Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1290 Sat, 16 Feb 2019 09:35:43 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? 2040, New York's Energy Sector & Plan to Go Green http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8247-what-s-the-data-point-2040-new-york-s-energy-sector-plan-to-go-green http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8247-what-s-the-data-point-2040-new-york-s-energy-sector-plan-to-go-green whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 63 -- 2040, Seth Hulkower [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

S Hulkower2040 is the year by which Governor Andrew Cuomo wants New York’s electric sector to go entirely green; that is -- to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in that sector of energy to zero. This is the key new goal announced by the Governor as part of the state’s “Green New Deal,” and it follows other ambitious environmental targets previously established. Seth Hulkower, Principal of Strategic Energy Advisory Services and author of a recent CBC report on New York's energy consumption, production and future, joined the podcast to discuss key related issues and his findings.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe to "What's The [Data] Point?"!

Part 2: Panel

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 2040, New York's Energy Sector & Plan to Go Green Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Mayor De Blasio Needs a Clearer Focus on Climate Change, with a More Aggressive Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8238-mayor-de-blasio-needs-a-clearer-focus-on-climate-change-with-a-more-aggressive-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8238-mayor-de-blasio-needs-a-clearer-focus-on-climate-change-with-a-more-aggressive-agenda fund climate ed

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Mayor de Blasio plans to travel nationally to discuss the ideas in his recent State of the City speech, but if he does, he won't be talking about climate change, because his speech didn't deal with it. He mentioned divesting $5 billion from fossil fuel stocks, but he never uttered the words "climate change" and said nothing about how New York City is progressing toward key goals for reducing its own climate impacts.

The omission speaks volumes. De Blasio previously pledged the city would cut overall greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 (including cutting city fleet emissions 80% by 2035), and to stop 90% of our waste from going to landfills by 2030. He should be held accountable. Both goals are crucial for fighting climate change, and New York should lead the country and the world in implementing them. Instead, we're lagging. Of 27 megacities worldwide, New York uses the most energy and generates by far the most solid waste.

How we handle our waste affects our emissions. Thirty percent of our waste stream is organic waste, 2 million tons of which rot in landfills each year, emitting more than 60,000 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. To prevent that, in 2013 de Blasio pledged a mandatory organic waste collection program within five years. It hasn’t materialized. We’re stuck with a limited, voluntary program that the Sanitation Department recently delayed expanding.

This pulls a big punch in the fight against climate change, because our organic waste stream -- including the 1.2 million tons of food waste we generate annually and municipal wastewater from our 14 treatment plants -- is not only a source of climate pollution; it’s also a massive renewable energy resource. Methane from decomposing organics can be captured and refined into ultra-low-carbon renewable natural gas (RNG).

As a transportation fuel, over its lifecycle RNG is net carbon-negative, meaning it prevents more GHG from getting into the atmosphere than it emits. Producing it captures more greenhouse gases that would otherwise escape, and using it to power buses and trucks displaces more carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

Sacramento, Portland, Toronto, and other cities collect their organic waste and process its gases into RNG, which fuels their municipal vehicle fleets. Nationwide about 30,000 buses and trucks run on RNG.

New York’s should, too. Getting city trucks and buses off diesel and onto RNG would vault us toward the mayor’s goals of cutting city fleet emissions 80% by 2035, and making New York’s air the cleanest of any major U.S. city by 2030.

Diesel exhaust aggravates our sky-high asthma rates, afflicting over 13% of our youth – more in low-income neighborhoods where truck and bus depots are located. Natural gas buses and trucks with “near zero” engines running on RNG would cut health-damaging nitrogen oxide and particulate pollution to almost nothing.

RNG is available in New York City via pipeline, and we could also tap our organic waste to produce it locally. Using it would save the city money over the service life of vehicles compared with "renewable diesel" or other alternatives.

So what’s stopping us? New York City fleet agencies are resisting change and sticking with diesel. Rather than buying natural gas trucks and buses and fueling them with RNG, they’re buying diesel vehicles and experimenting with "renewable diesel," which has climate and air quality properties inferior to RNG’s. They argue RNG trucks are slow to refuel and can’t plow snow, or that it would be better to migrate to electric vehicles.

Those are excuses. RNG trucks are plenty powerful. Stations carrying RNG stand ready to fuel city vehicles now. Heavy-duty electric vehicles are years from service-ready and prohibitively expensive, and their emissions are only as good as the energy source charging the batteries -- mostly fossil fuels.

The real obstacles to adopting RNG in New York are the same ones that kept the State of the City speech weak on climate change: lack of focused leadership and a preference for symbolic gestures over accountability for achieving concrete goals.

The climate can’t afford that. The city already has over 1,000 natural gas vehicles, including buses, trucks, and vans, that could start running on RNG tomorrow, simply by taking out a new fuel procurement contract. That would be a welcome first step toward fleet sustainability. The logical destination is to stop buying dirty, outmoded diesel vehicles.  

Last year, concerned City Council members sent letters urging the mayor and the MTA’s New York City Transit to show environmental leadership by adopting RNG. If they don’t, the Council has power through legislative and budget processes to make city agencies to get started. It’s time to use it.

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Joanna D. Underwood is the founder and a director of the NGO Energy Vision, which researches, and promotes technologies and strategies for a sustainable energy and transportation future. On Twitter @energy_vision.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Mayor De Blasio Needs a Clearer Focus on Climate Change, with a More Aggressive Agenda Tue, 29 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
A 'Green New Deal' for New York and More: Where the Climate Change Conversation is Headed in 2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8174-a-green-new-deal-for-new-york-climate-change-conversation-is-headed-in-2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8174-a-green-new-deal-for-new-york-climate-change-conversation-is-headed-in-2019 mbilldeblasiotours bofeitc lic

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

After an election where the issue saw little mainstream political attention, climate change and what to do about it has come roaring back to the forefront of the New York political scene. Whether it’s because of a recent federal report outlining the economic damage climate change will cause if left unchecked, because New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has used her bully pulpit to push a Green New Deal, or the potential for more action after Democrats won control of the state Senate, there’s increased attention on both new and old legislation to try to beat back rising oceans, extreme weather and their effects.

At both the state and city levels, efforts to combat climate change are likely to be significant topics of discussion in 2019.

New York State
Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat starting his third term, has increasingly spoken out about the climate crisis during his time in office, even if his ideas and rhetoric haven’t always been what climate activists want from him. The state’s Reforming Energy Vision has set energy efficiency goals (a 600 trillion British thermal units efficiency increase) and renewable energy goals (50 percent of electricity) for the year 2030, and Cuomo helped to establish the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 16 states that have agreed to take measures to get their greenhouse gas emissions down to the level set by the Paris Agreement, despite President Donald Trump’s rejection of it.   

The governor also made news with a pair of announcements recently. First, he announced a new New York State Public Service Commission regulation that mandates utilities find ways to cut 31 trillion British thermal units of site energy (which is the heat and electricity consumed by a building), to move towards the goal of saving 185 TBtus 2025 (an energy efficiency framework that the governor said could create 50,000 jobs by 2025) along with an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to develop better energy storage capabilities statewide.

Second, Cuomo gave a December speech outlining his 2019 legislative agenda, and called for a Green New Deal for New York, though he gave few details. While Cuomo’s Green New Deal is unlikely to look like a state-level version of the one Ocasio-Cortez is pushing nationally, the dual goals of such a program are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by enhancing renewable energies and creating green jobs.

