A New York State agency charged with developing new energy technologies has continued to subsidize fossil fuels, giving millions in grants to public and private entities for natural gas-powered vehicles and fueling stations even after the state banned hydraulic fracturing in 2014.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is a public benefit corporation established in 1975 in response to the ongoing oil embargoes and energy crisis with a mandate to “direct its efforts toward the development of new energy technologies, with special emphasis on renewable energy sources and energy conservation technologies.”
Since that time, NYSERDA has been a clearinghouse for administering state energy-related funds, selling bonds to finance energy projects and managing New York’s revenues from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate cap-and-trade regime in the northeastern US.
NYSERDA has funded a wide array of clean energy and energy conservation projects, however, the authority has also provided subsidies that perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels. Since the Marcellus Shale fracking boom, NYSERDA has given out more than $23 million in grants for municipalities and private companies to invest in compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and fueling stations under the theory that CNG vehicles produce fewer emissions than diesel- and gasoline-powered automobiles.
By subsidizing increased natural gas use, NYSERDA is also indirectly subsidizing the expansion of the entire natural gas industry from fracking to pipelines, and all of the environmental impacts – from water contamination, to earthquakes, to methane emissions – entailed in its operation.
While vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas may emit less carbon than gasoline-fueled cars and trucks, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and subsidizing continued and increased reliance on it locks in carbon emissions for years to come, when climate models show that we cannot afford to do so. Even if countries around the world meet the modest goals set by the Paris climate agreement, global carbon emissions are projected to grow over the next thirty years, when they need to decrease dramatically in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the widely accepted threshold before global climate catastrophe.
Where NYSERDA’s natural gas subsidies went
The vast majority of NYSERDA’s CNG subsidies went to private businesses, with a surprising amount – $4.2 million – going to fund the conversions of fleets of beer and beverage distribution trucks.
From 2014 through 2017, Manhattan Beer Distributors received five grants totalling nearly $2 million for 18 Volvo semi-trucks and 29 unspecified “heavy duty” CNG vehicles. Budweiser manufacturer Anheuser-Busch received two grants worth $1.2 million for 24 delivery truck CNG modifications. Buffalo beer and soda distributor Try-It received $1 million to buy 43 CNG-powered Kenworth T440 tractor trailers in 2013. Finally, the New York City-based Red Bull distributor Beverage Works received $93,536 in 2017 to buy four CNG-powered Ford F550 pickup trucks.
Other recipients of CNG subsidies through NYSERDA include Clean Energy Fuels Corp, a natural gas company owned by the famed oil and gas billionaire T Boone Pickens, which received $1.3 million from 2007 through 2017 to build two compressed natural gas refueling stations and to buy nine CNG-powered recycling collection vehicles.
Saratoga-based CNG company American Natural Gas received two grants worth $740,358 to build refueling stations as well. American Natural Gas was founded by Drew West, the son of fracking lobbyist Thomas West, who sits on the company’s board of directors. Other board members include the billionaire investor Philip Falcone, who in 2012 settled a securities fraud case with the SEC for using investors’ money to pay his own taxes.
Casella Waste, which operates two of the three landfills that continue to import fracking waste from Pennsylvania gas fields, received $432,000 for seven CNG vehicles.
All of the CNG projects subsidized by NYSERDA can be seen in the table below.
|Bronx Ford Inc||$24,000||NYSERDA||Reimbursement for 3 taxis||12/16/2006|
|Greater Long Island Clean Cities Coalition||$5,216,409||CMAQ||49 CNG vehicles, 45 CNG conversions, 1 CNG station, 4 CNG station upgrades||5/4/2007|
|Clean Energy Fuels Corp||$629,098||CMAQ||9 CNG recycling collection vehicles||10/2/2007|
|Anheuser-Busch||$103,153||NYSERDA||2 CNG modifications for delivery trucks||5/13/2008|
|LimoGreen Services LLC||$32,000||CMAQ||Upfit limousines w CNG engines||5/13/2008|
|Middle Country Central School District||$175,000||US DOE Special Projects grant||10 CNG school buses||3/24/2009|
|Middle Country Central School District||$447,960||1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act||15 CNG school buses||3/24/2009|
|Long Beach City School District||$737,535||1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act||15 CNG school buses||6/18/2009|
|KeySpan Energy||$364,000||CMAQ||6 CNG modifications for trucks||7/16/2009|
|Verizon||$247,770||CMAQ||10 chassis for CNG lift trucks||1/22/2010|
|Anheuser-Busch||$1,079,408||CMAQ||22 CNG modifications for trucks||4/22/2010|
|Village of Minoa||$25,508||ARRA Clean Cities||1 CNG refuse packer||4/29/2010|
|Demon Logistics||$222,320||ARRA Clean Cities||4 CNG conversions for delivery trucks||4/30/2010|
