Many New Yorkers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about electricity and gas, at least until the lights go out or their rates shoot up. In New York’s political world, however, energy policy is one of the most contentious topics under debate – in Albany, in New York City and across the state.
Given the rising threat of climate change, environmental advocates are pushing for a quicker transition to renewable power, via greater investment in clean energy infrastructure and a faster phaseout of fossil fuels – and they’ve secured significant breakthroughs in recent years. Major industry players are increasingly heading in the same direction, while cautioning that moving too hastily poses risks to reliability and affordability. Other key players are focused on how the shift to renewables will impact jobs and salaries.
City & State’s Energy & Environment Power 100 puts a spotlight on the most influential individuals in New York’s vibrant energy industry and the state’s thriving environmental movement as well as the government officials who are determining where all of us get our power.
In one of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first moves as governor, she selected Rory M. Christian to run the powerful commission that regulates New York’s utilities and energy industry. The energy industry veteran and former chair of WE ACT for Environmental Justice has dedicated his career to reducing building emissions in an equitable way. Christian’s state Public Service Commission approved 62 upstate transmission line upgrades in February, but rejected two Brooklyn liquified natural gas vaporizers a few months later. Christian is strict about ensuring the safety of gas appliances, and the state Legislature may advance a plan to ban gas hookups in new buildings despite a public backlash.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority leader has played a critical role in helping navigate the state’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy since she took the agency’s top job two years ago. Once the state Climate Action Council approved its highly anticipated road map in December, which aims for the state to have a carbon-free economy in the next few years, Doreen Harris became one of the key leaders in implementing the plan. Harris has said onshore renewable and offshore wind projects are her top priority, with more than 100 such projects in the pipeline and the permitting pace sped up.
One of the few Cuomo-era commissioners to stay on in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration, Basil Seggos is part of the team steering the state’s ambitious climate agenda to cut carbon emissions 40% by 2030. Under Seggos’s leadership, the state Department of Environmental Conservation launched an air pollution monitoring system and encouraged drought-affected counties to conserve water. Seggos, who took a leave to assist with the Ukraine humanitarian effort last fall, was instrumental in ensuring the state barred permits for cryptocurrency mining. Now, he’s monitoring air and water quality in Western New York after a train derailment in Ohio contaminated the surrounding area.
Since being named Con Edison’s top executive in 2020, Timothy Cawley has positioned the electric utility to take advantage of the state’s climate agenda with new renewable plants and the retirement of fossil fuel plants. The strategy paid off well – for the utility. Last year, Con Ed earned $1.66 billion in net income, 23% higher than in 2021. And in March, the energy company sold its clean energy subsidiary to RWE for $6.8 billion.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ pitch luring Rohit Aggarwala from Cornell Tech was giving the ex-Bloomberg aide control of the city’s climate policy. Aggarwala’s mission isn’t easy – or cheap. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates a cost of $52.6 billion to protect New York from coastal storms. Aggarwala acknowledges residents want waterfront access, which means the city could need $18 billion for seawalls and another $14 billion for levees. Meanwhile, the city broke ground on a $1.6 billion storage tank to protect the Gowanus Canal from sewage overflows.
After serving as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection commissioner under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, Vincent Sapienza chose to remain with the department where he has worked since 1983 to run its day-to-day operations. As a member of the Adams administration’s new climate team, Sapienza has been at the forefront of the city’s flood prevention efforts by meeting with Queens residents about new sewers, repairing Bronx sinkholes and installing green infrastructure.
A longtime city government leader on environmental justice issues, Kizzy Charles-Guzman now leads the office Adams created as a hub of climate efforts. Last year, she helped lead a campaign to promote green buildings, prepared a plan for the city to electrify 100 schools and new school buildings, and broke ground on a flood wall project to protect the Lower East Side from storm surges. She recently applauded the city’s effort to replace its gas-powered fleet with electric vehicles.
New York’s electric grid is in line for a massive overhaul due to the state’s current plan to eliminate most carbon emissions by 2030. Richard Dewey, who has led the New York Independent System Operator since 2019, warned that the state needs 20 gigawatts of new renewable energy by 2030 and 75 gigawatts of zero-carbon resources by 2040 in order to meet its climate targets. So far, the state has facilitated 62 transmission line upgrades, although fewer than half of New York’s solar and wind projects have paid for the cost to connect to its electric system.
State Sen. Kevin Parker has made expediting clean energy generation, building New York City Housing Authority microgrids, exploring thermal energy and protecting energy utilities from cyberattacks are his core priorities as state Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee chair. Assembly Member Didi Barrett, an Albany veteran who claimed the Assembly energy gavel in January, has focused on creating a mapping tool for solar panel siting and protecting upstate consumers from utility bills hikes. Both leaders may tweak the governor’s cap-and-invest plan to add more legislative oversight in the budget or punt it for further discussion later in the session, along with other climate-related proposals.
The electric and gas trade association leader and state Climate Action Council member is critical of the state’s aggressive timeline for clean energy transition and worries that renewable energy costs will send businesses to nearby states. Gavin Donohue wants state officials to focus on keeping transmission line construction on schedule and urged a look at nuclear energy to keep utility costs down. In February, Donohue testified against allowing the New York Power Authority to build its own energy storage and renewables since there are already many privately developed projects.
National Grid last year announced plans for a decarbonized future through greater electrification, energy efficiency and replacing natural gas with hydrogen and renewable gas from landfills and other waste sources. Rudolph Wynter, who heads up the U.K.-based gas and electric utility in New York, argues that electrification is the future, but certain sectors and buildings will be difficult to electrify and require other forms of clean energy. National Grid is also jumping into New York’s offshore wind industry, partnering with RWE on a 3-gigawatt Community Offshore Wind venture and investing in community solar projects.
The Hochul administration’s energy guru helped craft the governor’s sweeping climate and energy agenda, which include a cap-and-trade program requiring large polluters to purchase allowances, a ban on natural gas connections to new buildings and mandating zero-emissions vehicles sold in the state by 2035. John O’Leary is also responsible for overseeing the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which would run the cap-and-invest auction. O’Leary will be in the legislative hot seat all session long, as lawmakers have postponed parts of the climate agenda until after the budget is finalized.
