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AG Schneiderman Issues Report Highlighting Need to Tackle Climate Change at State Level, Details Work of Environmental Protection Bureau

Press Releases

Report Shows Need For Improved Resiliency Planning, Concerted Effort To Tackle Climate Change

New York, NY - September 3, 2014 - In remarks delivered during a forum titled “Beyond Gridlock: State Leadership on Energy and Environmental Issues” at Pace University School of Law, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released a report that, for the first time, details the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events across New York State and outlined the unique approach his office has taken on environmental issues in the last 3 ½ years.  The report, “Current And Future Trends In Extreme Rainfall Across New York State,” highlights this disturbing weather trend in recent years in virtually every part of the state, including Long Island, the Southern Tier, the Capital Region, the North Country and Western New York.   
 
According to data from a recent United States National Climate Assessment, there have been dramatic increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme rain storms across New York. Just last month, a record 13.57 inches of rain fell in a single microburst in Islip – an amount equal to an entire summer’s worth of rain for Long Island – causing massive damage and disruptions in the area. 
 
While no individual storm can be tied to climate change, the trends in extreme rainfall already being felt across New York State are consistent with scientists’ predictions of new weather patterns attributable to climate change. Those extreme rainfall trends are causing untold damage to our communities and to our environment. The report highlights the need to focus on greater resiliency planning and response measures for our infrastructure, neighborhoods and landscape in order to promote a safer and more sustainable New York. In his remarks at Pace University, Attorney General Schneiderman also highlighted the unique efforts his office has taken over the last three years to combat climate change, to make our air and water cleaner and our communities healthier and more sustainable.
 
“The extreme weather events that have been overwhelming our communities, damaging critical infrastructure and harming our homes, are the latest evidence of the need to take immediate action to protect our climate and our environment,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “While Washington seems to be unwilling to take on the tough fights required to protect our environment, our homes and our communities, we in New York have chosen to act. No single storm can be attributed to climate change, yet scientists tell us climate change ‘loads the dice,’ making extreme weather events more likely.  That is why I am committed to fighting to ensure that New York’s communities – and the critical services they rely upon – are protected, and that every New Yorker has access to clean air and water. That is why I have pushed for legislation that would require utilities to improve resiliency planning, and why my Environmental Protection Bureau has been aggressive and creative in cracking down on polluters.”
 
The report issued today by the Attorney General includes a historical analysis of 2-inch rainfall events in New York, which was conducted by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.  That research shows a marked increase in the occurrences of two2-inch rainfalls beginning in the mid-1990s.  Research from the Center also found that intervals between extreme “100-year” rainfall events shortened dramatically for the years 1978 to 2007, to a frequency of only 60 years.  
 
The report also finds that the best-available scientific projections of precipitation trends suggest that we can expect the frequency of extreme rainfall events to increase in the future. According to the recent United States National Climate Assessment report, if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions remain as high as they are today for the remainder of this century, the frequency of extreme rainfall as measured by the 20-year daily storm may increase by up to 300% to 400% before the end of the 21st century.
 
The extreme weather affecting New York has put the real and present dangers of climate change into sharp focus.  In many cases, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are affected, with recovery efforts costing hundreds of millions of dollars.  With New York businesses, governments, and institutions challenged to minimize these risks, the report highlights the need for a response to these challenges that includes reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that contribute to a changing climate; increasing the resiliency of our communities by requiring consideration of current and projected trends in extreme rainfall and climate change in construction projects and building codes, and expanding New York State’s engagement in national and international efforts to limit emissions of climate change pollution.
 
Under Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership, the office’s Environmental Protection Bureau has worked aggressively and creatively to reduce greenhouse gases, fight for greater resiliency in our critical infrastructure, and ensure clean air and water for every community in New York.  Among his office’s accomplishments:
 