In his speech Cuomo did lay out two central aspects of his Green New Deal vision, which he is expected to expand upon when he presents his State of the State policy book in January: getting the state’s electricity to 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2040 and eventually eliminating the state’s carbon footprint entirely. Cuomo also contrasted his belief and policy plans with that of the Trump administration’s attitude, saying that “federal government still denies climate change, remarkably turning a blind eye to their own government's scientific report.”

Still, his initial position falls short of what the state’s most vocal climate change activists are calling for. Those activists, who have formed the NY Renews coalition, reacted to Cuomo’s announcement by putting together a slick movie trailer with footage of climate disasters and a press release pointing out that electricity is 20 percent of the state’s total carbon footprint, all in service of continuing to push their gold standard: the Climate and Community Protection Act.

The CCPA, which has passed the state Assembly for three years only to be stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate that is about to turn to Democratic hands, establishes what advocates have called a “climate justice” framework. In addition to setting legislative targets for the use of renewable energy (50 percent of energy statewide by 2030) and carbon elimination (100 percent fossil fuel free by 2050), the bill also directs any transition project getting state funding to pay a prevailing wage and directs 40 percent of whatever state investment goes towards climate mitigation efforts to go to low-income communities and communities most threatened by climate change. All of which, according to the bill’s prime sponsor in the Senate, state Senator Brad Hoylman, add up to what the Manhattan Democrat says is the best approach to a Green New Deal, “a three-pronged approach: jobs, labor [standards], and protecting vulnerable communities.”

What the ramp up to transition away from fossil fuels will look like is not laid out in detail by the bill, instead the text requires the creation of a New York State Climate Action Council and directs the Department of Environmental Conservation to establish greenhouse gas emissions limits and regulations to achieve those limits. The bill also establishes a Climate Justice Working Group, which would study how to expand renewable energy into disadvantaged communities and would “have a role in determining what that investment would look like,” Hoylman said.

Whether that means a heavy hand from the state or not is something that’s been up for debate, and a place where Cuomo’s proclamation means he may soon weigh in. In a previous interview with Gotham Gazette, three-time Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins -- who has been running on a Green New Deal for New York since the 2010 race -- suggested that it would take “a World War II-scale mobilization” to prevent catastrophic damage from climate change. “During World War II we nationalized 25 percent of manufacturing in this country to make sure we could turn on a dime to make the weapons we used to beat the Nazis. The private investor-owned utilities and energy companies, they haven't led the way to clean energy, so we may need more public ownership,” Hawkins suggested.

In Hoylman’s view, the state doesn’t have to seize the means of production or even take on the role of primary investor, as much as it should shape where the market moves money.

“I think it's a combination of private investment, but with some prodding by the state to direct investment into low-income communities and communities of color, which otherwise might be passed by the marketplace,” Hoylman said of getting renewable power infrastructure into low-income communities. “I see government's role as a corrective one and making certain that that we've solved the collective action problem, which is basically doing nothing and allowing the marketplace to proceed unabated and our dependence on fossil fuels to increase. That might be less expensive in the short term, but it’s going to be more expensive in the long term. And then secondly, protecting those New Yorkers who often get left behind in these types of transitions, in particular where they’re reliant on outdated modes of energy like fossil fuels.”

As the CCPA has languished in the Republican-ruled state Senate, and the years tick closer to 2030, Hoylman said he understands the need to move fast on the legislation when his party takes the helm.

“I think so,” Hoylman said when asked if it was imperative that the CCPA is passed in 2019. “You know, we're running out of time on a lot of aspects, but certainly, if we're going to move as quickly as other states like California, we need to pass this bill as soon as possible.”

Hoylman also said that he is sensitive to the challenge that Democrats have in passing the CCPA and the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would help fund transition efforts through a carbon tax, while avoiding the pitfall of looking like the tax-hiking and regulation-spewing liberals Republicans warned they would be, but that inaction would be even worse.

“I think a Democratic Senate will be very sensitive to raising taxes of any sort without a real understanding of what the point behind them is,” Holyman said. “We think the Climate and Community Protection Act actually creates revenue, given the costs associated with climate change, so I would ask, ‘what is the cost of us not doing anything.’”

While the governor hasn’t signaled a position on the bill, and seems to have left the specifics for his Green New Deal for his State of the State, Hoylman praised moves that Cuomo has made on the climate with his executive powers, like establishing a commitment to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and banning fracking. With both houses of the Legislature and the governor himself invested in the larger idea of transitioning away from fossil fuels, Hoylman said he sees a paradigm “that will push Albany to act more decisively on the issue.”

Whatever any final Green New Deal for New York looks like will be a product of negotiations between Cuomo and the Legislature, possibly as part of the late March or early April state budget agreement for the next fiscal year.

The new chair of the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, State Senator Todd Kaminsky of Long Island has said he is excited to get to work fighting climate change. “In the face of climate change and the dire threat it poses to New York and our planet, our State must emerge as an environmental leader and demonstrate that we understand the urgency at hand and the need to act accordingly," Kaminsky said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "I plan to hit the ground running as chair to take more aggressive steps to protect our environment and New Yorkers, including holding hearings on the Climate and Community Protection Act, and enacting legislation in support of other resiliency and renewable energy efforts.”

As Kaminsky indicated, while the CCPA is the main event of this year’s legislative session when it comes to climate change activism, there’s a lot on the undercard that the state has been grappling with. While public transit is usually thought of as the domain of New York City and the surrounding metro area, and the governor’s Buffalo Billion II program doesn’t have the cleanest lineage, advocates for a Buffalo light rail expansion are hoping Senator Tim Kennedy’s place as chair of the Transportation Committee will mean more funding for expanding the system as the city determines the best path forward.

Elsewhere, the state is pushing for renewable energy with an RFP out asking for vendors to deliver 800 megawatts of offshore wind power (with winners to be announced in the spring of 2019) which was a goal in Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State book, and the NY-Sun initiative, which offers education and financing for solar projects and has supported almost 90,000 solar projects around the state.

There’s also the New York Green Bank, which has invested over $500 million in areas like community solar, energy efficiency and storage projects. The Cuomo administration has continued work on its RetrofitNY project, an effort to find ways to affordably and scalably retrofit multifamily buildings in order to cut their emissions, although the effort hasn’t made it out of the “proof of concept and design phase yet.”

Outside of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion, there’s also the ongoing argument over Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s management of the state pension fund, which is worth more than $200 billion. Environmental advocates have pressed DiNapoli to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuel companies, a move that they say would not only hurt companies who contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but also make the state pension fund more money. DiNapoli, for his part, has argued against making any sudden, sweeping moves without studying their impact, and that he has a fiduciary duty to get the best return possible for the state, while also putting $10 billion in state pension funds in a low-emissions and clean energy indexes. He’s also argued that by being an activist investor, he can push the companies toward more climate-friendly policies.

New York City
There are also proposals for New York City to take action, independent of the state, with ongoing action to cut emissions and a pair of high-profile bills that were introduced at the end of 2018. The de Blasio administration has included climate change in the OneNYC agenda, setting goals to make New York “the most sustainable big city in the world” and “the most resilient big city in the world.”

Part of OneNYC is the de Blasio administration’s target for emissions cutbacks, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability put out a Roadmap to 80x50 in 2016 that set a path for emissions reductions by way of energy standards for buildings, expanding the use of renewable energy, increasing the use of mass transit and reducing the amount of waste sent to city landfills.

