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The heat is on, New York: A new climate law is a major landmark, but now requires work and sacrifice



climate law

New York became an instant global leader in the fight against climate change with the passage last week of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

No other state and no large country has enacted a law with the essential ingredients to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Climate Agreement: a legally binding legislative act to achieve ​​an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a goal of net zero.

Years of dogged work by environmental, environmental justice and labor advocates — some behind the scenes, some loudly in the streets — paid off. So did the persistence of Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Gov. Cuomo. It was a political triumph all around.

The champagne corks are still popping. But the realization is dawning that implementing the new law will be really, really hard. New York is boldly going where no state has gone before. The goal can be accomplished, mostly with existing technology, but it will take a great deal of sweat and treasure (no one knows just how much), as well as a continuation of the political will that brought us to this point.

In a perfect world, serious action to lower emissions would have begun in the late 1980s when scientists rang the first loud warning bells. That didn’t happen. In a less perfect world, at least now we would have a Congress and a president willing to take serious action. Since we have neither, it is left to the states to act. California has long been the leader, but New York has now leapt into the front rank.


The new law will affect every sector of the economy. The most straightforward is electricity. By 2040, all the power used in the state will have to come from clean sources — none at all from fossil fuels. The last two coal-fired power plants in the state are already scheduled to close, but there are quite a few natural-gas plants that still have many years of life in them.

Someone will have to eat the cost of their early closure — whether it’s investors, ratepayers or taxpayers. To replace them, there will be a massive program to build offshore wind facilities, solar farms and storage; the law requires enough of these to add up to the equivalent of 18 nuclear power plants.

There will also need to be a great deal more onshore wind, rooftop solar, solar arrays and transmission lines. Fortunately the costs of wind farms, solar panels and energy storage have been plummeting worldwide, and their all-in costs (capital plus operating) are often below those of fossil plants.

Not everyone will be thrilled to see wind turbines over the horizon from their beach homes in the Hamptons, or on top of their favorite mountains, or the transmission lines that will take the power to where it is needed. But a little bit of visual blight, if that’s what it is — some people think wind turbines are beautiful — is nothing compared to the ugliness that will envelope the planet if we do not act decisively to move away from fossil fuels.

A World War II-scale mobilization has often been called for to fight climate change; and during that war, no one was heard to object to the construction of an airplane or tank factory near their home.

Electricity loads can be reduced by encouraging or mandating more energy efficient lighting (such as LEDs) and other equipment, but that will be more than overcome by the increased loads due to electrification of transportation and space heating and cooling. More on that in a minute.


Only 17% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions is from making electricity. The largest portion, 33%, is transportation. Radically reducing that amount will require the conversion of almost the entire passenger vehicle fleet to electric. (Perhaps some cars will use hydrogen or other clean technologies.)
This won’t happen overnight. No one will be required to give up their current cars, though perhaps incentives will be provided, improving on 2009’s federal cash-for-clunkers program. But increasingly, and in time entirely, new cars and SUVs will have to be electric.

This will require federal cooperation, which hopefully will be available in a couple of years, because Washington sets national standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy.

But the state must set up the infrastructure to charge the electric vehicles that will have to replace internal combustion engines. Instead of going to gasoline stations, people will fill up their batteries at home, at work, in parking lots or garages or in charging stations on the road.

Many buses and some trucks are already electric, and as batteries become cheaper and hold higher charges, they will run even the heaviest trucks. This will also mean an end to terribly unhealthy emissions from gasoline and diesel, and much quieter streets.

For the vehicles that still use gasoline or diesel, the state may impose a low-carbon fuel standard that requires more of the fuel to come from biological sources, though care must be taken to ensure that this does not involve cutting down forests or reducing food supplies. Another possible energy source for heavy-duty vehicles is renewable natural gas from sources like food and agricultural waste.

We also need to reduce vehicle miles traveled. The congestion-pricing law that will take effect in Manhattan south of 60th St. in early 2021 will help there. The state and cities can further reduce auto use through better mass transit, bicycle paths and transit-friendly land use patterns. Telecommuting will also contribute.

Residential and commercial

Residential and commercial uses add up to 26% of state greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this is from heating and cooling buildings; heating water; and cooking, mostly by natural gas and oil. This will be reduced mostly by retrofitting millions of buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Improvements to insulation, windows, HVAC systems, and other elements can greatly reduce buildings’ energy load. Old inefficient appliances will need to be replaced with new ones. Many buildings will need to have their heating and cooling converted to electricity and heat pumps.
This is another huge lift. Keeping homes from Buffalo to Brooklyn warm in the dead of winter without using gas or oil will take an enormous amount of new electrical capacity. Delivering it, especially on days when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing very hard, is going to be a massive challenge.