Assembly Member Deborah Glick exchanged her longtime higher education gavel for the environmental one in January, calling the environment a “personal passion.” Among her goals are expanding renewable energy production and reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides. Glick favored hashing out the governor’s cap-and-invest and waste reduction proposals after the budget, while her state Senate counterpart Pete Harckham wants legislative approval for pollution allowances. Harckham proposed a measure compelling companies to reduce packaging in the budget while adding a prevailing wage requirement for brownfield projects and fines for radioactive waste polluters.
Jeff Blau is better known for his work managing Related Companies’ $60 billion portfolio and its bid to build a 1,500-room casino at Hudson Yards, but he and Miguel Prado have launched a renewable energy developer with high-wattage ambitions. EnergyRe backed an upstate transmission line, partnered with Invenergy on an offshore wind project and joined with Invenergy and the New York Power Authority on the Clean Path New York project. Last year, the company joined Starwood Energy to create a clean energy subsidiary in New York and Houston. In January, its subsidiary Southern Current announced plans to develop a solar plant in South Carolina.
Justin Driscoll has led the New York Power Authority on an acting basis since late 2021, after Gil Quiniones resigned to take over Commonwealth Edison Co. in Illinois, and was nominated for the job on a permanent basis by Gov. Kathy Hochul last year. But his opposition to the Build Public Renewables Act has placed his nomination in state Senate limbo as progressives seek to keep him from dropping the act. As a compromise, Hochul tweaked the proposal and included it in her budget with a provision giving NYPA the ability to close fossil fuel-burning peaker plants downstate by 2035 that Driscoll favored.
In October, Molly Morris was announced as the successor to Siri Espedal Kindem as president of Equinor Wind U.S., which is at the forefront of major offshore wind investments in New York. Morris, who has been with the Norwegian company since 2008, most recently served as a special adviser to Espedal Kindem, who moved to a new role at Equinor as project director. Morris has assumed oversight of two offshore wind projects already underway in New York, Empire Wind and Beacon Wind, totaling 3.3 gigawatts of energy.
The British multinational energy behemoth BP charted a path to jettisoning fossil fuels after predicting demand for gas and oil would fall dramatically by 2050. In 2022, BP put Felipe Arbelaez in charge of a new dedicated hydrogen division and began boosting related investments in Australia, Mauritania and Germany. In New York, Arbelaez has represented the company in its partnership with Equinor on groundbreaking offshore wind projects and the transformation of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into a hub to support its Empire Wind and Beacon Wind offshore wind farms.
New Yorkers may not know how to pronounce Ørsted (according to the company’s YouTube account, it’s “UR-sted”) but the multinational clean energy colossus has become the world’s largest offshore wind developer – and a key player in New York’s burgeoning offshore wind industry. David Hardy joined Ørsted in 2020 and has since accelerated the company’s growth with offshore wind projects off the New Jersey and Rhode Island coastlines and a new office in Houston. Jennifer Garvey has been the point person for winning over Hamptonites regarding Ørsted’s South Fork wind farm projects. Workers began installing the cable for offshore wind 35 miles off the coast in March.
A 50-50 partner with Ørsted on its offshore wind developments in New York and elsewhere is New England-based Eversource, and the team is looking to add even more offshore wind capacity in the state. Joseph Nolan Jr. saw Eversource’s profits reach a record $1.4 billion in 2022, furthering its renewable energy investments. After a stint at Equinor, Julia Bovey joined Eversource in 2021 to tackle its offshore wind portfolio. In March, Bovey and Suffolk County leaders announced an agreement for a new wind project, to be developed in large part by Eversource, that will generate enough energy to power about 600,000 homes.
Michael Polsky has grown Chicago-based Invenergy into one of the country’s leading providers of renewable power. The billionaire engineer’s company is building an $11 billion, 175-mile transmission line after its contract was approved in April 2022 and won an offshore wind lease with energyRe last year. Invenergy also secured an offshore wind lease in the New York Bight with energyRe in February of 2022. The project, Leading Light Wind, submitted a proposal in the state’s third offshore wind solicitation for Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificates in January 2023. Mark Weprin, who served in the New York City Council, the Assembly and in the Cuomo administration, joined the fold in December to cultivate the company’s relationships with New York lawmakers and other public officials.
The future of the country’s third-largest nonprofit utility is uncertain as state lawmakers determine whether the Long Island Power Authority should become a full public utility instead of contracting with PSEG Long Island. Thomas Falcone, who testified last year about contract revisions and infrastructure investments he has made at the authority, released a 2023 budget projecting a drop in monthly bills. He also proposed shifting time-of-day rates to reward customers’ off-peak usage as well as reimbursing ratepayers for long power outages.
James Gennaro has spent most of the past 30 years as the New York City Council’s point person on environmental policy, first as a staffer, then as the longtime chair of the environmental protection committee. Gennaro has held hearings demanding a faster response to climate change, passed a law phasing out dangerous fuel oil and made it easier for New Yorkers to install solar panels. Gennaro’s portfolio expanded in March after the New York City Council Resiliency and Waterfronts Committee was folded into his panel following the committee’s former chair, Ari Kagan, flipping to the GOP.
Cleaning up curbside trash piles became one of the city’s most urgent budget issues. Fortunately, Sandy Nurse has some ideas. The New York City Council member, who launched a bike-powered composting service, has been working on the city’s new universal composting program. Nurse is pushing the New York City Department of Sanitation to speed up implementing a city law to overhaul the private carting industry, pushed the state to raise the bottle deposit price to 10 cents and is challenging the sanitation department taking over street vendor enforcement.
