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New York Legislature

Members of the New York state Senate discuss legislation in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol, Thursday in Albany.

This week, the state Legislature passed a landmark climate change bill while the federal government rolled back regulations on coal-fired power plants.

The two starkly different decisions mark the ongoing struggle between the environment and business, and what can be done to curb climate change while remaining economically viable.

Heading for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk is legislation that would reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over the next 30 years. The state would generate all of its electricity from renewable resources by 2040.

It is the most ambitious emissions reduction plan in the country, and environmental groups across the state rejoiced. Local lawmakers had mixed reactions.

State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said she did not support the legislation in its entirety, while Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, thought the goals were good for the state and would make it a role model.

But while state lawmakers were working on climate change this week, the federal government announced Wednesday the repeal of a President Barack Obama-era rule meant to transition coal-fired power plants to cleaner energy. Rather than make it a federal decision, the Trump Administration has put that power in the hands of states in its new Affordable Clean Energy rule.

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, defended the new rule and said it still would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 35% below 2005 levels in 2030.

The EPA highlighted that the rule will have cost-saving measures and is expected to “result in annual net benefits of $120 million to $730 million, including costs, domestic climate benefits, and health co-benefits.”

In response to the state and federal actions this week, Little said getting away from coal is “a big economic issue,” but one that needs to be addressed. Still, she did not support New York’s latest climate bill.

“The questions raised during the debate on the state’s climate protection act in Albany this week weren’t about the need to do something, they were about what’s achievable,” she wrote in a statement to The Post-Star. “The legislation sets the nation’s most ambitious emission reduction goals, and that leads to questions about the ability of businesses, especially manufacturers and farms, to compete if energy costs go up a lot. What will consumers be able to afford, especially lower-income and seniors on fixed incomes?”

Little does not support the law’s proposal for a 22-member Climate Action Council, which will provide recommendations to achieve the lower greenhouse gas emissions.

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She said, “The Legislature should have a role at some point in the process to ensure that no regions, especially rural ones, are economically disadvantaged or unreasonably burdened in the quest to meet statewide goals.”

Woerner said as a child of the 1960s, “setting big, aspirational goals” is what helps produce the “innovation that Americans are good at.”

“It focuses on what the state can do to stimulate innovation, and I think ultimately the world will be better for it,” Woerner said. “Obviously, New York doing this on its own will have limited impact on the overall climate, and I’d like to see other states follow our lead. But I can do what I can do, and I need to focus on helping to create that kind of innovation in New York State and help address our contributions to greenhouse gases.”

For example, Woerner pointed to her advocacy for more anaerobic digesters, which could help curb emissions like methane. She is also pushing for the state to invest in more hydro power.

Despite the federal government’s rollbacks for coal-fired power plants, Woerner thinks New York can inspire other states to follow its lead.

“If we are successful in stimulating this kind of innovation, which will bring new industry and new jobs, that will be a role model that other states will follow,” she said.

Some groups worry the federal rollbacks will have bigger consequences for New York.

The Adirondack Council called the Trump Administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule “a grave error,” that compounds problems for the region along with its current lack of enforcement of the “good neighbor rule.” That rule requires EPA to act when smog from one state is causing problems in another, like New York.

“The worst of the ecological damage is likely to occur in the Adirondack Park,” the council said in a statement to The Post-Star. “EPA’s own estimates show that repeal of the Clean Power Plan and replacement with ACER will result in 1,500 more premature deaths per year from lung and heart diseases by 2030.”

The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law released a statement, too, saying it was EPA’s way of “dodging its responsibility.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo released a statement calling the federal government’s replacement of the Clean Power Plan “toothless.”

“While the Trump administration’s EPA continues to put our economy, children and planet at risk, New York is leading the nation and accomplishing real results with the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that establishes the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions targets in the United States,” he wrote.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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