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Climate Change Adaptation: Massachusetts Releases New Policies to Address

Boston and New York City, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, undertook comprehensive climate change preparedness planning to review the vulnerabilities of each city’s built environment and to assess potential measures to enhance the resilience of both public and private infrastructure.

Today, we highlight new state policies, recently released for public review and comment, which also seek to assess and mitigate the likely impacts of climate change, specifically for proposed projects that are subject to review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (or MEPA).

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) recently released a draft policy on Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency (the Policy) under MEPA.  This Policy, roughly a year in the making and initially outlined in EEA’s 2011 Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, would require a proponent of a proposed project subject to MEPA to address the impacts of climate change on a project and the project’s impacts on climate change.

Once this Policy becomes effective (on a date yet to be determined) a proponent would be required to include a “Climate Impact Assessment” in their Environmental Notification Form submitted under MEPA.  The proposed Climate Impact Assessment is intended to evaluate the potential impacts of climate change on a proposed project, including sea level rise, coastal flooding, storm surge, and changes in precipitation and temperature, and to assess the effectiveness and feasibility of measures to reduce hazards and increase the project’s resiliency.  The assessment would also evaluate how a project could contribute to (or reduce, as applicable) climate change impacts.

Under the proposed Policy, project proponents are encouraged to identify specific measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or serve as effective climate change adaptation.  A project that completes the Climate Change Resiliency Questionnaire as part of Boston’s Article 80 Large Project Review would likely comply at least in part with this new state-level Policy. The Policy also indicates that the MEPA office would be receptive to off-site mitigation (including payments in lieu) when on-site mitigation is not feasible.

In moving toward adopting a policy on Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency, Massachusetts builds on the work of the federal government, which in 2010 published guidance on how federal agencies should analyze the environmental effects of climate change when reviewing projects or other undertakings subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Often a forerunner in environmental legislation and related initiatives, Massachusetts’s implementation of its currently proposed Policy will be one to watch and continue to review, particularly as other states consider how to prepare for and respond to the issue of climate change adaptation – which is both a significant environmental and economic development issue, and should be a shared responsibility between the public and private sectors.

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