpan Energy and Exelon veteran, he also drove clean energy policies at the New York City Housing Authority and the Environmental Defense Fund. Christian has plenty of experienced policy staffers to rely on as he settles into the role, including Executive Deputy Tom Congdon and Office of Resilience and Emergency Preparedness Director Kevin Wisely, as well as political veteran Rory Lancman, a former New York City Council member in the new role of special counsel for ratepayer protection.
The electrical engineer had been climbing the executive ranks at the state’s largest utility before becoming president and CEO at the start of the year following John McAvoy’s retirement. In November, Timothy Cawley was named board chair. The added responsibility came after he boosted Con Edison’s earnings by responding swiftly to fierce tropical storms and heat waves while doubling down on renewable and clean energy technologies. Cawley has also been upfront about the company’s challenges with extreme weather events and how to adapt to climate change over the long term.
Doreen Harris was named head of the state’s energy authority this past spring, almost a year after she took on the leadership role in an acting capacity. Harris also co-chairs the New York State Climate Action Council, which has been studying how to “decarbonize the economy.” Harris, who attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, has touted the state’s ambitious clean energy goals. A key NYSERDA staffer on her team is David Sandbank, who oversees significant investments into renewable energy.
New York has a number of agencies and offices that deal with energy policy. But the New York Independent System Operator is an independent body that oversees the state’s electrical grid and essentially ensures the lights stay on – which has put it at the center of hot-button issues including the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, the shift toward renewable energy and the use of battery storage. Richard Dewey, a NYISO veteran for more than two decades, took the helm in 2019.
The two Long Islanders who chair the environmental conservation committees in the state Legislature haven’t had it easy at the polls lately – state Sen. Todd Kaminsky just lost his bid to be the next Nassau County district attorney, while Assembly Member Steve Englebright had a closer than expected reelection victory last year – but they’ve made plenty of progress in positioning New York a clean energy leader. Kaminsky sponsored the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019, which is speeding up the state’s shift to renewable energy, and Englebright championed the state amendment to establish a right to clean air and water in New York, which was approved by voters in November.
The state Legislature’s energy committee chairs have also suffered losses at the ballot box – state Sen. Kevin Parker’s campaign for New York City comptroller fell short and Assembly Member and Staten Island Democratic Party Chair Michael Cusick has seen his party suffer key losses in the borough – but they have also helped drive a pivot from fossil fuels to renewables in New York. Parker is the sponsor of two measures sought by progressives – a bill that would invest in publicly owned renewable power infrastructure and the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would impose fees on polluters. Cusick has applauded the state’s efforts to deploy thousands of electric car charging stations and invest in clean energy.
New York’s path toward a clean energy future has picked up steam in recent years, and the state’s efforts to slash its carbon emissions are already disrupting existing power producers. One of the leading advocates of the power generation industry is Gavin Donohue, who for two decades has led the Independent Power Producers of New York. Donohue is also a member of the state’s Climate Action Council, which is shaping how the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is rolled out.
The Biden administration has appointed longtime environmental lawyer Lisa Garcia to serve as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator managing environmental proposals in New York and other areas. Garcia has previous experience with the EPA, in addition to having worked in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau. More recently, she spearheaded a climate solutions program housed at Grist magazine.
Cuomo administration alum John O’Leary returned to Albany in September after a two-year stint as marketing director of a Boston-based microgrid designer that worked on updating renewable infrastructure at JFK Airport. He’s well-acquainted with how the executive chamber works, having advised the governor on modernizing the energy sector and developed the state’s long-term regulatory and policy initiatives regarding energy use. His new boss, Gov. Kathy Hochul, is already making her mark providing funding to retrofit affordable units and blocking gas-fueled repowerings.
Rudolph Wynter spent more than 30 years in a variety of roles at National Grid before taking over the company’s operations this year in New York, where he leads operations responsible for delivering electric and gas service to 4 million residents across the state. Wynter is currently overseeing the utility’s proposal to hike rates for customers, with the goal of using the additional revenue to help improve infrastructure and guide its transition to renewable energy.
When Gil Quiniones stepped down after a decade serving as president and CEO of the New York Power Authority to lead the Chicago utility ComEd, he was replaced on an interim basis by Justin Driscoll, a NYPA executive vice president and general counsel. It’s unclear how long Driscoll, who’s been at NYPA for seven years and previously worked at the World Resources Institute and top Albany lobbying firm Brown & Weinraub, will run NYPA, which is working to improve transmission connections to send renewable energy from upstate to downstate.
No policy proposal is more closely associated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than the Green New Deal. In April, the Bronx congresswoman reintroduced her climate change package, which included a proposed civilian climate corps that could employ 1.5 million people. But the measure has stalled in Congress and has become polarizing even on the left. Ocasio-Cortez has focused on including an array of climate initiatives in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, although rising inflation is posing new challenges.
