In this week’s episode, host Kristin Hayes talks with Maureen Leddy, who serves as director of the Office of Climate Change at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Leddy discusses the state’s recently approved Scoping Plan, which proposes strategies for meeting the state’s emissions-reduction goals that are required by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019. Leddy reviews how the plan was developed, the community engagement involved in the development process, and specific emissions-reduction strategies that are outlined in the Scoping Plan.
Listen to the Podcast
- New York State’s Scoping Plan proposes strategies to mitigate carbon emissions: “The Scoping Plan is the bundle of strategies that will achieve the emissions-reduction requirements in the [Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act]. The law requires that New York State reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, from a 1990 baseline, 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050, with a goal of a net-zero economy in 2050.” (3:33)
- The approved Scoping Plan targets the transportation and buildings sectors in New York State: “Transportation and buildings are the two largest sectors in terms of our annual emissions in New York State. The plan leans heavily on energy efficiency and end-use electrification in transportation and buildings. We’re looking at modeling approximately 1–2 million efficient homes electrified with heat pumps by 2030, along with 3 million zero-emissions vehicles by 2030.” (10:47)
- Federal climate policy facilitates state climate policy: “A major concern earlier in this process was the lack of action on the federal level. New recent laws, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, are bringing a lot of funding that is really important to New York. We modeled significant cost reductions for our transition because of these actions on the federal level. We are actively watching and pursuing those opportunities and hope to see more action on the federal level.” (17:51)
Top of the Stack
- New York State Climate Action Council Scoping Plan from the New York State Climate Action Council
- Estimating the Value of Carbon: Two Approaches by Resources for the Future and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
- The Energy Gang podcast
The Full Transcript
Kristin Hayes: Hello and welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I’m your host, Kristen Hayes.
My guest today is Maureen Leddy, director of the Office of Climate Change at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Maureen is graciously joining me today to discuss the final Scoping Plan approved by the state’s Climate Action Council on December 19, 2022. The plan represents the culmination of years of work to define how one of the country’s largest states in economic terms will meet its ambitious decarbonization goals. Stay with us.
Hi, Maureen. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today on Resources Radio. It’s a pleasure to have you join us.
Maureen Leddy: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Kristin Hayes: Before we get to the meat of today’s discussion, we always like to learn a bit more about our guests on Resources Radio. Can I ask you to share a little about your background and how you came to work on environment and climate issues?
Maureen Leddy: I started my career in garden-variety environmental consulting. I’m a native New Yorker, but I lived out in the Bay Area in California for a number of years. When my daughter was born, I wanted to come back home, and I started working for the state of New York at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) working on renewable energy projects. When the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was passed in New York State in 2019, the position of the Director of the Climate Office serendipitously opened up at the Department of Environmental Conservation.
It was such a serendipitous moment for this role that would be so important in implementing the Climate Act. It just was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. I loved my work at NYSERDA, but I went for it and got this role. I’ve been spending the last three years working on the Climate Act, and it has been wonderful.
Kristin Hayes: Can you take us back in time to the creation of this Climate Action Council? That’s the group that passed the Scoping Plan on December 19. Tell us a bit about the plan’s legislative origins and its mandate.
Maureen Leddy: Climate change legislation was introduced in New York State back in 2016. That legislation has gone through many changes over time, but that version did include the concepts of a Climate Action Council, a scoping plan, and the emissions limits, which are the reductions in emissions that the law requires. The legislation that was eventually passed in 2019 was the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. We refer to it as the Climate Act.
That law created a statutory body, the Climate Action Council, whose primary task was to adopt a scoping plan. The Scoping Plan is the bundle of strategies that will achieve the emissions-reduction requirements in the law. The law requires that New York State reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, from a 1990 baseline, 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050, with a goal of a net-zero economy in 2050. The Scoping Plan is meant to achieve those limits.
New York State is also unique in the fact that we use different accounting, which makes our emissions reductions more stringent than other places. The law requires that we focus on methane, based on a 20-year global warming potential. Relating carbon dioxide to other greenhouse gases is all relative, and methane is what we call the “short-lived” climate pollutant. Methane has a big effect in a short time, but over a 100-year time span, it’s far less pronounced than carbon dioxide. When we look at a 20-year time span, the impact of methane is greatly exaggerated. That puts a lot of emphasis on natural gas. It puts a lot of emphasis on waste management.