The city is set to begin construction on the “Big U,” a coastal resiliency measure made up of parkland and berms around lower Manhattan to protect it from flooding, in spring 2020, according to the most recent news provided by the de Blasio administration. The updated plan for the flood protection, which involves raising the East River Park, has been criticized though, for making the project costlier in what critics say is an effort to not inconvenience drivers on the FDR Drive and avoiding dealing with the Parks Department’s lack of any kind of post-storm maintenance budget.  

agenda19v2 aAfter the mayor got out ahead of allies and even his office with proposed energy efficiency mandates regarding retrofitting and caps on the amount of fossil fuels buildings can burn, the exact ideas he’d proposed never really took off. But, a recently-introduced pair of bills from Queens City Council Member Costa Constantinides run with the idea, and if passed, would introduce new emissions standards for many buildings 25,000 square feet or larger. Since large buildings account for two-thirds of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, backers of the Constantinides bills see retrofitting large buildings by doing things like installing energy efficient HVAC systems, hot water heaters, and electricity and lighting, as one of the most effective ways for the city to cut those emissions 80 percent by 2050. The bills, which had their first hearing in December, would open an Office of Building Energy Performance that can set new buildings emissions standards and also establish a financing program to help the owners of some buildings finance efforts to retrofit their properties to reach the emissions targets the office sets out.

“We need to start where the emissions are, and these large buildings are the right place to do it,” Constantinides said at a hearing to introduce the bills, noting that while buildings larger than 50,000 square feet only make up less than one percent of the city’s building stock, they give off 30 percent of the city’s total emissions. However, while the bill’s supporters have praised the exemption of buildings with at least one rent-stabilized unit from the most stringent efficiency requirements as a necessary way to protect residents from potential rent hikes from upgrades counted as major capital improvements, critics have called the provision a major problem. (In the event that the state rent laws are changed to prevent landlords from passing MCIs on to rent-stabilized tenants though, organizations like New York Communities for Change have expressed support for writing buildings with rent-stabilized units into the law.)

Mark Chambers, director of the de Blasio administration’s Office of Sustainability, told the City Council that the laws could create over 14,000 jobs related to the efforts to retrofit buildings and praised the establishment of a New York City PACE financing program as a way to make sure that property owners themselves aren’t burdened by the efficiency upgrades.

Elsewhere, activists who started a campaign this summer to establish a public bank in New York City recently rallied at City Hall to connect the potential municipal bank with efforts to fight climate change on a local level. First, advocates say that taking billions of city deposits away from larger banks like Chase and Bank of America, who finance fossil fuel extraction with some of their money, would be as effective a strike against fossil fuel reliance as the city’s underway efforts to divest its public pension funds from fossil fuel stock. Additionally, advocates say that a public bank would allow for cheaper financing of small-scale renewable energy projects that will be necessary in the coming transition away from fossil fuels.

“Waterfront solar projects, community solar projects, all of those kind of projects could be funded more easily if the intermediaries that were trying to do the good work didn't have to go to their very limited pots of money or could get money out of somebody bigger who wasn't predatory,” Stephan Edel, the director of the New York Working Families Project at the Working Families Party, told Gotham Gazette.

And while Edel had praise for the pension funds and the state’s green bank as effective tools in the transition to a green economy, he also said that a public bank could lend to projects that return on their investment somewhat slower. “A public bank still has to make safe investments, has to make that limited return, but it can look at a longer term set of benefits and it can look at investments that can have a long-term benefit because it's not looking to get its return in a quarter or make nine percent,” he said.

As for the proposal’s legislative future, the New Economy Project’s Ali Issa told Gotham Gazette that the Public Bank NYC coalition is working with “an array of state and city elected officials, including Council Member Mark Levine” to put a proposal for the bank forward in 2019.

Levine, for his part, provided a statement saying, “though we have made progress divesting from the fossil fuel industry, we must go further. Our City should put its own money to work for New Yorkers through a public bank, which would supercharge investments in critical projects throughout the five boroughs, and return financial power to the people and businesses that need it most.”

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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A 'Green New Deal' for New York and More: Where the Climate Change Conversation is Headed in 2019 Thu, 03 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Climate Change, and What To Do About It, Largely Missing from Governor’s Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8028-climate-change-and-what-to-do-about-it-largely-missing-from-governor-s-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8028-climate-change-and-what-to-do-about-it-largely-missing-from-governor-s-race Cuomo Gore climate change

Gov. Cuomo and former VP Gore in 2015 (photo: The Governor's Office)


New York’s 2018 gubernatorial election has largely been eclipsed, like so many things in United States politics, by a massive Trump-shaped shadow. Within that shadow, Andrew Cuomo and Marc Molinaro have argued about the health of upstate New York, management of the MTA, and dueling corruption charges, among other topics. But one looming issue, climate change, has seemed to escape the notice of the two candidates, even as news related to it becomes more dire and New York’s Legislature sits on proposals to shift the state to a 100 percent renewable energy environment.

“I would say no, but that's generally my answer for most candidates,” Aracely Jimenez-Hudis, a member of the climate justice organization Sunrise NYC said when asked if she thought either of the major party gubernatorial candidates were talking enough about climate change. And while Jimenez-Hudis works with a group whose main focus is climate change, the fact remains that it simply isn’t an issue either candidate has decided to address this year.

Molinaro doesn’t include a platform on climate change or the environment on his website, but told Gotham Gazette that he accepts climate change as science and that it is a trend impacted by humans; he believes in “the inherent capacity of man to overcome any challenge.” Molinaro also said he agrees with the governor’s idea to get New York to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, but that rather than the state investing large amounts of money in private companies, government “ought to create an economic climate where the industry can actually compete and thrive.” He doesn’t believe in “cutting checks,” he said, but he is open to the right blend of tax incentives and regulatory changes to encourage a greener economy.

Beyond the question of energy sources, Molinaro said that congestion pricing as a funding mechanism for expanding public transportation and reducing street congestion, and changing zoning codes to reduce damage to the environment and make clean energy use more effective were ideas he’d look to in order to reduce emissions as a whole.

On the trail, though, the Dutchess county executive and Republican nominee for governor has said he’s open to a “pilot program” allowing fracking in New York’s Southern Tier and has expressed a worry that New York is missing out on an economic boom by not allowing the practice. While Molinaro has touted his past endorsements by the Sierra Club as part of his proof that he’s a different kind of Republican, the organization endorsed Cuomo over him this year.

On his own campaign website, Cuomo writes that his administration has made New York a national leader on climate change, casting it through the lens of resisting the Trump administration, writing that he’s “picking up the mantle of climate leadership where Washington is failing.” His office has funded over $20 million worth of flood protection efforts on Long Island this year, and the Sierra Club endorsement for the governor notes his leadership in banning fracking in 2014 and lauds him for committing New York to generating 50 percent of its energy from renewable powers like wind and solar by 2030, but the biggest instance of the governor’s name being attached to the word “climate” this campaign was when he suggested “climate-based” reasons were driving people’s decision to move out of upstate New York.

Cuomo has campaigned little on forward-looking policy of any kind, mostly highlighting past accomplishments and staking out anti-Trump ground. When he has discussed a third-term agenda, climate change is background noise. His Nine Point Pledge for a Stronger Long Island, signed with each of the Democratic state Senate candidates on the island, contains passing references to “resiliency projects” and passing the governor’s bill outlawing offshore drilling in New York.

The governor has faced his own criticism on environmental policy, including an occupation of his Manhattan office earlier this summer by activists with Sunrise over his refusal to sign a pledge to not take fossil fuel-linked campaign donations and for not getting behind the Climate and Community Protection Act. The CCPA, a bill that seeks to move New York to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050, with power grid transitions and resiliency efforts paid for by a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, got a boost of media and campaign attention during the primary campaign when Cynthia Nixon threw her support behind it. Nixon called the CCPA the most important work of her campaign at a recent gala for New York Communities for Change, work that got her kudos from environmental activists. But even in the primary’s lone debate, the bill only came up briefly.