In addition to his other responsibilities, Thomas Falcone has been leading Long Island Power Authority’s ongoing response to PSEG Long Island’s operational failures during Tropical Storm Isaias last year. Falcone ultimately spearheaded a not-yet finalized agreement between the two entities, allowing PSEG to manage the region’s electrical grid under stricter performance requirements. Several of Long Island’s elected officials remain skeptical that the new contract will rectify outstanding issues, with some calling for the Long Island Power Authority to become a fully public utility.
PSEG Long Island faced plenty of criticism from state lawmakers for its poor response to Tropical Storm Isaias last year. But the company has made amends with Long Island Power Authority, coming to an agreement last month to continue operating its electric grid under stricter oversight. Though that’s welcome news for Daniel Eichhorn, who serves as president and chief operating officer for PSEG Long Island, Long Island Power Authority and state officials still need to sign off on the plan.
The clean energy community got some wind in its sails when Fred Zalcman came aboard the New York Offshore Wind Alliance in November. In his previous role as U.S. government affairs director at Ørsted, the Danish power company, Zalcman helped spur wind turbine manufacturing hubs in southern New Jersey and Port Jefferson, Long Island. A few days after Zalcman took the job, the Biden administration approved New York’s first offshore wind farm, the 132-megawatt project South Fork Wind, which will begin construction in early 2022.
Anne Reynolds was a driving force behind New York state’s 2019 clean energy standards to reach 70% renewables by the end of the decade. Meeting those goals will be a challenge, since much of the technologies like solar panels and electric vehicle batteries are made abroad. But the former state Department of Environmental Conservation deputy commissioner has been heartened by the Hochul administration’s commitments to investments in the electric grid and transmission projects that deliver renewable energy to New York City.
Peter Iwanowicz led the successful statewide campaign to promote a constitutional amendment guaranteeing clean air and water for every New Yorker. The former state official, longtime environmental leader and state Climate Action Council member banked on New Yorkers agreeing that everyone had a right to a healthy living environment, which would allow localities like Hoosick Falls to go to court more quickly to remediate its PFOA contamination. The referendum was one of the few ballot measures that passed this year, with voters supporting it by a 2-to-1 margin.
The closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in April marked a turning point in the state’s energy future that critics complained would lead to more fossil fuel use. But Kit Kennedy, a leading environmentalist in New York, argues that the state can achieve its climate goals without a plant that leaked radioactive waste. The NRDC advocate has pushed for clean energy mandates at the state and federal level for solar and wind power to supplant coal and natural gas as well as stronger standards for disposing of nuclear waste.
Eddie Bautista has fought for environmental protections for the city’s communities of color throughout his 11 years leading the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Among his accomplishments: He has spearheaded a major advocacy campaign to make New York City’s waterfront more resilient in the face of climate change and has helped shape the city’s approach to solid waste management. He recently pushed state leaders to make progress on congestion pricing and to intensify efforts to prevent flooding in the city.
Julie Tighe has long advocated for environmental laws in Albany. She and her team at the New York League of Conservation Voters have played a key role in getting state lawmakers to take on legislation such as the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act and the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act. Over the past year, Tighe has encouraged state officials to put limits on cryptocurrency mining because of its carbon emissions and has monitored the Hochul administration’s efforts to combat climate change.
New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas & Electric collectively deliver electricity to 1.3 million residents and natural gas to nearly 590,000 residents across upstate New York. As president and CEO of both entities, Carl Taylor handles regulatory policy, business growth and other responsibilities for both utilities. Under his leadership, New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas & Electric launched a new pilot program helping fleet managers adopt the use of electric vehicles.
Under CEO Robert Sanchez’s direction, Orange and Rockland Utilities is aiming to take on a $52.6 million proposed construction project to install 5.5 miles of new electric transmission cable with the goal of improving service for about 45,000 residents. Around 300,000 New Yorkers in the southeastern portion of the state rely on service from the utility, a subsidiary of Con Edison. Sanchez has spent 27 years with the company, having previously served as its senior vice president of corporate shared services.
New York state officials gave Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. approval for a new three-year rate structure agreement, which company President and CEO Charles Freni says will help the utility to improve its electric, natural gas and information technology systems. The utility’s service area spans eight counties that encompass New York’s Mid-Hudson region, bringing electric service to 309,000 customers and natural gas to 84,000 customers.
Michael Polsky assembled quite the powerhouse partnership, which includes Related’s Jeff Blau and then-New York Power Authority chief Gil Quiniones, to deliver nearly 4,000 megawatts of wind and solar power to New York City. The wind energy billionaire’s joint venture, Clean Path NY, won one of two state contracts this year for its $11 billion project, including a 174-mile transmission line to the city.
The sharp-minded executive has overseen some $60 billion in real estate development over the past quarter century. Now Jeff Blau is broadening Related Companies’ portfolio to include clean energy, recognizing that New York City needs more power to grow and thrive. He brought in two seasoned energy executives – Miguel Prado and Ryan Brown – to run its renewable spinoff, energyRe, which formed a venture with Invenergy to build renewable infrastructure and a major transmission line that was just approved.
