New York becomes latest state to take climate action into its own hands

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. CREDIT: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

While the Trump administration’s full-scale attack on climate action has been overshadowed by its ever-worsening political crisis, the slate of regulatory rollbacks the administration passed in its first 100 days has prompted states to step up their own commitments to fighting climate change.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday announced a new initiative to curb methane emissions from the state’s agricultural, oil and gas, and landfill sectors. According to state data, by weight, methane accounts for 9 percent of the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, but it is the second-largest contributor to climate change, due to its outsized heat-trapping properties.

The announcement of the Methane Reduction Plan specifically called out the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks as a reason the state chose to move forward with its own plan.

“In recent weeks, the federal government has taken steps to abandon three major efforts to address methane pollution,” the release said, noting the administration’s decision not to pursue efforts to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas infrastructure, to reconsider its limits on methane emissions from existing oil and gas infrastructure, and to reconsider rules for operations on public lands. The EPA has also rescinded a request for information from oil and gas producers on the amounts of methane they are releasing.

In a statement, Cuomo called the move “a major step in securing a cleaner, greener New York.”

The actions under the plan, which includes increased maintenance and testing for oil and gas infrastructure, reductions in organic waste, and methane collection at landfills, are expected to be implemented by 2020. The plan is part of the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050, from 1990 levels.

CREDIT: New York Department of Environmental Conservation

New York has one of the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction programs in the country. In addition to participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a multi-state program that caps emissions from the electricity sector through auctioned credits and then re-invests the money in efficiency measures and other green programs — New York’s utilities have been directed to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. To support that goal, the state has developed a “Utility 2.0” program that encourages distributed resources and helps transition the grid to a more modern system. The state reduced CO2 emissions by over 18 percent between 2000 and 2014.

Perhaps ironically, the state has already taken one of the most effective steps it could to limit methane emissions: New York was the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, an extraction method that has spurred a boom in natural gas production across neighboring Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Maryland, whose northwest corner lies on the same shale basin, recently also passed a fracking ban. Methane makes up 80 percent of natural gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year period. By limited fracking, New York has undoubtedly reduced its potential emissions footprint.

New Yorkers called for the ban, which Cuomo signed in 2014, after seeing the effects of fracking in nearby states. Last month, state regulators rejected a proposal to build a hotly contested natural gas pipeline across the state.

Cuomo wasn’t alone in unveiling a new effort to combat climate change this week; also citing concerns over the impact of recent federal actions, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced his state would pursue emissions reductions from the electricity sector.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to the governor by his late father’s name, Mario, in the subhead. ThinkProgress regrets the error.