After a 15-year process to approve and finance a new 339-mile underground transmission line, the state Public Service Commission finally greenlit Donald Jessome’s Champlain Hudson Power Express line in April 2022 and Transmission Developers began construction in November. Jessome’s electric transmission line, which is expected to be completed by 2026, is among the state’s top projects to facilitate the transition to clean energy. It is expected to provide power to 1 million homes and eliminate 37 million metric tons of emissions.
Facing fast-approaching mandates to reduce carbon emissions, New York turned to Canada’s largest electricity-producing utility to provide 1,250 megawatts of hydropower. Serge Abergel, who took over Hydro-Québec’s top spot in the U.S. in December 2021, has sought to keep the $6 billion project on schedule, despite criticism that the contract wouldn’t require Quebec’s dams to provide power during the winter and concerns about buried power lines’ effects on farmland. The project is expected to be ready by 2026.
Anne Reynolds has promoted clean energy solutions for nearly a decade, including a crucial $6 billion transmission line, but her movement gained momentum when the state Climate Action Council approved its blueprint in December for reducing carbon emissions. So far, the state has awarded 100 renewable projects, although Reynolds worries New York hasn’t been building large-scale projects quickly enough. This year, she has supported repurposing underutilized industrial sites for solar farms and prioritized lobbying for workforce investment in training 200,000 new workers for green jobs.
The New York Bight – the triangular indentation of ocean between Long Island and New Jersey – has become a key component of the state’s carbon reduction goals, thanks to Fred Zalcman’s efforts. The former Ørsted executive advocated for a commercial offshore wind farm off Montauk – the first in the region – that could eventually power 70,000 homes. Zalcman has also called for a regional approach to expedite production; now, more wind farm projects are following South Fork Wind, creating 10,000 jobs across the state.
As climate-fighting action has stalled in Washington, D.C., Julie Tighe is helping to make environmental issues a priority both for elections and for Albany’s legislative agenda. The veteran environmental advocate has prioritized ensuring mass transit gets enough financial support, adding incentives for middle-income residents to reduce building emissions and a robust cap-and-invest program to deter polluters and raise state budget revenue. She also demanded more money for parks, although the Adams administration cut $50 million of the department’s funding.
Kit Kennedy has spent much of her career fighting to close Indian Point’s nuclear reactors, which finally ceased power generation in 2021. Kennedy never wavered from her position that the Westchester-based nuclear power plant posed a health and safety risk to the public. In response to advocates who called for the site to be restored in order to avoid a short-term reliance on fossil fuel generators to replace the plant’s output, Kennedy argued that the state remains on track to meet its clean energy goals. Last year the NRDC championed a push to make new buildings and home appliances more energy-efficient and celebrated the governor’s goal to create 2 million climate-friendly homes by 2030.
Lisa Dix joined the Building Decarbonization Coalition with the goal of weaning the state’s homes and office buildings off fossil fuels. Dix lobbied state leaders last year to include measures curtailing gas connections for new buildings and adding incentives to retrofit old buildings in the budget. A $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act was included – but building decarbonization was excised. Now, Dix has been arguing against hydrogen fuels, backing thermal energy projects and supported the state’s push to consider a gas hookup ban.
Eddie Bautista’s decades of fighting environmental racism landed him a spot on the state Climate Justice Working Group, where he helped identify disadvantaged communities and craft criteria that would lead to air pollution reductions. Bautista continued to press state leaders to stop slow-walking the launch of congestion pricing as vehicular traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels last year. He has also urged the Adams administration to implement Local Law 97, which sets energy efficiency standards for buildings, and regulate e-commerce warehouses, whose deliveries increase truck traffic.
President Joe Biden needed experienced environmental leaders to overhaul the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the Trump administration weakened or rolled back more than 125 rules, so in 2021 he appointed Lisa Garcia, a former EPA attorney, to run its New York-New Jersey region. Under Garcia’s leadership, the agency broke ground on a $1.6 billion Gowanus Canal sewer project, proposed adding Cayuga’s Brillo Landfill site to the Superfund list and distributed $14 million in brownfields job training grants.
After serving PSEG for decades and transitioning to assist the company in its partnership with the Long Island Power Authority in 2015, David C. Lyons was promoted to a top executive post in May 2022. Lyons has since managed storm resiliency upgrades to Long Island’s energy grid, boosted solar energy installations on the island and worked with LIPA to move 46 of its computer systems from New Jersey to Long Island. Lyons has also given back to his community by collaborating with Stop & Shop in a summerlong food drive and by joining the United Way of Long Island’s board of directors.
New York has a trio of nuclear power plants remaining after the closure of Indian Point, and Joseph Dominguez’s Constellation owns all three upstate facilities. Dominguez has put the Baltimore-based energy supplier on a carbon-free path by embracing hydrogen. He engineered Constellation’s split from Exelon in 2022 and then announced Constellation’s Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in Oswego would produce its own hydrogen after a $5.8 million federal grant helped build an electrolyzer system. In March, Dominguez urged Congress to invest $3.5 billion in fuel sources for the nuclear power industry.
When the state passed its historic climate law in 2019, Conor Bambrick worried the state hadn’t allocated enough funding to achieve its ambitious goals. Following the release of the state Climate Action Council’s scoping plan in December, the former legislative staffer demanded legislators add $10 billion annually to the budget, generated through a cap-and-invest program for polluters. Bambrick also favors phasing out gas-powered vehicle sales and barring state procurement that contributes to deforestation globally. Bambrick is even more essential to the organization since his former boss, Peter Iwanowicz, stepped down at the end of 2022.
Patricia Nilsen became the first woman to lead the companies New York State Electric & Gas as well as Rochester Gas and Electric in their 175-year histories after Carl Taylor retired in June 2022. Nilsen immediately had to answer to 1.2 million electric and 579,000 natural gas customers facing already-high bills and a rate hike that drew pushback from the governor and the AARP. This year, Nilsen warned customers about phone scammers and contended with a state Department of Public Service investigation into double billing.