We also look at other types of emissions that other jurisdictions don’t include, such as upstream emissions from the extraction and the transportation of fossil fuels that are ultimately combusted within the state. Typically, jurisdictions look at what is within their borders and not beyond. That makes our emission limits very ambitious to achieve.
The council itself is a 22-member body. There are 12 agency heads and 10 appointees. The chairs of the council are the leadership of NYSERDA and the Department of Environmental Conservation, including the president and CEO of NYSERDA and the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. NYSERDA is the Energy Research and Development Authority that I mentioned earlier.
The Climate Act also directed the creation of advisory panels that would support the council. There are six sector-specific panels named in the law: transportation, land use and local government, agriculture and forestry, housing and energy efficiency, energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries, and power generation. These panels are comprised of sectoral experts that will provide recommendations to the council on emissions-reduction strategies pertinent to those sectors.
The Climate Act also required that the council stand up the Just Transition Working Group, which had a bunch of responsibilities, but in this context, they were advisors to the council on workforce and labor considerations for the recommendations that would go into that plan.
Kristin Hayes: A wide range of stakeholder perspectives by design was both in the composition of the council itself, but also, as you noted, a number of different advisory perspectives coming together. Were there any other ways that the council worked to gather stakeholder perspectives as they were drafting the Scoping Plan?
Maureen Leddy: One thing to ensure that we include in the last question was that the council itself recognized a deficiency in the law and added a seventh advisory panel on waste management. One of their very early actions was to say, “This is a topic area that requires its own group of experts.” They made that decision to add an additional advisory panel and then to impanel all the others so they could start pulling together the recommendations for the Scoping Plan.
The law does put all of these diverse perspectives together, and there was a big focus on gathering stakeholder feedback on the work throughout the entire process. The 12 agency heads on the council are energy agencies, housing, health, transportation, agriculture, labor, and economic development. The legislative appointments were people that represented the fossil fuel industry, renewable energy, environmental concerns, environmental justice concerns, and, again, more labor. All of these perspectives are at the table in developing this plan that can address the complexity of the transition that the law envisioned.
The advisory panels had a stakeholder-input process by which they worked with their stakeholders and the general public to receive feedback on their work. The council has had a website since its beginning where the public can sign up for emails to stay in the loop on activities and developments and can provide feedback. The council has always received feedback, and the public can look at all of the council meetings, all the advisory panel meetings, all of the analytical work, and everything that was fed into the process of developing the plan. That’s all available on the website and ensured that the public had access to all the information throughout the entire process.
The advisory panels got stakeholder feedback as they developed their recommendations. They held public meetings, they took feedback, they had roundtables, and topical experts were brought to present to the council at a number of the council’s meetings. The council held a focused session on reliability and brought in experts to help inform them on issues around reliability.
Then there was the Climate Justice Working Group that the law also created, and they provided their feedback to the Climate Action Council on the recommendations from the advisory panels. All of this feedback and more was built into the draft plan that was released at the end of 2021.
Then, the Climate Act required a public comment process on the draft plan. We held a six-month public comment process in 2022. The council held 13 hearings where they received testimony, and they have over 35,000 written comments and testimonies that came through that public comment process. All that information was read, summarized, and presented to the council. All those public comments are also available on the Climate Act website. A large body of stakeholder and public input fed into what, ultimately, was the final plan released at the end of last year.
Kristin Hayes: I’m grateful to spend some time talking to you about the process, because many of my colleagues here at Resources for the Future (RFF) have emphasized that, although the outcome is critical, the process really matters for the durability of the decisions that are made.
I do want to turn at this point and talk about the final Scoping Plan itself, which includes proposals designed to reduce emissions from all major sectors of the economy. My understanding is that the two highest-emitting sectors in New York State are the building sector and the transportation sector. Can you say more about what the Scoping Plan proposes for dealing with the emissions from those sectors?
