Land Use & Local Government Advisory Panel Enabling Strategies Submitted to Climate Action Council

On July 18, 2019 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which establishes targets for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable electricity production, and improving energy efficiency.  According to a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) bulletin dated May 10, 2021, the Advisory Panels to the Climate Action Council have all submitted recommendations for consideration in the Scoping Plan to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions economy-wide.   My posts describing and commenting on the strategies are all available here. This post addresses the Land Use & Local Government Advisory Panel enabling strategy recommendations.

I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA closely because I believe the solutions proposed will adversely affect reliability and affordability, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented.   I briefly summarized the schedule and implementation CLCPA Summary Implementation Requirements.  I have described the law in general, evaluated its feasibility, estimated costs, described supporting regulationssummarized some of the meetings and complained that its advocates constantly confuse weather and climate in other articles.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Land Use & Local Government Emissions

This panel did not propose any strategies to reduce emissions. 

Land Use & Local Government Strategies

According to the meeting slide presentation, this panel’s recommendations encompassed the following themes:

  • Promote efficient land use and smart growth that reduces vehicles mile traveled
  • Maximize natural carbon sequestration potential
  • Facilitating responsible siting and adoption of clean energy sources
  • Provide local governments the tools and resources to lead on climate
  • Commit to environmental justice, disadvantaged communities, and a just transition

After discussing each theme, the advisory panel presentation listed the following key strategies:

  • Expand availability of hands-on support and training for municipalities across a range of climate actions with a focus on increased support to small, resource-constrained, and underserved communities.
  • Develop a centralized portal that offers resources and information to assist communities in navigating, accessing and integrating state programs relative to sustainable community development and clean energy development.
  • Explore options to simplify local government enforcement of evolving building codes such as a statewide permitting system, a tool kit with templates and guidance to assist local building departments, support for implementation of shared services agreements, and third party inspections for the energy code.
  • Establish statewide policies that require consistent advancement on building decarbonization by adopting a highly efficient State Energy Code aligned with CLCPA goals as soon as possible, establishing energy benchmarking and performance standards for buildings, and creating innovative public benefit financing mechanisms.

More detail is available in the recommendations and you can listen to the presentation.   Note, however, that the recommendations are not the same as the key strategies and themes.  I will concentrate my comments on the presentation.

The efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled overlap with the planning strategies from the Transportation Advisory Panel.  Guiding “future growth, redevelopment, and conservation at the multi-municipal scale through regional planning” sounds innocuous but when the planners recommend that all development occur where they want rather than where the public wants it to go, I suspect there will be friction.  I discussed transit-oriented development in my comments on the transportation panel concluding that while it might work outside of New York City elsewhere the development patterns preclude it from working.  In order to make these projects work they want to “empower local governments” by providing support and “align state funding priorities to prioritize smart growth”.  The smart growth illustrated was a “once-contaminated industrial site now being re-purposed to revitalize the Oswego waterfront with housing, retail and commercial space” (Climate Action Council Meeting Presentation May 10,2021).

This is supposed to illustrate a strategy to reduce vehicle miles traveled, but like so many of the enabling strategies it does not work out all the time.  Oswego is a beautiful location for much of the year and the picture shows one of those days.  Unfortunately, that is not true all year round and the following picture from one of my more memorable commutes to Oswego shows they can get clobbered by snow.   During those periods the idea that people would walk or bike to get groceries or go to work is absurd.  Bottom line you still need to have a car but in the best case you just use it less. 

Another theme was to maximize natural carbon sequestration potential.  They only discussed wetland sequestration and “blue carbon” which is carbon captured by ocean and coastal ecosystems.  The agriculture and forestry advisory panel had strategies for carbon sequestration in agricultural soils and forests.  This panel appears to me to cop out.  Wetlands and ocean and coastal ecosystems are already regulated so it is not clear how much additional planning is needed.  On the other hand, there is a looming issue vis-à-vis the space needed for all the solar panels and wind turbines.  Why land use and local government did not address this trade-off is not immediately obvious.

The next theme is facilitating responsible siting and adoption of clean energy sources.  Excuse my cynicism, but this theme appears to be the reason that the aforementioned tradeoff is not addressed in any meaningful way.  My impression of this theme is that it is not especially concerned with local concerns about renewable developments but more getting all the facilities built.  The strategy for guiding future growth states:

Develop criteria and incentives for regional entities and counties to identify priority development areas (including areas appropriate for clean energy siting) and priority conservation areas in consultation with local jurisdictions and communities. Priority Development Areas may include Brownfield Opportunity Areas, downtowns, central businesses districts, municipal centers, hamlets, former industrial districts, infill projects in developed areas, obsolete fossil fuel-based power plants, re-development/adaptive re-use of existing buildings, TOD/Equitable TOD, disadvantaged communities (as defined by the Climate Justice Working Group), dead/dying malls and vacant property clusters designated by land banks, among others. Priority Conservation Areas may include wetlands, riparian areas, forests, agricultural lands and other natural areas and working lands that preserve and restore vital habitats, landscape connectivity, biodiversity, natural water movement, local food security and passive recreation, among others.

This description seems oblivious to the fact that clean energy siting requires much more land than available at any of the priority development areas simply because wind and solar energy are diffuse and require large areas to collect it.  Throw in the incompatibility of wind turbines in developed areas and the result is there will be a conflict between the renewable energy development and the priority conservation areas.  This theme and the Guide Future Growth enabling strategy appear to willfully ignore this issue.

The two last themes are throwaways.  Not surprisingly they think local governments need the tools and resources to lead on climate.  One of the recommendations is for a dashboard “of community greenhouse gas emissions inventories to promote local climate action planning, monitor equity considerations, measure progress, and ensure data consistency at the county/municipality level”.  Years of trying to make numbers simple enough for a dashboard has made me complete distrust the value of such a system – it’s pretty but what is it for?  Finally, they propose to “Commit to environmental justice, disadvantaged communities, and a just transition”.

Conclusion

This panel is a specific requirement of the CLCPA but why?  Land use and local government policies don’t directly affect emissions.  On the other hand, those policies do affect implementation of the enabling strategies envisioned by the authors of the CLCPA.  I suspect that it was included to address the difficulties of permitting power generation facilities and all the other land use strategies necessary to meet the CLCPA targets of a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030 and an 85% reduction by 2050.

There is a major inconsistency in the enabling strategies vis-à-vis the agriculture and forestry enabling strategy to minizine the loss of farmlands and forests with their carbon sequestration potential versus the land needed to collect diffuse solar and wind energy necessary to meet the CLCPA targets.  Clearly, the land use and local government advisory panel should have addressed this as a priority.  It is a major flaw that it is mentioned only in passing. 

The other shortcoming and one that is consistent across all the enabling strategies is the recommendation for initiatives that work most of the time.  If you stop and think about it many personal choices incorporate some rare need such as people who buy pickups for the occasional big load.  For this panel the mixed-use development approach to reducing vehicle miles traveled was recommended.  However, there are very few locations where such a development is going to preclude the need for a car.  Residents may be using their cars less but the necessity of having a car minimizes the value of this strategy.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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