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Samantha Wilt’s Blog

New York State moving towards greater sustainability

Samantha Wilt

Posted July 9, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Every region of the state of New York now has a plan to reduce energy use, expand renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water and air quality, protect open space, reduce waste, save money and resources, improve resilience and grow the green economy, thanks to Governor Cuomo’s Cleaner, Greener Communities (CGC) regional sustainability planning program. The regional plans developed pursuant to Phase I of this effort and funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), were finalized the last week of June and address: energy, transportation, land use and livable communities, waste management, water management, economic development and agriculture and forestry. As part of the planning process, and for the first time, greenhouse gas emission inventories were completed for each region. Here’s NYSERDA’s description of the program:

The CGC Program provides enhanced support for development and implementation of regional sustainability plans to help ensure that the State's ongoing and substantial investments in infrastructure help to move communities and New York as a whole toward a more environmentally sustainable future. The primary goal of the program is to encourage communities to create public-private partnerships and develop regional sustainable growth strategies in such areas as, emission control, energy efficiency, renewable energy, low-carbon transportation, and other carbon reductions.

There are links to all the plans on NYSERDA’s website. Go take a look at your region’s plan.

Goals

The CGC regional sustainability plans have required indicators and goals for each of the sectors they address, with varying target dates for the initial goals (2020, 2030, 2035), and with some regions increasing their goals over time.

The required indicators for each region and their related near-term goals are as follows:

  • Per capita energy use: the regions’ goals range from 10% to 40% reductions.
  • Annual per capita land consumption: the goals range from 0% to more than 10% reductions. 
  • Housing + Transportation Affordability Index® (from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, is the percentage of the regional population spending more than 45% of their income on combined housing and transportation costs): goals range from 1% to 10% reductions in the number of people faced with an unaffordable housing and transportation cost burden.
    Presently, on Long Island more than 96% of people are spending more than 45% of their income on housing and transportation. Ouch.
  • Increasing travel by modes other than single occupant vehicles (SOV): goals range from increasing the use of non-SOV travel by (a mere) 6% to more than 35%, and reducing the share of SOV travel by 20%.
  • Miles of vehicle travel per capita: goals range from reductions of 3% to 20%.

The plans include strategies like retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, job training for green industries, expanding farmland protection and support for agriculture, expanding workforce housing, expanding options for transportation, and accommodating those traveling via all modes. You should take a look at your region’s plan, and get a sense of the great scope and vision folks have contributed to these plans.

The plans were completed over the past year by groups of local governments and non-profit organizations, with hundreds of volunteers spending thousands of hours in the topical working groups developing the contents of the plan.

Each of the plans was reviewed by the respective Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), and the ongoing responsibility and oversight for the plans’ implementation will rest with the REDCs. (Read more about REDCs here.) 

The CGC process has been a consensus-driven, cooperative effort that addresses a wide range of topics with a broad constituency that includes diverse interests: economic development groups, local government representatives, environmentalists, and many others. It is perhaps the first comprehensive, regionally-led and regionally focused sustainability planning effort in this country, and it is a major step forward for New York State sustainability efforts, having: assembled inventories of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions; created new networks and conversations; and, catalogued worthwhile and important efforts and ideas that can help transform the communities, environment and local economies in our state.

Phase II implementation funding

Now that the plans are complete, NYSERDA is providing funding for projects that implement the sustainability plans and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (See Cleaner, Greener Communities Phase II for further implementation funding information.) The first  round of funding to be awarded by the end of 2013 will total up to $30 million. Most of the funding this round ($25 million) will be for large scale, impactful capital projects that reduce greenhouse gases and improve climate resilience, but there is also $4 million for local planning efforts, because:

NYSERDA believes that planning and zoning efforts are critical with respect to preparing communities for long-term sustainability and ensuring permanent and continually decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in NYS. This solicitation will fund projects and activities that promote smart growth and sustainable development.

We couldn’t agree more!

Congratulations to the hundreds of people that worked so hard to get these plans done, and we’re looking forward to seeing the great projects and plans that come out of the Phase II process.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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