PEF members play major role addressing climate change in NY
By DEBORAH A. MILES
New York is upping the climate change ante, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is upholding the standards set forth in the Paris Accord while strengthening the state’s position as a national leader in climate change.
It’s no surprise PEF members are playing an integral role.
“The governor’s office recently released a methane reduction plan that was drafted by my colleagues. They were the lead on that,” said Mark Lowery, a climate policy analyst at the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
The state Office of Climate Change, which became a part of DEC in 2007 under former Gov. Elliot Spitzer, coordinates responses to climate change in terms of mitigation of greenhouse gases and adapting to the changing climate by managing various programs. It develops and implements programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an interstate agreement to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants.
The office also leads the comprehensive Climate Smart Communities Program that provides guidance to local governments that want to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.
The program is a collaborative effort among DEC, the Energy Research and Development Authority, departments of State, Health, Transportation and Public Service Commission. The office provides information through webinars and other media, and manages a grants program for local governments.
Roads, bridges, floods
“Our transportation system is vulnerable to a number of climate hazards that climate scientists project to become more severe and more frequent in the future,” Lowery said. “Climate change is not only increasing the annual average temperature but the frequency and length of heat waves. This is dangerous to people, and also to infrastructure. Extreme heat can damage road surfaces. In some cases, the black top gets so soft, it collapses.
“What we are really concerned about in New York is flooding. We anticipate frequency and severity of both coastal flooding and inland flooding to increase.”
Lowery cited Hurricane Sandy of 2012 as one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in history.
PEF President Wayne Spence was among those whose homes were ravaged by the super storm. His house on Long Island had just been renovated after Hurricane Irene left its tragic calling card in 2011. But Irene was just a tease compared to the power of Sandy, which poured nearly 6 feet of water into Spence’s home.
“Sandy did not occur because of climate change, but we do know there was additional damage that would not have occurred if Sandy had taken place with the sea at its 1900 level, 13 to 14 inches lower.
“New York has seen about 1.2 inches of sea-level rise per decade, over the last several decades. Scientists tell us the rate of sea-level rise is going to accelerate in the future. The medium projections by the end of this century are on the order of three feet and could be as high as six feet for the state’s coast,” Lowery said.
When the rains come
Throughout New York, Lowery said there has been a trend of increasingly heavy rain events and associated flooding.
“Heavy rains can lead to flash flooding that can endanger the transportation infrastructure. If roads and bridges are flooded during the event, there is a risk that first responders may not be able to reach people in need. Things built years ago can create problems today,” Lowery said.
To address the issue of future flood risks caused by low or undersized bridges, the state enacted the Community Risk and Resiliency Act in 2014. This law requires that applicants in several permit and funding programs show they have considered sea-level rise and flooding in their project design.
“Investing in climate-smart design now will save the state and municipalities money in the future, along with saving lives and minimizing property damage,” Lowery said. “New York is taking a position to lead on climate change despite what the federal administration has decided to do.
“New York has already seen the effects of climate change. The message is climate change is real.”