New York’s longest serving commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation is stepping down.  

What You Need To Know

  • Basil Seggos has served for eight and a half years

  • The state law requires several benchmarks: 2030: 70% electricity come from renewables, 2040: 100% carbon-free electricity, 2050: Carbon-free economy

  • Seggos pushed back the Jan. 1 deadline for the carbon emissions policy, called cap and invest, to sometime this summer

Basil Seggos has served for eight and a half years. He was appointed to the job in 2015 and officially confirmed in 2016.

Seggos has now served under two governors and is poised to leave at a pivotal time in New York’s history.

“We have a job to do and when it comes to climate change, but like any of the threats facing the state, we have to be honest, but also aggressive about fixing these problems,” Seggos told NY1 in a sit-down interview Monday.

He’s the top official leading and implementing New York’s 2019 climate law, which mandates the state’s economy be entirely carbon free in less than three decades — if it all goes to plan.

“We have to hit the law, not just because the law says we should, but that in fact, we’re dealing with a crisis,” Seggos said.

The state law requires several benchmarks:

  • 2030: 70% electricity come from renewables
  • 2040: 100% carbon-free electricity
  • 2050: Carbon-free economy

But the law also lends flexibility, allowing the DEC and New York state Energy Research and Development Authority broad leeway as to how they’ll meet those goals.  

“We have flexibility and that the law itself requires us to merely hit the targets. It doesn’t really tell us how to do it. And that’s what we’ve been doing,” Seggos said.

But critics charge that the goals won’t be met.

The electrical grid is expanding too slowly, so is moving away from fossil fuels.

Wind energy’s cost may have been underestimated — Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced two major projects are about to be renegotiated after the projects’ CEOs complained they need more investment from the state.

“2030 is not that far away, especially when what we are predominantly looking at is a massive build out of our grid,” Doreen Harris, CEO and president of NYSERDA, told NY1 in a sit-down interview Monday.

Harris testified at a recent budget hearing that New York is currently at 25% renewable energy, which includes reliance on wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

“What we’ll continue to do is make rational decisions based on changing circumstances because it is the fact that it is not a straight line to 2030 for sure, and I’m sure 2040 and 2050 will present their challenges as well,” she said.  

And already, Seggos pushed back the Jan. 1 deadline for the carbon emissions policy, called cap and invest, to sometime this summer.

“I told the public last year that we were not going to hit our first deadline of draft regulations by the end of the calendar year,” he said. “What the law requires us to do is come up with an economy-wide policy. That’s really tough to do.”

He’s focused on making the changes affordable for families and businesses, which are estimated to end up in the multi-billion range once in full force.  

Admitting he’s concerned — and so is the governor.

Hochul’s budget director Blake Washington recently said that she is “uneasy” about the financial burden that will inevitably be felt by taxpayers.

Hochul is also exploring incorporating nuclear power as part of the transition to renewable energy.

“We’re all paying extraordinary cost right now for climate change. I mean, there’s no doubt about it,” Seggos said, adding that the cost of inaction will be even worse.

Hurricane Sandy cost taxpayers $36 billion. Pollution is sending more people to the hospital and sea levels are rising.

The next DEC commissioner will need to marry the goals of affordability and smart policy.

Seggos said he’ll exit in April once the state budget is finalized.

“I don’t want to leave before ensuring that this agency is as well-resourced for next year,” he said.

He’s grown the agency to nearly 3,000 employees since taking the helm, boasting a multi-billion dollar budget.

Seggos navigated the politics of the job, which at one point led him to calling out the former governor. He’s traveled to Ukraine on several humanitarian trips.

“I went because I knew that in my mind, that it was a very significant struggle for our future as a country and the future of the Western world, if you will. Governor was nothing but supportive. It wasn’t even a difficult conversation,” he said. “I’ve got some work to do. And then what’s next after that? I’m not taking a knee from the environmental fight.”