As most readers know, Massachusetts and California have been leading the pack in requiring analysis of greenhouse gas impacts in connection with reviews of new development. Now, New York State is catching up. This week, the Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, released its Policy on Assessing Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Environmental Impact Statements. The policy is certainly similar to the Massachusetts Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Protocol. Nonetheless, the DEC Policy has a few items worth noting.
DEC has provided that, with respect to indirect GHG emissions from: (1) off-site energy generation and (2) vehicle trips, a project proponent may avoid the need to provide a quantitative analysis of these issues if he/she can demonstrate to DEC that the project already “has minimized emissions to the maximum extent practicable.” This opt-out is similar to one provided in the Massachusetts GHG policy, except that the MA policy requires that the developer commit in advance to GHG reductions that are variously described as “exceptional” and “extraordinary.”
The DEC Policy includes specific provisions governing assessment of methane emissions from landfills. It requires use of site specific information, together with EPA’s Climate Leaders Greenhouse Gas Inventory Protocol, Direct Emissions from Municipal Solid Waste Landfilling module (October 2004).
Even aside from the provisions addressing landfill emissions, the Policy requires an assessment of emissions from waste generation and management. This is not required by the MA policy.
Like Massachusetts, the DEC Policy requires that “priority and preference” be given to on-site mitigation measures. Off-site mitigation can be considered, but only after DEC staff have considered the “completeness” of on-site mitigation.
There is no doubt that requiring an assessment of the GHG impacts of new development is a trend at this point – and one that is only going to accelerate. As federal legislation or regulation under existing CAA authority becomes a reality, and as more states start to pass their own version of a Global Warming Solutions Act, as California and Massachusetts have already done, squeezing the maximum GHG reductions out of new development is going to become an imperative. At some point, GHG review may become similar to offset programs in non-attainment areas. New developments are going to have to be as efficient as possible – and may also have to purchase offsets to make such new developments climate neutral.
Time will tell, but it’s often much easier to go after new development than to try to squeeze emissions reductions out of existing facilities. The result is that increasingly stringent mitigation requirements seem inevitable.