A Green New Deal for Ulster County

The phrase Green New Deal entered public dialog as an ambitious federal policy agenda addressing the intersecting crises of climate change and structural inequality. It was adopted by Governor Cuomo to describe a series of ambitious renewable energy and climate action goals, many of which were later formalized in the CLCPA. Since then, cities from New York to Los Angeles and Seattle have developed detailed Green New Deal plans specific to the needs, resources, and opportunities in their communities.

To our knowledge we are the first county in the country to adopt a Green New Deal. As the interface between state and federal governments and the towns, villages, and cities where our residents live and work, counties are ideally placed to translate policy into progress.

Because while we need policy frameworks — like the CLCPA — at the state and ultimately the federal level to set standards and mobilize resources, the real work of transformation happens on the ground.

We need to site renewable energy facilities, constructing them in ways that best fit into our rural and urban landscapes without compromising our farms and forests.

We need to update building codes and permitting and inspection processes so that new buildings are high performing from the get-go and older ones are brought up to high efficiency standards.

We need to modernize our transit systems, electrifying our bus fleets, making our streets safe for walking and biking, and creating new, more flexible carbon-free ways of getting around.

And we need to equip our workforce with the skills to do all this work and educate the next generation of students to thrive in the coming green economy.

All of this work is local, carried out by counties and by municipalities, community colleges, and school districts with county support.

Counties are able to take both a broad and highly detailed look at infrastructure, housing, environmental, and economic needs and translate state and federal policy into real projects that get done. For example, over the past several years as part of the Hazard Mitigation Plan process, Ulster County’s Department of the Environment has worked with communities across the County to identify bridges, embankments, and culverts that flood repeatedly or are vulnerable to erosion. We are now mobilizing state, federal, and local dollars to work our way through the resulting list of several dozen infrastructure improvement projects.

In addition to all the hands-on work that happens in county planning boards, transportation councils, economic development agencies, and workforce development boards, counties are also conveners and catalysts, bringing our many stakeholders together to share information and best practices. And – as we learned while COVID-19 unspooled in our communities – we are the leaders our communities look to in a crisis.

In order for this transformation to happen everywhere in the country – and it must happen everywhere if it’s going to be successful – counties must be at the leading edge of implementation.

Over the past two years, Ulster County’s Green New Deal efforts have focused on two areas: greening our own County government operations and laying the foundations for opportunity for our workforce in the green economy. We’ve started our second major solar project and ordered our first electric buses. We’ve continued to invest in energy efficiency within our own buildings and built out a network of electric vehicle chargers that serve both County vehicles and the public. And together with SUNY Ulster and an array of community partners, we’ve started the Green Careers Academy to offer our residents accessible, affordable training for clean energy jobs.

Now with this comprehensive Green New Deal plan, we are turning our attention outward to spur transformation across our community. In the pages that follow, we’ve laid out an ambitious agenda across three areas:

Accelerating the transition to clean energy, so that by 2040 we’ve achieved transformation of our electricity supply, buildings, and transportation systems. 

Building the equitable green economy, connecting all our residents to economic opportunity, and creating the educational and business development foundations to place Ulster County at the leading edge of the new industries this transformation will spawn.

Conserving our natural resources and building our resilience to the impacts of our changing climate, guiding our development with sound conservation priorities, and ensuring that all our residents enjoy the bounty of our natural resources.

In each area, we map progress across three time frames: immediate efforts that we will launch this year, aggressive interim targets for 2025 to guide our work, and long-term transformative goals to reach by 2040. The programs we will launch this year include a Solarize campaign to enable all our residents and small businesses to access solar energy, green internships for young people and career changers, a water solutions accelerator to jump-start innovative businesses in the water sector, and a climate smart farming network to help our farmers benefit from practices that promote soil health while helping to reverse climate change.

This framework is built on Ulster County’s resources and strengths to meet Ulster County’s needs. But we hope it will also serve as a starting point for other communities to develop their own approach towards meeting the challenges and immense opportunities that face us.

Next page: Accelerate the transition to clean energy