Maureen Leddy: Transportation and buildings are the two largest sectors in terms of our annual emissions in New York State. The plan leans heavily on energy efficiency and end-use electrification in transportation and buildings. We’re looking at modeling approximately 1–2 million efficient homes electrified with heat pumps by 2030, along with 3 million zero-emissions vehicles by 2030. But achieving those emissions reductions require actions in all sectors. Every sector will see significant transformation over the next decade and beyond, and that’s going to require critical investments in the New York State economy.
It’s all interlinked. If we are going to have end-use electrification in order to reduce emissions in transportation and buildings, then we need to think about how that interplays with our electric sector and the ability to deliver that electricity, the ability to deal with dynamic load shifting, and the ability to switch to a winter peaking from a summer peaking, which is our current profile now.
Kristin Hayes: That’s a great pivot back to the power sector, which is foundational to many of the changes you just described—this “clean up the grid, then electrify as much as possible” perspective. I understand that the final Scoping Plan was overwhelmingly passed by the council, but there were three votes against the final plan. From the bits that I’ve read about, it seems like those votes had to do with concerns about stress on the power grid. As we electrify more things, have we made the grid resilient to that increased demand?
Can you say more about those concerns? You also mentioned a few things that the state has to take a hard look at in order to ensure this sufficient, reliable supply of electricity; are there other measures that the state is focused on?
Maureen Leddy: Reducing emissions through electrification is contingent upon that electricity being clean, or producing zero emissions. The law also has a requirement that the electricity sector has zero-emissions electricity by 2040. They’re hand in hand. We are cleaning up the grid, and we’re electrifying everything. Ensuring reliability of the electrical grid is a core concept in the Climate Act, and it’s core to the Scoping Plan, as well.
The state has done a lot of planning and analysis, looking at how we can achieve an emissions-free model by 2040 and modeling different scenarios in terms of the reliability of the electric system as it pertains to end-use electrification. The models are measuring the ability of the system to carry all this load using renewables in storage and assessing their reliability contributions over hundreds of years and potential weather conditions. The state is looking at all these different permutations of things that could potentially happen in this new scenario of a clean grid in a highly electrified economy.
The state is trying to capture the changes of solar generation and the interactive effects between these resources, pulling together a least-cost mix of resources to meet energy needs while meeting statewide and local capacity requirements. We need to model that reliability, and we have done that. The Scoping Plan did a lot of modeling of reliability.
Distributed energy resources play a large role in the energy storage of on-site renewables that are able to operate independent of the grid for resilience benefits. The state is looking at a well-planned strategic transition from our existing system, coordinating across numerous sectors, and integrating its plans to build out the local electric transmission and distribution system to meet the anticipated increases on the grid and that demand throughout the state.
It’s a transition over time. It’s going to require investment and planning, and the state is taking action on both. There are investments in renewable energy projects, and there are massive investments in transmission infrastructure. Reliability is core and key.
We’re also looking at how we manage the demand side. How do we reduce demand through building and energy systems, solution-development demonstration projects, electric vehicle batteries, interactive capabilities with buildings and on-site storage, and the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen. We’re tracking the hydrogen technology and how that can help contribute.
Kristin Hayes: It sounds like all options are on the table for New York State. I talked in the past with folks in Ithaca who have quite literally, I think, tapped into geothermal as a source of energy in New York State. You mentioned renewables and battery storage. Are there any other clean energy assets that the state also brings to the table that can help with this transition?
Maureen Leddy: The biggest one that comes to mind is the work New York State is doing on offshore wind development. We are very fortunate in our geography that there is an excellent offshore wind resource that is conveniently located right next to our load centers. New York City and Long Island, which are the largest energy consumers in the state, are positioned well to benefit from offshore wind. The state has been doing work to make that happen for years now. There’s very positive work on the federal side, too, that has been helpful in New York State and a lot of eastern states to get offshore wind up and running.
There is also a direction to develop thermal energy networks, like what you mentioned in Ithaca. The Public Service Commission put out an order requiring the Department of Public Service to create pathways for utility companies to become thermal energy providers and build out thermal energy networks that then can provide geothermal ground-source heat pumps to district heating systems. It’s another area of service that is a clean energy service that utilities can provide to their customers.