There was no discussion of climate change in the single Cuomo-Molinaro debate, which took place last week. It’s an unfortunate turn of events according to Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate, because New York could set the tone for the way the rest of the country reacts to the issue. “What we do counts,” Hawkins said, citing the size of New York’s economy compared to the economies of entire nations, “and we think what it does for the economy, besides what it does for the climate, will set an example that other people will want to emulate. Just like Franklin Roosevelt did some public employment when he was governor and it became a model for the jobs programs of the New Deal, I think we set an example [with a Green New Deal], we get ahead of the curve and other people are gonna want to follow our lead.”

Hawkins sees a transition to a green economy, part of what he calls a Green New Deal, as one of the many issues residents north of Westchester say have been ignored this year. “The thing about a serious climate action program is it’s a big economic stimulus, particularly upstate where you have to do a lot of energy installation,” Hawkins said, adding that the region could also become a manufacturing hub for green technology that could create jobs and be an example for the rest of the country.

Cuomo has in fact focused some of his energies on creating more affordable forms of power through the Reforming the Energy Vision program, the umbrella strategy to move New York towards 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gasses by 40 percent from their levels in the 1990s. Within that strategy, New York State has partnered with utility companies to work on projects testing out ways to efficiently deliver green energy, has invested in workforce training in green energy and companies related to the field and has taken “a more market-based, decentralized approach” to shifting the state to renewable power. The state also has a high-stakes partnership with Tesla that’s supposed to bring 1,460 jobs to Buffalo, following the company’s acquisition of SolarCity, the solar panel manufacturer the state invested $750 million in (an investment that was later discovered to be caught up in Alain Kaloyeros’ bid-rigging scheme).

The lack of climate change talk has “been the pattern in the presidential debates, and certainly in New York-level debates,” Pete Sikora, an activist with New York Communities for Change focused on environmental issues, told Gotham Gazette. “Climate change is an important issue to voters, but if you're looking at Molinaro versus Cuomo, it hasn't become a defining contrast.” NYCC endorsed Nixon in the primary.

Hudis-Jimenez said that Nixon’s focus on the the Climate and Community Protection Act allowed her and other canvassers to do specific outreach directly to voters through climate canvasses for Nixon, which was helpful to spread the bill’s message, but ultimately not as scalable as something beamed into homes across the state.

“More people will tune into a debate probably than are contacted by canvassing or phone-banking, so the issues that get talked about during a debate are the ones voters will think about when they're going to the polls,” she said. “So the fact that climate change got maybe five seconds [in the Cuomo-Nixon debate] said a lot about the work that still needs to be done getting climate change to be a top electoral issue.”

“I don't know why it's not a huge issue,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette. “You would think, considering Long Island and Westchester, so much of the region was underwater, you would think it would be more of a discussion.” Part of the reason for its absence as a front and center issue, Brewer speculated, was that unlike the everyday experience for New Yorkers that is a broken subway, “we don't experience water coming into our buildings everyday.”

It is getting to be more of an issue though, Brewer noted, though there can be a subtlety to it that hides the more dire nature of the crisis. “There's a difference between a big storm and just plain old surge. Even if you don’t get a big storm, the water surge is a different issue. So you could get something like no storm and still a high water situation,” she said, noting she got a high water alert before this weekend’s Nor’easter.

The absence of climate change and what to do about it from the broader gubernatorial campaign also chills questions of whether even the proposals that Nixon pushed go far enough, or if something like the Green Party-supported New York Off Fossil Fuels Act is the right path for the state. That bill, sponsored by Assemblymember William Colton and state Senator Brad Hoylman (who also just wrote an op-ed calling on the state to pass the CCPA), both Democrats, would move New York to 100 percent clean energy by 2030, a necessary step in the face of the continuing climate crisis and what Hawkins said were insufficient proposals by Cuomo and Nixon, whose proposals both called for New York to use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

“They want 50 percent clean electricity by 2030, but electricity is just 28 percent of the carbon footprint, it doesn't deal with transportation, industry, agriculture or buildings,” Hawkins said. You get 50 percent of that reduced, that's 14 percent really,” he said as a critique of both approaches.

Even if climate change hasn’t taken a star turn in any general election campaigns getting media attention, activists like Sikora and Hudis-Jimenez are gearing up to keep fighting after the election. “Working towards a goal of 50 percent renewable energy is half-assing it,” Hudis-Jimenez said, promising to continue to keep the pressure on legislators to be more ambitious.

“Whether the governor is talking about it now or not, what we want is for him to embrace [the CCPA], put it in the budget and pass it,” Sikora said. “We'll have a Senate and Assembly that is Democratic, hopefully, and in that scenario, this legislation should pass and the governor should lead the charge. We'll be coming hard on passage of that kind of legislation.”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Climate Change, and What To Do About It, Largely Missing from Governor’s Race Tue, 30 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Terrified About Climate Change? Vote Cynthia Nixon http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7855-terrified-about-climate-change-vote-cynthia-nixon http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7855-terrified-about-climate-change-vote-cynthia-nixon cynthia nixon gas

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)


Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks to portray himself as a leading environmentalist. But in reality, he is too wrapped up in his own political ambitions to be the 21st century climate champion New York needs.

The surface is rosy. Governor Cuomo formed the impressive sounding U.S. Climate Alliance, he banned fracking (while building infrastructure to transport fracked gas from nearby states) and is expanding wind farming in the state.

Take a closer look, however, and it’s much seedier.

While portraying himself as a climate leader, Cuomo is hoarding hundreds of thousands of dollars that he has accepted from fossil fuel companies in his campaign war chest. Recently, after facing pressure from constituent advocates and Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy, he said he would no longer accept fossil fuel-funded donations. But then he walked back that pledge, saying he misheard a question, and signaling that he is more concerned with financially positioning himself to run for President -- let’s be honest: he does not need $30 million to run for Governor -- than the wellbeing of his constituents.  

With thousands of New Yorkers still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, wildfires scorching the West, and Puerto Rico still not recovered from Maria, there is no excuse for a Governor who claims to be a climate champion but accepts blood money from the fossil fuel industry.

Governor Cuomo has also refused to publicly support the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would shift New York off fossil fuels to a 100% renewable economy by 2050 and has the support of over 100 unions, community groups, and advocacy organizations across New York State. The CCPA has passed the State Assembly multiple times, but has stalled in the Senate, partially due to lack of support from the Governor. When asked about the legislation’s provision for completely shifting New York state to renewable energy over the next 30 years, he insisted it isn’t “practical” to make that rapid a transition.

Polar ice caps will not stop melting to accommodate Andrew Cuomo’s political ambitions nor his sense of practicality. Ask any scientist, and they will tell you that we no longer have time for an incremental approach to climate change. As climate leader Bill McKibben has said, with climate change, winning slowly is the same as losing.

Cynthia Nixon is running on a bold climate action agenda that includes supporting both the Climate and Community Protection Act as well as the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would levy a tax on corporate polluters, generating billions in revenue for investment in renewable energy, green jobs, and resiliency. Most important, Nixon is putting her money where her mouth is -- from the start of her campaign, she has refused all funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Climate consequences are here and only getting worse. Hurricanes supercharged by warming oceans, drought, heat, wildfires, flooding, rising sea levels: it is all underway. Over time, New York will suffer increasingly frequent and devastating storms and floods. Coastal towns will erode into the ocean. Changing weather patterns will impact everything from farms, fisheries, and our food supply to tourism, housing, transportation, and public health.