|City of Syracuse||$84,000||ARRA Clean Cities||3 CNG vehicles & 7 hybrid electric vehicles||4/30/2010|
|City of Rochester||$326,150||ARRA Clean Cities||6 CNG recycling trucks, 6 electric cars, 2 CNG cars||6/24/2010|
|Verizon||$2,310,000||ARRA Clean Cities||165 CNG conversions for cargo vans||7/9/2010|
|Niagara Mohawk||$2,511,000||ARRA Clean Cities||2 CNG utility trucks, 9 CNG dump trucks, 18 CNG cargo vans, 2 CNG fueling stations||8/4/2010|
|Westchester Ambulette||$180,000||ARRA Clean Cities||18 CNG ambulettes||8/19/2010|
|City of White Plains||$241,314||ARRA Clean Cities||1 CNG street sweeper, 1 CNG front loading refuse packer, 2 CNG trucks||9/13/2010|
|Albany International Airport Authority||$27,495||ARRA Clean Cities||1 CNG F450||6/16/2011|
|Cayuga County||$18,733||ARRA Clean Cities||1 CNG pickup||6/30/2011|
|Modern Disposal||$1,249,107||ARRA Clean Cities||15 CNG refuse haulers, 40 CNG fueling stations||10/28/2011|
|Casella Waste||$432,000||ARRA Clean Cities||7 CNG vehicles||2/7/2012|
|Willow Run Foods||$979,573||RGGI & ARRA Clean Cities||15 CNG tractors & safety upgrades to maintenance facilities||8/9/2013|
|Try-It Distributing||$1,000,000||RGGI||43 CNG tractors||12/30/2013|
|Manhattan Beer Distributors||$60,579||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||4 heavy duty CNG vehicles||10/15/2014|
|Consolidated Edison Co of NY||$73,556||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||3 CNG F350 pickup trucks||3/12/2015|
|Manhattan Beer Distributors||$920,000||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||23 heavy duty CNG vehicles||5/28/2015|
|Wildlife Conservation Society||$19,200||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||1 CNG F450||6/24/2015|
|Manhattan Beer Distributors||$80,000||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||2 heavy duty CNG vehicles||6/24/2015|
|Neapolitan Express Operating||$147,980||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||5 CNG E450 shuttle buses||7/29/2015|
|Diamond Builders Corp||$300,000||NYSERDA||CNG refueling station||9/3/2015|
|American Natural Gas||$360,580||NYSERDA||CNG refueling station||12/2/2015|
|Ferrara Bros LLC||$511,690||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||13 T440 CNG vehicles||8/25/2016|
|American Natural Gas||$379,778||NYSERDA||CNG refueling station||10/4/2016|
|Clean Energy Fuels Corp||$500,000||NYSERDA||CNG refueling station||12/21/2016|
|Clean Energy Fuels Corp||$197,732||NYSERDA||CNG refueling station||1/11/2017|
|The Beverage Works||$46,768||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||2 CNG F550 pickup trucks||7/2/2017|
|The Beverage Works||$23,384||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||1 CNG F550 pickup truck||8/9/2017|
|Manhattan Beer Distributors||$250,000||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||5 CNG Volvo VNL vehicles||9/13/2017|
|The Beverage Works||$23,384||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||1 CNG F550 pickup truck||10/5/2017|
|Manhattan Beer Distributors||$650,000||NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund||13 CNG Volvo VNM vehicles||11/8/2017|
Funding sources for gas subsidies
The funding sources for NYSERDA’s CNG subsidies have varied over the time period we analyzed. The largest single source of funding was the economic stimulus package passed in the wake of the 2009 global financial crisis. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Clean Cities Program provided more than $7.62 million to 13 CNG projects between 2010 and 2013. The other major source of funding for the grants has been the federal Department of Transportation Congestion Management and Air Quality Program (CMAQ), which provided $7.57 million for six CNG projects between 2007 and 2010. The bulk of that money – $5.21 million – went to the Greater Long Island Clean Cities Coalition in May 2007.
One troubling source of money for NYSERDA’s compressed natural gas subsidies has been revenues from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The initiative is a compact between several northeastern states to curb climate change by capping the amount of carbon that power plants are allowed to discharge into the atmosphere and allowing them to buy allowances to exceed the cap that began in 2009.
According to records released by NYSERDA, RGGI funds were used to pay for to two compressed natural gas projects in 2013. One project provided $1 million to Buffalo-based beverage distributor Try-It to purchase 43 CNG-fueled tractor trailers. The other provided $979,573 from RGGI and from the ARRA Clean Cities Program to Willow Run Foods, a distributor to fast food restaurants based near Binghamton, for 15 CNG tractor trailers and safety upgrades for maintenance facilities. It’s unclear what proportion of the Willow Run grant came from RGGI and what came from the economic stimulus bill.
The use of RGGI funds to capitalize natural gas projects appears to contravene the intent of the program, which is meant to invest money from the auction of pollution permits into renewable energies.
Although NYSERDA’s CNG subsidies represent only a small portion of their total RGGI proceeds (and an even smaller portion of the total funds the authority administers), the usage of funds for energy conservation and renewable energy on fossil fuel infrastructure highlights a divergence between Andrew Cuomo’s rhetoric on climate change and his actions as New York State Governor.