            Addressing Climate Change and Resiliency Planning
  • Successfully defending the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state agreement that puts a price on carbon pollution in order to reduce emissions.  
  • Introducing first-in-the-nation legislation requiring the state’s electric and gas utilities to assess their vulnerability to climate change, and to document how they intend to protect vital public services from climate impacts.
  • Intervening in the Con Edison storm-hardening proceeding before the state Public Service Commission in order to focus attention on the real and increasing threat that climate change posed to Con Edison’s infrastructure and, ultimately, its customers, and to ensure that any proposal by Con Ed to harden its system accommodated future climate impacts such as an increase in sea level. As a result of expert testimony submitted by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office and others on potential climate impacts, the PSC required Con Ed to ensure that any new infrastructure it builds can withstand a future with more extreme coastal storms and rising sea levels.
  • Leading a coalition of seven states in filing a notice of intent to sue the EPA for violating provisions of the Clean Air Act by failing to address methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, including those from fracking. As a heat-trapping gas, methane is more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide, and the oil and gas industry is the single largest source of man-made methane emissions in the United States.  
  • On Tuesday, September 2, 2014, leading a coalition of 10 states, the District of Columbia and New York City to intervene in a lawsuit to defend a 2010 settlement between New York and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the EPA to establish emissions standards for fossil-fuel fired electric generating facilities.  The settlement is being challenged by a coalition of 12 states, many of which are located in coal-producing regions.
            Protecting New York’s Right to Clean Air and Water
  • Suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating the Clean Air Act by refusing to effectively limit air pollution from wood heaters, including outdoor wood boilers used in many areas of New York.  In response, the EPA proposed stronger air pollution standards for new wood heaters for the first time in 25 years, and for outdoor wood boilers for the first time ever.
  • Leading a coalition of 11 states in securing a settlement with the EPA that compelled the Agency to update national air quality standards for soot pollution.  Soot has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and aggravated asthma in children.  The new tighter standards for soot pollution could prevent more than 35,000 premature deaths annually, according a report prepared for the American Lung Association, the Clean Air Task Force, and Earthjustice. 
  • Taking aggressive action to protect our water by going after polluters, defending our state’s clean water standards and pushing for stronger laws to protect water quality. 
  • Securing a unique felony conviction and jail time for the operator of an illegal landfill who was dumping potentially carcinogenic debris within the New York City watershed, which provides drinking water to nearly half the State’s population.  
  • Securing a landmark agreement with New York City to significantly reduce discharges of nitrogen from municipal wastewater treatment plants into Long Island Sound and Jamaica Bay. These nitrogen discharges reduce oxygen in coastal waters, harming fish and other marine life, so the city also agreed to fund extensive marshland restoration in the Jamaica Bay.
Proposing first-in-the-nation legislation to ban microbeads, a form of plastic pollution that presents an emerging threat to our lakes and rivers. Approximately 19 tons of microbeads are washed down the drain in New York State every year, and because they’re so small and buoyant, many of them pass right through wastewater treatment plants into our lakes and rivers.  In our waters, the microbeads act like tiny sponges, accumulating toxic chemicals, before they are eaten by fish. People who eat those fish may be exposed to those harmful chemicals, including some that have been linked to birth defects, cancer, and developmental deficits in children.
 
Peter Lehner, Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "Attorney General Schneiderman's report underscores the pressing need for improved resiliency planning and concerted effort to reduce climate change pollution.  From Hurricane Sandy to a flooded Long Island Expressway this summer, New Yorkers know more frequent and heavy rainfall is our new reality. Green infrastructure—like porous pavement, green roofs, park space and sidewalk trees—is a cost-effective way to prevent flooding from the start, while also helping to improve local water quality, cool and beautify city neighborhoods. By boosting our natural flood defenses and moving critical infrastructure out of harm’s way—from  hospitals and schools, to roads and our electric supply—we can better weather the next big storm."
 
Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New Yorksaid, "The latest findings from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman highlight the impacts that New Yorkers are experiencing as our climate changes.  As the findings make clear, New York needs to adopt a climate action plan to lower the pollutants that fuel climate change, to address the impacts in a socially just way, and to harness the tremendous economic potential of clean energy."
 
Abigail Dillen,Vice President of Litigation, Climate and Energy, Earthjusticesaid: "This important report on our extreme new weather will come as no surprise to New Yorkers. We know climate change is here because we are getting hit with one terribly damaging storm after another. The Attorney General's Office is showing extraordinary leadership in confronting our climate threat. Now, it's time for our leaders in Washington to follow suit."
 
For a copy of the new report, “Current And Future Trends In Extreme Rainfall Across New York State,” or more information on the Office of the Attorney General’s work to protect New York’s environment, visit ag.ny.gov.  
 
Video and Image via Eric T. Schneiderman on YouTube.
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