Converting fossil-fuel-based heating systems to clean electrical ones costs a lot of money. That will require additional subsidies (some already exist) from governments or utilities — especially for the housing for the less affluent, and for small businesses. New York City got a jump start in April on these building efficiency improvements when the City Council passed a law requiring emissions reductions from large buildings.


The economic costs are real; so are the opportunities.

Just retrofitting buildings in the New York City area has the potential to create 126,000 jobs by 2030 — architects, engineers, sustainability consultants, building tradespeople, HVAC professionals — according to Prof. David Hsu of MIT. (This is three to five five times as many jobs as Amazon would have brought to New York.) This will require massive job training programs to provide New Yorkers with the necessary skills.

Inevitably, some jobs will also be lost in the bargain; we can’t pretend otherwise. The law has detailed provisions for helping out workers displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels, and also for assisting those communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution.


Even as we marshal all our creativity and resources to transform our energy economy, some emissions will be completely beyond the power of the state to reduce. New York cannot bar out-of-state cars or trucks from coming into or passing through the state. New York has no control over airplanes, which are highly emitting.

Some industrial operations, such as cement and aluminum production, rely on processes that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide that are very difficult to control.
Some earlier bills had required absolute zero emissions, but that is not possible. Instead the final law allows up to 15% of statewide emissions to remain. Companies that still emit must entirely offset their greenhouse gases, mostly through natural methods that are subject to elaborate restrictions that may be difficult to meet.

The law gives state agencies the power to accomplish much of this, but it does not tell them just how to do it. It’s left to various committees to figure that out. As these committees are formed and the magnitude of the financial opportunities for some sectors and perils to others become clear, enormous pressures will be brought to bear to secure outcomes favorable to various groups; lobbyists will be among the first to enjoy an employment boom.

Our leaders will need to display the backbone to make sure the ultimate objective of net-zero emissions is achieved.
The costs of all of this will be very high. But one thing is clear: the costs of not acting, and allowing the seas and the temperatures to rise up without restraint, would eventually be far greater. Our grandchildren will not forgive us for imposing these costs on them rather than taking responsibility for the costs of our own pollution.

The world will be watching, and the reverse of the old adage will apply: if it can’t be done in New York, it can’t be done anywhere. New York already has the country’s most efficient transportation system (thanks to our subways, buses and commuter rail) and building stock (thanks to our density). We’re a state rich in money, brains and moxie. Let’s do this.


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Analysis: Deval Patrick revives debate over ‘electability’




deval patrick

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s late entry into the presidential race offers Democrats a fresh — and perhaps last — chance to reassess who they think is the strongest candidate to take on President Donald Trump.

It adds to the now months-long debate within the Democratic Party over “electability” less than three months before the first votes are cast. For a party that prides itself on diversity, the answers so far have been consistent and, to some, frustrating — a top tier dominated by white candidates, only one of whom is a woman.

But Patrick’s campaign is a reminder of the divergent paths to victory for presidential hopefuls. White candidates must prove they can win over black voters. Blacks and other minority contenders, however, must show they can build white support.

That type of multiracial coalition has eluded virtually everyone in the race except Joe Biden, who — for now — has deep support among black voters in addition to working-class whites. Those who assess that backing as soft, however, see an opening for a moderate candidate like Patrick, a black governor who made history winning in a majority-white state.

That, some strategists say, differentiates Patrick from Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two other major black candidates whose past electoral success has come in more diverse states and who are lagging in the presidential polls.

“Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are well-funded, high-profile black candidates, but have not been able to rise during a cycle where appeals to black voters are central to who will be the eventual winner of the primary,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. He said the election will confront what stigma still exists with white voters toward black candidates in the post-Barack Obama era.

“We can make the assumption that Patrick will be the next black candidate to face this test, but his appeal is altogether different than Booker and Harris,” Payne said. “The Patrick candidacy is an appeal to moderation and to the center-left more than a direct appeal to black voters.”

In 2008, then-Sen. Obama was the lone black candidate in the Democratic primary field and didn’t begin to gain momentum until the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, trailing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for much of the contest. But Obama’s showing— winning an overwhelmingly white electorate — gave him momentum to convince black voters in South Carolina and across the Black Belt that he was viable.

Obama’s diverse coalition was a new blueprint in Democratic electoral mapmaking, earning him the party’s nomination and his history-making general election victory. Observers say it’s an electorate Democrats will have to replicate to win in 2020.

The trio of African Americans have taken different approaches in how they contend with the racial aspects of their candidacies.

Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has unique status as an alumna of historically black Howard University, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the lone black woman in the 2020 fray.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced during Black History Month. The former mayor of Newark touts his residency in an impoverished black neighborhood in the city but has also sought to cast himself as a bridge builder — pointing out his ties to a civil rights legacy that changed his family’s trajectory with intervention from progressive whites that helped him integrate his childhood neighborhood.

