More than a year after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state Climate Justice Working Group, established through the legislation, met this week for the first time to discuss next steps.
Under the Climate Act, the state Climate Action Council was created to develop a Scoping Plan for the statewide reduction of carbon emissions over the next 30 years, and the working group is primarily serving in an advisory capacity for the CAC.
The 22-member CAC is comprised of representatives from state agencies, universities and advocacy groups, and held its first meeting in March. After working group appointments were announced during the CAC’s June meeting, the CJWG convened over video call Thursday afternoon to discuss its decision-making power and its advisory responsibilities.
Three members each from environmental justice communities in New York City, rural areas and upstate urban areas, as well as one representative each from the state Energy Research and Development Authority, and the departments of Environmental Conservation, Health and Labor, comprise the 13-member working group.
Donathan L. Brown, CEO and co-founder of Adirondack Diversity Solutions, and Jerrod Bley, clean energy program director for the Adirondack North Country Association, represent the north country region on the CJWG.
“Ultimately, we are going to do some incredible things with this body, both in advising the CAC, doing your own work, which is going to be substantial, and helping to serve as a point of inspiration and leadership, really nationally, as we see the federal government pulling back on — everything,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told CJWG members Thursday.
About 100 rollbacks, facilitated by the Environmental Protection Agency since 2017, have revoked federal climate and environmental policies that limited carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and power plants, regulated clean air, water and pollution, and protected the nation’s wetlands. Nearly 70 of those rollbacks have been completed as of July, with the remaining reversals in the works.
Mr. Seggos described the CAC and the CJWG as reflections of New York’s strong grassroots network — policy experts, energy professionals and environmental advocates with lived experiences, particularly in communities of color, all continuing to seek environmental justice.
“I hope you’ve all come to roll up your sleeves,” Mr. Seggos said.
New York’s first legally-mandated climate council will meet again this fall, the commissioner said, to confirm appointments of six additional advisory panels, and begin the months-long process of drafting the Scoping Plan, expected to be completed by the end of 2021. With advisory input from those panels and the CJWG, the CAC’s draft Scoping Plan is required to outline steps to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2030, 2040 and 2050.
The Climate Act sets a 40 percent reduction of 1990 emission levels by 2030, with an 85 percent reduction by 2050. The state has committed to a 70 percent renewable energy workforce by 2030, and a 100 percent zero-carbon electricity industry by 2040.
But before the CAC can begin its drafting process, the CJWG must decide on a working definition of “disadvantaged communities,” an identification central to the plan’s allocation of state investment benefits, and statewide understanding of emissions reductions in disproportionately-impacted areas. And even before reaching consensus on defining and measuring “disadvantaged communities,” the CJWG must first decide how its decision will be made.
Elizabeth C. Yeampierre, executive director of the Brooklynn-based community organization UPROSE, suggested the CJWG use the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing or a similar platform to ensure voices from environmental justice communities are heard at the fore, with “an equitable distribution of engagement” from CJWG members representing environmental justice communities.
The Jemez Principles were first adopted in 1996, by participants at a globalization and trade working group meeting in Jemez, New Mexico. Six principles guide equitable discussion and decision-making and now inform bodies worldwide: be inclusive; emphasize bottom-up organizing; let people speak for themselves; work together in solidarity and mutuality; build just relationships among ourselves; and commit to self-transformation.
At least 35 percent, with the goal of 40 percent, of state investment or direct provision of resources to “disadvantaged communities” is required under the Climate Act. Investments and resources in such communities must be spent on clean energy programs, or projects involving housing, workforce development, pollution reduction, low-income energy assistance, transportation or economic development.
CJWG members expressed support of Ms. Yeampierre’s suggestion, and an official decision-making model is expected to be further discussed in the coming weeks.
Rosa Méndez, DEC director of environmental justice and chair of the CJWG, said the group’s next virtual meeting will likely be held in September, potentially continuing monthly or twice monthly.