New York governor David Paterson may flake on a regional cap-and-trade deal by granting the state's energy industry an increase in free emissions permits, which allow companies to release a capped amount of carbon into the air. The energy industry has already been granted free allowances for 1.5 million tons of emissions per year. Now, Paterson may up the number to 6.5 million tons.
New York is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the ten-state consortium spanning New England and the Mid-Atlantic that operates under a cap-and-trade policy to curb carbon dioxide releases and mitigate global warming. By reconsidering the rules set forth by the RGGI system, Paterson is setting a dangerous precedent for other governors in the included states to do the same.
Giving industry this kind of leverage also screws New York in two ways. First, it de-fangs the cap-and-trade model and waters down its efficacy, thus allowing Republicans in the state and beyond to justify claims that the model doesn't work. Second, it potentially exacerbates health problems in poor communities located near polluters.
What's most disappointing about Paterson's catering to the energy industry is that the governor is betraying his own history of grassroots activism on the very issue of industry pollution and emissions. Paterson was one of "The Sewage Seven," a group of environmental justice activists who in 1988 marched on a busy New York City highway and held traffic to protest emissions from a sewage treatment plant in Harlem, which was causing respiratory problems in poor and minority communities close by. That protest led to the formation of WE ACT, an environmental justice organization that fights against polluting industries causing health problems among vulnerable populations.
How Paterson went from protesting pollution to bowing to an industry eager to pump more carbon emissions in the air is mystifying.