For more than five years, Robert Sanchez has helped Orange and Rockland Utilities provide electricity to 300,000 ratepayers, serve 130,000 natural gas customers and restore power when storms knock it out. Sanchez has also worked with Con Edison to find developers to build battery systems in Orange and Rockland counties and has helped provide power for electric vehicle charging stations in Middletown. In January, Sanchez’s utility began working with Sunrun on a rooftop solar and battery backup system pilot for residences in Warwick.
The public would not be as aware of the environmental dangers of plastics without activists like Judith Enck. The former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator has shaped the discourse over recycling by arguing that plastics cannot be recycled effectively and that single-use bags and bottles should be banned. The National Park Service began to phase out the sale of plastic bottles last June, and the state prohibited plastic bags in 2020, although enforcement has been lax. At a U.S. Senate hearing in December, Enck called for a 50% reduction in plastics production nationally. She also backed state legislation that would make plastics producers responsible for reducing packaging and managing waste.
Hudson Valley ratepayers endured months of overcharges and large automatic withdrawals due to issues with Central Hudson’s new $88 million billing system. The billing errors prompted a class-action lawsuit and Rep. Pat Ryan called for CEO Charles Freni’s resignation. The utility hopes to rebuild trust after ousting Freni and replacing him with Christopher Capone in February, although some customers may not see their bills fixed until the end of 2023. Capone is currently dealing with a state Department of Public Service investigation that could result in financial penalties.
With billions of dollars in capital investments in energy infrastructure all across the country, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources has been expanding its clean energy footprint in New York. In March 2021, Richard Allen celebrated construction beginning on a $180 million upgrade to the Empire State Line in Erie and Niagara counties, then celebrated the commissioning of the 20-mile 345-kilovolt transmission line with state officials a year later. NextEra Energy is also seeking to connect its transmission line to Long Island’s offshore wind.
Victor Mullin spent nearly 40 years as a top engineer with Con Edison before becoming president of New York Transco in April 2020. A year later, he joined state leaders to begin construction on the New York Energy Solution, a $530 million 54.5-mile transmission line through Rensselaer, Columbia and Dutchess counties. Mullin also collaborated with the New York Power Authority in a public-private partnership for a proposal to the New York Independent System Operator to upgrade existing transmission lines on Long Island, install a new connection to the facilities and handle 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind power.
Sarahana Shrestha fought to block a Newburgh fracked gas plant and a nearby transmission line before realizing she would be more effective working inside the system. Last year, she ran for the Assembly promising to protect Hudson Valley waterways and pass a law providing publicly owned renewable power to ratepayers. In an upset, Shrestha defeated a 13-term Democratic incumbent in the June primary and beat her Republican opponent in November. During budget negotiations, she joined protesters calling for higher taxes for the wealthy.
Christopher Erikson leads the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, which represents about 27,000 members in the construction and utility industries, including workers who install solar for public and private customers. He’s also among 20 or so union leaders heading up Climate Jobs New York, a labor-driven effort that is “advancing a pro-worker, pro-climate agenda.” In November, IBEW Local 3 hosted New York City Mayor Eric Adams at an electrical industry training center in Long Island City to push for the decarbonization of school buildings in the city.
Even though offshore wind farms are a key element of New York's plan to reduce emissions, Doug Perkins knows that community support is still critical to ensuring their success. Community Offshore Wind, a joint offshore wind venture between RWE Renewables and National Grid Ventures, has invested in communities across the state to demonstrate its commitment to making the clean energy transition equitable. From offering swim lessons to youth in underserved communities to providing childcare to their workforce to working with fisheries to minimize disruption, Community Offshore Wind is connecting with the local community as it joins New York's push for offshore wind investment.
Fossil fuel plants dotting the East River powered New York homes for generations, but the “Asthma Alley” era is ending. Last summer, Clint Plummer announced a plan to transform the 2,480-megawatt Ravenswood Generating Plant into a clean energy hub that would power 700,000 homes. In January, Rise Light & Power acquired an offshore wind site to deliver power to the plant, and Plummer recently proposed siting a battery energy storage project at Ravenswood. Plummer’s Attentive Energy One also gave City College of New York $10 million to start a renewable energy training program.
Greenberg Traurig is one of the leading government affairs firms in Albany and New York City, and one area where it excels is in influencing energy and environmental policy in New York. Among the key players focusing on these areas is Steve Russo, who chairs the firm’s environmental practice in New York (and co-chairs the firm’s environmental practice nationally), and is an expert in environmental review processes, brownfields redevelopment and other related matters, thanks in part to his previous position as chief legal officer for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Doreen Saia, who is an expert on the inner workings of the New York Independent System Operator, chairs the firm’s energy and natural resources practice in Albany. Zackary Knaub, a shareholder at the firm in its environmental and government law and policy practices, previously served as acting chief legal counsel and energy and environmental assistant counsel to the governor.
William Flynn brings a wealth of experience to his role at the law firm Harris Beach, where he oversees its growing energy and telecommunications practice. He chaired the state Public Service Commission and was president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, giving him in-depth knowledge and insights into two of the most important governmental bodies driving energy policy as the state invests in renewable energy as it aims for ambitious clean energy targets.
John Harris and Jonathan Federman are key members of the top lobbying firm’s growing energy and environment practice, which has worked with a variety of industry players. Harris helped one client, Sunrun, establish a residential solar program, and assisted another client, Plug Power, as it became a leading provider of turnkey green hydrogen solutions. Federman, an alum of all three branches of state government, specializes in counseling clean energy and sustainability clients that are working to help the state meet its climate goals under New York's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
A member of one of Albany’s most storied political clans, Joseph DeRosa joined Bolton-St. Johns nine years ago with a deep background in environmental and clean energy policy. Before that, he helped secure $1 million in state financing to develop hydrogen fueling stations and managed the $70 million Green Jobs-Green New York loan portfolio and $100 million Residential Loan Fund during a six-year stint at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Tonio Burgos has grown his firm – formerly known as Tonio Burgos & Associates – into a lobbying juggernaut representing the likes of Con Edison, Related Companies, AECOM and Amtrak. Burgos is chair of the board of New York Harbor Parks, a conservancy protecting the harbor’s 24 national parks, and is an Association for a Better New York foundation board member. Kristen Walsh has helped support Clean Path New York, the $11 billion transmission line project that is set to come online by 2027.
