New York Gov. Cuomo Calls for Infrastructure Hardening, Action on Climate Change

In his State of the State Address on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a series of measures to safeguard New York’s infrastructure during future severe weather events and adapt to a changing climate.

“I accept the fact that climate change is real,” said Gov. Cuomo in a wide-ranging address in Albany. “There’s a hundred-year flood every two years now. It’s inarguable that the sea is warmer and that there’s a changing weather pattern, and the time to act is now.”

Following Superstorm Sandy, the governor impaneled four commissions to examine utility companies’ response during the storm, which left millions without power across the state. A preliminary report from one of the commissions recommended privatizing the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) after its slow and disorganized response following Sandy, which cut power to more than 1.1 million customers, some for more than two weeks.

“Time has come to abolish LIPA, period,” said Cuomo, adding that he wants to privatize the utility in a way that would protect ratepayers by freezing electricity rates for a few years.

The governor also called for a “new and empowered” Public Service Commission to that will compel all utilities to come up with plans for system hardening.

Measures are needed, he said, to protect the state’s airports and New York City’s sprawling network of subways, which were inundated with seawater after wind gusts of up to 90 miles an hour sent ashore a 14-foot tidal surge during Sandy, which hit during high tide. Cuomo pointed out that Lower Manhattan is built on low-lying, manmade fill that is particularly vulnerable to storm surges.

The governor proposed a buyout program for people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy, as an incentive to prompt a move to higher ground. Another program would help people rebuild homes by incorporating measures to protect against future flooding, like erecting structures atop pilings.

Cuomo called for steps to create a more secure fuel-delivery system to avoid the massive gasoline shortages that affected New York and other states in Sandy’s wake.

“A day and a half break in supply caused weeks of chaos,” said Cuomo. New York should require centrally located gas stations to have backup generators, and establish a strategic fuel reserve to tap into during emergencies, he said.

Other proposals include creation of a statewide network of charging stations for electric vehicles, increasing investment in renewable energy sources, and lowering the emissions cap for power plants that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, among other measures. Cuomo also proposed setting up a $1 billion Green Bank, evaluating possibilities for erecting barriers to protect New York Harbor, and devising measures to protect wastewater treatment plants from flooding.

To advance his ambitious agenda, Cuomo said he was creating a new cabinet-level position – an “energy czar” – and appointing Richard Kauffman, former senior adviser to U.S. Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu, to the new role.

Details can be found in a new publication, New York Rising, available on the Web site of the governor’s office.

— By Rona Cohen

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