According to a new Siena College poll, nearly four years after passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), most New Yorkers still aren’t familiar with the law. And despite supporting “aggressive” action to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, willingness to pay the associated costs is low, and respondents were conflicted about the transition from natural gas to electrification mandated by the CLCPA.
Awareness of both the CLCPA and the Climate Action Council’s Scoping Plan—the 433-page roadmap for CLCPA implementation—is low. Only 37 percent claimed to be very or somewhat familiar with either of them. Sixty-two percent expressed low familiarity, with 33 percent claiming no familiarity at all.
This indicates that state policy leaders still have not adequately educated the public about the vast scope of the CLCPA. Its goals include more than doubling renewable energy production from 30 percent of the state’s electricity to 70 percent by 2030, closing all natural gas and oil-fired power plants by 2040 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent while achieving a net zero-emissions economy by 2050. No state or country has yet achieved such ambitious targets, and it remains to be seen if they are achievable. As the Scoping Plan makes clear, this is a whole-of-economy approach, requiring the transformation of transportation, buildings, electricity production, industry, agriculture and forestry.
Respondents’ lack of understanding of the CLCPA is reflected in their concerns about its costs. While 74 percent expressed strong support for “the state aggressively moving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” on the CLCPA timeline, their willingness to pay was not sufficient to cover the costs of the CLCPA. Over a quarter of poll respondents were not willing to pay anything for compliance, and more than half were unwilling to pay more than $20 per month, or $240 per year. At $40 per month—less than $500 per year—unwillingness to pay reached 67 percent.
But with the CLCPA costing $280 billion to $340 billion over the next 28 years, the annual cost per person in New York—man, woman and child—will be between $500 and $600 per year. With about 7.53 million households, that’s an annual cost of roughly $1,300 to $1,600 per household. If the CLCPA’s cost doubles, or more than doubles, as is common for megaprojects and has already happened with one of the first CLCPA projects, the cost could top $3,000 per household per year.
Another striking example of respondents’ confusion is their multiple conflicting responses on building electrification versus continued use of natural gas in buildings. Seventy-four percent agreed that “we simply must transform the way we heat our homes in order to protect our environment,” and 56 percent supported a prohibition on replacement of natural gas appliances for heating, cooking, water heating and clothes drying after 2030. But 61 percent also agreed that we should continue using natural gas in homes, and 60 percent said they would be somewhat or very upset if they no longer had the option to use natural gas for cooking.
Cost concerns also stand in contrast to support for electrification of space heating in homes. Despite majority support for prohibiting replacement gas appliances, 79 percent agreed that for most New Yorkers electrifying their home with a heat pump is too costly, with supermajorities ranging from 74 percent to 85 percent across all regions and demographic groups. An even higher number—83 percent—were somewhat or very concerned about consumers’ ability to absorb the costs of shifting to all electric appliances, with supermajorities ranging from 78 percent to 93 percent across all regions and demographic groups.
Finally, although 74 percent of respondents supported aggressive action to meet CLCPA goals—often described as nation-leading—60 percent agreed with the statement, “The rest of the country isn’t going to ban natural gas and other fossil fuels to electrify on this aggressive timeline, I don’t see why New York has to be first.” This means about 44 percent of respondents both want New York to meet its nation-leading goals and to not rush to be first.
Overall, the poll reveals considerable confusion among New Yorkers about the scope of the CLCPA and its costs. Support in the abstract is strong, but willingness to pay and to give up natural gas is low. This indicates that generalized support for the CLCPA is based on New Yorkers’ lack of understanding of how it will directly affect their lives and their pocketbooks.
In part this confusion is caused by state policy leaders’ refusal to conduct a consumer cost analysis of the CLCPA or to address the question of how the costs of achieving the law’s goals will be distributed among the public. Whether support for the CLCPA remains high when the costs and personal effects begin to hit home remains to be seen.
Note: The poll was sponsored by New Yorkers for Affordable Energy (NYAE) and written and conducted by the Siena College Research Institute, which earned an A grade from polling expert Nate Silver. The poll surveyed 897 New York State residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.