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MAS Calls for Green House Gas Emission Analysis in SEQRA

earth from space

In honor of Earth Day, MAS has released a study that details a suggested framework for analyzing climate change, and enables New York State to evaluate and address the potential climate change impact of different actions in land-use, energy and industrial transportation, and other issues. In order to fight climate change, it is critical that we reduce green house gases (GHG). Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency formally declared six green house gasses to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare.

The MAS study concludes that the state has the ability to require far-reaching environmental review that can substantially advance efforts to reduce GHG. Meaningful environmental review can greatly assist governmental agencies and the public in understanding the climate change consequences of an action, while helping to address the resulting impacts.

“Climate change is a global challenge and New Yorkers have the responsibility to aggressively reduce GHG emissions and prepare for the changes in air temperature, sea level, and precipitation, and the massive implications of those changes, to human and natural environments,” said Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Art Society. “New York is making great strides to reduce the state’s GHG emissions, but more solutions can and should be pursued to drastically reduce its contribution to global climate change.”

MAS convened a group of experts, led by Professor Michael Gerrard, the former General Counsel of MAS and currently a professor and Director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, to identify a method for analyzing climate change in an EIS under SEQRA.MAS produced the study to facilitate public discussion regarding the best way to analyze climate change in New York.

“While global climate change is the most significant environmental issue of our time, it has, to this point, been largely ignored in most analyses under SEQRA and City Environmental Quality Review,” said Michael B. Gerrard.“New York State should join Massachusetts, California and Washington and use this tool to protect the environment.”

Specifically, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has the authority and mandate under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) to require an environmental impact study (EIS) analysis for the following inquiries:

  • How will an action’s life-cycle GHG emissions affect climate change?
  • And, how can a project’s adverse impact be minimized?
  • How will climate change affect the project?
  • And, how can a project best anticipate and prepare for the effects of climate change?

MAS believes GHG emissions should be treated as a non-threshold pollutant – meaning that any increase in GHG emissions above a zero-threshold will contribute to the adverse cumulative impact of global climate change. MAS therefore recommended that DEC require disclosure of the GHG emissions associated with every action subject to an EIS under SEQRA.

MAS said that in addition to the quantitative or qualitative analysis required for a project’s GHG emissions, every action requiring an EIS should account for the changing landscape and climate that could alter the efficiency, health, lifetime, or infrastructure of a project and, subsequently, examine adaption measures that will reduce the project’s vulnerability to these effects.

“The consideration of climate change under SEQRA will enable the government to identify opportunities to reduce or minimize the impact that discretionary projects have on the global climate and the impacts that global climate change will have on them,” said David Schnakenberg, Ralph C. Menapace, Jr. Fellow for Urban Land Use Law.

The study was performed by MAS in 2007 and 2008. Subsequent to MAS’s circulation of the draft report, DEC circulated a proposed policy requiring consideration of certain climate issues in EISs. The DEC draft, which is still undergoing review within the agency, drew certain important concepts from the MAS report. Click here to download the entire report.