Last Thursday, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a package of nine bills aimed at fighting climate change.
Anchoring the legislative package, called the Climate Mobilization Act, is the Clean Tower Plan, which will mandate buildings 25,000 square feet or larger reduce their carbon footprint 40 percent by 2030.
At a rally on the City Hall steps moments before the City Council passed the legislation, Councilman Costa Constantinides, chair of the Environmental Protection Committee and the author of the bill, said only 50,000 buildings are responsible for 30 percent of the city’s emissions.
“When you hear that number, it blows your mind,” he said. “This is where we had to start.”
Constantinides said the bill also calls for those buildings to reduce their carbon footprint 80 percent by 2050. When fully implemented in 2030, the reduction will be equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road, he said.
“This will be the largest emissions reduction policy, not just in New York City, but anywhere in the entire world,” he said. “It will help spark a green energy revolution in New York City.”
The Clean Tower Plan will assign a specific carbon emission reduction number to different build classes. Owners will then have flexibility on how to reach that goal.
The bill will create an Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance within the Department of Buildings, which will work with owners for this task.
The Astoria councilman also penned three other bills in the legislative package that will establish a PACE program to finance upgrades required in the plan, make it easier to erect large wind turbines and require the city to study the feasibility of closing gas-fired power plants across the city by 2021.
Other bills in the Climate Mobilization Act promote green roofs in small and large buildings and require transparency in the Office of Alternative Energy.
One resolution calls on the state to increase the tax abatement for installing green roofs to $15 per square foot. Another resolution in the package asks the state Department of Energy Conservation to block the application to construct the Williams Pipeline.
Constantinides said these pieces of legislation are necessary to tackle climate change right now. He cited a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that says the world has only 11 more years to reverse course before the effects of climate change take shape.
“Our lack of action would lead us down a path that would be a choice between ‘Mad Max’ and ‘The Hunger Games,’” he said. “We reject that, we’re going to stand up and fight.”
Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal, who has championed green roofs, said his bill will make the city more livable, especially those who are suffering “environmental injustices.”
Implementing green roofs will mean cooler neighborhoods, water retention to keep waterways cleaner and insulated buildings that produce less carbon emissions.
“This is a real Swiss Army approach to how we deal with climate change,” Espinal said.
At the rally, speakers also shared how climate change has already devastated communities, particularly when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012.
Rachel Rivera, a Brooklyn resident and a member of the group New York Communities for Change, recalled that her daughter Marisol was in her room when she heard a cracking noise.
After Rivera took her out of the bed, the roof caved in. To this day, Marisol suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, Rivera said.
“I almost lost her,” she said.
Rivera said Marisol is now in and out of the hospital because of PTSD. When it rains too hard, she begins to have flashbacks, she said.
Her other daughter, Angelina, suffers from respiratory seizures and stops breathing when it gets too hot or too cold.
“People don’t understand that this is for real,” said Rivera, who almost lost family members in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria struck.
Councilman Donovan Richards, who also wrote a green roofs bill in the Climate Mobilization Act, added that Sandy badly damaged the Rockaways.
“Communities like mine could be wiped off the map,” he said. “This is not a theoretical conversation.”
At an unrelated press conference last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said his administration worked with the Council “very closely in a lot of detail” to get to something they all agreed on.
He noted that there was a lot of discussion with the private sector and the real estate community, but “in the end, this is an existential threat.”
“This is about survival,” de Blasio said. “If you look at the plan, there’s plenty of time for businesses to adapt to it, but it’s not an option to ignore this threat.
“We baked in very serious penalties if any building owners don’t take it seriously,” the mayor added, “because we just don’t have a choice.”