We need bold, transformative leadership and we need it now. With Donald Trump in Washington, New York needs to aggressively pave its own way into an uncertain, climate-altered future. Cynthia Nixon wants to lead us there by rejecting fossil fuels, protecting vulnerable communities, and embracing a shift to a fairer, renewable energy economy. Andrew Cuomo wants to fill his wallet and run for President.

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Liat Olenick is a public school science teacher, union leader, and co-president of non-profit Indivisible Nation BK. On Twitter @Liat_RO of @bkindivisible

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Terrified About Climate Change? Vote Cynthia Nixon Thu, 09 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City, MTA Must Look Under the Hood for Greater Climate Progress http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7645-city-mta-must-look-under-the-hood-for-greater-climate-progress http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7645-city-mta-must-look-under-the-hood-for-greater-climate-progress MTA bus

An MTA bus (photo: MTA Bus)


The new congestion pricing surcharges on taxis and on-demand ride services below 96 Street in Manhattan are designed to address congestion in midtown, but they generate more controversy than impact. They might raise a few hundred million dollars a year for the MTA to fix the subway. But they won’t do anything to reduce congestion or air pollution. Meanwhile another big ticket MTA budget item has gotten little attention but will have a huge impact on New York City's emissions, air quality, and public health: bus procurement.    

The MTA plans to spend over $300 million this year and $1.38 billion over the next four years to buy about 1,700 new buses. Some 1,300 of them – roughly a billion dollars’ worth – are slated to be diesel-fueled, and therein lies the rub. Diesel vehicles were powerful and efficient for the 20th century, but they are big polluters. Much better 21st century alternatives exist.    

Analysis by Energy Vision recently submitted in testimony to the City Council shows that diesel buses and trucks on our streets generate a disproportionate share of adverse impacts on New York City’s climate, air quality, and health. Across the City’s municipal fleets, its 10,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks consume 60% of the fuel, emit 63% of GHGs, and are a major emitter of health-damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulates (PM). Thousands of MTA diesel buses compound the problem. According to Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, head of Global Health at Mt. Sinai, eliminating diesel buses and trucks from our fleets would reduce New Yorkers' childhood asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, and health care costs.

New York City has ambitious goals for achieving the best air quality of any major U.S. city by 2030 and for cutting GHGs 80% from its municipal fleet vehicles by 2035. This year Mayor de Blasio announced the City would go “fossil free” by divesting its pension funds from fossil fuel stocks. Realizing these ambitions is vital for the climate, our health, and our kids' futures. But there is little chance of that if the City and the MTA continue to purchase more heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses.  

The MTA will buy 110 new natural gas buses this year, which is significant. But its fleet of 5,700 buses already includes over 4,500 diesel buses, plus the 1,300 new diesels it plans to buy over the next four years.

sanitation truck plow

The City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), which operates the largest refuse fleet in the country -- more than 2,200 collection trucks -- runs virtually all of it on biodiesel, which is 80% ordinary diesel fuel. It has just 42 natural gas trucks, and it buys hundreds more diesel refuse trucks every year.

We can do better. New York is now far behind other world-class cities in weaning itself off diesel.  London has already stopped procuring diesel vehicles for its fleets as of this year because of their health and climate impacts. Eleven other major cities are pledging to follow its lead, including Oslo, Rome, Beijing, and Shanghai.

In fact, New York City is one of those 11. The MTA and the City can and should start phasing out diesel vehicles now.

The questions are, what alternatives should replace them and how fast could they ramp up? The MTA is piloting electric buses, which are quiet and have zero tailpipe emissions. But they cost a whopping $300,000-$400,000 more than diesel per vehicle. The City is aggressively deploying light-duty electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, but electrification of its heavy-duty trucks is not yet a commercial option, especially for refuse trucks, since they don’t have enough power to both collect garbage and plow snow.

There’s a better way to decarbonize New York’s heavy vehicles. The MTA and the City could do what other cities are doing: buy more natural gas (CNG) buses and trucks equipped with efficient engines that cut emissions and can run on renewable fuel.

The new “Near Zero” natural gas engine, certified by the U.S. EPA, has taken clean burning to a new level. It cuts health-damaging nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions 90% below the EPA’s most stringent standard. Near Zero buses and trucks are only about $50,000 more than their diesel counterparts. They are just as powerful and serviceable and are 50-80% quieter than diesel engines.

They can run on conventional CNG, but even better, they also run on biomethane or Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). RNG is chemically similar to conventional natural gas, but it is not a fossil fuel. It’s made from a renewable resource: organic waste, such as food waste from homes and businesses, the sewage that goes to wastewater plants, agricultural manures, and more. Instead of drilling, RNG is produced by collecting and refining the methane biogases emitted by those organic wastes as they decompose, in special tanks called “anaerobic digesters.”

The resulting fuel isn’t just clean-burning; it is the lowest-carbon fuel available. When made from food waste or animal manure, it is actually net carbon-negative over its lifecycle. In other words, making it captures more greenhouse gases (which would otherwise escape into the air as the waste breaks down) than are emitted by the vehicles burning it for fuel. There’s no faster, more cost-effective, or climate-friendlier way to cut fleet emissions.

The MTA already has 800 buses and DSNY already has 42 refuse trucks that use conventional CNG. With a simple change in fuel contracts they could run on RNG overnight. The RNG could be delivered through the same natural gas refueling stations that now supply conventional natural gas, and at the same price.

There is plenty of RNG available in the U.S. Over 40 projects are processing decomposing organic wastes into vehicle fuel across the country. More are under development in the New York region that could make fuel for our municipal fleets from our own waste streams. The roughly 1.2 million tons of food waste generated in New York City each year could make enough RNG to power all the trucks in the City’s fleets, turning a costly waste burden into a valuable energy resource.  

Nationwide, there is enough RNG production potential to power the refuse, bus, and airport fleets of every major U.S. city. Some 20,000 buses and trucks across the country now run on RNG. Los Angeles Metro has purchased 295 RNG-fueled “Near Zero” buses, with an option to convert its entire 2,200 transit bus fleet. Santa Monica’s “Big Blue Bus” fleet converted to RNG completely, and more municipalities are following suit.

So what is New York City and the MTA waiting for? Getting our heavy vehicles off diesel is the single biggest step we can take toward a sustainable transportation sector, and would propel us toward meeting the City’s clean air, climate, fossil fuel elimination and waste prevention goals. It’s high time we got started.

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Joanna D. Underwood is founder and board member of the national environmental organization Energy Vision, which researches, analyzes and promotes viable technologies and strategies to transition to a sustainable, low-carbon energy and transportation future. On Twitter @Energy_Vision.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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City, MTA Must Look Under the Hood for Greater Climate Progress Mon, 30 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Policy Implications of the Mayor’s Paris Climate Order http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7017-policy-implications-of-the-mayor-s-paris-climate-order http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7017-policy-implications-of-the-mayor-s-paris-climate-order 32541723780 9deef3a979 z

Mayor de Blasio tours the Electrical Industry Training Center in Queens (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


 Soon after reports surfaced that President Donald Trump would withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, a landmark accord to limit global temperature increases signed by nearly every country, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would sign an executive order committing New York City to the agreement. On June 2, after Trump confirmed the rumors in a White House Rose Garden speech, the Mayor signed such an order.

Though the city has undertaken ambitious measures to curb emissions under the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations, the city may now have to go further than it already has in addressing climate change through policy.

