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Chuck Schumer lobs grenade into climate talks

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington on May 21, 2019. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Negotiations over a state climate change bill are among the more delicate conversations happening in Albany these days.

That was before U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer lobbed a grenade into the talks with a letter to lawmakers dated Tuesday that supported the most far-reaching version of the bill — the one that calls for the state’s entire economy to be carbon-free by 2050. That debate — carbon-free vs. carbon-neutral — is the most contentious issue in the negotiations.

Environmentalists were stunned to learn of Schumer’s letter, and several called his office, seeking an explanation. It’s not every day that a U.S. senator gets involved in state legislation. Some also were miffed given he has not expressed full-throated support for the federal Green New Deal pitched by fellow Democrats Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“It’s difficult to understand why the senator would take a stand on a state bill which he cannot influence rather than the federal Green New Deal which he can influence,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and a participant in the Albany negotiations, told The Point. “We understand the senator wants a bold action but he should do that on the federal level where he can use his considerable influence to advance the Green New Deal.”

Schumer’s Green New Deal stance has drawn protests — last month, about 75 climate change activists blocked the entrance to his New York City office. But Schumer’s spokesman says the senator’s motivation for writing the letter was his well-established concern about climate change and, as he refs in the letter, the fact that New York always has been a leader on national issues like same-sex marriage and has another chance to be out in front.

“Because meaningful national policy is being blocked by climate change deniers in the White House and Republican Senate majority, it is critical that states like New York take bold action to lead the way to transitioning to a clean-energy economy, reducing fossil fuel, and protecting vulnerable communities in a way that creates countless good-paying jobs,” Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said in a statement.

Environmentalists would agree. But it’s worth noting that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been wary about the practicality of setting an emissions-free goal by 2050. And now Schumer’s letter has put the state’s two alpha dogs into opposite corners of this fight.