New York Lawyers Lawyer Up For the Climate


Photo via NY Public Library

It's not just the hippies anymore. No less than the New York State Bar Association is calling for immediate action on climate change. In a new report, they call on NY Governor David Paterson to adopt their action steps either though Executive Order, administrative action or legislation. And the best part? The Bar says action will have "little or no fiscal impact on state or local government budgets." Music to a politician's ears.The New York State Bar Association Global Warming Task Force says it wants to help New York cut its GHG emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, which is in line with President Obama's goals. The task force is chaired by Michael B. Gerrard, professor and director of the Center on Climate Change Law at the Columbia University School of Law, and it was created by State Bar President Bernice K. Leber in 2008. Their report, titled "Taking Action In New York On Climate Change: Report of the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming," is chalk full of solid recommendations for Gov. Paterson.

The Task Force recommends:

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 York should 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 York within 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 York should 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.


State by State Efforts
While the federal government has been slow to act on climate change, many states are taking matters into their own hands. Twenty-three states have renewable energy standards, with California being the most vocal about cutting emissions. There are also two regional efforts to cut emissions--the Western Climate Initiative and RGGI. Both would most likely be superseded by any federal legislation.

More on states cutting emissions:
Wal-Mart, GE, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)
Let Bravery and Unity Convert The Doubters

Tags: Energy Efficiency