New York Climate Action Council Approves Draft Scoping Plan to Achieve the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions

On December 20, 2021, the Climate Action Council (“Council”) approved the release for public comment of its draft Scoping Plan, which describes how New York can achieve the requirements of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“CLCPA” or “Climate Act”): 70% renewable electricity consumption by 2030, 100% zero-emission electricity consumption by 2040, a 40% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, an 85% reduction in statewide GHG emissions by 2050, and net-zero emissions statewide by 2050. The Council’s draft plan recommends a broad array of regulatory measures, legislation, and other state actions across every sector of the state’s economy – any and all of which could have significant implications for New York’s clean energy markets for decades to come. This plan is not only extraordinarily comprehensive; once final, it will have teeth. The Climate Act requires that the scoping plan “inform the state energy planning board’s adoption of a state energy plan,” and the State’s energy law requires that all state entities must make “any energy-related action[s] or decision[s] … reasonably consistent with the. . . [state energy] plan.”

The Council’s unanimous vote to issue the draft Scoping Plan comes as no small feat. Over a year of stakeholder input, presentations from Advisory Panels representing all sectors of the economy, input and recommendations from the Council – which is comprised of 22 state agency and stakeholder representatives – and feedback from the Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG), culminated in the Council’s December 20 approval. Once the draft Scoping Plan is officially released, by the end of the year, a minimum 120-day comment period will be open – an important opportunity for participation with respect to this formative document that has been highly anticipated by industry stakeholders from the renewable energy, transportation, fuels, buildings, agriculture, and waste sectors, as well as by environmental justice advocates.

The public comment period will also include a series of stakeholder meetings and Council discussions. One issue that’s sure to be deliberated was the topic of much discussion at the Council’s December 20 meeting. Council members proposed several amendments to the draft plan that highlighted the need for the Council to clarify its stance with regard to the future in New York of natural gas and alternative fuels. With regard to natural gas distribution infrastructure, a majority of the Council agreed with including a sentence stating that the gas system would be “downsized”, and disagreed that the gas system would necessarily be “dismantled.” As LIPA Council-Member Tom Falcone pointed out, the existing gas distribution system could be transitioned to transport hydrogen. Nevertheless, a majority of the Council voted to remove the recommendation that a study be conducted to determine whether the gas distribution system could carry a mix of gas and hydrogen. The Council further agreed to soften its recommendation that the state enact clean fuel standard legislation, and instead decided to recommend in the draft plan the use of biofuels and electric vehicles. The recommendation to adopt a clean fuel standard had divided stakeholders in the environmental and transportation sector, and with this last-hour language tweak the Council opted to leave the question open for public comment.

As part of the development of the draft Scoping Plan, the Council conducted an integration analysis to evaluate different GHG mitigation scenarios based on the information presented to the Council by Advisory Panels and working groups, including the CJWG. The draft Scoping Plan outlines four scenarios on which the Council will seek public feedback regarding “the mix of strategies and level of ambition of these strategies in order to achieve the emissions limits.” The first scenario, Scenario 1, evaluates a business-as-usual future as a reference case. Scenarios 2, 3, and 4 were all designed to meet or exceed the Climate Act’s GHG limits and achieve carbon neutrality based on findings from Advisory Panel recommendations and supporting analysis, but represent different approaches to reach those goals. Scenario 2, for instance, includes the use of bioenergy from biogenetic waste, agriculture and forest residues, and limited purpose grown biomass, as well as a critical role for green hydrogen for applications that are difficult to electrify. Scenario 3 includes a very limited role for bioenergy and hydrogen combustion with accelerated electrification of buildings and transportation. Lastly, Scenario 4 reflects accelerated electrification and the use of targeted low-carbon fuels. The results of the integration analysis showed multiple pathways for achieving the Climate Act’s GHG emissions limits and revealed key findings regarding the level of deep decarbonization that is feasible by mid-century, though the assumptions and analyses underlying each of these scenarios and conclusions will no doubt be the subject of significant comment in the coming year.

As the Climate Act requires that the final Scoping Plan be infused into the state’s laws and regulations, the plan provides an important lens into future state planning objectives, signals to State agencies and lawmakers how they should approach future rulemakings and legislation, and informs market decision-making regarding both opportunities and challenges.

Next up, the changes made at the December 20 Council meeting will be incorporated into a final draft Scoping Plan that will be formally noticed before the end of 2021 for public comment. The notice will include a deadline for submitting written comments and a meeting schedule. Over the next year, the Council will consider the Advisory Panels’ recommendations along with information from the integration analysis, the CJWG, and public feedback. The Council must then issue its final Scoping Plan by the end of 2022. Among other things, the final Scoping Plan will make recommendations to the legislature regarding enabling legislation necessary to implement the Council’s recommendations.

As possibly the most comprehensive assessment of cross-sectoral decarbonization pathways that New York – or any other state – has conducted to date, the draft Scoping Plan, although lackluster in name, is a significant and critical step. The plan describes in great detail the pathways to achieving the Climate Act’s ambitious requirements, and frames for the clean energy market the technologies and strategies that will be more (or less, in some cases) promising in New York State for decades to come.

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