March 2, 2009

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION TASK FORCE ON GLOBAL WARMING CALLS FOR COMPREHENSIVE STATEWIDE STRATEGY TO COMBAT GREENHOUSE GASES

New Report Identifies Timely & Cost-Effective Actions

New Yorkcan take a series of realistic, timely and cost-effective steps that would slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels and leave the state and the nation better prepared for a world impacted by global climate change, according to a new report issued by the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming. 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.

While noting that New Yorkalready has an array of laws, policies and programs that help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to global warming, the Task Force is calling for a "statewide comprehensive climate change strategy that has a specific, measureable and binding reduction target." The preliminary report, titled Taking Action In New York On Climate Change: Report of the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming, must be adopted by the Association's House of Delegates. The vote is scheduled in April 2009.

In making global warming a top priority, Leber asked the Task Force to review New York's existing laws and programs, with the goal of prioritizing specific reforms in the area of climate change which could be implemented locally, statewide and nationally. Leber also noted that the State Bar has long been active on the issue of global warming and the impact of greenhouse gases, issuing a seminal report on the subject in 1994, titled The Threat of Global Climate Change - What Can New Yorkers Do? State and Local Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in New York State.

"While it's true that New Yorkhas taken many steps to address climate change, much more can be done. With this report, Professor Gerrard and the other distinguished members of the Task Force have developed a thoughtful, practical roadmap to confronting climate change, with specific proposals that can be readily accomplished and that will yield real results. I want to thank them for their hours of hard work and dedication," Leber said.

The panel determined that the state already has several laws, policies and programs currently in place to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions. However, a climate change target and comprehensive strategy were lacking. According to the report, 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 that 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 is appropriate.

The report's 22 specific recommendations can be divided into four categories: building and energy; land use; vehicles and transportation; and other initiatives. Recommendations include:

  • Improving energy efficiency in the construction of new buildings and remove certain exemptions from energy efficiency statutes to promote this.
  • Providing incentives to local governments to train building inspectors on enforcing the Energy Code - now largely neglected in many municipalities across the State.
  • Allowing the Public Service Commission to require time-of-use (or time differentiated) pricing in circumstances where such rates are found to be in the public interest. Time-of-use pricing is a method by which the price of electricity charged consumers varies with the time of day, which allows the price to track more closely the actual cost of producing electricity in each hour. Consumers would thereby save on electricity costs by shifting their usage from peak periods when prices are highest to non-peak periods when prices are lower.
  • Amending the SEQRA regulations and various town, city and municipal laws to include climate change considerations.
  • Encouraging the development of wind energy projects both on- and off-shore.
  • Using "feebates" for the purchase of new vehicles -- imposing fees on new vehicles with low fuel economy, and issuing rebates to people who purchase high fuel economy cars.

Professor Gerrard noted, "The Task Force on Global Warming was mindful of the current recession. None of our recommendations would be very costly to state or local governments, and several would save them a good deal of money. We hope to work with the Governor, his commissioners and the Legislature on this critical issue. The time for action is now."

The members of the Task Force on Global Warming are:

Michael B. Gerrard - Columbia Law School, Chair

David Driesen - Syracuse Law School

Veronica Eady Famira - New YorkLawyers for the Public Interest

J. Kevin Healy - BryanCave LLP

Katrina Kuh - Hofstra Law School

Edward Lloyd - Columbia Law School

Eileen Millett - Gibbons PC

David Paget - Sive Paget & Riesel PC

Virginia Robbins - Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC

Patricia Salkin - Albany Law School

James Sevinsky - General Electric

James Van Nostrand - Pace Energy and Climate Center, Pace Law School

For a full copy of the preliminary Task Force Report, Taking Action In New YorkOn Climate Change:

Report of the New YorkState Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming, go to: http://www.nysba.org/globalwarmingtaskforcereport.

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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.