Janice Fuller honed her political instincts as a congressional aide and as executive director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee before she joined the alternative energy sector four years ago. Since then, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has raised the state’s target for generating wind energy to 11,000 megawatts by 2040, and Anbaric is bidding to build transmission lines from New Jersey wind farms to the state’s electric grid. At the same time, the electric transmission developer has been seeking wind developer partners for its Juno Power Express power line off the Long Island coastline.
Pete Sikora knows that in politics, passing legislation is only half the battle. The longtime environmental activist has targeted New York City’s codification and enforcement of Local Law 97, a mandate for buildings to cut their greenhouse gas emissions or face steep fines beginning next year. Sikora wants the city to tighten loopholes to prevent developers from purchasing renewable energy credits to avoid expensive retrofits – a position supported by a majority of council members.
The former SEIU secretary-treasurer has shaped the debate over climate change by making sure that labor has a key place at the table on green economy issues. Mike Fishman pushed to ensure green jobs created by President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plans are well-paid. He also joined the board of Turn Forward, an offshore wind advocacy group that was created in November, and partnered this year with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations to celebrate the launch of Climate Jobs Institute.
For nearly 15 years, Alex Beauchamp has led campaigns backing safe drinking water, remediating toxic sites and blocking fracked gas pipelines. Last year, Beauchamp led rallies at the state Capitol opposing a gas tax holiday and climate inaction after the state Legislature stalled bills funding green infrastructure. Before the 2023 session, Beauchamp mobilized support for the All-Electric Building Act. The measure was cut from last year’s budget, but environmentalists ratcheted up the pressure to include it this year.
James Shillitto is a tough negotiator. He hammered out an agreement with Con Edison on a new contract for 7,000 unionized workers in 2020 and supported a law exempting utility workers from emergency travel restrictions so they can fix damaged equipment. Shillitto has embraced the growth of offshore wind projects creating thousands of green jobs and led a unionization drive for GE’s wind turbine workers in October. He is currently sparring with the New York Power Authority for Zeltman power plant employees, who have worked under an expired contract for the past five years.
In December 2021, Mark Sudbey announced that Eastern Generation was pulling the plug on several peaker plants in the Gowanus and Narrows, and replacing them with battery storage facilities. The move, which affects 18% of New York City’s power, came days after the City Council voted to ban natural gas connections in new buildings by 2027. Six months later, state regulators approved a 135-megawatt battery storage permit for Eastern Generation’s Astoria plant. Now, the company is converting a defunct Oswego oil tank farm into a 25-megawatt solar energy facility.
Bill Ulfelder loved spending his weekends in parks so much that he helped create more of them for New Yorkers to enjoy. Ulfelder convinced state lawmakers last year to take part in efforts to conserve 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030. Ulfelder has also given the public tips about fighting climate change and mitigating the effects of rising temperatures in New York City. In March, his organization gave a $75,000 grant to help an Indigenous-owned Southampton kelp farm expand its aquaculture facility.
Anthony Constantinople, a longtime government affairs specialist and attorney, has become one of New York City’s go-to experts on energy, land use and environmental regulations, especially involving development. Constantinople’s firm worked with NRG Energy as it sought approval for the Astoria Replacement Project peaker plant, as well as with developers involved with a Bruckner Boulevard rezoning project and a Soundview senior housing and church site. His consulting firm brought in more than $6 million in revenue in 2021.
When Crestwood sought to store and transport fracked gas at a U.S. salt mine on Seneca Lake in 2011, Yvonne Taylor mobilized hundreds of residents and businesses to oppose gas storage on the site. Five years later, Taylor co-founded Seneca Lake Guardian to protect the Finger Lakes from pollutants. She has since pressured the state Department of Environmental Conservation to block an air permit for Greenidge Generation’s bitcoin mining facility, asked the public for alternatives to the plant and sought to expedite the closure of Seneca Meadows, the state’s largest landfill.
Elizabeth Yeampierre has spent much of her career calling out the disproportionate impacts that pollution has on disadvantaged communities and seeking solutions to redress those racial inequities. Yeampierre explained to NY1 how political corruption has stalled resiliency efforts in Puerto Rico following hurricanes and told “PBS NewsHour” about her lifelong fight for cleaner air in South Brooklyn. Her organization Uprose campaigned for the city to revitalize the waterfront by converting a marine terminal into an offshore wind farm parts manufacturing center and mapped Sunset Park to develop a plan for decarbonization.
Kim Elliman’s Open Space Institute warned that the state isn’t doing enough to make its outdoor spaces inclusive to people of all backgrounds in an October 2022 report. The Open Spaces for All report included a plan to make millions of acres of parkland more accessible to people of diverse backgrounds. OSI acquired 1,000 acres in Wawarsing for $2.3 million in December to conserve the tract and has unveiled another plan to link 250 miles of multiuse trails in Ulster, Orange and Sullivan counties.
Albany veteran Rebecca Marino joined Ostroff Associates in 2017 to focus on energy and environmental issues. Marino has since advocated for millions of dollars of funding for her nonprofit, business and association clients and has been adept at navigating complex regulatory processes. A conservationist at heart, Marino was reelected co-vice chair of the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund last year.
For Andy Marsh, the inclusion of lucrative tax credits for clean hydrogen production under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was the crucial breakthrough in a long struggle to make his fuel cell company profitable. After Amazon signed a deal to buy green hydrogen from Plug Power in August, Marsh is now forecasting Plug Power will be profitable by 2024. In January, Marsh welcomed Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to his $125 million, 350,000-square-foot factory outside Albany. Hochul has committed $45 million in state tax credits to the facility, where Plug Power aims to create more than 1,600 jobs.
