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Source: Albany Times Union

Climate change bill gets a hearing

Measure that would cut state's greenhouse gas emissions has been stuck in Senate committee


Posted: May 18, 2010
Originally Published: May 18, 2010

ALBANY -- A proposed law to set statewide greenhouse gas emission limits drew dozens to the Capitol on Monday, with industry groups urging a go-slow approach, while environmental advocates said worsening climate change demands immediate action.

The hearing, sponsored by Sen. Antoine Thompson, head of the Environmental Conservation Committee, was for a bill that has been bottled up since January in the Senate Finance Committee.

Under the bill, which passed the Assembly last month, the state would require greenhouse gas emissions statewide to drop by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, and hit an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

"You need to pass this now. The building is on fire and we are in trouble," said Bill Cooke, government relations director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an Albany-based lobbying group.

A growing international scientific consensus has concluded that growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases released from combustion of oil, coal and gas are heating the planet and driving climate change.

That consensus agrees CO2 emissions reductions now will limit future changes, although it is too late to avert the initial impacts

While several industry groups attending the hearing urged Thompson not to rush through the climate law, none argued that climate change was not happening or was not human-induced.

Ken Pokalsky, director of governmental affairs for the Business Council of New York, said the state should wait for the federal government to set a national CO2 program. And he questioned whether the state law would focus too heavily on industry, while glossing over the transportation and building sectors, which are also significant sources of CO2.

"Even if the industrial sector in New York disappeared, the state could still not hit the 2020 goals," he said.

"Waiting for the feds to act?" countered Cooke. "If that is not the clear definition of insanity, what is?"

This month, Thompson petitioned Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger requesting a vote on the climate measure. A call to Kruger's office for comment was not returned.

"It is a not a question of if, but how we should address climate change," said William Wolfram, chairman of the New York State Chemical Alliance, which includes companies like oil giant Exxon Mobil, and chemical maker Dupont.

He warned the state risked driving out industry and exporting CO2 pollution to other states without such rules. And he chided the administration of Gov. David Paterson for its raid on the funds raised by the state's existing climate change program, the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which limits CO2 from power plants.

Paterson outraged environmentalists last year when he took $90 million from the fund, which was meant to pay for alternative energy and efficiency programs, to help balance the state budget. "This was extremely detrimental and set a very bad example," Wolfram said.