Where Is Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Plan?

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Andrew Cuomo could be a national leader on climate policy through his stewardship of New York’s transit system. Other than the occasional photo op, he hasn’t shown much interest. Photo: Governor’s office

Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of the estimated 400,000 people marching in Manhattan Sunday to urge world leaders to avert catastrophic climate change before it’s too late. And he backed it up by having his administration commit to reducing New York City’s carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found at the People’s Climate March, and for good reason. The governor’s climate plan consists mainly of a single strategy: Brace for impact.

The de Blasio climate plan is all about buildings, augmenting efforts begun by the Bloomberg administration to make the city’s building stock less polluting and more efficient. This makes sense since buildings account for such a large share of New York’s carbon emissions, and the city has considerable power to regulate them. While it would be great to see more about transportation in the de Blasio climate plan, City Hall has already set goals to make city streets more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly. The administration is doing these things in the name of safety and expanding economic opportunity, not sustainability, but the end result will still be more sustainable streets.

Meanwhile, the transportation infrastructure that undergirds New York’s light carbon footprint — the fundamental reason New Yorkers emit a fraction of the CO2 an average American does — is not the mayor’s to control. The transit system is Governor Cuomo’s responsibility, and he’s been flaking on it since the first time he robbed from the MTA to pay for the state’s general obligations.

On Monday the governor signed a law that will help cities and towns prepare for the effects of climate change. Noticeably absent from the message was the urgency of preventing climate disaster in the first place.

The same day, the MTA posted documents laying out the $15 billion gap in its upcoming five-year, $32 billion capital program. The capital program is how the MTA will keep the transit system in reliable working condition, modernize ancient signals and other equipment, and expand rail and busways.

Governor Cuomo, however, is nowhere to be found as the MTA board takes up the matter of the capital program and how to pay for it.

Borrowing $15 billion is not an option. A growing share of the MTA’s annual budget can’t be spent on running trains and buses because the authority’s debt has already ballooned thanks to borrowing for previous capital programs. Its outstanding debt now stands at $34 billion. Servicing that debt is expected to cost $3 billion annually by 2018 — triple what the MTA spent on debt service in 2005 — even without any new borrowing.

When the transit system starts breaking down, New York is in trouble. The city needs to keep improving its train and bus service to continue growing, and a growing New York is great for the planet. A good climate plan from Andrew Cuomo has to start with fully funding the MTA capital program.

  • Ian Turner

    In fairness, preventing climate change is out of Cuomo’s control. Chinese emissions raise the climate here in NYS and there is nothing he can do about it. Preparing for climate change is a rational policy response.

  • Joe R.

    Apropos of nothing but does anyone here know what type of train Cuomo is getting in? It’s obviously a test train of some sort but maybe someone here has an answer on exactly what type of test train. Yes, us rail buffs need to know. 🙂

  • Wow, its the last stage in climate denial, “yes, its happening, yes we’re causing it, but hell if we can convince others to stop, so why should we”. Perhaps I’m being unfair here, yes, China and India contribute a lot, but to argue that the US or NYC doesn’t is silly, but more over to argue that there is no benefit both in local air quality, as well as in demonstrating leadership is just plain wrong. Leadership can be a powerful thing.

  • Guest

    Where is Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Plan? Under the pilings of the new Tappan Zee Bridge boondoggle.

  • Ian Turner

    Note that I didn’t say we shouldn’t reduce our emissions, but rather that NYS should prepare for significant climate change, because it is out the power of NYS to prevent it.

  • Maggie

    I actually feel like New York’s state-level Sandy recovery and repair efforts have gone better than the city-level ones. (Looking at you, 2-years-gone Rockaways boardwalk where the city hasn’t yet set a start date for post-storm rebuilding. This is crazy. Cuomo was at the ribbon-cutting photo-op for Long Beach’s boardwalk rebuild last fall).

    But I feel like he completely misses the point on everything – everything – transit-related. I don’t think he understands or connects with millennials and gen-Xers on these crucial issues.

    ETA – this is mostly grumpy impressions. I’m a hardcore Democrat, so it’s weird to feel like Gov Cuomo couldn’t care less about the day-to-day concerns of urbanites like me. SUV-coddling is right.

  • Bolwerk

    The unspoken premise of this article is almost puzzling. Is it some
    heuristic expectation that Democrats are “moderate” enough to at least
    consider the environment? Well, George W. Bush could have been a national leader on climate change too. Except he didn’t believe Jesus would let bad stuff happen to the planet, and probably didn’t care. Cuomo may not believe that the biological matter that powers his muscle cars once frolicked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but he is either in denial about climate change or hostile to the idea that it’s a problem.

    If you ask me, the real question is not why Cuomo isn’t a climate leader, but why isn’t he trying to attract an industry that could be a boon to New York State’s – including Upstate’s! – economy? Texas attracts a lot of R&D in green energy, not because the Texans want green lifestyles, but because there is $$$ in it. People who fear and hate energy regulation and think fracking is fine feel which way the wind is blowing.

    It’s one thing to be a petulant, SUV-coddling neoliberal. But it’s another thing to be a dumb petulant, SUV-coddling neoliberal.

  • Bolwerk

    In a sense, NYC really doesn’t. The planet might even be sustainable if we got global per capita emissions down to NYC levels.

    I think we should improve anyway, but the main reason to improve is to be a leader and even make it a niche industry for ourselves. And, of course, we have other environmental issues that we should address like all our trash and 3-ton metal boxes ramming into our citizens.

  • Bolwerk

    The shape kind of reminds me of the R110A.

    If you missed that seeing any equipment from that contract, it could be because you weren’t in town that weekend. 😀

  • Larry Littlefield
  • Larry Littlefield

    “Borrowing $15 billion is not an option.”

    The second article linked in the morning news implies that’s exactly the plan. Borrow $15 billion. Pledge all the payroll tax revenues for the next 30 years to pay off the bonds. In five years we are back in the same situation, but without any payroll tax revenues.

    Just as we have no 1/8 cent sales tax revenues to use for the MTA now, even though the money is being collected.

    When will enough be enough? I hope Jim Brennan isn’t behind this.

  • Inspector Spacetime

    Cuomo only worries about the upstate vote. NYS urbanite vote is too sewn up for him to give a shit, and carries the risk that urban projects are visibly expensive (even though the economies of scale make it a better proposition all things being equal).

    Teachout was a wakeup call to his purposeful obliviousness, so we’re getting photo ops like this stupidity here, but not enough yet to permanently change the calculus of the game.

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