Roger Downs was initially impressed with Gov. Kathy Hochul, and the Sierra Club endorsed the governor’s 2022 election bid. But the environmental organization this year has been critical of her climate policies and criticized her budget proposals as weak, including her effort to change the way greenhouse gases are accounted for. Downs’ group is now prioritizing major building decarbonization legislation, and he is continuing to focus on wetlands protection after a measure passed last year reforming the state's freshwater wetlands law.
Throughout his three-decade career, Thomas Spang has been managing multiple large-scale power projects. Since co-founding Advanced Power in 2004, he has grown its solar and natural gas footprint across the country. Spang helped Advanced Power close financing for the 1,100-megawatt Cricket Valley Energy Center in Dover, which powers 1 million homes in New York state (Connecticut residents complained about pollution, but monitors couldn’t find an effect on air quality). Advanced Power also helped develop a 20-megawatt solar project in Saratoga County and two 5-megawatt solar farms in Columbia County.
Peggy Shepard and her organization, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, are among the pioneers of the environmental justice movement, with an emphasis on standing up for low-income residents and people of color. Launched in Harlem in 1988, the group today is advocating for policy change at the local, state and federal level, including a push to pass the Build Public Renewables Act in Albany and the rollout of Local Law 97 in New York City. Sonal Jessel, the director of policy, often testifies before the state Legislature on pending environmental bills.
The state may be phasing out natural gas, but Donna DeCarolis doesn’t want public officials to forget that New Yorkers still rely on fossil fuels to power their homes and businesses. The Buffalo-based industry leader and state Climate Action Council member argued the state’s climate plan could put residents “at risk” if the electric grid fails and that it is obscuring the cost of the transition. Fossil fuel companies have spent $15.5 million since 2016 lobbying against climate action in the state.
Rich Kassel hasn’t taken any time to make his mark since joining AJW in April 2022. By September, he had launched the clean energy consulting firm’s New York office, expanding beyond its locations in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, California. Among his areas of focus are renewable energy, carbon capture, green buildings and zero-emission vehicles. Kassel, an alum of Capalino and the Natural Resources Defense Council, also serves on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mobile Sources Technical Review Subcommittee on behalf of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which he helped found.
The Community Preservation Corp. is known for expanding affordable housing: CPC said it invested $1 billion in housing initiatives in the previous fiscal year alone. But Sadie McKeown – who was promoted to president last year – has also sought to shrink the carbon footprints of new homes by establishing a $250 million fund with the state to increase the energy efficiency of 10,000 multifamily rental units. McKeown serves on the boards of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the state Housing Finance Agency, influencing how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on energy projects.
Clear communication in the media about the benefits of renewable energy is essential for achieving New York state’s ambitious carbon emissions goals, but some pockets of the public have resisted gas stove bans and solar farm and offshore wind farm sitings – or even denied the existence of global warming. Enter Rachel Roseneck, who has worked to clean up muddled climate denialism in the public discourse and provided data-driven strategies for her clients at Kivvit. In August, Roseneck was promoted to director and co-lead of Kivvit’s energy practice.
Few people in the state are better at translating the technical jargon emanating from energy and environmental sources into understandable narratives than Marie French. Among the stories covered by the Politico New York reporter: the governor’s proposed prohibition on gas stoves in new buildings, a cap-and-invest program that would fund climate priorities and the battle over cryptocurrency mining. French’s weekly New York & New Jersey Energy newsletter, which she assembles with reporter Ry Rivard, remains a must-read source of industry news, hearing and appearance schedules, and environmental reports.
At a U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on climate change in September, Raya Salter tussled with Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins over the nation’s overreliance on petrochemicals. Higgins made headlines for calling the New Rochelle attorney “boo” but Salter refocused attention from the exchange on the effects of environmental racism. Three months later, Salter helped craft the blueprint to implement New York’s landmark climate law as a member of the state Climate Action Council. She continues to decry the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to unwind environmental regulations and has proposed solutions to clean up freight emissions.
The former Working Families Party organizer led a coalition of more than 300 environmental, labor unions and community groups that persuaded the state Legislature to pass one of the most far-reaching climate laws in the country. Stephan Edel is now focused on the law’s implementation, including regulatory and oversight efforts, while mobilizing support and teach-ins for the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package, which includes more funding for decarbonization efforts, public renewable energy and incentives to make fossil fuel companies pay for their pollution.
A year after passing its landmark climate law, the state created the Office of Renewable Energy Siting to expedite stalled solar and wind projects. But Houtan Moaveni encountered resistance from upstate towns suing the state for overriding local zoning laws. The Hochul administration greenlit a 500-megawatt solar facility in Genesee County in July 2022 and three more upstate permits in January. This year, Moaveni has helped pitch the governor’s energy budget proposals to the state Legislature, including a $5.5 billion investment in emissions reduction.
With 35,000 members, Thomas Callahan’s operating engineers are both a political force and a highly skilled workforce ideally suited to fill thousands of green job openings that will be created this century. In November, Callahan celebrated the groundbreaking of the 339-mile Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line, which will be built by hundreds of unionized workers. Two months later, Callahan had the 2023 election cycle on his mind: His Queens-based union joined nine other organized labor groups to endorse Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz’s reelection bid.
The labor leader, who represents commercial and industrial painters, drywall finishers and allied tradesmen, is positioning his members to make infrastructure more resistant to climate change. Joseph Azzopardi helped provide specialized training on how to apply coatings to wind turbines and make bridges and train lines less corrosive. “We must innovate how we construct physical infrastructure in New York so that our state is resilient to our changing climate and environmentally sustainable for future generations,” he wrote in amNewYork last summer. “The best people for this new front in construction are the experts in their crafts: union workers and union contractors.”
Last year, John Hutchings and Vincent Albanese’s 40,000 members rallied for voters to pass a $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act that could create 100,000 jobs. After voters approved the ballot measure in November, Albanese has been calling for new investments in workforce development that will help 200,000 new workers find green jobs. A year ago, Hutchings applauded the state’s finalized contracts for two major renewable energy projects, Clean Path NY and the Champlain Hudson Power Express, thanking state officials for approving the projects “and paving the way for workers and energy customers to share in the new clean energy economy.”
