New York’s Climate Action Council released the draft version of its Scoping Plan for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) on December 31, and Governor Kathy Hochul doubled down on the plan in her January 5th State of the State speech. Supporters of the Climate Act would have you believe New York can’t afford not to act, because the gains allegedly outweigh the costs. Setting aside the dubious accounting of some of these alleged benefits (discussed here), more than half benefit people outside New York.
The Scoping Plan prepared by the Climate Action Council claims benefits of up to $430 billion from the Climate Act. $170 billion of this is various direct benefits to New Yorkers, and the other $260 billion comes from “avoided economic damages” of climate warming. That number comes from the state’s determination of the social cost of a ton of carbon and other greenhouse gases, set at $124 per ton for carbon in 2022, and rising annually (and higher for more intensive greenhouse gases like methane).
Of course, nobody really knows the social cost of carbon. It depends on the assumptions that researchers build into their models. The Obama administration set it at $51 per ton, and other estimates come in between $5 and $3,000 per ton. That’s enough to tell you this is a “science” still in its infancy.
But more important for the moment is that the social cost of carbon is always a global number that reflects the claimed worldwide benefit of eliminating a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is explicit about this. So that alleged $260 billion in avoided economic costs isn’t avoided just by New Yorkers, but by Germans, Australians, Egyptians, etc. The global basis of this claimed benefit isn’t exactly a state secret, but you have to read deep into state documents to figure it out, and the Climate Act’s supporters have not made an effort to publicize it.
New York contributes only 4/10ths of one percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If we assume it gets a proportionate share of the benefit (it could get more, but it could also get less), then its share of this benefit is only $1.04 billion. If we add that to the claimed $170 billion in direct benefits of the Climate Act, we’re left with a total benefit of $171.04 billion. Set against that are estimated costs of $280-$340 billion; a net loss to New York of $108-$169 billion!
Put on an individual basis, this is a net cost of $5,500 to $8,700 per New Yorker over the next thirty years. That’s about $200-$300 per year. On a household basis, it’s around $500-$800 per year, or $15,000 to $24,000 per household overall. If climate leadership is worth the cost, why are they hiding this information from the public?
Right now, the Climate Act’s supporters have the political advantage. They spin dubious scare stories about imminent climate catastrophe, promise big benefits from taking action, and downplay the costs.
But eventually, the costs will be felt. And there is no doubt that they will fall the hardest on the poor as they are forced to pay energy costs as much as four times higher than at present. Energy poverty is a matter of life and death. Each year extreme cold kills around 100,000 Americans. With all the Scoping Plan’s talk about a “just transition,” where is the justice in poorer New Yorkers not being able to afford to heat their homes in mid-winter?
Perhaps New Yorkers really do want to pay for the privilege of climate leadership. Maybe the average New Yorker is willing to pay thousands of dollars for the world’s benefit. But we don’t know that yet, because Climate Act supporters are hiding the true cost of that from voters. And if energy poverty becomes a widespread problem, we can expect a sharp backlash against the Climate Act.