USA TODAY cites California's cool pavements bill (AB296) as leading example of nation's best climate preparedness

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY

California has completed the highest number of goals to prepare for climate change, followed by Massachusetts and New York, according to a first-of-its-kind 50-state tracking tool unveiled Thursday.

In the last five years, there's been a burst of state efforts to deal with already occurring climate impacts such as more frequent storms and rising sea levels. They've ranged from elevating wastewater treatment plants to insulating roads, building micro-grids for backup power or buying out homes in flood-prone areas.

California has been a leader, achieving 48 or 14% of its 345 self-described climate goals, says the new online tool developed by the Georgetown Climate Center, a nonpartisan research group based at Georgetown University Law School. It passed, for example, a "cool pavements" bill in 2012 to encourage lighter-colored paving materials that reduce the heat-island effect in urban areas.

Nationwide, 14 states have finalized climate adaptation plans, all of which are coastal except for Colorado and Pennsylvania. Another nine, also mostly coastal, have some kind of planning underway. The rest have no formal plans, but some like Arizona have sizable local efforts.

"There's definitely a lot of work going on," says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. "People can now see how their states are doing."

She says states describe their efforts differently so the tool explains rather than ranks their progress. Still, some states stand out:

--Massachusetts, which has completed 18 or 5% of its 373 goals, has allocated $50 million to help local communities prepare for the effects of rising temperatures. Its studying the flooding risks that Boston Harbor will likely face from current hurricanes and storms as well as sea level rise over the next 85 years.

--New York, which has achieved 17 or 14% of its 121 goals, has a new law (signed last month by Governor Andrew Cuomo) that requires state agencies to consider climate impacts when approving the siting of hazardous waste facilities, oil and gas drilling permits or other projects. It's using disaster relief funds to buy out repeatedly-flooded homes.

--Washington, which has finished 12 or 4% of its 287 goals, requires state-funded infrastructure projects be designed to account for climate impacts over their projected lifespan. It will elevate, for example, the site for a new ferry terminal that connects Whitney Island to the Seattle metro area.

The Georgetown tool says the other 10 states that have finalized state-led adaptation plans include Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

"It's new to have all this information in one place," says Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs at the World Resources Institute, an environmental research group. She says the tool will be a helpful way for states to share what they've learned and prod others to move forward, adding: "Many more states need to act."