In a brief interview Friday, he encouraged voters to “pull the lens back on diversity.”

“We have women in this race, we have an openly gay person in this race, we have (a) biracial person in this race, African-Americans in this race,” he said. “It is an incredible moment in American history that our field is so diverse and that voters have such qualified folks to choose from.”

Patrick himself has made relatively few references to race since launching his campaign. But as he registered this week to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, he spoke of the “skepticism” he has experienced as a black man.

“He has demonstrated an ability to win over white voters in an overwhelmingly white state,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “The question is whether he has enough time, whether he can raise the money, and whether he can carve out a compelling narrative and identity that allows him to break through. That’s a lot to accomplish in two months, but it’s not crazy.”

His path would be a challenging one. Though Patrick is not a national name, he is fairly well-known in neighboring New Hampshire, where voters saw television ads for his gubernatorial campaigns.

A strong finish in the Granite State could provide momentum heading into South Carolina, disrupting the field and leaving no clear frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, said Thornell.

“If you look at the African American candidates running, he might be the best positioned to pull that off,” Thornell said.

Patrick’s late entry is reminiscent of Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11th-hour bid in 2003. Clark was able to briefly break through after some among the electorate worried about then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s path to the nomination, or that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too liberal.

As a prominent African American who can appeal to black and white voters, Patrick could appeal to soft Biden voters looking for an alternative to Booker or Harris, or who don’t like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.

“He can create that ‘I’m more left than Biden, but not crazy like Warren/Sanders’ message,” Elrod said. “He could appeal to some of those voters who are on the fence and not satisfied with others in the field. He can say, ‘I can be your candidate.’”

— Errin Haines



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White House beancounter defies Trump to tell impeachment inquiry about $400M in suspended Ukraine aid




Ukraine Trump

A White House budget official defied President Trump and testified Saturday in the House impeachment inquiry about the controversial suspension of defense aid to Ukraine.

Mark Sandy, a career Office of Management and Budget official, told lawmakers that he raised questions about whether the decision by Trump acolytes to hold up $400 million in desperately needed military assistance violated laws mandating money allocated by Congress be spent, CNN reported.

The budget expert did not explain what reasons were given for the hold up in aid. He testified behind closed doors in a rare Saturday session as the impeachment investigation continues to deliver heavy blows to Trump.

Sandy acted on orders to put an initial hold on the aid in late July and the issue was later handed over to Trump political appointees.

The aid was already appropriated by Congress, meaning the White House would have had to offer a legally valid reason for withholding it.

It’s not known what explanation if any, was given for removing the suspension from Sandy’s purview.

Sandy’s testimony shone a harsh spotlight on Mick Mulvaney, who is both the OMB director and Trump’s acting chief of staff.

“Mulvaney not only has refused to testify, but actively worked to block others from complying with subpoenas,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) in a statement. “(He also) refused to provide Congress with documents relating to Trump’s suspension of Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine.

Mulvaney admitted that Trump imposed an improper “quid pro quo” on Ukraine at a disastrous press conference although he later sought to walk back his admission. He has refused to testify to the impeachment probe.

A key contention of impeachment advocates is that Trump suspended the aid so he could use it as leverage to force Ukraine into launching bogus investigation of Trump’s Democratic rivals.

In fact, the suspension of aid shocked Ukraine officials and reportedly led them to consider announcing the corruption probes to get the cash flowing again.

By that time, in early September, the intelligence whistleblower complaint had hit the headlines, forcing the White House to reinstate the aid without getting the investigations announcement that Trump wanted.

In a statement Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called out Mulvaney for refusing to testify.

“If Mulvaney had evidence that contradicted what we’ve already heard, he’d be eager to testify and provide documents. Instead, he’s hiding behind, and assisting in, Trump’s efforts to conceal the truth from the American people,” Schiff said.

Also on Saturday, impeachment investigators released the transcripts of depositions given by deputy assistant to the president Timothy Morrison, and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.

In Morrison’s Oct. 31 deposition, he testified U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland told him he’d spoken with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak about American military funding being conditioned on corruption investigations. “My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison testified.

In Williams’ Nov. 7 deposition, she confirmed that Trump told Pence to not attend the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in an apparent signal that he needed to pursue the corruption probes or be frozen out of the military aid.

“My understanding from my colleague—and, again, I wasn’t there for the conversation—was that the President asked the Vice President not to attend,” she testified.



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Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings




facebook, instagram whatsapp also affected

Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.

The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.

Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.

As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:

There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.

This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.

After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:

Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.

The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.

Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.

Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.

Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.

Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:

Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.

As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.



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By Casey Newton

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