Do climate resiliency the right way

Extreme weather is a threat to overall economy

PROMOTING CLIMATE CHANGE resiliency is top of mind for Massachusetts residents and businesses. The 2018 nor’easters have placed considerable stress on our infrastructure and communities, as well as the public’s consciousness.  Sixty-five percent of voters now say that climate change is affecting storms, according to a recent WBUR poll, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group.

In addition to the public health and environmental risks associated with climate change, NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, views climate change as a threat to the overall economy.  As we have seen with increasing frequency, transportation systems, communications, utilities, and businesses of all sizes are affected by extreme weather events.  Preparing for a changing climate needs to be a shared responsibility between the public and private sectors.

Currently, developers are tailoring plans to local site needs, particularly flooding risks in Cambridge and Boston, and, as an example, utilizing technology such as aquafences.  They are bringing working knowledge to Climate Ready Boston and similar initiatives, seeking best practices from developers and governments in other states, and partnering with the public sector on key climate initiatives.

On March 15, NAIOP was proud to join Gov. Charlie Baker, public officials, and members of the environmental advocacy community to support new climate change resiliency and environmental bond legislation.  The governor’s bill (House 4318 – An Act Promoting Climate Change Adaptation, Environmental and Natural Resource Protection and Investment in Recreational Assets and Opportunity) directs the state, led by the secretary of energy and environmental affairs and the secretary of public safety and security, to draft a comprehensive plan, known as the Integrated State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan.

Under the legislation, the plan would need to be updated every five years, ensuring a focus on climate change resiliency beyond the current administration. The plan would include the following components: observed and projected climate trends, risk analysis and vulnerability assessments, and evaluation of the Commonwealth’s adaptive capacity to respond to climate change.  It further requires the state to carry out the plan and to offer guidance and strategies for municipalities to navigate the state plan, alongside local bylaws and regulations.

The legislation authorizes $1.4 billion in capital allocations for investments in safeguarding residents, communities, and businesses from the impacts of climate change.  As an example, it expands the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program, which 20 percent of Massachusetts municipalities currently participate in, with a $50 million commitment.  It also commits another $170 million to coastal resiliency measures, such as critical seawalls and dams that protect our environmental assets.

This comprehensive approach sets the Commonwealth on a path towards improved resiliency without unreasonably hampering economic development and new housing.  Other climate change legislation, such as Senate bill 2196 – known as the Comprehensive Management AdaptaTion Plan, or CAMP, bill, is the wrong approach.  The bill, [crafted initially by Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton], goes far beyond regulating the reasonable impacts of climate change and would create tremendous uncertainty for the real estate industry, the business community, and regulatory agencies.

Under CAMP, “all certificates, licenses, permits, authorizations, grants, financial obligations, projects, actions, and approvals issued thereafter by a state agency or state authority” would need to be consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the yet to be determined adaptation plan.  Consistency with this plan would be open to interpretation and the term “maximum extent practicable” is not defined.  It is disconcerting that a cost-benefit analysis is not part of this approach. It is unclear how such a broad requirement could even be implemented and the legal challenges around such a concept could be significant.  Tying up every grant, permit, approval, certificate, and authorization in court would do nothing to better prepare the Commonwealth for climate change.

Unlike CAMP, the governor’s climate change legislation builds on the significant work done to date by the Baker-Polito Administration on this issue.  It codifies key portions of Executive Order No. 569, which established an integrated climate change strategy for the Commonwealth.

The governor’s climate change resiliency legislation prepares the Commonwealth to adapt and mitigate climate change on a long-term basis, working hand in hand with local policymakers and regulators.  It provides communities with the tools they need to build up resiliency efforts through new grants and programs aimed at protecting critical environmental resources.

Meet the Author

Tamara Small

Senior vice president for government affairs, NAIOP Massachusetts - The Commercial Real Estate Development Association
In short, House bill 4318 is the right approach at the right time.  Its passage will ensure that climate change adaptation and resiliency continue to be a top priority for the public and private sectors.

The legislation now goes to a legislative committee for its consideration. NAIOP strongly urges legislative leaders to approve the necessary investment in planning for extreme storms and rising sea levels.

Tamara Small is the senior vice president of government affairs for NAIOP Massachusetts – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association.