Inside the Hudson Valley Maritime Museum just after noon on Monday, January 30, newly elected Ulster County executive Jen Metzger stood at a podium in front of an exhibit of climate change to announce the first executive order of her four-year term.
Billed as historic, Metzger’s order aims to bring county operations into alignment with New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CCPA), one of the most ambitious climate laws in the nation, adopted in 2019 in part because of Metzger’s own efforts as a then-state senator.
The CCPA calls for the total statewide elimination of greenhouse gases produced by electricity generation by 2040.
“We know from a well-established international scientific consensus,” said Metzger, “that human induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature, and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world. The Hudson River is predicted to rise four feet in the next 60 years. It’s tempting to throw your hands up in despair. But we can’t do that. Two or three of my sons are here today, and I’m going to do everything in my power to reduce the risk to them and their children and to all of our children.”
It’ll take 17 more years to wean New York State off its fossil-fuel addiction. A 2030 benchmark was set for 70 percent of electricity to be generated from renewable sources such as solar, wind and water power. An additional decade will be required to cut down on the remaining 30 percent before the state goes cold turkey completely.
The 13 directives in Metzger’s order focus primarily on government buildings, facilities and operations.
All government buildings will be assessed for on-site solar and battery storage, with the goal of fulfilling the electricity needs of the government by 2030. All major renovations of county buildings will require electric-only power sources and be equipped with EV charging as well. All new construction will require solar systems.
“We’re setting a goal,” said Metzger, “of diverting 100 percent countywide organic waste and incinerators by 2030.”
At that, the around 60 people gathered in folding chairs sitting under the ship masts hanging from the ceiling listening to Metzger — mostly allies, supporters and members of the public — broke into noisy applause.
Answering questions after her speech, Metzger explained the consequence of this announcement.
“So the methane generated by the decomposition of organic waste in landfills is the largest direct source of methane emissions,” said Metzger, “Methane is generated in landfills because the process is essentially anaerobic. It’s all packed in there, unlike compost, which is breaking down in a totally different way, aerobically instead of anaerobically [breaking down with air and without air]. And so that’s a huge contributor. There’s a concerted effort globally, to reduce methane emissions, because that’s the quickest way to have the biggest impact on climate change.”
The county legislature can also expect to receive recommendations from the county executive to amend the county green-purchasing and green-fleet policies to assure consistency with a state climate law and scoping plan adopted in December.
Thanking a forward-looking legislature and firmer county executives Pat Ryan and Mike Hein, Metzger acknowledged the debt owed to those who came before her. Metzger noted that Ulster County was the first county in New York to be silver-certified as a climate-smart community.
Ninety-nine other New York State jurisdictions have followed Ulster County’s lead by signing a sort of boilerplate pledge admitting that climate change is real. All have agreed to conform to a number practical solutions like shifting to renewable energy, controlling inventory emissions, establishing lower energy footprints, and adopting plans for climate action.
“We really don’t need the science to tell us this,” said Metzger. “We can see the impacts of climate change right here in Ulster County. We need to lead by example, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
An assessment is also planned for Ulster County’s public transit service. The goal is expanding routes and scheduling and fully electrifying UCAT’s fleet of buses. But Metzger noted that public transportation was not just about reducing emissions. “It’s about access to education,” said Metzger, “and job opportunities and health care for folks who cannot afford a car or the gas to get around.”
Another of her directives was aimed at Ulster County’s new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Esi Lewis, charging her with corralling all relevant departments such as planning, social services, economic development and the office of the aging to work together to develop a plan to help county residents and small businesses attract more state and federal assistance and incentives.
“In this effort,” said Metzger, “we are going to prioritize the most vulnerable and the most underserved communities in our counties.” Metzger sees tremendous opportunity coming down the pipe from the Inflation Reduction Act, and she intends that Ulster County will be ready for it.