Realizing the Promise: Implementing the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan

For the first time, the Mid-Hudson region has a compass to guide its progress toward more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development. It’s the 7-county Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan.

This yearlong, fast-track initiative was funded by New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority and created by a consortium representing seven counties, with 300 skilled volunteers providing analysis and strategy. As a result, the Plan carries the clout of its sponsor and the authority of its collaborators. It fulfills the assignment of creating strategies and projects that will help the region to cut carbon emissions, while creating jobs and preparing for unpreventable impacts of climate change. But practically, what does this mean? How will it translate into action?

Since the Mid-Hudson Valley’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation and building energy use, the Plan strongly calls for strengthening of the mass transit system, walkable and bike-able communities, and development that is oriented around existing transit hubs. Since building energy use is a second major source of carbon footprint, the Plan calls for management of energy demand through distributed renewable generation, smart grids, and an aggressive scale-up of building energy upgrades.

At the same time, it takes energy to transport water and waste, as well as to produce and ship food. The Plan includes lower-impact recommendations in all these areas, from creation of recycling facilities for commercial building materials and for organics, to the use of lower-impact “green” infrastructure for managing water resources.

The Plan does not avoid difficult issues connected with likely impacts of climate change, such as increased flooding and storm events. It deals with the vulnerability of contaminated sites which can release pollutants when flooded, and the vulnerability of infrastructure including railroads, wastewater treatment plants, power lines and more.

But its recommendations in all these areas are generic, without specifying how much action is enough or who is responsible.

In fact, some of the recommendations of the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan are already on the plates of existing agencies, like transportation planning by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and coastal protection by the Department of State. Some recommendations are aligned with the work of existing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – including trail and TOD planning by Scenic Hudson, and bike-friendly community initiatives by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Others are being taken on by the initiative of groups that participated in the Plan, such as the creation of an analytics center spearheaded by Croton Energy Group in consultation with the Center for Regional Research, Education and Outreach.

There are also recommendations in the Plan that have no clear “owner” for implementation. Creating a building materials recycling facility, establishing a “circuit rider planner” position, and developing a center for sustainable learning – all catalytic proposals – are not delegated to any particular agency or organization. The same is true for the implementation of key working group recommendations.

After the completion of the Plan, the sponsoring 7-county consortium has set modest goals such as monitoring progress. Certainly its existence as a coordinating body enhances the capacity of the region as a whole to implement large-scale initiatives and to attract financial resources. But the resources for full implementation of the Plan will best be attracted if there is a clear pathway mapped out for priority actions, and the actors to spearhead them.

With the availability of implementation funds, the time is ripe for coordination.