standard State Action Needed on Looming Climate Change Threat In Light of Federal Gridlock: AG

The South Ferry train station after Hurricane Sandy (Wikimedia Commons)

The South Ferry train station after Hurricane Sandy (Wikimedia Commons)

A dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme rain storms across New York shows the need for improved resiliency planning and concerted efforts to tackle climate change on the State level, especially in light of sufficient Federal action, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced at a press conference Wednesday morning.

“No single storm can be attributed to climate change, yet scientists tell us climate change ‘loads the dice.'”

“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.”

In remarks delivered during a forum titled “Beyond Gridlock: State Leadership on Energy and Environmental Issues” at Pace University School of Law, the Attorney General released a report that, for the first time, details the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events across New York State. 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.

“No single storm can be attributed to climate change, yet scientists tell us climate change ‘loads the dice,’ making extreme weather events more likely,” Schneiderman said. “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.”

Attorney General Schneiderman (AG's Press Office)

Attorney General Schneiderman (AG’s Press Office)

The report released by the Attorney General, “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, while also outlining the unique approach the Attorney General’s office has taken on environmental issues in the last 3 ½ years. The data from the report was based on a recent United States National Climate Assessment. Based on the findings, Schneiderman is pushing for legislation that would require utilities to improve resiliency planning, and his Environmental Protection Bureau is aggressively cracking down on polluters.

In announcing his findings, the Attorney General was joined by a number of concerned environmental groups who echoed his call to action.

“From Hurricane Sandy to a flooded Long Island Expressway this summer, New Yorkers know more frequent and heavy rainfall is our new reality,” said Peter Lehner, Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council. “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.”

“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,” said Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York.

“This important report on our extreme new weather will come as no surprise to New Yorkers,” said Abigail Dillen,Vice President of Litigation, Climate and Energy for Earthjustice. “We know climate change is here because we are getting hit with one terribly damaging storm after another.”

The report 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.