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Climate change takes aim at poor communities: New York working to prepare them

New York State has been working to ensure disadvantaged communities aren’t so vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, as storms grow in power, it may not be enough that the state is bracing these communities.

With sea levels expected to rise, numerous areas across the state could fall victim to more severe flooding.

Deb Peck Kelleher – director of policy analysis and operations for the Alliance for Clean Energy New York – said this was foreshadowed when Superstorm Sandy hit New York almost a decade ago.

“The New York infrastructure – a lot of it’s underground,” said Kelleher. “And, as we saw in Superstorm Sandy, once those subway tunnels and road tunnels get filled with water just because of a storm surge, it has a dramatic effect.”

She added that urban planning is accounting for areas that are flood plains and other problems coastal regions face.

According to a 2021 report from several state agencies, most barriers relate to having access to climate-smart programs, like zero or low emissions transportation and distributed energy efficiency.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting several storms in the 2022 Hurricane season will have a similar intensity to Superstorm Sandy.

While she said she feels the state’s been proactive about climate change’s effects, Kelleher said she knows there is still other work New York City must do.

“The city is taking steps and needs to take steps for basement apartments,” said Kelleher, “that we need to strategically retreat from areas that are no longer going to be able to support housing, and take a hard look at where those areas are going to be.”

Kelleher said she feels communities should be planned with climate change’s effects in mind, rather than simply bracing for what it may bring.

Ultimately, the state’s goal is to ensure people’s safety amid a changing climate.