Siri Espedal Kindem and David Marks are helping Long Island and the outer boroughs become a wind power supply chain powerhouse in the northeast. The Norwegian power company won contracts to build an 816-megawatt wind farm near Brooklyn two years ago. Then in January, Equinor won a state award to build 90 wind turbines in an 80,000-acre site off Long Island’s South Shore. The project would cost $3 billion and produce some 2,000 megawatts of power, while serving 800,000 customers.
For the past year and a half, Felipe Arbelaez has helped the multinational oil and gas behemoth BP on its path toward emitting zero carbon by 2050. One key project that Arbelaez is a part of is Empire Offshore Wind, a major offshore wind partnership between BP and Equinor that’s expected to provide 2 gigawatts once it’s installed off the coast of Long Island.
The London-based Arbelaez has a global scope, including a geothermal project in Canada and offshore wind projects in the United Kingdom.
In order to supply 75% more power to its electrical grid to meet its renewable energy goals by 2040, New York is turning to its neighbors to the north. In September, NYSERDA picked Donald Jessome’s Blackstone-backed company to develop a 339-mile transmission line from Canada that will deliver 1,250 megawatts of hydropower to the city. The route has changed over the past several years after upstate residents raised concerns about its effects on drinking water. Jessome committed to bury it along CSX and Canadian Pacific railroad lines.
The Hochul administration is embracing hydropower as a fossil fuel alternative, and Sophie Brochu’s energy company is ready to reap the benefits. Hydro-Québec is set to supply 1,250 megawatts, roughly the equivalent of 20% of the energy New York City uses each day, through a 339-mile line that Brochu called an “umbilical cord” from Quebec’s dams to Queens. Brochu is also working in collaboration with Indigenous nations in Canada and New York for joint ownership of the project, although details have not been finalized.
Since he joined Ørsted in 2020 and was appointed to lead the Danish company’s offshore projects across North America, David Hardy has spearheaded key offshore projects in the Northeast, including the federally approved 132-megawatt South Fork Wind project and the 924-megawatt Sunrise Wind Project backed by the Hochul administration. Hardy has testified before Congress about the rising offshore wind sector and attended the White House’s bipartisan infrastructure law signing. The company also hired industry veteran Joanne Fernandez this spring as head of government affairs and policy in New York.
The New England-based energy utility Eversource Energy expanded into the New York market by partnering with Ørsted on multiple projects in the Long Island Sound. They also have a new asset in Julia Bovey, who joined the company in October. Bovey previously worked on New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision efforts as a state Department of Public Service official and helped develop pioneering offshore wind projects when she was a director of external affairs at Equinor.
A former Nature Conservancy official in New York who spearheaded the state’s climate and renewable energy initiatives in the Cuomo administration for several years, Amanda Lefton joined the Biden administration last February in a role that has taken on increased importance. Lefton will play a role in advancing offshore wind farm development, including offering and expediting leases and permits for projects around the country. New York is a prime state for offshore wind, with billions of dollars in wind projects that will eventually replace power plants that burn fossil fuels.
State Sens. Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos teamed up with Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani to argue that their Queens constituents didn’t need a natural gas repowering at NRG’s Astoria facility – and in one of the first major energy policy decisions under Gov. Kathy Hochul, the state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed. The lawmakers have long paid close attention to energy policy, as Astoria is home to a number of power plants. Gianaris is pushing for greater state investments in publicly owned renewable power, while Ramos and Mamdani sponsor legislation that would block any new fossil fuel plants.
The Rudin Management executive is at the forefront of the proptech revolution that could reduce emissions in buildings across the country. John Gilbert launched a software startup called Nantum that combined data from their properties and Con Edison, which led to a 44% reduction in carbon emissions in 2018. Gilbert and real estate leaders pressed then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include a provision in the budget allowing developers to buy renewable energy from upstate plants instead of making expensive building renovations, although the emissions workaround failed to advance.
For the past 15 years, Mark Sudbey has run EasternGen and its predecessor US PowerGen, which includes the Astoria Generating Station, a 959-megawatt natural gas and fuel oil plant, and two floating natural gas facilities on six barges in Gowanus Bay and the Upper New York Bay. The company hopes to renovate the Gowanus plant and close its Narrows station, resulting in a new natural gas plant, but climate activists and some city lawmakers want the peaker plants shut down for good.
Chicago-based Exelon Corp. is planning a corporate split in 2022, keeping its transmission and distribution utility operations while spinning off its power plants into a separate company. The new business, to be named Constellation, will be led by Joseph Dominguez and will include the company’s nuclear plants – including three operating in upstate New York – pending approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and New York Public Service Commission.
Dominguez previously managed ComEd’s electric grid, which serves 4 million people in and around Chicago.
New York City Council Member James Gennaro rejoined the legislative body this February after serving as a top official in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, whereupon he reclaimed his old position chairing the Committee on Environmental Protection. The Queens lawmaker has since played an important role in determining the legislative body’s response to critical environmental issues in New York City at a time when storms and other disasters have starkly illustrated the city’s vulnerability.
