Kelley St. John recently became the first Climate Action Manager for the City of Buffalo.  She just missed being in office to deal with the “Blizzard of the Century” in December, she may be heading for the first public test of her new office’s powers.


St. John’s position opened as part of the City’s participation New York’s Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program.  This program recognizes communities for their concrete actions to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change.  Communities that have been certified experience cost savings, being more efficient after reviewing processes that have climate impacts.   The City received a Bronze Level Certification in September and two of the required actions to obtain the certification was to set up a CSC Task Force and to appoint a CSC Coordinator to be responsible for coordinating the activities of the CSC task force and associated climate mitigation and adaptation activities.


One of the actions in the CSC framework is to inventory emissions, set goals, and plan for climate action (Action item #2).  New York State did something similar in the Scoping Plan, which is the roadmap created to meet the mandated targets of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).  This requires the state to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050.  Some of this reduction will come from the transition to renewable energy transmissions.  Some of this will come from moving from gas and diesel-powered vehicles to zero emissions vehicles (mainly electric).  But residential energy use accounts for 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions.


The Scoping Plan for the CLCPA was done over a three-year period.  The 22-member Climate Action Council was composed of government, business, academic and non-governmental organization members, and the plan was submitted for approval in December, 2022.  This was not a program that was created in a vacuum like so many large-scale government programs, but was done in a deliberative process that weighed the pros and cons to find a workable solution and to mitigate hardships caused by the transition.


All of this background leads to the climate related issues that St. John needs to weigh in on.  At the February 21st meeting, the Common Council approved a resolution to Urge the New York State Climate Action Council to Pause the Implementation of the Stipulations of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.   The next Common Council meeting will be considering another resolution to Urge Reconsideration of Gas Stove Ban to Better Address Concerns of Residents in Buffalo and Western New York.


These resolutions are in response to Governor Hochul’s State of the State address where she acknowledged one of the provisions laid out in the Scoping Plan.  In the plan, it calls for the adoption of Zero-Emission Codes and Standards and Require Energy Benchmarking for Buildings, requiring residential and commercial buildings to be built to a zero-emission and highly efficient standard (without equipment used for the combustion of fossil fuels) starting in 2025 for low-rise residential new construction and in 2028 for commercial new construction.  It also calls for building decarbonization.  Per the report, more than 250,000 housing units each year will need to adopt electric heat pumps and energy efficiency measures from 2030 onward.  This is the genesis of the Governor’s proposal to end the sale of new fossil fuel powered home heating equipment by 2030.


To meet the mandated decarbonization goals, we need to start today.  The power grid will be getting substantial upgrades under the Climate Law, but is presently adequate for electrification of heating, cooling (more efficient with heat pumps, reducing the power spikes in hot weather), cooking and transportation.   Keep in mind that there are and will continue to be tax incentives offered through the state and federal government to assist home owners and businesses in making this gradual transition to an all-electric future. As technology of electric vehicles, batteries, heat pumps, induction stoves, etc. advances and market demand increases, the cost of these products will decline – this is how the US market works.


Opinion pieces and interviews from NOCO and National Fuel executives in the Buffalo News and other local outlets have been describing how disastrous it would be to move away from their carbon fuels (heating oil and natural gas) for heating your homes.  Call it self-serving, but they also double down on their claims with a lot of fear mongering over the “immediate” conversion costs to consumers, complete with hugely inflated numbers and ignoring available rebates and tax credits.  Remember, this will be a transition to a zero-emission economy and any costs will be borne at the time of replacement, similar to what happens today.

No one is taking anyone's stove or furnace or water heater away now or at any time.


The following will answer many of the common misconceptions spread about the transition to zero-emissions for home energy use:

  • No one is taking anyone’s stove or furnace or water heater away now or at any time.  Under the law that was passed in 2019, there will be a gradual transition starting with new homes and over many years, gas equipment will be replaced by higher efficiency zero emissions replacements at very substantial operational cost savings.
  • In 2035, 12 years from now, NEW gas stoves will not be sold in NYS but anyone can keep theirs as long as they want to.   Replacing the stove will happen when it doesn’t work well, or the home owner chooses to, just as they do today.
  • The replacement for the gas boiler or furnace that will become more prevalent are cold climate heat pumps that work well in below zero temperatures. People in the Adirondacks and Maine (areas where it gets much colder than Western New York) are adopting them.  Electric heat does not mean old-fashioned glowing resistance space heaters or even the inefficient electric baseboard heat found in some ’60s and ’70’s homes.  Geothermal and air-sourced heat pumps are proven technology and are prevalent in many European countries that are as cold or colder than WNY.  Also, they provide air conditioning at much reduced operating costs than a standard A/C unit.  Remember, our summers are getting hotter.
  • The cooking replacement for a gas stove will not be the old glowing-coil electric stoves of our grandparents or even the smooth-top electric ranges that have the same hidden slow-to-heat and slow-to-cool coils that serious cooks avoid.  They are induction ranges that work magnetically, instant-on, instant-off, safe.  Professional chefs love them as there’s less waiting for the pan to heat, accurate control over temperature, and the timer can be adjusted according to their convenience.  When people see them, and find out that they won’t heat up a summer kitchen, they will want them.  They also can have battery back-ups for cooking in outages.
  • Emergency generators would not be prohibited under the new law.  If they are in non-gas buildings they can be installed to run on propane, like a grill, but the future solution is home battery storage, which is coming fast and will be the future solution to blackouts. Again, no one is taking existing generators – or grills – away.  They are not in the scoping plan.


New managers eventually are faced with their first test of leadership.  St. John’s may need to learn how to ruffle feathers and step on toes faster than she may want.  The resolutions by the Common Council show a disconnect between the planners and the legislators and her job description includes being responsible for climate mitigation and adaptation activities.  The two resolutions to delay action on climate change runs counter to her job title.  St. John will need to weigh in on this and future legislative action to ensure that everyone involved in running the City is working towards the standards and goals of the Climate Smart Communities program.