N.Y., R.I. pass climate change bills to protect against extreme weather

Source: Colin Sullivan and Christa Marshall, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New York and Rhode Island passed climate change bills last week to protect both coastal states against extreme weather events, although the fate of legislation in the Empire State is uncertain.

The New York bill, called the “Community Risk Reduction and Resiliency Act” and sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, landed on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk after passing both chambers of the Legislature. It would force any state-funded project to plan for extreme weather events and the effects of climate change.

Among the effects identified by the legislation are sea-level rise and how to plan for it in the context of the state’s Smart Growth Infrastructure Policy Act and other methods of financing infrastructure, including the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

Environmental Advocates of New York has pegged the legislation as among its top priorities, citing in a memorandum on the bill the effects of devastating storms the last few years on New York as well as “rampant floods and record-breaking temperatures.”

“These impacts cost New Yorkers billions, devastated neighborhoods and communities, and placed unprecedented stress on our infrastructure, especially our electrical grid and wastewater treatment systems,” the memo in support of the bill stated.

The measure seeks to “ensure that state decisions involving coastal rehabilitation, farmland protection, water and sewage treatment plant upgrades, smart growth, and more will make the state more resilient against future storms, floods and heat waves,” the memo said.

Possible Cuomo veto

The legislation also directs the Department of State to work with the Department of Environmental Conservation to develop model climate change adaptation zoning laws for municipalities and to adopt regulations establishing science-based state sea-level rise projections based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predictions and the Sea Level Rise Task Force report recommendations, and to update such regulations biennially.

The bill was written at first to include carbon dioxide mitigation steps, but that language was removed after business interests protested.

News outlets in Albany have reported that Cuomo may veto the legislation in deference to upstate business groups concerned about the high cost of regulation in New York.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) is expected to sign a bill that moved through the state’s Legislature last week establishing a climate change council of government officials.

The council is charged with submitting a plan to the governor and Legislature outlining how to cut greenhouse gas emissions more deeply than requirements from U.S. EPA, including a 45 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2035.

It also is tasked with conducting vulnerability assessments of climate impacts throughout the state and working with municipalities on “sustainable communities.” In addition to 400 miles of coastline vulnerable to storm surge, the state has numerous river watersheds that are expected to flood more intensely, said J. Timmons Roberts, a professor at Brown University who pushed for passage of the legislation.

The bill further requires creation of a technical advisory board to inform the council of scientific developments with climate change and calls for climate change to be incorporated in state infrastructure planning with multiple agencies.

The legislative action follows an executive order from Chafee in February calling for a climate change council to coordinate on the issue (ClimateWire, Feb. 25).