New York Communities for Change relies on Pete Sikora to advocate for its climate priorities on the local and statewide levels. Over the course of the past year, Sikora has pushed for New York City lawmakers to pass legislation that would ban gas in newly constructed and gut-renovated buildings, in an effort to reduce pollution and emissions locally. He has also called on the state to allocate more funding to reach its climate goals set for 2050.
Ending pollution from single-use plastics has been a top priority for Judith Enck. She founded Beyond Plastics in 2019, after serving as a regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overseeing environmental policies in New York and elsewhere. Her advocacy group has been pushing for change at the national level, including calling on Congress and the Biden administration to allocate funding to cut back plastic usage.
Donna DeCarolis knows seismic changes are coming to the energy industry, so the Western New York executive has been modernizing pipelines and decarbonizing her company. However, DeCarolis opposes decommissioning natural gas infrastructure. A member of the state’s Climate Action Council, which was created by the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, she also worries her company could face significantly higher taxes if the legislature goes a step further in passing the Climate and Community Investment Act.
Christopher Erikson has spent 15 years fighting on behalf of more than 27,000 members working in construction and utilities as business manager of IBEW Local 3. The union leader remains a staunch advocate for generating new jobs as New York transitions to more renewable energy, serving as a member of the labor-led Climate Jobs New York coalition. He also serves on the executive board of the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council and the New York City Central Labor Council.
Stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure projects from going forward in New York has been a priority for Alex Beauchamp this past year, which made Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to deny permits to two natural gas plants earlier this year a major victory for Food & Water Watch and other environmental activists. As the organization’s northeast region director, Beauchamp also has joined calls for New York to limit cryptocurrency mining and pushed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pause federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.
From the far reaches of the Adirondacks to New York City, Bill Ulfelder is dedicated to conservation. His work has helped protect more than 200,000 acres of land across the state and his advocacy has pushed lawmakers to set aside more state and local funding to conserve water and land in New York. The Nature Conservancy’s New York division has also been a staunch advocate for the state’s $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, which will be up for a referendum next year.
New York-based LS Power has been proactive in the transition to clean energy. In 2019, it teamed up with the New York Power Authority to upgrade transmission lines, and in New Jersey it’s aiming to convert a former coal plant into a renewable energy hub. However, the company’s Rise Light & Power subsidiary has hit a few hurdles at its Ravenswood facility in Long Island City, with a battery storage project delayed and a proposed transmission project that would have brought renewable energy from upstate to Queens failing to advance.
One of Albany’s preeminent lobbyists, David Weinraub has maintained close relationships with the Second Floor since he served in the administration of Mario Cuomo. Weinraub’s top-grossing firm has represented a number of clients in the energy sector, including the Astoria Generating Company, American Petroleum Institute, New York American Water, EDP Renewables, Danskammer Holdco and Ørsted Wind Power of North America, which is playing a key role in the development of offshore wind power in New York.
Joseph DeRosa serves as a key lobbyist dedicated to energy issues, as well as transportation and technology, at Bolton-St. Johns. His prior experience as a lead project manager at New York State Energy Research and Development Authority gives him important insight into his current position. While there, DeRosa managed many aspects of the agency’s financing products, bolstering the creation of green jobs and energy improvements in residential buildings.
No one has cornered the environment and energy beat in New York as comprehensively as Marie French. The dogged Politico reporter details the key developments – such as her recent scoop on the state Climate Action Council’s draft report – and disentangles for energy industry insiders and lay audiences alike complex jargon on issues like the true cost of the state’s two new transmission lines and permitting for natural gas plants. French has also assisted with coverage on the state attorney general’s investigation into Andrew Cuomo.
New Yorkers ensconced in their homes over the past year and a half became acutely aware of the sacrifices utility workers made to keep our power running throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Their efforts were included in an essential workers memorial the state unveiled in Battery Park. But James Shillitto still fought to get his union members prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations in January. He also opposed the closure of Indian Point in April, which meant the loss of hundreds of union jobs and a significant source of clean energy.
The New York-based lobbying powerhouse with offices in Albany, Trenton and New York City has sought to support governors and influence legislation in state capitals throughout the Northeast. This year, Tonio Burgos has added new blood in New Jersey and picked up a new energy client, Invenergy, which the state selected to build an $11 billion, 174-mile high-voltage direct current transmission line that will be combined with new solar and wind projects in upstate New York.
Elizabeth Yeampierre remains an influential environmental activist on both the local and national stages. Her advocacy played a major role in halting the Industry City rezoning after UPROSE criticized the proposal for limiting the potential for green industrial jobs in Sunset Park. Yeampierre and her organization have praised a subsequent proposal to expand offshore wind and renewable energy infrastructure in the area. In addition to heading UPROSE, Yeampierre also serves as co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance.
