Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

Issue #59: July-August 2020

In This Issue
Quick Links

Our Supporters
Featured Article:  

Ruby-Throated Hummigbird

Welcome to the July-August 2020 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an e-update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo by Shelby L. Bell licensed under CC BY 2.0.

TCCPI is a multisector collaboration seeking to leverage the climate action commitments made by Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and the Town of Ithaca to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Launched in June 2008 and generously supported by the Park Foundation, TCCPI is a project of the Sustainable Markets Foundation.
We are committed to helping Tompkins County achieve a dynamic economy, healthy environment, and resilient community through a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy. 
One Year Later, Slow Progress on NYS Climate Law
by Rachel Ramirez, Grist

One year ago on July 16, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) into law, committing the state to net-zero emissions by 2050. It was New York Renews, a statewide coalition of nearly 200 advocacy groups, who fought to bring what is now the Empire State's landmark climate law to fruition.

Despite a bumpy ride, both the CLCPA and a companion environmental justice bill finally went into effect in January. For the one-year anniversary of the CLCPA's passage, NY Renews is keeping tabs on the law's progress: On Thursday, the coalition called for a public audit of statewide agency spending to ensure that New York is complying with the law's mandate that at least 35 percent of state energy and climate spending is invested in pollution-burdened communities.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the CLCPA into law on Jul 16, 2019. Photo by NYS DEC licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
"Goals are no good unless you meet them," Timothy Kennedy, a state senator who co-sponsored the CLCPA, said during a virtual town hall on Friday. "We need to make sure that we take the CLCPA and enforce environmental standards that protect the very communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19."

The CLCPA has recently helped remove obstacles that prevent low-income New York residents from accessing clean energy resources. Last month, the state announced a slate of grants totaling more than $10.6 million to help underserved New Yorkers access affordable solar energy. The grants, administered by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, will help offset pre-development costs to address resource barriers that typically prevent low-income residents -- particularly communities of color -- from installing clean energy or energy storage in their homes.

PUSH Buffalo -- a community-led organization in Buffalo, New York, that focuses on advancing economic and environmental justice -- has long promoted a just transition away from fossil fuel dependence, and its particular focus is retrofitting old buildings to meet sustainability standards. Rahwa Ghirmatzion, the organization's executive director, said that PUSH is already taking steps to implement these grants with a multi-site, 53-unit net-zero emissions housing project that would contain a rooftop solar power installation and geothermal heat pumps. PUSH, which is also one of the founding groups behind NY Renews, also seeks to provide unemployed people or youth who can't attend college with training opportunities to participate in the green development project.

Environmental advocates say that New York's climate targets can't be met without certain major reforms that need to be executed. Replacing so-called peaker plants - power plants that typically only run during peak periods of high demand in electricity, especially during scorching summer heat waves - is a major demand that environmental justice groups are calling for under the CLCPA's climate targets. A recent report found that New Yorkers over the last decade have shouldered more than $4.5 billion in electricity bills to pay the private owners of these polluting power plants, just to keep those plants online in case they're needed - even though they only operate between 90 and 500 hours a year.

There have been some victories on this front: Environmental justice groups have been using the CLCPA as a powerful tool to oppose fossil fuel construction and expansion. So far, the biggest victory this year has been putting an end to the controversial Northeast Supply Enhancement project, also known as the Williams Pipeline. National Grid, the gas utility that operates in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, would have been the sole customer of the pipeline's gas.

With climate change still accelerating against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities, NY Renews says that the state is still moving too slowly and isn't taking the CLCPA's social justice provisions seriously.

"We have to work together in an intersectional way," said Ghirmatzion in an interview with Grist. "We have to address the root causes, which means focusing on the most impacted in our communities, if we're ever really going to create the world we want to live in."
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, September 25, 2020
9 to 11 am
Due to the current pandemic, the monthly TCCPI meetings have moved online. Contact Peter Bardaglio, the TCCPI coordinator, for further details at

Cornell Earns STARS Platinum Sustainability Rating
by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Chronicle

Cornell announced in late June that it has earned a platinum sustainability rating -- the top status -- from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the international group that tracks environmental stewardship for more than 1,000 college campuses.

After maintaining a gold rating since 2012, Cornell earned 85 points in the group's STARS  (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System) to become the first Ivy and the sixth university overall to reach platinum.

Sarah Zemanick, Cornell Director of Campus Sustainability. Photo courtesy of Cornell.
Cornell's strong sustainability education component is a major driver that led to its higher score, said Sarah Zemanick, director of campus sustainability. "The road to STARS platinum goes through the classroom and through the student experience," she said.

The university had perfect scores in 45 of 61 subcategories, including student sustainability literacy, green laboratories, sustainability curriculum, support for public transportation and community partnerships.

The STARS report recognized Cornell for engaged learning opportunities, faculty sustainability research and providing students an opportunity for "living laboratory" projects such as Solarize, a collaboration between the student group Cornell University Sustainable Design and Cornell's Grounds Department in Facilities and Campus Services. Over the past two years, the university supported nearly 80 student projects as part of its Living Laboratory initiative.

Currently, about 774 courses that feature sustainability are offered to undergraduate and graduate students, and more than 40 student organizations are devoted to sustainability.
Nearly 97% of all departments have faculty conducting sustainability research, about 98.9% of all academic departments offer sustainability courses and more than 500 faculty fellows participate in research via the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Cornell is committed to the environment and to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2035, said Sarah Brylinsky, sustainability communications manager. "This platinum award confirms that all of our efforts on campus with faculty, staff and to prepare sustainability literate students are working."

