Climate change legislation will cause a flood of regulations

The following Op Ed appeared in the Boston Business Journal on July 31, 2015.

As we saw in New York City with Hurricane Sandy, climate change can have significant impacts affecting the overall economy; directly, by damaging structures, and indirectly, by compromising transportation systems, communications, and utilities. An increasing number of extreme weather events and future sea level rise may lead to more frequent and extensive flooding along the East Coast.

A primary role for city and state governments should be to ensure the continuity and protection of public infrastructure and public safety. The business community, and the community at large, need to have a clear understanding of the government’s responsibilities and its plans for preparing infrastructure and critical services for these potentially cataclysmic events.

NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, has long been one of the leading business groups advocating for a coordinated approach between the public and private sectors with respect to climate change planning.

However, we are very concerned about a bill that was recently passed by the Senate to establish a far reaching planning and regulatory process for addressing climate change. Senate Bill 1979 contains very subjective, vague, and expansive language that could have extremely negative consequences for the Massachusetts economy today and into the future.

We believe the open-ended language the bill contains could lead to widely varying interpretations of how the legislation should be implemented, creating uncertainty and potentially stalling projects for years to come. While we believe that climate change planning is an important issue, this bill is not the solution. Under the legislation, all grants, permits, licenses, approvals, or actions of any kind for any proposed projects, uses or activities issued by any state agency or state authority could be challenged and held hostage to these ambiguous goals. This would open the “regulatory door” to a wide range of proposals, substantially changing and exceeding well established standards and procedures – with few having any direct connection to climate change.

Given how this vague and confusing language could be interpreted, the potential for lengthy and costly legal challenges is quite high.

For these and many other reasons, the bill, as written, cannot and should not be passed into law.

Addressing climate change and sea level rise requires coordination at the highest level of state government and the participation of many state agencies. There needs to be a balance of adequate planning and a risk-based, cost-benefit analysis to ensure that funds are prudently expended by the public and private sectors when considering climate change-related investments. Through such an effort, climate change resiliency will become a more attainable goal.

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