Chart of City Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Image Source: One City, Built to Last, Technical Working Group Report
Mayor Bill de Blasio calls for emissions reductions by mandating improvements to existing buildings. On June 2, 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Executive Order No. 26, Climate Action Executive Order, to commit New York City to the principles and goals of the Paris Agreement. On September 14, 2017, the Office of the Mayor announced new mandates on building upgrades to implement the executive order. According to the Mayor’s press release, these mandates will be enacted by legislation sponsored by Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.
Buildings, specifically fossil fuels used for heat and hot water, are the City’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Mayor’s press release included statistics of buildings emissions ranging from 42% to 80% of total emissions in New York. The current mandates will facilitate energy improvements to existing buildings by 2030. These mandates are the “most dramatic reductions into the coming decade,” and this is the “most ambitious program of its kind in the nation.”
First, this plan will mandate fossil fuel caps for buildings over 25,000 square feet. Second, the plan mandates replacing fossil fuel equipment and upgrading efficiency mechanisms in 14,500 of the worst-performing buildings. These 14,500 buildings produce 24% of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions. This phase includes improving boilers, heat distribution, hot water heaters, roofs, and windows. Third, the plan sets annual penalties for non-compliance, calculated using building size. Fourth, the plan will authorize a Property Assessed Clean Energy program for low-interest financing of the upgrades that can be paid through the building owners’ property tax bill. Additionally, the plan will prevent landlords of rent-stabilized buildings from taking advantage of low-income tenants by prohibiting rent increases based on these improvements.
The plan, if implemented through legislation, has a multitude of benefits. It will reduce City greenhouse gas emissions by 7%, which is equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road. It will create 17,000 jobs for plumbers, carpenters, electricians, engineers, architects, energy specialists, and others. It will improve air quality and hopefully decrease cases of asthma, bronchitis, and premature death related to lung diseases; the health impacts of climate change must be addressed when millions of New Yorkers are suffering from lung diseases. Lastly, it will decrease the cost of energy and weaken reliance on fossil fuels.
Similar efforts by the City have had success in the past. Acting Commissioner of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, Vincent Sapienza, noted, “When we successfully transitioned all buildings in the city from #6 heating oil, it proved that government could work with the private sector to establish ambitious environmental and public health targets, and then through a combination of financing incentives and enforcement, make those goals a reality.”
The City has already made strides to cut fossil fuel emissions from City-owned buildings, through the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). “DCAS has already made energy retrofit investments in over 1,100 city-owned buildings, and the work isn’t stopping there,” says DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo.
Other local actors have already been committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Assistant Speaker Félix W. Ortiz, Assembly Member for District 51, has made efforts in Albany to create a carbon tax on fossil fuel use and eliminate public pension investment in large fossil fuel companies. Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr., has committed to “not provide capital funds to any project that does not include a significant green component.” Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, created the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Taskforce (ReSET) in 2014 as a collaboration between Borough Hall, City and State agencies, and sustainability experts. Adams states that ReSET has been working with public and private stakeholders to encourage greener practices, and “in the absence of leadership from the White House, the People’s House in Brooklyn is prepared to step up.”
Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, representing New York’s 7th District, is proud that New York City is making efforts in the absence of federal policy, but notes that “it will take a concerted effort at all levels of government and in both the private and public sectors to change course.” New York State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman both emphasized the responsibility cities and states have to secure the environment for future generations. Climate change can drastically intensify the effects that natural disasters have on our communities; “Climate change is not the cause of hurricanes but makes hurricanes much stronger,” says Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Administrator.
New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton says, “Action today forestalls the worst-case scenarios and secures a safer, sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.” “New York City’s leadership sets a benchmark for cities in the United States and around the world,” says Brendan Shane, Regional Director for North America of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. This example “shows how America’s cities can be at the forefront of fighting the biggest environmental challenge of our time,” says Donna De Costanzo, Director of Northeast Energy and Sustainable Communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Mayor’s ultimate goal is to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. This plan was first announced in September 2014, when the Mayor unveiled “One City, Built to Last: Transforming New York City’s Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future.” The 2016 report states that the City reduced its annual greenhouse gas emissions from the energy used in buildings by 12.8% from 2005 to 2014, but still needs more dramatic reductions to meet the 2050 goal. The Mayor gathered over 50 leaders from the City’s real estate, engineering, architecture, labor, affordable housing, academic, and advocacy sectors into a Buildings Technical Working Group. The Working Group identified patterns in building structures and financing that hinders energy efficiency in buildings. Based on this feedback, the Mayor’s Office updated their approach to carbon reductions, and improving energy efficiency in existing buildings is top priority.
Executive Order No. 26 directs City agencies to work with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to create a citywide plan by September 30, 2017. Thus, there should be a flurry of new legislation and regulations if the City is serious about implementing this plan.
By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)