The Paris agreement, signed by 195 nations (including the United States) and ratified by 147, stipulates three aims for all countries of the world to collectively strive for:

1. “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

2. “Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.”

3. “Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

The president’s action makes the U.S. one of only three countries not party to the agreement; the other two are Nicaragua, which claims that the agreement doesn’t go far enough, only committing the largest polluters to voluntary targets, and Syria, which is in the grips of a massive, six-year civil war.

A Yale University survey published last year showed that almost 70% of Americans believe that the country should remain in the agreement, much higher than the number of people who consider themselves "concerned believers" in climate change, which is about 50%. According to the Yale survey, New York State actually registers the highest percentage of residents out of any state in terms of believing that the country should stay in the Paris Agreement; with over 75%.

The agreement is effectively non-binding due to a lack of enforcement measures, a fact that has been criticized by environmental activists. The agreement also doesn’t stipulate any specific policies through which these aims are to be achieved, leaving the policy solutions to the signatories. Many of the enforcement measures for the U.S. to abide by the deal were stripped when Trump announced an executive order to review former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan; it is widely expected that the EPA will dismantle it.

The Paris aims are to be met through “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs, which are dictated individually by signatories in such a way that the targets are collectively met. More developed countries would pledge financial aid to less developed countries so they can meet their targets, such as through the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which Trump harshly criticized in his White House Rose Garden speech announcing U.S. withdrawal.

Trump’s pulling out of the agreement, and de Blasio’s subsequent commitment that the city will stick with it anyway, could require the city to determine its own NDCs.

The mayor chastised the president in a May 31 press conference in Red Hook, Brooklyn for being callous regarding an issue that will disproportionately affect his own hometown.

“We have to understand that if climate change is not addressed, one of the greatest coastal cities on the Earth will be increasingly threatened,” the mayor said. “And it's very painful to reflect the fact that Donald Trump is from New York City. He should know better. He should know that what he is thinking of doing would hurt his hometown more than almost any place else, because we're an entirely coastal city.”

The next day, Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from Paris and de Blasio issued his executive order. What the mayor’s order did not immediately make clear was whether the city would be specifically drawing up targets to send to the UN, as a country is supposed to do. Asked for more detail, a City Hall spokesperson sent a statement capturing the city’s commitment and goals.

“The Mayor’s executive order adopted the goals of the Paris agreement,” the spokesperson said, “in particular reaffirming the City’s goal to reduce its greenhouse gas contributions to the level needed to limit warming to 2C, and to explore how to develop further plans that keep to the 1.5C goal. In the face of Trump’s abdication of American leadership to meet the global challenge of climate change, it is more important than ever that we take action at the local level.”

The spokesperson added that Section 3 of the mayor’s executive order “is about working with others to deliver on the US NDC,” though the order refers to the “2016 commitment to the Paris Agreement” rather than specifically saying “NDC” or “nationally determined contribution.” The spokesperson did not specify whether New York would be formally determining an NDC. Subnational entities are not required to submit NDCs to the UN, as national entities are.

Only sovereign states, not subnational entities, can donate to the Green Climate Fund, according to the spokesperson. So, the current structure of the fund and financing scheme would preclude New York City from actually being able to contribute financially.

The two-page executive order doesn’t contain many particulars, especially compared to the much larger, 32-page Paris Agreement framework. The EO states that New York City will attempt to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, but doesn’t include specific strategies for the city to meet the targets.

Since the Paris Agreement was signed by almost every country in the world, there is not much language regarding subnational entities like cities. The Agreement “welcomes the efforts of all non-Party stakeholders to address and respond to climate change, including those of civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other subnational authorities,” but the Agreement has been adopted almost universally and is organized under a United Nations framework, which a city or state cannot join, and therefore does not stipulate language about subnational entities formally joining if the national entity pulls out.

For the city to meet Paris stipulations, it will have to craft policy without the aid of federal regulations, and likely in conjunction with the state government, due to state control over the city’s massive public transportation network. Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed an executive order committing the state to meeting the standards of the Paris Agreement regardless of the federal government’s position. Cuomo then announced that New York would be part of the “United States Climate Alliance,” consisting initially of New York, California, and Washington (state), then joined by other states, to abide by the Agreement.

New York City already has a low carbon footprint compared to other major American cities, owing largely to its high density and plentitude of mass transportation options; New York is the only major city in the nation where a majority of households don’t own an automobile.

New York State has the lowest carbon footprint, per capita, of any state, according to data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency.

De Blasio, in 2014, announced a goal, known as 80 x 50, for the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The plan involves cutting emissions -- from vehicles, energy consumption in buildings, and waste disposal -- by 43 million metric tons by 2050. The plan is part of de Blasio’s larger OneNYC initiative, which includes a variety of environmental, resiliency, and sustainability goals and strategies. De Blasio’s initiatives, on top of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s own substantial environmental efforts, have essentially charted the city on a path to meeting the Prais standards well before the city’s commitment to Paris through executive order.

Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council, a nonprofit that advocates for more environmentally sustainable buildings, says that the numbers add up to 80 x 50 meeting Paris standards, but that, especially in city policy, models and implementation are two entirely different beasts.

“The city recognizes there’s a lot of work to be done to take a plan that mostly relies on, kind of, modeling and figuring out how you actually make that work with industry,” he said. He noted that the plan was not thoroughly mapped out to 2050; in the 33 years until then, a lot can change.

The city, which contains hundreds of miles of coastline and at some points is barely five feet above sea level, is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to the potential for floods, which was seen to a chaotic degree in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy. The mayor, at the Red Hook press conference, pressed the issue.

“There's no question about it,” de Blasio said. “Hurricane Sandy, the nor'easter, all that occurred in that superstorm was because of climate change. We've already borne the brunt here in New York City. It's only going to get worse if something is not done quickly to reverse the course the Earth is on.”

Transit policy would likely be an area of significant interest in a New York committed to the Paris agreement, due to the amount of emissions from vehicles. The city is responsible for the large fleet of vehicles it owns, ranging from emergency vehicles, sanitation vehicles, the mayor’s transport, and others. Meanwhile, the MTA, which is controlled by the state rather than the city, is responsible for bus, subway, Metro North, and the Long Island Rail Road service. Some vehicles services are contracted to private vendors, such as school buses.

The MTA has long been a point of contention between City Hall and the Capitol, more so of late as the subways are in crisis, with funding negotiations part of the long-running feud between the governor and the mayor. But reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles will require cooperation, and will in all likelihood involve investment in MTA projects with the goal of reducing the number of vehicles on the road and reducing emissions from some of those that stay in circulation.

The MTA in April announced road tests for electric buses to join a fleet consisting of diesel, hybrid electric diesel, and natural gas-powered buses. The NYC Clean Fleet plan, part of OneNYC, calls for 2,000 new electric vehicles to be added to the city’s fleet by 2025.

But ambitious transportation projects, the type that could reduce the city’s carbon footprint significantly, frequently become stalled due to lack of adequate funding, or disagreements between Albany and the City, especially when those projects must go through the MTA. The first leg of the Second Avenue Subway was opened in January after being in progress for almost 90 years. The mayor’s request for a study to consider funding an extension of the subway along Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue, the southern stretch of which is a notorious subway desert, has led nowhere.

De Blasio has been behind an expansion of Citi Bike in the city and recently launched the first phase of a new ferry service that has initially shown to be quite popular.

