Earth Day Turns 50: New York Continues to Lead the Way

Why Maintaining New York’s Clean Energy Commitment is Critical

Here in New York, we have always been leaders in environmental progress that eventually spanned the globe.

In the 1970s and 80s, many of the most important facets of the national effort to eliminate leaded gasoline were based in New York, including groundbreaking research done by Herbert Needleman and Philip Landrigan and innovative campaign advocacy led by Eric Goldstein at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Eventually, the movement spread worldwide.  (In 2002, as part of my work at NRDC, I co-founded the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, which eventually led successful campaigns to phase out leaded gasoline around the world.  Today, only Algeria and Yemen still use leaded gasoline.)  The global elimination of leaded gasoline eliminates more than one million premature deaths—and more than 2.4 trillion dollars in health and other costs—every year.   

In the 1990s, dirty diesel buses and trucks created plumes of particulate matter on Madison Avenue, across 125th Street, and throughout the City.  These emissions were linked to increased asthma, bronchitis, cancer, and thousands of premature deaths in New York every year.  Again, New York helped lead the way.  By the end of the decade, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pioneered the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and advanced emission controls that reduced diesel soot by more than 90 percent.  Soon after the MTA proved this approach could work, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted a federal rule that nationalized this approach for all highway diesel fuel and new diesel engines.  Today, EPA estimates that every dollar spent to retrofit an older, dirty diesel bus or truck with today’s emission control technology yields more than $13 in health benefits.

More recently, the climate crisis and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have taken center stage.  Again, New York has led the pack. 

Last year, the State adopted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which will bring New York’s energy system to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  With its aggressive targets for offshore wind, solar power, distributed energy generation, energy storage systems, and more, New York is again creating a model of how to cost-effectively solve environmental problems. 

At the City level, the Climate Mobilization Act will lead to the energy retrofits of tens of thousands of New York City buildings and will introduce new Property Assessed Clean Energy financing to help make these retrofits cost-effective, which will show other cities how to reduce their own carbon footprints.

Looking forward, maintaining these commitments will be as critical to New York’s economic recovery as they are to New York’s continuing environmental leadership. 

Here’s why:

According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), clean energy jobs have grown more than 2.5 times as fast as the state average over the last five years. Nearly 160,000 jobs across the state are in the clean energy sector, including jobs in energy efficiency, in wind and solar energy, and bringing electric vehicles to market, with more to come.  These jobs are upstate and downstate, and are located throughout our small towns, suburbs, and cities.

That’s why, even in the depths of the COVID-19 crisis, New York continues to move its climate and clean energy agenda forward.  Indeed, just this month, the Cuomo administration has made new commitments to accelerating the development of the State’s wind and solar power (I wrote about this here), as well as to soliciting new proposals to build more offshore wind

Our work is not done, and it has certainly become more challenging, thanks to our current public health and economic crisis.  But, as I look for lessons from this year’s Earth Day, I see this:  New York has always been in the forefront of our most critical environmental issues, and has always help lead the way to cost-effective solutions for other cities, states, and even nations around the world. 

Capalino is home to New York City’s only urban strategy team that is wholly dedicated to working on projects and policies that advance New York’s ambitious climate and environmental goals. We thrive on helping clients introduce “first-ever” building, energy, transportation, solid waste, or water technologies and projects into the New York market, as well as working with companies that are transitioning their legacy assets and operations to prepare for a low-carbon and more sustainable future. To learn more, contact Rich Kassel at or 917.838.0865.

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