Friday, May 01, 2009

And what if climate change had been part of the EIS? Maybe there wouldn't have been so much parking planned for AY

Last week, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) released a study that "details a suggested framework for analyzing climate change, and enables New York State to evaluate and address the potential climate change impact of different actions in land-use, energy and industrial transportation, and other issues."

And the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued draft guidelines for adding analysis to environmental impact statements (EISs).

A dense development like Atlantic Yards, with buildings designed to meet LEED standards, may seem to foster sustainability, but critics like urban planner Tom Angotti remain skeptical, because of what's been left out.

Indeed, should this new policy avenue be followed, the environmental review for large projects like AY would require a closer look at the impact of parking, traffic, and construction on greenhouse gases (GHG).

Had this policy been implemented earlier, the consideration of GHG likely wouldn't have wrought major changes in (or scotched) AY, given the political momentum behind the project, but it might have prompted mitigation measures like fewer parking spaces.

And the announced green roof on the arena, eliminated well after the project was approved, might be seen as a more significant loss.

A swipe at PlaNYC 2030

“While global climate change is the most significant environmental issue of our time, it has, to this point, been largely ignored in most analyses under SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act] and City Environmental Quality Review,” said MAS committee head Michael Gerrard, Director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. Governments in Massachusetts, California, and Washington have begun such analysis.

The MAS study, titled SEQRA and Climate Change (PDF), takes a cordial swipe at Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030, stating:
Clearly, the Mayor believes that any good land use plan should consider climate change impacts. But, so far, there has been little analysis of project specific GHG emissions, or the environmental impact on a project that climate change will bring about. When New York plans for its future, it must simultaneously assess a project’s impact upon climate change and how best to reduce that impact.

It concludes that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has the authority and mandate under SEQRA to require an environmental impact statement (EIS) analysis for these questions:
• How will an action’s life-cycle GHG emissions affect climate change?
– And, how can a project’s adverse impact be minimized?
• How will climate change affect the project?
– And, how can a project best anticipate and prepare for the effects of climate change?


What should be examined

The study recommends that the EIS include an analysis of the upstream and downstream GHG emissions:
• Direct Emissions resulting from the operation of the project:
– e.g., boilers, heaters, incinerators, emergency generators, etc.
• Indirect Building Emissions resulting from the operation of project:
– e.g., where a project will purchase its electricity, the emissions resulting from generation of that electricity.
• Indirect Transportation Emissions associated with the action:
– e.g., traffic generated by the project.
• Construction Emissions
– e.g., emissions from construction on-road vehicles, non-road vehicles and equipment, emissions resulting from the demolition of existing structures, the removal of debris and materials from the project site, the transport of those materials to landfills, the disposal of discarded building material, and upstream emissions from the production and transportation of key building materials, like cement, iron and steel.


The impact of construction

The study says:
[U]pstream emissions, defined as the extraction, transport, and production of materials and fuels used, have typically been ignored in EISs... cement and fuel production and transport, as well as the production of iron and steel, produce high amounts of carbon dioxide emissions

Indeed, while construction impacts are typically included in an EIS, the study recommends that the analysis "be extended to include the GHG emissions associated with the demolition and disposal of any discarded building materials." That's a recognition of the concept that "the greenest building is the one that's already built."

Transportation

Indirect transportation emissions are generated through traffic generation or traffic congestion increased by the project and associated fuel combustion.

Among the mitigations:
Reduce the available parking on site and within 1/2 mile of the study area.
Size parking capacity to meet, but not exceed, local parking requirements and, where possible, seek reductions in parking supply through special permits or waivers.


That was not accomplished with AY, as Bloomberg's sustainability plan didn't address parking--I called that aspect PlaNYC 1950

And the Empire State Development Corporation chose not to override antiquated zoning in the case of parking, though it would override zoning for many other aspects of the project, such as an arena within 200 feet of residences.

More bureaucracy?

The MAS study suggests that adding a climate change analysis to the EIS process would be a marginal change, helping government agencies identify potential opportunities to reduce or minimize the impact that discretionary projects--those not as-of-right--have on GHG emissions and climate change.

Agencies around the state prepared an average of 159 Draft Environmental Impact Statements a year between 1984 and 2002. The MAS study points out that "a handful of projects subject to SEQRA analysis in New York City alone will result in well over 65 million square feet of new development." One of them, with a projected 8 million square feet, is Atlantic Yards. (The largest by far would be Hudson Yards.)

The state proposal

Subsequent to MAS’s circulation of the draft report, DEC circulated a proposed policy (PDF) requiring consideration of GHG issues in EISs. It states:
SEQR requires consideration of alternatives in an EIS. As with other potentially significant impacts addressed in an EIS, the GHG emissions should be discussed with respect to the alternatives presented, including a description and evaluation of the range of reasonable alternatives with respect to sites, technology, scale, design, or use, including a description of their implications on GHG emissions. In an EIS, the project proponent should present total annual GHG emissions for the proposed action (including mitigation measures) and include a qualitative comparison to the total annual GHG emissions of the alternatives. The proponent should explain which design alternatives were rejected, and the reasons for the rejection of an alternative.

In other words, there would have had to have been a much more cogent defense of all those parking spaces and new traffic.

The DEC says the analysis would be applied to large scale projects, including major stationary sources of air pollutants, like power plants and solid waste facilities, as well as large facilities or projects that would generate thousands of vehicle trips or use significant amounts of electricity. That latter category would seem to include projects like AY.

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