Spitzer and Sustainability

Those of us who care about sustainability have high hopes for New York's new Governor Eliot Spitzer. During the campaign, Spitzer said that his top priorities would be "environmental stewardship, expanding energy conservation and renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gases (see his environmental promises here). Spitzer promised to close the two Indian Point nuclear plants and, our personal favorite, as Attorney General he earmarked funds in an acid rain litigation to install solar panels in municipal buildings in New York (see related post here).

Given that sustainability and climate change are the paramount issues of our time, we need bold initiatives from the Governor and we need them fast. It's too bad that the new Governor did not mention the environment or energy at all in last week's Inaugural, and he didn't mention details in his State of the State address until the hour-long speech was nearly finished (page 17 of a 21 page text -- see full text here).

Spitzer's State of the State did include some details about energy and the environment, and in ordinary times, his words would be encouraging. But -- as evidenced by this winter when daytime temperatures in New York have mostly been in the fifties -- these are not ordinary times, and Spitzer's first statements as Governor were, frankly, disappointing. Although Spitzer said that "we must implement an aggressive [energy] conservation strategy," his focus was "first and foremost to reduce the state’s own energy consumption," as opposed to reducing private electricity use within the state. Also, the cited reason for conservation was to reduce energy costs, an important reason, but was not rhetorically tied to reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- a point that should have been made for educational and symbolic purposes at least.

Spitzer said that "[w]e must also add substantial clean generation capacity by passing a new Article X power plant siting law [and] encourage the [Public Service Commission] to effectuate the long-term contracts needed to build new power plants and re-power the old ones." While these efforts are clearly needed, they will most likely facilitate construction of natural gas plants, and wont do anything to create a market for distributed and emission-free energy sources such as solar.

Also, while it's good that the Governor stated that "Lieutenant Governor Paterson will lead efforts to increase renewable energy production so the state can meet its goal of obtaining 25 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources," Spitzer must be more ambitious. While the 25 percent goal required by NY's Renewable Portfolio Standard sounds good, it's actually paltry given that New York already receives 17 percent of its electricity from the "renewable" hydroelectric, primarily Niagara Falls (see sources of New York's electricity here).

Possibly more encouraging, Spitzer said that "New York should also build on its existing regional compact to address climate change," and that he has "already started speaking with other governors about the need to link and expand our climate change initiatives. This is something that can and must be achieved..." Hopefully these discussions will turn quickly to action.

Although we're still optimistic, we were hoping he would take advantage of the Inaugural or the State of the State address to announce a bold new sustainability and renewable energy initiative akin to Gov Schwarzenegger's One Million Solar Roof project in California. In fairness, Schwarzenegger didn't unveil his plan until August 2004, when he had been in office nearly a year.

But while there's still time for Spitzer, is there time for us? It's January 8. Cherry trees are budding from Washington to Boston. Bears are not hibernating in Europe. This year, 2007, will likely be the warmest year yet.

Hey, it's Albany in January!! How come Eliot's not wearing a coat?

Tags: Energy | Renewable Energy