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Was Cuomo's Paris climate accord commitment new?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently talked about how New York state will invest more than $1.5 billion dollars into many renewable energy projects now that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. But some say much of that was already underway.

When President Donald Trump announced that the United States is leaving the Paris climate accord, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the opportunity to say New York will not. The Democratic governor pledged to uphold the international agreement, formed a multi-state partnership and promised to take aggressive action to tackle climate change, but much of that work was already underway. 

The New York Power Authority and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) are investing more than $1.5 billion into many renewable energy projects, a cost that will eventually be paid by rate payers. The investment is supposed to create 40,000 new jobs and enough clean energy to power 350,000 homes.

At a recent press conference, Cuomo said that makes good on the state's commitment to international climate action.

"As a state of New York, we're going to follow the accord," Cuomo said to applause. "We're doing it individually."

But the state has been adding renewable energy to the grid for several years now. As Cuomo later acknowledged, it started with his 2015 plan to get half of New York state's power from renewable energy by 2030.

"The state was already on that agenda and on that program with investing in renewable sources of energy, right? Wind, solar, etc.," Cuomo said. "The $1.6 billion is going to accelerate our move towards renewable sources."

Still, Doreen Harris with NYSERDA admits that this renewable energy investment would have likely happened anyway through the Clean Energy Standard. That was passed by the state's utility regulators last year, codifying into law the governor's earlier renewable energy goals.

"It’s very much putting into action the goals that were in our state energy plan from 2015,"' Harris said. "These solicitations really launch the clean energy procurements that were required by the governor through the Clean Energy Standard. So, these are in many ways the initiation of the fulfillment of the Clean Energy Standard goals."

Harris says even so, the governor's latest procurement of renewable energy, the largest by a state in U.S. history, is an aggressive pursuit of those earlier goals. NYSERDA Board Chair Richard Kauffman agrees.

"The power authority is now acting in a more aggressive way thanks to the governor’s leadership," Kauffman said. 

Kauffman says Cuomo, who is rumored to be considering a presidential run in 2020, is not being opportunistic with his announcement of these plans. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.