Securing Climate Justice Investments in New York – White Paper

Discussion Draft: Securing Climate Justice Investments in New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

Daniel Aldana Cohen, J. Mijin Cha, Nick Graetz, and Raka Sen

Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2 | University of California, Berkeley | @SC2_Collab

March 2022

Download the white paper here.

This is a discussion draft. We encourage you to send us any feedback. Please email us at sociospatialclimate [at] berkeley [.] edu.

Executive Summary

In this White Paper, we step back from the everyday back-and-forth of policymaking to consider core principles for delivering on climate justice in New York State. How can the state effectively deliver on the goals legislated in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), most notably its target of delivering 35% to 40% of all climate-related investments to disadvantaged communities? The stakes are high for New York residents—and for all Americans, as the federal government is also developing its approach to targeted investments. The stakes are higher still as the climate emergency threatens ever-escalating extreme weather, and as the levels of climate- oriented investment grow higher and higher. Can the State do its part in decarbonizing the global economy, while ensuring that climate safety is equitably shared across New York State? Can members of frontline communities—who have borne the disproportionate brunt of assorted harms, suffered the effects of racist public-private investments, and been most exposed to environmental harms—finally receive their fair share of new investment, while gaining the power to decide how their communities change?

In this paper, we review the exciting vistas opened by the CLCPA’s recent passage, and we focus on the challenge of delivering deep decarbonization and increased equity at the same time. Next, we review social scientific research on how the country and state ended up with such stark, compounding inequalities of race and class, and how decades of racist patters of public-private investment set the stage for the current crisis of environmental injustice; and we review how social movements and unions have developed compelling solutions for dismantling these inequalities. We then review how California has confronted its environmental injustices with its program of targeted investments in disadvantaged communities that has so greatly influenced New York and federal policymakers; and we review the achievements and lingering tensions that have come from that approach. Finally, based on that analysis, we outline a set of core principles to guide New York State policymakers, given in the form of recommendations.

As we revise this Discussion Draft in February 2022, we are heartened to see public materials from the state’s Climate Action Council and Climate Justice Working Group that echo many of the recommendations found in this report. We discuss some of these convergences in the report text, especially sections 4.2 and 4.3.

Summary of recommendations

1. We recommend that the State adopt a broad “high-road” economic development paradigm for climate investment in general. The NYJ40 would be seen as a key plank in that broader paradigm. The more the State advances goals of racial, economic, and environmental justice through its general investment framework, across the geography of the entire state, the easier it will be to resolve the tensions inherent in the targeted investment approach of the NYJ40.

2. Within the NYJ40 framework, we urge a “both/and” approach to quantifying the benefits of green investment. We urge on the one hand that at least 40% of public investment dollars be allocated to disadvantaged communities; and we urge the requirement that additional, less easily quantified benefits (like the health benefits of pollution reduction) be demonstrated for disadvantaged communities. Because we do not consider it coherent or feasible to precisely quantify the percentage of overall health benefits in the state that could be attributed to particular geographic locations, we see the metric of dollars invested as the most reliable basis for implementing the 40% mandate. We note that this is how targeted climate investment is assessed in California, the first—and most experienced—major jurisdiction to undertake this kind of policy. Finally, we urge the adoption of informal norms whereby 40% would be seen as a floor, not a ceiling. The State should aim for a target of 50% or above, especially given the likely incorporation of low-income individuals state-wide (ie, beyond just the individuals located in disadvantaged communities), as discussed in Section 4.3.

3. We urge the State and civil society partners to strongly consider using more than a single, unilinear scale of socio-environmental vulnerability to define disadvantaged communities. We survey the tensions caused by the single, unilinear scale approach in California, while recognizing its benefits. We discuss a handful of options to compliment a conventional unilinear scale, allowing for a more sophisticated and flexible mechanism to allocate extremely large sums of money to where it will be most equitably spent, based on particular program objectives.

4. We urge the State to take a public ownership stake in all offshore wind developments. We see this as an example of a broader imperative, whereby the State should benefit financially from the results of its public green investments. We argue that across the world, offshore wind development is already being driven by the public sector. Three of the world’s five largest offshore wind developers are government-owned. Why should New York State not also benefit from this government investment-driven sector? We urge that all revenues from public ownership stakes in offshore wind be distributed according to NYJ40 criteria.

5. Finally, we argue that community control along equitable lines will require community participation—including of labor groups like unions—throughout the entire policy process, from the earliest stages through governance and implementation. We argue that asymmetric access to information and expertise tends to disempower community groups. We urge a major investment by New York State into academic research centers that would democratize access to essential information and data, enabling communities to participate in climate and economic governance as fully-informed partners. Of course, community members should have access to all opportunities provided by such funding, in terms of sharing the research, gaining access to degree programs, and so on.

Download the white paper here.