Despite the fanfare around transportation policy, the lion’s share of city emissions comes not from vehicles, but from buildings. In a statement on June 8, City Council Member Brad Lander said, “without stronger energy efficiency standards for buildings – which account for 75 percent of New York City's total emissions – we will fail to meet our urgent goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.”

Lander and fellow Council Member Jumaane Williams called on the mayor to require large buildings to be retrofitted for energy efficiency. The administration has pursued policy regarding retrofitting through the One City Built to Last program and other initiatives; last October the mayor signed a trio of bills that, according to the mayor’s office, “are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 250,000 metric tons, and spur retrofits in 16,000 buildings.”

Unger believes that despite large and important steps in the right direction, through initiatives such as the 80 x 50 plan and the One City initiative, there are still large strides to be made.

“I think there’s a general recognition that the energy code needs to keep getting stronger,” he said, referring to the city’s Energy Conservation Code. He continued, “there are lots of places where the code still doesn’t make sense, where there are requirements that are kind of based on older technologies. Cleaning those up is something to look at.”

Some believe that the furor that erupted after Trump’s Paris Accord announcement is overstated. Unger believes that the city and state will not be impacted all that much by the withdrawal.

“You know you got a strong team, and the coach goes on hiatus, you can keep playing. And so you have a lot of states and a lot of cities that have strong policies and have strong industries, and those things aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “New York State was already going to be ahead of what it would be required to do under Obama’s Clean Power Plan. So the Clean Power Plan disappears; we’re still going to be ahead of it.”

The mayor has been criticized for lecturing the public on playing their part in lowering the city’s carbon footprint while having his SUV detail drive him 11 miles many days from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side to his gym in Park Slope. The mayor has responded that his individual behavior is not what’s important, but rather, what’s important is encompassed within the policy he sets. “I don’t think the vast majority of New Yorkers care about this. They care about the results,” the mayor told NY1’s Errol Louis of his gym routine.

However, some believe that he is setting a bad example by exempting himself from the individual responsibilities associated with mitigating climate change while telling the public to change behavior, such as by using fewer plastic bags. The mayor argues that he is the mayor, with a unique life and schedule, and that he chips in in his own ways, like through recycling. He also said that the SUVs are hybrids and that because of his unique power as mayor, he can affect widespread policy that has a huge impact.

Unger believes that, despite the fanfare regarding the mayor’s gym routine, robust policy is indeed where the focus must be.

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by Ben Brachfeld
@GothamGazette

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Policy Implications of the Mayor’s Paris Climate Order Wed, 21 Jun 2017 21:48:27 +0000
Republican Mayoral Candidates Noncommittal on De Blasio Paris Climate Order http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6969-republican-mayoral-candidates-noncommittal-on-de-blasio-paris-climate-order http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6969-republican-mayoral-candidates-noncommittal-on-de-blasio-paris-climate-order de blasio climate paris

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Friday affirming New York City’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, from which President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he would withdraw the United States. New York City, the president’s hometown, has terrain that makes the city especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which the Paris agreement seeks to mitigate by limiting global temperature increases. The agreement was signed by 195 countries in December 2015.

De Blasio had, on Wednesday, pledged to sign the executive order after reports came out hinting that Trump would withdraw from the deal, an action he had promised on the campaign trail, part of the president’s “America First” isolationist foreign policy and his long-standing doubts about the reality of climate change.

“The Paris Accord was the biggest step forward we've taken in many, many years, and it's unconscionable for the President of the United States to step away from it,” the Mayor said at a Wednesday press conference in Red Hook, Brooklyn, soon after reports started coming out of Trump’s decision. He added, “This is a dagger aimed straight at the heart of New York City.”

The Mayor has made fighting climate change a priority, pledging in 2014 to reduce city emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Known as “80 x 50,” it is part of the Mayor’s larger OneNYC initiative.

In a statement on Thursday following the President’s official withdrawal announcement in the White House Rose Garden, the mayor claimed that that his own coming executive order would be signed so that “New York can remain a home for generations to come.”

De Blasio on Thursday joined more than 80 other "Climate Mayors,” representing more than 40 million Americans, in pledging to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.” These goals all serve in the aim of keeping average temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Accord seeks mitigation of greater than 2 degrees in temperature increases, but describes 1.5 degrees as a goal. These cities will now have to craft policy without the cooperation of the federal government. Some cities will also do it where their state governments are led by climate change deniers, such as in Texas.

Other mayors in New York signing the statement are the mayors of Albany and Syracuse. Governor Andrew Cuomo joined a similar agreement on Thursday, forming the United States Climate Alliance with the Governors of California and Washington State.

Any major action by de Blasio in this election year becomes fodder for the mayoral campaign, of course. The two main Republican candidates for mayor, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and real estate sales executive Paul Massey, are engaged in a heated primary where both de Blasio and President Trump loom large. (Before any general election matchup, de Blasio is facing a handful of Democratic primary challengers.)

Gotham Gazette asked both the Malliotakis and Massey campaigns whether the candidates would keep or rescind de Blasio’s Paris accord executive order if they were to win in November. Neither candidate has released a campaign agenda regarding climate change or the environment. Massey has begun releasing issue-based policy plans, while Malliotakis, who entered the race much more recently, has promised to do so soon.

Neither campaign gave a direct answer to the question.

The Massey campaign did affirm his support of the Paris Agreement but stopped short of committing to abide by de Blasio’s executive order were Massey to be elected mayor. The Malliotakis campaign avoided the question almost completely, stating that the mayor should be focusing on issues of local importance rather than national or international concern, on which he has little or no standing, a campaign spokesperson said.

"Bill de Blasio spends way too much time playing in national and now, international politics,” Malliotakis campaign spokesperson Rob Ryan said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “He needs to address simpler problems far closer to home like schools that don't educate, the homeless crisis, a subway system overloaded with problems and city run hospitals that are hemorrhaging billions of our tax dollars, before he wades into climate diplomacy in Paris."

The mayor’s argument is that climate change and the Paris agreement to fight it are of significant local concern in New York City. The mayor has repeatedly referenced extreme weather, like superstorm Sandy, and the need for action to reduce the changes to the planet and thus their potential dangers.

Massey, who has never held elected office, doesn’t have a voting record on climate change to draw on, but Malliotakis does, having taken votes in the Assembly on environmental matters. She voted in 2014 to “require state funded projects to consider climate change effects” and voted against banning fracking. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, implemented a fracking ban in 2014 after much deliberation.

Malliotakis also voted against the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, a landmark climate bill strictly regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the state. It passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly in June 2016 by a 96-43 vote, but has stalled in committee in the Republican-controlled Senate. The version of the bill passed by the Assembly mandates stringent greenhouse gas limitations and, among other things, that 50% of New York State’s energy supply be provided by renewable energy by 2030. Cuomo instructed the Public Service Commission to order the “50 by 30” initiative in August of that year.

In 2016, Malliotakis received a score of 70 from the EPL/Environmental Advocates Scorecard, receiving points for voting for the Child Safe Products Act, a “super bill,” but losing points for voting against the Climate and Community Protection Act and a reduction on mercury in lightbulbs.

Despite her vote against the Climate and Community Protection Act, Malliotakis believes “that global warming is real and humans contribute to it,” Ryan said. “Her Assembly District was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and is still recovering from the damage.”

The Massey campaign followed up with Gotham Gazette to say that Massey "supports the Paris Agreement and believes that climate change is real. He is also concerned about the effect on business that such agreements can impose, and would address these issues as mayor with tax abatements and incentives to companies that are following best practice regarding the environment."

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with further comment from the Massey campaign.