Buffalo-based attorney David Flynn leads Phillips Lytle’s environmental practice as well as its energy and cryptocurrency mining teams, which have seen plenty of action in recent years. Last year, Flynn’s firm won approval from Erie County officials to oversee the new Buffalo Bills stadium environmental review process, after Gov. Kathy Hochul secured $600 million in financing for the development in the state budget. However, Hochul’s passage of a two-year cryptocurrency mining ban in November complicates Phillips Lytle’s long-term efforts to grow its bitcoin-friendly practice.
Flynn’s colleague Dennis Elsenbeck helps clients navigate the state’s energy regulations and launched his own consulting firm, ElsEnergy, in June with a goal of advising the growth of sustainable technologies. Before that, Elsenbeck touted sustainability projects for nearly three decades at National Grid and served as president of the Buffalo-based startup Viridi Parenti, which raised $95 million in January 2022 and is planning an expansion that would double the size of its 42-acre East Delavan facility and create 500 jobs. Elsenbeck is also a member of the state Climate Action Council, which is finalizing plans to meet dramatic reductions of greenhouse gasses.
A major target for environmentalists and policymakers in New York in recent years has been a transition to electricity to heat buildings – and Michael Hernandez has been among the loudest voices calling for such changes since he came on at the nonprofit advocacy organization Rewiring America in October. In February, Hernandez penned a letter to the state Building Code Council demanding an update to New York’s building code to align with the recommendations of the state Climate Action Council.
The Adirondacks have long been considered an environmental asset and a gift of natural beauty, with protections put in place in 1892 with the formation of the Adirondack Park. Today, among the staunchest defenders of that legacy is the Adirondack Council, a nonprofit organization devoted to keeping the 6 million-acre park as wild as when it was created. Raul J. Aguirre stepped up this year as the organization’s acting executive director following the departure of Willie Janeway. Kevin Chlad, the director of government relations, has helped pass the Aquatic Invasive Species Act and other measures while also highlighting the park’s role in combating climate change.
In the 10 years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York’s coastline, Cortney Koenig Worrall has warned government officials to move faster to safeguard against more frequent superstorms, urged the state Legislature to require home sellers to disclose a property’s flood risks and called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate nature-based solutions into its climate plans. The Army Corps of Engineers recently estimated it would cost $52 billion to protect New York City from coastal floods.
Last June, Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed Richard Berkley to be the state’s consumer advocate, leading consumer protection efforts at the state’s top utility regulator. That’s familiar ground for the longtime head of the Public Utility Law Project, who sought COVID-19 relief funds for millions of New Yorkers who couldn’t pay their utility bills during the pandemic and reassured ratepayers jolted by Central Hudson’s exorbitant erroneous bills. Now that he’s a state official, Berkley is leading an investigation into Rochester Gas and Electric’s billing practices after receiving hundreds of complaints.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has been in office for over a decade and a half – and for most of that time, he has had Pete Grannis at his side. Grannis, the state’s first deputy comptroller, previously led the state Department of Environmental Conservation – and, prior to that, was an Assembly member alongside DiNapoli. On their watch, the office has pursued policies tackling climate change, including a pledge to phase out companies producing greenhouse gas emissions from the state Common Retirement Fund.
In one of his first acts as New York City comptroller, Brad Lander hired Louise Yeung to look at city budgets and contracts through a climate lens. Yeung gave testimony to the state Legislature a month later, advising a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure and supporting a measure to reduce packaging waste. In April 2022, Yeung helped unveil a new climate dashboard to hold the city accountable to climate goals, shortly after the comptroller celebrated a $7 billion milestone in climate investment. She also reported that 27% of federal funds for coastal resiliency projects had not been spent 10 years after Superstorm Sandy.
Now that bitcoin mining is paused, the Iroquois gas pipeline may be the biggest target of environmental groups in New York. Jeffrey Bruner sought to boost his 414-mile pipeline’s capacity with 12,000-horsepower compressors in Greene and Dutchess counties, but Hudson Valley residents demonstrated against the additions in February and delivered 3,300 comments asking that the state Department of Environmental Conservation deny the permits. Protesters in Brooklyn confronted Gov. Kathy Hochul over the project in March as lawmakers moved to curtail fossil fuel hookups in the state budget.
The Farmingdale-based environmental advocate was so concerned about Long Island’s water supply that her group launched an interactive map showing the presence of PFAS chemicals in water districts. Adrienne Esposito has kept the pressure on state leaders to reduce pollution in South Shore estuaries, remove 1,4-dioxane from East Meadow wells and demand state funding to clear Calverton and Manorville wells threatened by a former Northrop Grumman plant. Esposito is currently monitoring chemical contamination in groundwater near Long Island MacArthur Airport, which became a state Superfund site in February.
In the 10 years that Jason Czarnezki has taught at Pace University’s environmental law program, the department has been among the top-rated programs in the country according to the U.S. News & World Report. Czarnezki helped the farmers market operator GrowNYC formalize its relationship with the school’s food and beverage law clinic in 2021. The following year, he became the faculty director for Pace’s sustainable business law hub, which is devoted to addressing sustainability challenges through research and public policy.
In October, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor and Citizen Potawatomi Nation member Robin Wall Kimmerer won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for her work articulating alternative ways of environmental stewardship. Kimmerer’s book, “Braiding Sweetgrass,” which re-centers humanity’s relationship with the natural world along with a call to action, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Kimmerer’s “genius grant” has led to renewed interest in her work – and to speaking engagements across the country.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams may want the city to become the crypto capital of the world, but that is no sure thing, thanks to activists like Liz Moran. After joining Earthjustice from the New York Public Interest Research Group in 2021, Moran led a campaign of environmental advocates and Finger Lakes wineries against fossil fuel-burning power plants housing cryptocurrency mining operations. Thanks to her work, the state Legislature passed a two-year moratorium on permits for bitcoin mining last spring, which Gov. Kathy Hochul signed in November – a move Moran said should set a nationwide standard.
Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright has been outspoken on climate issues both in New York and nationally. He called the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden a “capitulation.” The climate justice leader argued that its climate measures wouldn’t meet the country’s carbon emissions goals and that it relies too much on unproven technologies while forcing groups seeking to redress decades of environmental racism to compete for grants. Rogers-Wright has instead called for climate reparations, such as support for those displaced by coastal flooding, while pressuring federal agencies to embrace climate guidance. In New York, Rogers-Wright has supported higher taxes and a cap-and-invest program to fund climate mandates.
Last year, Jeff Vockrodt switched jobs – but he didn’t shift his focus away from combating climate change. Vockrodt is tackling the same challenge in a new way at the helm of the Climate Infrastructure Pension Project, a new nonprofit that advocates for U.S. pension funds to invest in climate infrastructure. Vockrodt was previously the executive director of Climate Jobs New York, a coalition of unions pushing for clean energy projects – and jobs for their members.
The lifelong North Bellport resident and Setalcott Nation tribal member was organizing efforts to close a Brookhaven landfill even before its noxious gas levels and a nearby cancer cluster alarmed residents. Monique Fitzgerald framed the landfill’s location in a predominantly Black and Latino community as an act of environmental racism that must be redressed. The landfill is set to close in 2024, but Fitzgerald criticized local officials for not updating their expired waste management plans and questioned whether they could keep to that schedule.
Noah Ginsburg just took the helm of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association, the leading organization promoting solar power installation in the state and representing hundreds of businesses at every level of the sector. At its summit late last year in Albany, discussions centered on community solar, solar-plus-storage projects and other policy issues. Ginsburg, who previously had stints at Solar One, OnGrid, Sungevity and Sunrun, became a board member of NYSEIA in 2021 and replaced Zack Dufresne as executive director in March.
After serving in various roles at PUSH Buffalo for nearly a decade, Dawn Wells-Clyburn was promoted to executive director in January. One of her first acts was to encourage state senators to pass the Climate, Jobs and Justice Package. She has also commented on Buffalo’s aging housing stock and catastrophic December blizzard. In February, members of PUSH Buffalo joined the Sierra Club on Buffalo’s West Side to demand that new housing complexes become entirely electrified – a proposal that could be included in the state budget. Wells-Clyburn’s organization has also called for Buffalo lawmakers to provide more tenant protections.
After developing and managing 8.7 million square feet of real estate over a 15-year career as a top executive for the Rockefeller Group, Monique Henley joined Lendlease in October 2022 to lead its New York operations. In her new role, Henley has sought to identify large-scale urban regeneration opportunities while managing 1 Java Street, a 14-story mixed-use tower on the Greenpoint waterfront that broke ground in 2022. The 850-unit project features a geothermal heat pump instead of gas boilers and cooling towers to lower carbon emissions.
For more than 13 years, Scott Thompson has brought his technical expertise to solar, wind and battery storage projects across the country. His firm supplied environmental compliance services for the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line, excavated industrial garbage from Staten Island’s Saw Mill Creek Wetlands and consulted on how to reduce the weight of 55 Hudson Yards’ concrete structure. WSP is currently working on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $7.7 billion expansion of the Second Avenue subway line through East Harlem.
In January, GE announced that it would build two new plants to manufacture turbines and nacelles for offshore wind projects in New York, provided that it secures the contracts it’s seeking. GE’s Scott Strazik, who heads up GE’s energy businesses, known as GE Vernova, touted the company’s renewable energy expertise in announcing the proposed facilities, which would be built at its Port of Coeymans site. GE already is a player in renewable energy in New York, including in the area of onshore wind power. Vic Abate, a Saratoga Springs-based executive who serves as senior vice president and chief technology officer, is also GE’s acting CEO for onshore wind.
In the almost 10 years that Marjaneh Issapour has been at the helm of the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Center, Long Island has become a wind power powerhouse. Suffolk County wind farm projects from Ørsted, Eversource and Equinor have given Issapour’s students an expanded career path while generating $4 billion in economic activity and making the region less dependent on fossil fuels. Issapour also embraced Gov. Kathy Hochul’s expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure on Long Island, where 30% of the state’s EV owners live.
When Glenwood Management needed to lower their residential buildings’ carbon dioxide emissions without disrupting their tenants, they called Shane Johnson. Last year his startup, CarbonQuest, installed what could be the first residential carbon capture system in the world at Grand Tier, a 375,000-square-foot Upper West Side multifamily complex; Glenwood now plans to install the technology in five more properties this year. Johnson could be fielding more calls from developers as a New York City rule mandating carbon emission reductions goes into effect next year.
Over the past decade, Nelson Villarrubia’s organization planted more than 5,000 trees in New York City’s underserved communities and trained thousands of New Yorkers to maintain the saplings. Villarrubia saw an uptick in interest for classes about pruning city trees during the pandemic, but the number of plantings slowed due to rising costs. New York City Mayor Eric Adams was pushed by the city’s five borough presidents in February 2022 to plant 1 million new trees by 2030.
The NYC Plover Project was launched in 2021 with the goal of protecting the piping plover – a species of shorebird that is under threat – in its beach habitats in Queens. The nonprofit organization, which was founded by Chris Allieri, was recognized by the National Park Service with a 2021 George and Helen Hartzog Group Award for volunteering excellence. Allieri is also the founder of Mulberry & Astor, a climate tech public relations firm that represents climate startups in sectors and pushes climate solutions such as recycling, clean residential energy and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Danskammer Energy suffered a setback when the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected its permit for a natural gas plant in Newburgh in October 2021. Bill Reid argued that the $500 million, 600-megawatt project would eventually burn hydrogen gas, which would help the state meet its climate targets, and touted Danskammer’s partnership with Mitsubishi Power. Danskammer appealed the department’s decision but still heard an earful from Orange County residents at a February 2022 public hearing – and a judge upheld the state’s denial in June.
Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized the Sierra Club's Roger Downs' position on chemical recycling, which he opposes.
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