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Another Voice: We need to transition to a clean energy future

By Rahwa Ghirmatzion

Following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced several encouraging initiatives that will help keep New York State at the front lines in the fight against climate change. The governor has joined with the governors of California and Washington in forming the U.S. Climate Alliance to meet the Paris goals.

And as part of a new Clean Climate Careers Initiative, the governor has pledged up to $1.5 billion for mass deployment of energy efficiency and renewables, and the creation of 40,000 new jobs.

The initiative also creates an Environmental Justice and Just Transition Working Group to ensure policies and programs target low- and moderate-income communities that have suffered historically from disinvestment and cumulative environmental burdens, and account for 40 percent of the state’s population. (In full disclosure, I was selected to serve on the Working Group.)

Beyond these headlines, much work is left to be done in the trenches to transition all New Yorkers to a democratically controlled and equitable, fossil fuel-free economy by 2050, while enhancing our energy and transportation systems and the longevity of our commitments to eliminate emissions. To those ends, PUSH Buffalo participates in several statewide coalitions, including the Energy Democracy Alliance and NY Renews, that are seeking to move elected leaders to take additional climate actions across levels of government and sectors of the economy.

So what do these actions look like? For starters, the alliance is urging Cuomo to nominate people’s commissioners during this legislative session to fill vacancies on the Public Service Commission (PSC), the state’s utility regulator. People’s commissioners would be nominees who match an understanding of renewable technologies and strategies with a proven commitment to marginalized communities, and a record of supporting consumer protections.

In 2014, the PSC launched an initiative to radically reform the energy industry by drafting rules that would increase access to localized, distributed renewable energy generation, like community-scale solar and wind, while preserving overall system reliability and energy affordability. To date, this reform agenda has stagnated due to the powerful influence of investor-owned utilities, like National Grid, and industry behemoths like SolarCity (Tesla) and the bailed-out nuclear operator Exelon Corp. that are bent on leveraging ratepayer subsidies to maximize corporate profits and game the system.

The governor’s first nominee to the PSC was to appear before state senators on Tuesday for confirmation hearings. As the rules of the current clean energy transition are being rewritten, elected leaders in the State Senate need to step up to carefully scrutinize Cuomo’s nominees to the PSC, and confirm people’s commissioners who will work to advantage all New Yorkers.

Rahwa Ghirmatzion is deputy director of PUSH Buffalo.

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