With offshore wind projects advancing off Long Island, Anbaric is looking to join the action. The electric transmission infrastructure company, which is based in Massachusetts but got its start on an underground and undersea power cable in New York a decade and a half ago, is pitching its Downstate Clean Powerlink to link new offshore wind farms to downstate customers. The company’s point person on the project is Janice Fuller, who joined Anbaric nearly three years ago after holding key energy policy roles for Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey.
Working Families Party alum Stephan Edel joined NY Renews two years ago to ensure New York’s landmark climate law stays on track to reduce carbon emissions 40% statewide by 2030. Since then, Edel has led rallies and testified before state lawmakers to emphasize the state’s commitments after the Cuomo administration removed social justice and labor provisions that would help disadvantaged communities combat climate change. His efforts have the backing of more than 300 organizations that make up the NY Renews coalition.
Raya Salter is a consultant and energy expert who specializes in energy law and regulations, especially in the context of transitioning to clean energy. In New York, perhaps her most notable role is as one of 22 members named to the state’s Climate Action Council, which is overseeing the implementation of the groundbreaking Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019. The self-described “climate auntie” has also worked for the NY Renews coalition, NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Lemuel Srolovic leads environmental protection initiatives in the state Attorney General’s office. That includes overseeing prosecution of companies and individuals violating environmental laws and guiding broader efforts to strengthen environmental regulations in New York. For example, Srolovic played a key role supporting Attorney General Letitia James and other leaders in coming to an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tackle air pollution in the state.
Ben Furnas, Susanne DesRoches and Jainey Bavishi are three key officials in the de Blasio administration helping New York City to stay resilient in the face of climate change. Furnas became director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability in April, after leading the city’s climate initiatives such as improving building energy efficiency and expanding and electrifying the city’s fleet. DesRoches heads up analysis and positions on a wide range of energy policies on behalf of city government, including new power transmission and climate change resiliency. As head of the Mayor’'s Office of Resiliency, Bavishi has been leading much of the city’s response to increased flooding from storms and efforts to build up storm protections. She may soon be heading to the Biden administration after recently being nominated to serve in a top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso is wrapping up his tenure helming the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management as he prepares to become Brooklyn’s next borough president next year. He has actively worked on numerous successful pieces of legislation transforming New York City’s sanitation system throughout his time on the City Council, most notably spearheading a bill signed into law in 2019 that established a commercial waste zoning system across the city.
Vincent Sapienza was in the hot seat along with other New York City officials after Tropical Storm Ida made landfall this year. Historic flooding illustrated the need to ensure that the city’s wastewater and sewage systems – which Sapienza oversees – can handle future storms. A longtime official with the city Department of Environmental Protection, Sapienza has monitored progress on green infrastructure projects designed to absorb or hold water in the face of heavy downpours.
The Boston-based energy development, financial structuring and asset management company Advanced Power’s tagline is “A clear vision for cleaner energy.” In New York, its Cricket Valley Energy Center, a natural gas plant in Dover, is helping to fill the generation void left by the closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant. However, Cricket Valley has raised environmental concerns in New York and nearby Connecticut, even as it pledges to transition to “green” hydrogen to comply with stricter state regulations.
When the time came to shut down Indian Point’s nuclear reactors in April 2021, Entergy handed over the keys of the complex to Holtec to decontaminate the site and make the surrounding area safe for residents and workers. Fortunately Holtec has Kelly Trice, who brings three decades of management expertise in decommissioning nuclear facilities, to oversee the clean-up on the 240-acre site. The company aims to place Indian Point’s used nuclear fuel in dry storage facilities less than three years after the plant’s shutdown.
The coronavirus pandemic brought an increased urgency toward undoing the disparities in communities of color brought about by decades of environmental racism. WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s Peggy Shepard, a giant in the field who sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and helped improve northern Manhattan’s air quality, has urged the Biden administration not to forget about developing countries and pressured state leaders to reduce carbon emissions by scrutinizing permitting. The organization’s policy director, Sonal Jessel, has run a heat, health, and equity initiative, helping to develop a thermal map of the city’s neighborhoods most vulnerable to the ravages of extreme temperatures.
Rebecca Marino and Anne Tarpinian co-lead the energy and environmental portfolio at the Albany lobbying firm Ostroff Associates. The duo bring nearly 50 years of state government and government affairs experience combined to the firm, which Marino joined in 2017 and Tarpinian in 2019. Among their specialties are renewable energy, transmission and offshore wind, as well as assisting clients responding to the implementation of the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
Michael Gerrard and Alex Halliday helm two of Columbia University’s top institutions focused on environmental issues, the Sabin Center and the Earth Institute, respectively. Gerrard’s expertise in environmental law has earned him respect in New York and on the national stage, providing key insight into legal tools that can be used to fight climate change and challenges surrounding environmental policymaking. As director of the Earth Institute, Halliday oversees an organization that brings together top scholars from across multiple disciplines to understand strategies for promoting sustainability globally.
