April 6, 2009

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION: GOVERNOR CAN IMPLEMENT GLOBAL WARMING RECOMMENDATIONS NOW

Lays Out Eight Immediate Global Warming Actions With Little Impact on Budgets

The New York State Bar Association called on Governor Paterson to implement immediately eight actions that would significantly reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and will have little or no fiscal impact on state or local government budgets. These steps - which can be carried out through an Executive Order, legislation or other administrative action - are contained in a report issued by the New York State Bar Association Global Warming Task Force that highlights realistic, timely and cost-effective measures that would help New York achieve the important goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels while leaving the state and the nation better prepared for a world impacted by global climate change.

Chaired by Michael B. Gerrard, Esq., professor and director of the Center on Climate Change Law at the Columbia University School of Law, the Task Force on Global Warming was established by State Bar President Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox LLP) in June 2008 and includes experts from the fields of climate change, law, academia, business and good government advocacy. The report, titled Taking Action In New York On Climate Change: Report of the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming, was adopted by the Association's House of Delegates at its annual meeting in April. Full report: http://www.nysba.org/globalwarmingtaskforcereport.

"While we are hopeful that all the recommendations in this thorough and compelling report will eventually be adopted, we have no time to waste. Governor Paterson can show real responsible leadership and make an immediate impact on our planet's health by implementing these eight actions through his existing authority or by directing his agencies to take action, with little added cost to government. This Task Force has shown that fiscal responsibility and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand," said Leber.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already embraced one of the report's recommendations -- that greenhouse gas emissions be analyzed in the environmental impact statements for proposed development projects.

The recommendations that can be implemented immediately with little or no fiscal impact are:

  • Raise the state's Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) mandate that utilities sell or consumers buy a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources to 30 percent by 2015. The state's current RPS mandate is 25 percent by 2013. Its cost is covered through a small surcharge on each kilowatt hour of energy.
  • Amend the State Energy Code to cover more building renovations. This could include lifting the cap that exempts renovations where 50 percent or less involves replacement of the "building subsystem" such as exterior walls, floors, and ductwork. The State could also lift the requirement that the Code cannot impose work that would cost more than the present value of the expected energy savings over a 10-year period and could narrow the exemptions for buildings located in the National or State registry of historical places.
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. New Yorkshould follow the federal Environmental Protection Agency lead and adopt minimum energy conservation requirements for water and wastewater treatment plants. The State should also consider more aggressive energy conservation requirements when these plants are funded through the Environmental Facilities Corporation, a State agency that funds some environmental projects.
  • The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) should revise its environmental impact assessment requirements under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) so that all state and local agencies must also consider greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and energy use as part their required analysis. This SEQRA review is undertaken by these agencies for any discretionary decision, including actions they must approve, fund or undertake.
  • New York should encourage the development of wind energy projects and adopt a statewide wind energy goal under the Public Service Commission's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) similar to New Jersey's goal of 3,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020.
  • The State should convene a task force headed by the DEC to develop a goal of reducing by 10% the vehicles miles traveled (VMT) in New Yorkwithin a decade. This task force should look at a variety of options including congestion pricing, tax-incentives for transit-oriented development, the use of low-cost mortgages for people who live close to public transportation or where they can walk to work, implementing pay-as-you-go insurance and creating a dedicated funding stream for alternative transportation.
  • The State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) should add tire pressure and other factors that can increase gas mileage as part of the state-mandated vehicle inspection programs. Any mailings to drivers should include a list of vehicle maintenance suggestions and this information should be prominently displayed on the DMV website.
  • New Yorkshould promote the capture of methane gas, which is twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and its conversion to electricity generation by requiring its capture in all municipal solid waste landfills and sewage treatment plants.

Professor Gerrard said, "The Task Force on Global Warming is keenly aware that the Governor and legislature have many different issues they must confront right now in a tough fiscal environment. That's why we are focusing on these eight actions that can be pursued immediately at minimal cost and without legislative action."

In its full report, the Global Warming Task Force panel determined that the state already has several laws, policies and programs currently in place to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions. A specific climate change target and comprehensive strategy were lacking. Gerrard noted that without such a target it is difficult to assess whether New York's efforts in reducing its emissions are effective. Additionally, a binding greenhouse gas reduction target will focus initiatives on achieving reductions in emissions, rather than on other laudable but different goals such as increasing renewable energy usage or making buildings more energy efficient.

The Task Force recommended adopting a target that can be assessed and revised as warranted to reduce New York's greenhouse gases by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The members of the Task Force on Global Warming are:

Michael B. Gerrard (New York) - Columbia Law School, Chair
David Driesen (Syracuse) - Syracuse Law School
Veronica Eady Famira (New York) - New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
J. Kevin Healy (New York) - Bryan Cave LLP
Katrina Kuh (Hempstead) - Hofstra Law School
Edward Lloyd (New York) - Columbia Law School
Eileen Millett (New York) - Gibbons PC
David Paget (New York) - Sive Paget & Riesel PC
Virginia Robbins (Syracuse) - Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC
Patricia Salkin (Albany) - Albany Law School
James Sevinsky (Schenectady) - General Electric
James Van Nostrand (White Plains) - Pace Energy and Climate Center, Pace Law School

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The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, the Association's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.