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Another Voice: Expanded public transit will trim carbon emissions

By Phil Wilcox

When the state Public Service Commission approved a Clean Energy Standard (CES) following a directive from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the rest of the nation took note and intelligent consensus was that this is the kind of bold action necessary to make meaningful impact on carbon reduction. Naysayers drunk on the temporary low price of natural gas claim the Environmental Protection Agency’s calculated “societal cost of carbon” is too much of a burden.

This price has been exhaustively analyzed to reflect an equitable price shared by all for meaningful carbon emission reduction to address climate change.

In addition to the CES, the governor’s Energy Highway has gone through dutiful due diligence to reduce the impact of critically needed transmission upgrades – a major companion to the CES as it will allow cleaner, cheaper upstate power to access the load-hungry downstate market and reduce the price tag for the CES and the zero carbon power it supports.

States in New England have seen the impact of allowing zero carbon nuclear generators to close, causing power prices and carbon emissions to rise.

And the price of doing nothing? A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists titled “Climate Change in the United States – The Prohibitive Costs of Inaction” breaks out region-specific challenges under the subjects of flooding, hurricane intensity, beach tourism, public health, water scarcity, shipping, winter tourism, agriculture, energy and infrastructure stress and wildfires. Regions should be terrified of the freight train headed their way if nothing meaningful occurs regarding reduced carbon emissions. Like the old oil filter commercial – pay a little now or a lot more later – just think Hurricane Sandy.

The next challenge is to respond to recent news that, for the first time in decades, the transportation sector releases more carbon into the atmosphere than the power sector.

In Western New York we are fortunate to have tremendous existing rights of way to help facilitate expansion of public transit, and the existing rail runs on carbon-free hydropower.

The thorny part, as always, is how to pay for this. Bracing for the critics, we could ask voters if they are willing to pay a few pennies more at the pump like other states have, or shift the value of the small electric bill credit residents receive from New York Power Authority discounts.

There are other ideas that almost always meet resistance. But while the United States is rapidly moving toward complete energy independence, isn’t now a good time to capture some value from carbon producers and apply it to carbon reducers in transportation – epitomized in public transit?

Phil Wilcox is Western Division business representative of Local 97, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

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