Cornell University ecology and environmental biology professor Robert Howarth is not afraid to pour cold water on innovative energy technology if it doesn’t work or could or do harm. He chided Bill Gates’ investments in a modular nuclear reactor as a distraction from cheaper, more effective renewables and questioned the natural gas industry’s production of “blue hydrogen” for releasing methane and carbon emissions. As a Climate Action Council member, Howarth has focused on the cost of climate initiatives while drafting a scoping plan to guide agencies.
Pace Law School brought Craig Hart on to run the school’s energy and climate center two years ago. Hart, who has advised governments on policies regarding renewables, grid modernization and financing energy infrastructure, has supported clean energy initiatives in the American Jobs Plan and urged private-sector employers to reorient toward sustainability. He also led Pace’s partnership with the Westchester County Association to launch a clean energy portal to help businesses find government initiatives allowing them to lower their carbon emissions.
Harris Beach may have been representing clients for more than 160 years, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn some new tricks. William Flynn brings his experience as former chair of the state’s Public Service Commission and president of NYSERDA to the law firm where he counsels clients on state and federal regulations regarding energy matters. He represented the first developer who filed a solar-only energy project in the state and facilitates discussions on clean energy and the green economy.
One of New York City’s top lobbying firms, Capalino houses its only strategy team dedicated to working on policies and initiatives that help New York reach its climate goals over the next quarter century. As the head of Capalino’s energy and sustainability practice since 2017 and an NRDC alum, Rich Kassel has advised nonprofit and corporate clients on how to lower their carbon footprint by upgrading existing properties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or introduce new technologies to the market.
New York’s largest battery storage project is coming to Astoria, at the site of a former fossil fuel plant. And 174 Power Global, a solar energy company led by Henry Yun, will be taking on the task of developing it. With more than two decades’ worth of executive experience, Yun has developed the Irvine-based 174 Power Global from its start-up stage to being a leader in the industry. The New York State Public Service Commission approved the proposal from Con Edison and the company in July, with plans for the facility to be complete by the end of next year.
As battery technology advances and increasingly becomes part of the answer to addressing climate change, companies like Viridi Parente are gaining momentum. The Buffalo-based lithium-ion battery storage company, which operates at a former General Motors plant, brought on Dennis Elsenbeck last year as chief sustainability officer. Elsenbeck, a National Grid veteran who is a member of the state’s Climate Action Council, remains a consultant on energy matters with the law firm Phillips Lytle LLP.
Buffalo-based attorney David P. Flynn is one of Western New York’s top energy and nanotechnology experts. Flynn focuses on helping clients of the 187-year-old firm follow state environmental and energy regulations as well as redevelop brownfields. He helped successfully convert a former industrial brownfield into a working manufacturing facility for the first time in the state. Flynn, who has more than three decades of experience in environmental and energy law, also specializes in solar and wind projects involving payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements and hydropower projects.
Elizabeth Stein has been at the forefront of the legal and legislative challenges toward creating a clean energy economy for nearly 12 years. The nonprofit leader has focused on helping New York’s electric system become more resilient following extreme weather events and pushing for electrical grid upgrades to allow for more electric vehicles on the road. Stein is particularly focused on electric bus and truck charging stations since trucks alone account for 10% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Hayley Carlock isn’t afraid to use every legal means to ensure the Hudson River Valley remains unspoiled for generations to come. She celebrated the state’s plans to deny permits for NRG’s Astoria natural gas plant and Orange County’s Danskammer power plant in October, and she opposed a floating barge project in Columbia County. Carlock is also keeping the pressure on the EPA to track GE’s progress in removing PCBs from the Hudson River, after a judge dismissed the state’s lawsuit against the feds over the cleanup.
Many major players in New York’s energy and environmental sectors turn to Anthony Constantinople for his lobbying expertise. As a principal at the top government relations firm Constantinople & Vallone, Constantinople has worked with clients such as Waste Management and NRG, helping to push forward projects dedicated to energy storage, wind energy and electric vehicle charging. His firm played a key role in helping to establish a large battery energy storage project at the site of a former power plant in Astoria earlier this year.
In a sign of the impact that the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is having on energy policy in New York, the state Department of Environmental Conservation in October cited the landmark legislation in its decision to block an air permit required for a proposed repowering of the Danskammer Energy Center with natural gas. The decision is a blow to Danskammer’s Bill Reid, but he is appealing on the grounds that he’s being held “to standards that don’t even exist.”
Earlier this year, NRG moved its corporate headquarters from New Jersey to Houston, citing local support for the energy company and its climate action plan. While the company still has a significant presence in the Northeast – including New York power plants in Astoria, Staten Island and Oswego – it recently had a natural gas repowering at its Queens facility blocked by the Hochul administration. NRG’s Tom Atkins blasted the decision, arguing that the proposal would have reduced carbon emissions and helped meet energy demand.
Kyle Bragg wields major political influence in New York as head of the country’s largest property services union. And he brings some of that clout to support environmental initiatives. 32BJ SEIU is on the steering committee for NY Renews, a statewide coalition group trying to advance renewable energy and the creation of clean energy jobs. The union also made headlines for being among the first labor organizations to back the Green New Deal.