Kristin Hayes: You mentioned the federal level, and I’m curious whether investments through recent legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act are going to facilitate some of these changes. Do those make resources available for you as a state that will actually help you achieve your goals?
Maureen Leddy: Absolutely. A major concern earlier in this process was the lack of action on the federal level. New recent laws, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, are bringing a lot of funding that is really important to New York State. We modeled significant cost reductions for our transition because of these actions on the federal level. We are actively watching and pursuing those opportunities and hope to see more action on the federal level.
Kristin Hayes: I want to make sure that I cover what is perhaps the biggest news in the plan, which was the recommendation of a cap-and-invest program that will cover all sectors of the state economy. I wanted to ask you a bit about that and your sense of why that cap-and-invest proposal was ultimately included. Why is it an important complement to the other recommendations that are in the plan?
Maureen Leddy: When the Scoping Plan draft was released in 2021, the council recognized that it was not complete. The public comment process was incredibly important, and there were key open issues that the council knew they needed to work on throughout 2022.
The role of an economy-wide policy was one of those open questions. The draft plan includes options of different things the council could recommend for an economy-wide policy. The council did work on this topic in 2022. They had a lot of deliberations around it. They used the public comment process on the options presented in the draft to help inform their decisions. They ultimately landed on recommending a cap-and-invest program. One of the Climate Action Council members, Anne Reynolds, said, “The cap-and-invest recommendation answers two fundamental questions: How can we be sure that we will achieve the reductions? And, how are we going to pay for it?"
To ensure compliance with the emissions limits for 2030 and 2050, there would be a cap set—a declining cap that would be enforceable through regulation. Those emissions allowances for the entities that are regulated under that cap would be made available through an auction mechanism, and the revenues received through that auction mechanism would be reinvested back into all of the clean energy technologies that we need to see happen in order to achieve the limits.
The governor directed the Department of Environmental Conservation and NYSERDA to start working on that cap-and-invest program in her State of the State report back in January of 2023. The council did quite a bit of work to develop that report in the final plan by discussing it with environmental justice communities that have concerns around market-based emissions trading.
We talked a lot about stakeholder engagement, and the stakeholder engagement into the Scoping Plan is just the beginning. All of the implementing actions that come out of the Scoping Plan need to go through a process like a regulatory or programmatic development process that includes a lot of stakeholder outreach. We are getting our feet underneath us to push forward with a robust stakeholder engagement process on the development of the cap-and-invest regulations.
Kristin Hayes: Something that I had to refresh my own memory on is that the elements in this plan are not binding. They are not laws on the books. They obviously have been extremely well considered and thought out, but there is another step that needs to happen now between moving from this final Scoping Plan’s recommendations to really getting those things on the books. Can you say just a bit more about what happens next?
Maureen Leddy: It’s true that the Scoping Plan is not a legally binding document, but the Climate Act includes a provision that the Department of Environmental Conservation has to promulgate regulations by the end of 2023 that ensure the achievement of the emissions limits. Those regulations must be drawn from the Scoping Plan. That is an important provision to ensure that the Scoping Plan is acted upon.
There are lots of recommendations in the Scoping Plan that involve regulatory action, not only by the Department of Environmental Conservation, but also other agencies. This cap-and-invest regulation is a big one. Given its complexity, we assume that there will be a lot of interest, and there will be a lot of comments on it. It’s going to be a big effort for the state to take on this year. We’re looking at all the other regulations that are in that plan through the broad group of agencies that have been involved in this process and are trying to create a plan that manages our time and resources effectively to implement all of those things in a one-year, five-year, and three-year lookout.
The plan also requires a refresh every five years. In five years, a revised Scoping Plan will be created to help reflect all the changes that have happened in the world, including technological changes. Things are going to change that we can’t foresee. The plan also has a lot of legislative actions, so there’s a lot for the legislature to do, as well.
Kristin Hayes: There’s been a tremendous amount of work, there is a lot of work to do moving forward, and it’s time-bound work. You’ve got one year to do this massive project. What are the biggest challenges? Aside from time constraints, what’s going to hold this back from being as successful as everyone wants it to be? On the positive side, what are the opportunities as the process moves forward? What is the greatest promise as the state continues its decarbonization journey?
