What does the CLCPA mean by and for disadvantaged communities?

Governor Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) has a focus on environmental justice. The term “disadvantaged communities” is not clearly defined by the Act. In this article, Austin Law explores possible interpretations and implications. This is one of four articles in Unbuilt Labs’ Research Package “New York’s Green New Deal” by Austin Law.

In June 2019 Governor Andrew Cuomo signed and passed into New York State law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). In an effort to put New York at the forefront of combating climate change, the act aims to, by the year 2050, (1) reduce state carbon emissions to net zero; and (2) decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 85% of 1990 levels. To do so, the act establishes, among other groups, the Climate Action Council. The Council is a twenty-two-member decision-making body[1] that is tasked with employing advisory panels and creating a scoping plan, within the next two years, to articulate the strategies for reaching the act’s goals. The act is ambitious, calling for a complete shift from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy and stricter emission standards. As a result, the Council’s plan, in part, will serve as a transitioning guide, and include initiatives to help those whose jobs are displaced.

One of the act’s notable provisions focuses on environmental justice, requiring that 35-40% of the program’s benefits[2] be directed to historically disadvantaged communities out of recognition that members of these communities bear a disproportionate burden on climate change.[3] In other words, this bill calls on State Agencies to intervene and provide a degree of relief to communities that otherwise lack the resources to combat climate change. Although the term “disadvantaged community” is not clearly defined in the act itself, the act establishes a Climate Justice Working Group tasked with identifying disadvantaged communities based on geographic, public health, environmental hazard, and socioeconomic criteria. The act also provides guidelines as to what such areas would look like. For example, the act, in part, provides that:

“Disadvantaged communities shall be identified based on geographic, public health, environmental hazard, and socioeconomic criteria, which shall include but are not limited to:

  1. Areas burdened by cumulative environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative public health effects;
  2. Areas with concentrations of people that are of low income, high unemployment, high rent burden, low levels of home ownership, low levels of educational attainment, or members of groups that have historically experienced discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity; and
  3. Areas vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as flooding, storm surges, and urban heat island effects.”

Recognizing that disadvantaged communities have little means of coping with the growing threat of climate change, this provision allows agencies to shift spending in order to defend these communities.

Browse the research package “New York’s Green New Deal” by Austin Law:


[1] The council’s membership consists of the commissioners of transportation, health, economic development, agriculture and markets, hosing and community renewal, environmental conservation, and labor. The Co-Chairs of this council are Alicia Barton, President of the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority and Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation.

[2] “Benefits” refer to benefits of spending on clean energy and energy efficiency programs, projects and investments in the areas of housing, workforce development, pollution reduction, low income energy assistance, energy, transportation and economic development.

[3] The U.N. has published a report claiming that disadvantaged communities are more exposed to climate hazards, more susceptible to damage caused by climate hazards, and have a more difficult time recovering from these damages. For example, disadvantaged groups often live in areas that are more prone to flooding, thus increasing their exposure to flooding caused by climate change. Because the (economically) disadvantaged may live in poorly built houses and lack insurance, they are unable to effectively mitigate damages and losses from these hazards. (https://www.un.org/esa/desa/papers/2017/wp152_2017.pdf)

About the Author

Austin Law

Austin Law, Summer Policy Analyst


Austin is currently pursuing a J.D. and comes from a background in Business Management and Economics. As an undergraduate, he designed and conducted statistical research on the effectiveness of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a commercial bank bailout enacted in the 2008 financial crisis. At Unbuilt Labs, Austin’s project considers the New York State’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. He will be looking at how sustainability-focused funding and its legislation affect disadvantaged communities. Having worked in both a boutique firm and a top 60 firm in the National Law Journal 500, he has experience with asylum seeking policies and insurance litigation practices. His most recent overseas trip was to his birthplace, Hong Kong, where he spent time teaching children English. He has also helped Make-A-Wish foundation’s Suffolk County Chapter fundraiser for their holiday campaign.

  • Cornell Law School, J.D. Law ‘22
  • Stony Brook University, B.S. (Hons) Business Management and Economics ‘18