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Another Voice: We need dramatic improvement in public transit

By Philip Wilcox

In New York State there has been a dramatic shift in where carbon emissions come from. Power generation emissions historically towered over the next closest source – transportation. However, in 2016 20 percent of New York’s carbon emissions came from power generation, while a whopping 34 percent comes from transportation

For the climate change deniers, carbon emissions are simply a report card as to fossil fuel use. The double-edged sword of fossil fuel is we became exceptional at extraction technologies and robust short-term supply will abound for a decade or two, and we need it to cost effectively transition to sustainable supply. However, those proposing even greater use will be dead before their shortsighted impacts doom future generations both economically and environmentally. Sustainable replacements over the next two decades while supply is high and price is low should be made a top priority.

The reason we have made such enormous strides in flipping carbon emissions in New York can be primarily attributed to investments made from fees secured from retail and wholesale electric pricing; the system benefits charge (SBC) in retail bills helps fund the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is shouldered in wholesale prices by greenhouse gas emitters. Investments made in efficiency and clean power have delivered the remarkable results, made even more aggressive by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recently passed Clean Energy Standard, the primary delivery mechanism to ensure that New York receives 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030. Completion of the governor’s Energy Highway transmission investments will move this power from source to load.

It is now long past due to focus aggressive attention on reduction of emissions from the transportation sector. The first and most effective approach would be to dramatically increase investment into public transit – a proven reducer of gasoline use and greenhouse gas emissions. Following the model of electricity sector success, a fee at the pumps directly invested in public transit would make abundant sense. Gas costs were over $4 per gallon a few years ago; domestic technologies in enhanced oil recovery have delivered burgeoning supplies that have resulted in much lower prices, expected to stay so for several years.

With full respect to the business community that traditionally has fought such notions, we must point to that same community’s aggressive courting of Amazon’s massive distribution center and its tens of thousands of jobs. High on Amazon’s community must haves is a “robust public transit system”. Many businesses now search for the most sustainable communities as they look to relocate.

The investments by our governor, the Pegulas, the Zemskys and several others must be rewarded by a rapid response to statewide public transit expansion. And if we don’t get aggressive with this, how can we claim to care for our youth and ignore what’s coming for them?

Let your state legislator know you support this investment.

Philip Wilcox is business representative for IBEW Local 97 and president of the, Niagara Greenspace Consortium.

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