Maureen Leddy: The governor’s support to advance the cap-and-invest program as an early action out of the Scoping Plan is very promising. That gives us a lot of great direction to move forward. We know the stakeholder process for that needs to be thorough. There’s going to be a variety of workshops, consultations, community organizations, labor unions, municipalities, and the environmental justice community. We only have a year. That’s a lot of people we need to talk to. That’s a lot of perspective that we need to pull in.
Managing that process, making sure that all those voices are heard, and ensuring we are able to take all that information in and incorporate it into the regulation development in a year is going to be challenging. We’re really glad that we are starting to work on this from the get-go in January. It’s going to be challenging to meet that timeline, but we are certainly going to put all our effort in to do it.
The other thing that is unique about the Scoping Plan is that there is a strong recommendation for a planning process to transition away from the use of natural gas. This is an area where New York State doesn’t have a long history of analysis and planning to inform decisionmaking like we do for the electricity sector or transportation. Those are areas that we have been working on for a number of years. We know a lot about what it takes to transition to those industries, and we’ve been doing it. There’s been a renewable portfolio standard in New York State since the early 2000s. We have a lot of history there. We also don’t have a lot of examples from other states or jurisdictions that have downsized or transitioned out of natural gas usage.
We’re a bit out in front on transitioning away from natural gas, which is good. We can be a leader there. But we have a lot of interesting work that we need to do in this space to model the interplays between the electricity side and the natural-gas side of the energy system, including reducing natural gas use relative to increasing electricity use and the interplay of the energy-efficiency improvements and innovations. There’s a lot of interesting work that needs to be done; we are tackling a new transition and something that needs to happen, probably, on a much quicker time scale than we have seen in the past for other sectors.
Kristin Hayes: There’s never a dull moment. It sounds like there’s always something to be moving forward and innovating on.
Maureen Leddy: Right. Innovation is a really important part, too. We are closely tracking what’s going on with green hydrogen and long-duration storage. They hold a lot of promise to help with that transition and the reliability concerns we talked about earlier. So, innovation is going to play a large role, as well. There’s a lot of investment, research, and development that are priorities for the state.
Kristin Hayes: It’s always nice to hear about progress on these very challenging issues. It’s nice to hear about the process, too, and the thought and the work that went into pulling all this together. There are lots of lessons to be learned from that, as well.
Watch this space; it sounds like there’s going to be much more to come. Given the importance of the New York State economy, the state is a leader in this area. We at RFF will certainly be keeping an eye on the state’s actions over the next year and then beyond.
I’m sure my colleagues are very jealous that I have you on the line and can ask you questions. But, since we’re at the end of time, I want to close with our regular feature, Top of the Stack. So, Maureen, what’s on the top of your stack that you want to recommend to our listeners? It can be about this topic, or it can be more general.
Maureen Leddy: I’m always interested in following the trends—what’s happening with these big innovation spaces here in New York State, what’s going on with offshore wind, what’s happening with hydrogen development, and looking to Europe, where it seems like they’re ahead of us in terms of that development. I’m interested in understanding how we can learn from their development. I’m trying not to always be focused on energy issues and climate issues in my life, either.
This was a tough question for me to be honest with you, but I love the Energy Gang podcast, love tracking what’s happening with offshore wind, and just generally love learning about economics. I have enjoyed working with RFF. RFF supported our “value of carbon” guidance that the Department of Environmental Conservation put out, which was fundamental to the cost-benefit work that supported the Scoping Plan. The work showed all of the high-level benefits of action on climate and especially that the cost of action far exceeds the cost of inaction in long-term benefits.
Kristin Hayes: Maybe we can consider that RFF is at the top of your stack. That might be a little self-serving on my part, but it’s great. It’s always nice to hear about how New York State has a long history of including analysis in its rulemaking, and we’re very pleased to have been a part of that over time, too.
Maureen Leddy: RFF has that expertise when looking at cap and invest and all sorts of other programs like that. We always appreciate RFF’s expertise and expert opinion on those items.
Kristin Hayes: I will pass that on to my very talented colleagues. Maureen, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time, and I look forward to hearing more about your work over the next period of time.
Maureen Leddy: Thanks. It was great talking with you.
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