The Farmingdale-based environmental advocate has been keenly aware of Long Island’s vulnerabilities to groundwater contamination and coastal degradation due to the climate crisis. Adrienne Esposito has pushed for homeowner grants and incentives for upgrading septic systems to prevent toxic tides, secured nearly $3 million in federal grants to preserve Long Island Sound water quality, and welcomed a wind farm off the South Fork and a solar farm on a golf course. Her next targets include remediating PFAS contamination sites on the island and a Yaphank waste transfer station.
The Public Utility Law Project was founded 40 years ago in the wake of the nation’s oil crisis, but its leaders never could have imagined the economic devastation wrought by a pandemic. Richard Berkley, who heads PULP and the affiliated New York’s Utility Project, pressed for a statewide moratorium on disconnections for electricity, gas and water service during the public health crisis. He also called for states to use federal rescue plan funds to cover household utility debts and is demanding the state trim National Grid’s proposed rate hikes.
The Waterfront Alliance brings together more than 1,100 organizations across the New York metropolitan area to fight for more resilient waterfronts in New York City. Cortney Koenig Worrall has led its work for the past year, pushing for the city’s leaders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in waterfront infrastructure, and prevent flooding in the five boroughs. Before joining the Waterfront Alliance, Worrall headed the National Parks Conservation Association’s Northeast office.
The indefatigable progressive strategist has led some of the most significant campaigns that straddle the intersection of labor and environmental justice in New York. This year, Maritza Silva-Farrell has demanded that New York City install solar panels and HVAC systems in schools, called for state leaders to pass a bill protecting construction workers from wage theft, and pressed the governor to require workplaces to follow COVID-19 protocols. She is currently part of a new coalition demanding antitrust legislation for e-commerce and technology companies.
As New York officials target greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean energy, Jeff Vockrodt of the labor-backed Climate Jobs NY coalition has reminded leaders that a green economy comes with job growth. Earlier this year, Vockrodt advocated for a wind turbine assembly hub in Sunset Park on account of the jobs it would create. He also pressed NYSERDA to retrofit city school buildings and add solar power, which could save $70 million per year in energy costs, and called on Congress to pass Build Back Better legislation.
The state’s solar energy industry got a jolt when Gov. Kathy Hochul announced plans in September to expand New York’s energy grid to include 10 gigawatts of solar energy by 2030. Zachary Dufresne, who joined NYSEIA in November, is already preparing for the ways solar panels can be integrated with active farms upstate while benefiting both industries (to meet its climate goals, the state could need 30,000 to 42,000 acres of solar fields). Dufresne also organized the 2021 New York Solar Summit.
Kim Fraczek is at the vanguard of a new generation of eco-activists demanding that New York swiftly transition to renewable energy while excluding fossil fuel companies from participating in the process. This summer, Sane Energy filed a lawsuit opposing National Grid’s planned natural gas facility in Greenpoint, and Fraczek led a rally to pressure the DEC to halt the permits for the site. Fraczek also backed bills in the New York City Council and state Legislature that would prevent buildings constructed after 2023 from receiving gas hookups.
The global alternative asset management company Brookfield Asset Management is known for its real estate holdings, but it also is a major player in the renewable energy sector. The company’s renewable business in the U.S. is led by Mitch Davidson, the former president and CEO of NextEra Energy Resources who has been with Brookfield since 2018. The company has dozens of hydropower facilities in its New York portfolio as well as several upstate wind farms.
When Sadie McKeown was appointed this past summer to the board of NYSERDA, the state’s energy, research and development authority, she was put in position to help determine how billions of dollars in energy storage and production will be spent in coming years. McKeown also oversees $400 million in construction loans annually at the nonprofit Community Preservation Corporation and is working with property owners to get on the path toward electrification of their buildings.
Thomas McMahon’s lobbying firm has attracted a wide range of clients in the environmental and energy space. Companies and nonprofits like Action Carting Environmental Services, the Waterfront Alliance and the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative have relied on TLM Associates to push their priorities in New York City and Albany while other housing groups collaborate on green sustainable building initiatives. McMahon has extensive experience in city government, including having served as general counsel to the New York City Council before founding his lobbying firm in 2005.
When New York City enacted Local Law 97, which imposes fines on large buildings if they don’t lower their carbon emissions 40% by 2030, John Mandyck recommended focusing on energy efficiency instead of carbon so that buildings aren’t punished for their density. But the Urban Green Council leader supports letter grades on buildings indicating their efficiency and more disclosure of environmental risk and carbon usage from property owners. Mandyck was recently named a member of Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ infrastructure, climate and sustainability transition committee.
Rahwa Ghirmatzion has been fighting for sustainable housing for years. A former child refugee from Eritrea, Ghirmatzion has led PUSH Buffalo’s efforts to transform an abandoned school building into energy-efficient senior apartments, part of its long-term Green Development Zone plan. This year the group is starting construction on a 49-unit rental housing project in the city’s West Side. Ghirmatzion is a member of the Climate Justice Working Group, which is monitoring the state Climate Action Council for industry influence in the state’s environmental plans.