Other highlights from the 2020 STARS report:
  • About 83% of students walked, cycled or used Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit buses as a primary way to reach campus.
  • The Swipe Out Hunger program by Cornell Dining and the Office of the Dean of Students was recognized for helping first-generation and low-income students stave off food insecurity.
  • Cornell University Library's Open Access Fund received recognition for advancing access to scholarly publications, supporting the idea that sustainability research must be open to accelerate solutions.
  • Total campus waste has been reduced by one-third per campus user since 2013.
  • One-fifth of total campus electricity comes from clean, renewable sources such as campus hydropower and solar energy.
The data was assembled by Careen Arsenault, sustainability administrator, and Megan Feely, STARS coordinator, in Cornell's Energy and Sustainability office.

The STARS report is the foundation for other national and public sustainability rankings, such as the Sierra Club's Cool Schools and the Princeton Review Green Honor Roll.

Increased Incentives for Energy Efficiency!
by Karim Beers, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

If you have put the pause on energy projects in the past because you didn't qualify for incentives, you may want to revisit these as requirements for participation have been loosened, and the incentives have temporarily increased!

In response to challenges associated with COVID-19, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has temporarily increased incentives for clean energy projects for low- and moderate-income households. In addition, it has made energy studies for non-profits and small businesses entirely free. The changes went live on 7/13/20 and will be effective through the end of December 2020. Here is a summary of the major changes:
  • EmPower New York subsidy increased from $7,000 to $10,000 max. This program for low-income homeowners and renters covers 100% of the cost of
    Insulation is an extremely effective way to reduce your heating costs and improve the comfort of your home.
    improvements in insulation, air sealing, and some health and safety measures. 
  • Assisted Home Performance with Energy Star subsidy increased from $4,000 to $5,000 max. This is a matching grant for moderate income households. The eligibility for this program has changed from 80% of area median income to 120% of area median income. For example, the cut-off level for a household of four in Tompkins County is $115,128. 
  • Green Jobs Green New York Energy Studies has eliminated the cost-share requirement for non-profits and small businesses. Normally, non-profits or businesses with fewer than 100 employees had to pay between $100-$500 for this energy study. This contribution has been eliminated during this period.
Please note that the NYSERDA websites have not yet been updated to reflect these program changes. 

Interested in learning more about these programs or in applying for them? Fill out our short intake form and let us know how we can help!




Take a step to save money and energy!








One Last Thing: Reflections on the Life of Kirby Edmonds

There are many who have worked hard in recent years to bring the environmental and social justice movements together in common cause. They understand the crucial need, as I wrote recently, "to break out of our silos and build a broad-based, multiracial coalition to fight for both climate and racial justice."

No one grasped this necessity and worked harder and more effectively to accomplish this difficult task than Kirby Edmonds, who passed away on August 22 from complications of a heart attack he suffered in July. None of us who worked with Kirby -- and there were a lot -- doubted that he would recover and rejoin us at the table (in the form of Zoom most recently) to help us carry on. His sudden death came as a tremendous shock and left a huge hole in the soul of our community.

Among his many leadership roles, Kirby was Managing Partner of TFC Associates (Training for Change), Senior Fellow and Program Coordinator of the Dorothy Cotton Institute, and Coordinator 
of the Cradle to Career collective impact initiative. Most recently, he had helped to organize the Tompkins County COVID-19 Food Task Force, established to ensure that those in need have access to food and that food producers stay in operation during the pandemic.

Kirby spearheaded the effort in 2011 to launch the Building Bridges Initiative, whose goal is to create a "socially just and ecologically sound local economy" in the Tompkins County area. TCCPI joined with many other organizations and coalitions to be part of this effort, and Kirby met most recently in June with the TCCPI members, along with longtime community activist Anne Rhodes, to discuss the current status of the Ithaca Green New Deal, in which he also played a key role.

Kirby knew in his bones that the old notion of top-down, command-and-control leadership was no longer effective or desirable in a world facing complex, interrelated, and seemingly intractable problems. In his profoundly calm and wise fashion he modeled a new way of exercising leadership, one in which a leader created the space to build a network of relationships, inviting people from all parts of the system to participate and contribute to the process of developing solutions. 

"If we really want to solve these problems, then we've got to find new structures to work on them," Kirby said in a 2017 interviewAs Irene Weiser, coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins, observed upon news of his death, Kirby "brought us Building Bridges. In so many ways, Kirby was that bridge." Connect and collaborate were his watchwords.

Dismantling structural racism and poverty, establishing food security, affordable housing, and good paying jobs, and ensuring that our environment and climate could support the generations that come after us: these were the driving forces in Kirby's all-too-short life. Equity, justice, inclusion, stewardship, and wisdom: these are the values that animated his actions.

Kirby was our very own John Lewis, who once declared, "We do not live on this planet alone. It is not ours to hoard, waste, or abuse. It is our responsibility to leave this world a little more clean and a little more peaceful for all who must inhabit it for generations to come." As did Lewis, Kirby left us a vision and blueprint for building a better, more just world; now we must bring about the fulfillment of that vision and blueprint, keeping Kirby close to our hearts and never forgetting what he stood for as we do so.

Peter Bardaglio
TCCPI Coordinator


Be sure to visit the website for TCCPI's latest project, the Ithaca 2030 District, an interdisciplinary public-private collaboration working to create a groundbreaking high-performance building district in Downtown Ithaca.