Welcome back to The Planet You Save, your weekly Thursday newsletter on local climate action. I'm Taylor Kate Brown and as we approach the end of the year, I'm thinking about repair and reuse as a way to gift.
In today's newsletter I wanted to focus on few related but shorter stories about one state: New York. In 2019, New York passed a climate law mandating strong emissions reductions. How the state will do that is currently being hashed out in the New York climate action council, as well as through ongoing legislation. But for the first time, one of the state's environmental permitting agencies has cited the law — and the threat global warming poses to the state — to deny permits for two natural gas power plants.
It's not necessarily the end of all fossil fuel permits in New York: one of the two plants will continue to operate occasionally under an existing permit and there are others under consideration. But the decision to not fully repower a fossil fuel source of electricity is giving climate groups hope that the New York is using the law to actually change the state's power mix.
In denying the permits, the Department of Environmental Conversation said the plants weren't needed for reliability and that they found the suggestion the plants could eventually be powered with hydrogen or biogas "speculative." In these instances at least, the agency didn't find these two common arguments natural gas providers make for keeping plants online convincing.
Meanwhile, Ithaca, New York has committed to electrify every. single. building. in the city — not just municipal buildings — by 2030, after an unanimous vote. That's about 6,000 buildings and an estimated 40% of the city total emissions. But this isn't just a hopeful goal: Ithaca has already raised $100 million towards the effort (a figure larger than the city's annual budget) and has a partner, a company based in the state focused on retrofitting older buildings. (They've already done 1,000 apartments in Brooklyn in two years). "The hardest part is done,” Donnel Baird, owner of Bloc Power, the company working with Ithaca, told the Washington Post. “The hardest part is finding the city with the courage to make the commitment.”
It's still a lot of work, but if Ithaca moves fast on its first phase of just under 2,000 buildings within a few years, it could be a model for other cities.
The same state agency being lauded for turning down the natural gas plant is also part of federal civil rights investigation in New York City. The investigation comes after a year of protest by Brooklyn residents about an upgrade to an existing natural gas hub that would expand a pipeline in their neighborhood. The EPA will investigate if the department discriminated because it didn't take in account the pipeline element as a part of an environmental review.
“We’ve been saying all along that this [pipeline] project disproportionately impacts communities of color, but now we have a federal agency that is going to investigate, legally, how this project does that,” Britney Wilson, a lawyer and director of the Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic at the New York Law School, told THE CITY.
It's a fairly rare move by the EPA, but comes as the agency's new administrator went on a listening tour in the South to talk to communities hard hit by industrial pollution, including in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley." Larger pipelines have also been ended by nitty-gritty permitting fights elsewhere, and its clear the residents advocating against the gas hub in Greenpoint want the project gone entirely.
Can you get your city to net-zero?
"Congratulations! You’ve just been elected mayor of Smogtown, home to the esteemed TreeHug University. You handily beat your competitor with a campaign promise to bring carbon emissions to zero within eight years, and now it’s time to deliver!"
I am jealous that the folks at CityLab made this choose-your-own-adventure-game about the policies and politics that gets cities to drastically cut their carbon emissions. It flattens some of the local differences you might see from city-to-city, but it's both fun and hopefully eye-opening about how many different things under cities' control are related to climate.
Ahead of 2024 deadline: Citing climate risks, California is denying fracking permits in droves.
Replacing property taxes for a troubled energy plant: Xcel has reached a deal to close its controversial coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, Colorado by 2035, with the agreement of local governments, but environmental groups are placing formal opposition in part because it allows for new natural gas investment.
When you've already survived an apocalypse: "What I’m saying, what I’m thinking through in the book I’m writing and the film I’m making, is that a broader humanity facing the apocalypse of climate change might have a thing or two to learn from a people who’ve lived through the near total loss of our own worlds; that Indigenous Peoples have something important to say if you’re willing to give us an audience." A new program in Hopi and Navajo lands: 15,000 Native American families live without electricity. How can solar power help?
#GivingTuesday redux - The WWF probably doesn't need your money: Charitable giving to environmental causes goes mostly to land and animal conversation, not to groups working on crucial ways to limit emissions or on environmental justice for the hardest hit humans. "The Nature Conservancy raises more in an average week than all environmental justice nonprofits included in the analysis do in a year."
Where will EV charging infrastructure really build out first? Bay Area Rapid Transit wants to expand charging in its station parking lots. Related: Nevada to Receive $38 Million for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations from infrastructure bill (NB: I'm looking for other climate investments from the infrastructure bill being covered by local media: If you see a story near you, please email me.)