Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing to eliminate residents’ ability to decide if they want industrial-scale wind and solar projects in their towns in the current New York budget bill. Upstate communities that do not want these projects currently have a legal right to veto them, but Governor Cuomo intends to ignore those rights due to a climate-change “emergency.” The governor wants to get this done in the budget to avoid public debate. He announced it just weeks before the deadline for budget passage, thus giving critics little time to try stopping it.
Last year, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was passed and signed by Governor Cuomo, requiring 70 percent of the state’s electricity to come from “net-zero” emission sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. By 2050, the state must achieve “net-zero” emissions for everything, including electricity, motor vehicles, industrial uses, etc. Replacing all of the non-electric fossil-fuel use with wind and solar power will be a huge task, given the rate at which the renewable resources will have to be developed and the amount of land that will be required. To do so, Governor Cuomo must eliminate local opposition and fast track the development of renewable energy facilities. The plant-approval process currently requires agreement by a board that includes two local representatives. Instead decisions will be made by the new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting, which would be part of the state Department of Economic Development.
New York is one of 41 states with some form of “home rule,” where local communities have the right to establish their own zoning requirements and conditions for development. Governor Cuomo intends to eliminate local, home-rule-based opposition using the state’s budgeting process. The governor intends to declare an “emergency” that will allow him to revamp the process for approving renewable projects. The projects will be fast-tracked, and local opinion will be discarded. The state will acquire needed land, build the necessary infrastructure, including transmission lines, and provide those to developers.
Property taxes on Cuomo’s pet projects will be set based on the state’s projections of future revenues from the projects, which will be paid to towns in lieu of property taxes they would otherwise collect. The state plans to implement a two-tiered property tax system—one for local residents and businesses and one for “green” developers that will be more favorable.
The governor’s proposal will prohibit any town from requiring developers to meet any locally imposed conditions for development, operation and eventual decommissioning. Under these rules, a wind developer could build a 650-foot tall wind turbine next to an elementary school and, at the end of that turbine’s life, leave the plant for the local community to clean up. There seems to be no limits.
Other Cuomo Energy Foolishness
Since December 2014, the production of natural gas using hydraulic fracturing—the technology that enabled an energy renaissance of low cost natural gas and has made the United States the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world—has been banned in New York. The state’s ban is upheld by the Department of Environmental Conservation, which oversees natural gas drilling in New York, but it could be overturned by a future governor without lawmakers’ approval. As a result, Governor Cuomo wants to make the ban permanent through legislation in the FY 2021 Executive Budget. The measure would restrict the Department of Environmental Conservation from approving permits that would authorize an applicant to drill, deepen, plug back, or convert wells that use high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a means to complete or recomplete a well.
The Marcellus Shale formation cuts across the New York state’s Southern Tier and Catskills region. Pennsylvania has allowed the gas industry to tap into the Marcellus for over a decade and it has brought major revenues to the state as well as much needed supplies of low-cost natural gas. Pennsylvania is attracting tens of billions of dollars in new manufacturing facilities and the jobs that come with it, including Shell’s multibillion dollar plant to make the plastics that are now safeguarding life for Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic. New York is also resisting the construction of new natural gas pipelines, which could bring natural gas produced from the Marcellus in Pennsylvania to the state.
Cuomo wants to also use this budget to ban single-use Styrofoam and to expand e-bikes and e-scooters, almost all of which are imported from China, just as are our antibiotics.
Cuomo and Medical Care
New York, along with 35 other states and the District of Columbia, have in place certificate-of-need (CON) laws. Their purpose is to keep hospitals from overspending, and thus from having to charge higher prices to make up for unnecessary outlays of capital costs. Because of these laws, hospitals must get a state agency’s permission before offering new services or installing a new medical technology. These protocols can lead to shortages of crucial medical equipment, such as ventilators and hospital beds, as has been demonstrated in New York with the coronavirus epidemic.
Governor Cuomo prefers to blame the federal government for a lack of beds and ventilators in New York, but it was his mismanagement that led to these shortages. In 2015, after learning that the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to assemble a task force and draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had. It would have cost $576 million to obtain the ventilators ($36,000 each) for a worst-case scenario, but instead Cuomo spent $750 million on a solar panel factory.
Governor Cuomo’s decisions will raise New York’s already high costs of energy, stifle economic growth, and initiate local resentment. Local governments are well-positioned to know what is best for their residents and the future of their communities and need to have input in the decision-making process. New York State should be taking steps to incorporate communities into the siting of renewable energy facilities, not circumventing municipal review and home rule under the guise of more efficient development. Under the bill, the state will have complete authority to override town zoning laws.
None of Governor Cuomo’s actions will have any measurable impact on the global climate, but instead will hurt NY residents by increasing the cost of electricity and denying them access to low-cost natural gas. It is not appropriate to commingle state finances with public policy, and that is especially true in the face of this coronavirus pandemic and the need to help the communities that are being impacted.