When governments, nonprofits and large corporate entities need a civil engineering firm to ensure their buildings meet sustainability goals, they call WSP. Scott Thompson, who leads WSP’s renewable energy business in New York City and Long Island, has completed more than $100 million in engineering services for municipalities, universities and private sector clients in the dozen years he’s served as a vice president. He’s also spearheaded the development of roughly 2,000 megawatts of solar energy and wind projects in the region and throughout the U.S.
Liz Moran knows that New York is at a critical juncture in fighting the climate crisis. As NYPIRG’s environmental policy director, Moran compiled a report calling on New York to curtail its reliance on fossil fuels, boost renewables and increase energy efficiency. Since she joined Earthjustice in September, Moran has focused on encouraging Albany lawmakers to adopt an aggressive climate agenda, including blocking natural gas pipelines and plants in next year’s legislative session, and pressing Gov. Kathy Hochul to impose a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining upstate.
Plug Power, a leading company focused on hydrogen fuel cell technology, has expanded its presence in New York state under Andy Marsh’s leadership. The company opened in Monroe County a new $125 million Innovation Center, which will manufacture hydrogen fuel cell stacks and electrolyzers, last month. It also recently began construction on a $290 million hydrogen fuel production facility and electricity substation in Genesee County.
The bitcoin revolution is transforming communities in upstate New York, where entrepreneurs have responded to demand for energy-intensive computerized bitcoin processing by powering up old generating plants. Companies like Dale Irwin’s Greenidge Generation in the Finger Lakes, which uses natural gas power at an old coal plant, have attracted investors and created new jobs. But they’re also drawing the ire of environmentalists and some lawmakers, who are pushing for a moratorium on bitcoin mining on the grounds that it increases pollution and carbon emissions.
As more New Yorkers turned to the great outdoors during the pandemic, William Janeway sought to ensure state investments in the Adirondack Park’s management and climate needs. That advocacy paid off when state lawmakers included a $3 billion bond for open space preservation and climate change-related projects and another $500 million for municipal clean water grants in the state budget. In November, the Adirondack Council published its Vision 2050 plan for preserving the park’s ecology and managing its watershed over the next three decades.
The future of Governors Island will include year-round public access, a Winter Village and a Climate Solutions Center for addressing the effects of global warming, thanks to Alicia Glen and Clare Newman’s leadership. In May, the New York City Council passed a rezoning proposal for a 33-acre parcel of the island’s south side that could include 4 million square feet of new development. Glen is now leading a global search for the climate-focused hub in partnership with a university or research institution.
The Democratic Socialists of America have notched wins backing candidates for office at the local, state and federal level in New York, and one of their key policy platforms is a Green New Deal. Gustavo Gordillo, a DSA activist who has served on the organization’s Green New Deal for Public Schools steering committee, is a supporter of DSA-backed Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools, telling Jacobin magazine that the DSA must “be more embedded in working-class institutions, which public schools are.”
Betta Broad has been with New York Yorkers for Clean Power for six years, advocating for the state to increase its investments in renewable energy, energy-efficient housing and more electric cars. Broad, who previously worked at Catskill Mountainkeeper and also handles advocacy for the Association for Energy Affordability, recently brought on an experienced hand in former state Sen. Jen Metzger in the role of senior policy adviser.
When the youth-led Climate Strike began in 2019, Shiv Soin joined other activists in calling on local, state and federal officials to do more to fight climate change. Disappointed in the response, Soin and other young environmental activists poured their energy into TREEage. The environmental advocacy group has worked to advance support for the Climate and Community Investment Act, has endorsed a slate of New York City City Council candidates in 2021 and has worked to drum up support among students across the city.
Not all lobbyists are hired guns whose mission is to enrich their clients – just ask Jeff Jones. The Albany veteran has done political work, lobbying and communications for such environmental organizations as NRDC, the Land Trust Alliance and the Center for Creative Land Recycling. A former journalist, Jones chairs the board of WE ACT for Environmental Justice and is also a Capital Region board member of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright joined the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in February this year, after taking on national-level environmental issues at the Climate Justice Alliance. That puts Rogers-Wright at the forefront of the nonprofit’s environmental advocacy in New York. He has coordinated efforts alongside the PEAK Coalition to advance renewable energy generation in the state and oppose the use of dirtier peaker power plants locally.
The Biden administration recently unveiled a plan to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country, and companies like ChargePoint are taking notice. The company, which operates a nationwide network of charging stations, is among the players likely to benefit from the renewed federal push. Kevin George Miller, ChargePoint’s New York-based public policy director for nearly six years, has applauded government support for electric vehicles in his home state. The company, headquartered in California, also has offices around the globe.
Researched and written by Kay Dervishi, Jon Lentz and Aaron Short
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