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Republican Mayoral Candidates Noncommittal on De Blasio Paris Climate Order Fri, 02 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New York’s Next Climate and Community Protections http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6397-new-york-s-next-climate-and-community-protections http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6397-new-york-s-next-climate-and-community-protections NYRenews3


A major shift in the climate debate is taking place across New York and a new front in the discussion is emerging. No longer faraway images of drowning polar bears and epic glacial melt, climate change has moved into our own backyards, devastating our local neighborhoods. And no one knows this better than New York’s working families.

Extreme weather destroys upstate farmers’ crops and keeps hourly employees from getting to work. Air pollution exacerbates chronic health conditions, triggering asthma attacks and other health problems, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. And when a major storm hits, working families, particularly those from communities of color, are the last to see relief.

What once was solely an environmental debate for some has been transformed into an economic and social justice one. The frontlines of the crisis have made this so.

It was especially apparent here in New York during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Both storms caused massive flooding, knocked out power and water supplies, and displaced tens of thousands of families. Long-standing issues with toxic mold were revealed and compounded, and rodent infestations surged.

These problems were uncovered and exacerbated by storms like Irene and Sandy but they were not new. Policy choices and disinvestment in infrastructure over the last decade have caused working families across New York to live in an ongoing state of neglect, putting them at a disproportionate risk during major weather events.

But our future is not written in stone, and it’s time we bring justice and opportunity to the working people who are most impacted by climate change.

That’s why a coalition of more than 70 organizations including the most influential community leaders, grassroots activists, unions, and environmental justice advocates have banded together to stem the tide of climate change in New York. They are workers, immigrants, and people of color from both upstate and downstate New York. And they are throwing their support behind the strongest climate protection bill in the country – the NYS Climate & Community Protection Act (A.10342/S.8005).

This bill would make Governor Cuomo’s climate and clean energy commitments legally enforceable and set specific benchmarks and reporting requirements to ensure emissions reductions and rapid deployment of clean, renewable energy. And it would ensure the new clean energy economy creates good jobs by applying a prevailing wage to both construction and operations projects that include energy spending. In short, it would clean our air, improve our health, make our communities safer, and create new opportunities with a next-generation green economy.

The NYS Climate & Community Protection Act recently passed the state Assembly after a massive convergence of New Yorkers at the state Capitol demanded lawmakers support the bill. It is now being moved through the state Senate by Senator Diane Savino, who championed the 2014 Community Risk and Resiliency Act that was signed into law just after the People's Climate March, along with cosponsors Senators Tony Avella and Brad Hoylman.

We have an opportunity right now to set an example for the rest of the country to follow. The time is now for New York to rise to the occasion and make our state the gold standard for clean, renewable energy. That’s why we’re calling on Governor Cuomo and the rest of the state’s lawmakers to see this bill through, so New Yorkers get the climate change protections they need and New York gets the next-generation green economy it deserves.

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Elizabeth Yeampierre is executive director of UPROSE. On Twitter @yeampierre.
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez is president of the New York State Nurses Association. On Twitter @NYSNA.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York’s Next Climate and Community Protections Wed, 15 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 5-9 http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5928-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-october-5-9 http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5928-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-october-5-9 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 9

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio pitches his rezoning plans in East New York, via Chang W. Lee for the New York Times; charter school supporters rally in Brooklyn, via Eva Moskowitz; Gov. Cuomo and former VP Al Gore celebrate a climate change-prevention announcement, via the governor's office

BdB East NY Chang W Lee NYT

charter rally

Cuomo Gore climate change

 

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Cuomo On Climate Change: On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with former Vice President Al Gore, announced four actions to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across New York State. Cuomo signed the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding, reaffirming his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. By signing the ‘Under 2 MOU,’ Cuomo committed New York to the global effort to keep the earth’s average temperature from rising two degrees. The governor reiterated several measures that will make up New York’s efforts to do so, including an increase in the cultivation and use of solar power.

2. Charter School Politics: A large pro-charter school rally led by Families for Excellent Schools was held on Wednesday; bolstered mostly by Eva Moskowitz, who closed her Success Academy Charter Schools so that students, parents, and staff would attend. Moskowitz accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of going back on his word to find space for seven new elementary charter schools in time for them to open in August. Generally, charter supporters are upset with the mayor for being against the expansion of charter schools. Then, on Thursday, Moskowitz announced that she will not be running for mayor in 2017, despite speculation that, as one of Mayor de Blasio’s biggest critics, she was going to run.

3. New Info In Deadly Brooklyn Explosion: On Thursday, fire marshals eliminated natural gas as a possible cause of the explosion in Brooklyn last Saturday that destroyed a three-story building, killed two, and injured thirteen. Investigators are now looking into whether some type of accelerant or fuel was involved in the blast. FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said information from the investigation and “examination of the building gas meters, found that there was no natural gas flowing to the second-floor apartment (where the fire originated) since June 26.”

4. MTA Funding Feud Continues: Governor Cuomo again took issue with Mayor de Blasio over funding the MTA in a WNYC interview on Tuesday. Cuomo and the head of the MTA, the governor’s appointee, are demanding the city contribute about $3 billion more. De Blasio is apparently offering over $2 billion, a major increase from previous commitments, but is saying he wants assurances that Cuomo will not remove any money from the MTA budget as he has done repeatedly in the past. The sniping continues.

5. Staten Island Family Justice Center Finally Breaks Ground: After years of delays, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, and others gathered on Monday for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, largely focused on domestic violence prevention and response. The center is the first of its kind on Staten Island, following the lead of every other borough in the city, each of which already has such a center dedicated to providing comprehensive civil legal, criminal justice, and social services free of charge to victims of domestic abuse, sex trafficking, and elderly abuse.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 1.5 million New Yorker City residents live in overcrowded (more than one occupant per room) or “severely overcrowded” (at least 1.5 occupants per room) situations, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer
  • 282,000 domestic violence incidents were filed by the NYPD in 2014 - roughly 800 per day.
  • $11.7 million in earmarks have been awarded to State Senator Jeff Klein over the last three years - more than triple the amount of any other senator.
  • 32% of the newest class of NYPD officers are Latino, the highest ever percentage ever. The new class of NYPD recruits hail from 36 countries, speak 22 languages, and are 20% women.
  • 68 is how old NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton turned this Tuesday. Commissioner Bratton has 45 years of policing under his belt as of this week.
  • $155 million will be spent by the city over the next year to fix up more than 35 parks in high-poverty areas.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time four years ago, on October 7, 2011, the NYPD busted a Queens-based identity theft and retail crime ring, arresting over 110 people - the largest identity theft ring in the history of the United States at the time, making an annual profit of over $13 million.
  • Around this time two years ago, on October 9, 2013, a 'Times Square Elmo' was sent to jail for a year for trying to extort $2 million from the Girl Scouts of the USA.
  • Around this time last year, on October 7, 2014, the family of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold while wrestling Garner to the ground in order to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, filed a claim to sue the city over his death.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Progressive Critics Largely Convinced by Cuomo's Wage Push, by David Howard King

Buffalo Billion Boss Offers, Cancels Interview; Claims 'Threat of Jail', by David Howard King

City Council Takes Aggressive Role in Workplace Issues, by Samar Khurshid

A Better Way to Fund the MTA, by Assembly Member Dan Quart (opinion)

Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon, by David Howard King

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • The New York Times' Liz Harris looks at the city's dual-language programs
  • WNYC's Beth Fertig reports from a "renewal school" in the Bronx
  • The Daily News' Harry Siegel writes about police-community relations in East New York

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 5-9 Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:32:01 +0000