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New York State Aims to Make Communities "Climate Smart"

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Have you ever considered purchasing an electric vehicle (EV) but were discouraged by the fact that you wouldn't know where to charge it? Would you reconsider purchasing an EV if your town had readily-available charging stations?

Last week, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopted new regulations that will encourage small towns and villages to invest in EV infrastructure, among other things. Under the new program established in the new 6 NYCRR Part 492, municipalities can receive up to $250,000 in rebates for purchasing and installing EV charging stations or hydrogen fuel cell refueling stations. That is just one example of the benefits of DEC's Climate Smart Communities Projects, which is a voluntary program that will allow municipalities to apply for rebates for clean vehicle and climate adaptation projects.

In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo added his signature to the "Under 2" Memorandum of Understanding (U2-MOU), which is an agreement among states, provinces, and municipalities around the world. The goal of the U2-MOU is to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 2 tons per capita, or reduce GHG emissions 80%-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. To reach this ambitious goal, New York State has set benchmarks to reduce carbon emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

In pursuit of these lofty goals, several programs will be created under the Climate Smart Communities Projects intended to provide funding for towns and cities to promote the reduction of carbon emissions while improving "emergency preparedness, economic health, and social resilience."

Municipalities are some of the greatest sources of GHGs in the State. For example, the transportation sector is the largest contributor of GHG emissions in New York State, totaling 34% of the state's total emissions. Towns operate fleets of vehicles ranging from police cars and firetrucks, to garbage trucks and street sweepers. The new voluntary funding program promulgated by the DEC would allow municipalities to improve the efficiency of their fleets while also providing the infrastructure for residents' "green" vehicles, thereby encouraging people to purchase EVs. Under the new regulations, towns would also have the opportunity to lease or purchase "clean fuel" vehicles with rebates ranging from $750 to $5,000 per vehicle.

Another important aspect to addressing climate change is adapting the way we currently to address results from increasing average temperatures. For example, temperatures are expected to increase 4 to 10oF by 2100, resulting in heavier and prolonged periods of rain, which will result in greater risk of floods. Also, as the climate continues to change, there will be increased cases of respiratory issues for sensitive persons (e.g., children, elderly), and more pests (e.g., tropical climate insects) are expected find their way to New York, resulting in an increase of communicable disease.

A key part of DEC's Climate Smart Communities Projects is the funding available, and it's a lot- up to $2,000,000- for towns that submit climate change adaptation and mitigation projects. The program provides that these projects can include "natural resiliency measures, nature based mitigation projects, relocation or retrofit of existing facilities due to flooding or sea level rise, GHG emissions reduction outside the power sector, and climate change adaptation planning and supporting studies." This means that local communities will be encouraged to take various adaptation measures like: conserving and restoring marshes and wetlands in order to reduce the chances of flooding; relocating facilities so they will not be impacted by sea level rise and storm surges; and reducing the amount of impervious, or paved, surfaces so increased rainfall can soak into the ground, reducing the likelihood of flash floods. New York has already seen the disastrous effects of climate change through stronger storms like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene - improvements like these are necessary to reduce the impact of more storms and other natural disasters.

The Climate Smart Communities Projects program is a win-win. Local municipalities will be better prepared to address impending issues relating to climate change, New York State will be working towards meeting its goals under the Under 2 MOU, and there is no additional cost incurred by the NYSDEC or the State because the money to fund the proposed program will come from the existing Environmental Protection Fund. Since this is a voluntary program, municipalities will not be required to participate (or penalized for failing to participate), but it would be extremely short-sighted of them not to jump at the opportunity for funding for these important projects intended to help New York meet its goals with respect to climate change.

If you want to read more about the program, check out DEC's website.

Call the attorneys of Periconi, LLC at (212) 213-5500 if you think you are interested in learning more about the program or have questions about the potential impacts of climate change on your business or local community.

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