Charles Komanoff


Lighting the Way to Conservation and Efficiency

This century, my work has primarily concerned urban transportation, particularly in New York City, where I played a major role in the campaign that recently (Spring 2019) pushed a congestion pricing plan through the NY State legislature. A major exception to this focus has been my carbon tax advocacy through the Carbon Tax Center, the non-profit I co-founded in 2007 and continue to direct.

California Stars

Another exception this spring (2019) was California Stars, my detailed report for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) detailing the enormous extent to which California has outpaced the rest of the U.S. in reducing consumption of fossil fuels relative to economic output since the mid-1970s. The signal finding of this richly detailed 29-page report is that if the rest of the United States over the past four decades had shrunk its fossil fuel use relative to economic activity at the same pace as California, we would have reduced our nationwide emissions of carbon pollution by 1,200 million metric tons in 2016 alone -- an amount equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. passenger vehicles in that year.

The influential energy-climate blogger David Roberts has posted How California became far more energy-efficient than the rest of the country at Vox, with the tag-line, "It's not about luck. It's about smart policy." While Roberts' post is a brilliant distillation of "California Stars," The full report is a good read, explaining how California has made energy efficiency and renewables the focal point of the state's economy, while making clear how far all 50 states still have to go.

Fascinating bits from the last century

From the archives: My Sept 3, 1977 letter leading the New York Times' editorial page, explaining how malfeasance by Con Edison rather than environmentalists' blocking power projects was responsible for the devastating July 13, 1977 NYC blackout.

Also from the archives: My 1974 article, The Storm King Controversy, co-authored with attorney Ken Semmel and published in the short-lived journal New York Affairs, outlining a less-expensive and environmentally superior alternative to the massive "pumped-storage" hydroelectric project that Con Edison had sought for a decade to build at Storm King Mountain in the heart of the Hudson Highlands 50 miles north of New York City. Our alternative, which we conceived while working at the NYC EPA (the precursor to the DEP), was an early example of holistic power-system planning and analysis. It helped keep the project at bay until evidence of its damaging effects on the Hudson River's striped bass fisheries came to light, leading to the project's official demise in the late 1970s.

In December 1977, Harper's magazine published a fascinating critique of the environmental movement, "Environmentalism and the Leisure Class," asserting that the wealthy had co-opted environmentalism at the expense of the middle class and, especially, the poor. That article, by journalist William Tucker, raised important issues but misfired badly in using the Storm King controversy as its foil. Harper's published Ken Semmel's and my response to Tucker's article in its Feb. 1978 issue. It's a winner.

My May 17, 1979 cover article in the New York Review of Books, Doing Without Nuclear Power, published just weeks after the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown, in which I heralded emerging energy-efficiency and renewable-energy technologies that would undermine the nuclear industry.

From 2000-2010

"To Move Mountains, Fix Markets -- An Economist's Agenda for Sustainable NYC" (Sept. 2006)

My April 2001 essay, Edison Meet Carvel, in which an impromptu seminar in a NYC subway car comes to illuminate larger issues of energy efficiency, cost and politics.

My 2002 report for Riverkeeper, Securing Power Through Conservation and Efficiency in New York, explaining how participatory energy efficiency could allow retirement of the Indian Point reactors in Westchester County north of New York City.

See Oil, Before & After 9/11 for more reports on conservation and energy efficiency

During 2004-06, I helped create "Greening A Block," envisioned as a groundbreaking energy-efficiency demonstration project to turn an ordinary Lower East Side block south of the Con Edison 14th Street power plant into an urban showcase for energy efficiency, pollution reduction, job development and community sustainability. My partners in this venture were Jeff Perlman of Bright Power, Inc., and the Neighborhood Energy Network. Alas, parochial interests at Manhattan Community Board No. 3 sidetracked the project after the board had approved it nearly unanimously. More info at