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New York's climate change efforts targeting buildings, city's biggest greenhouse gas emitters

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a city-wide mandate requiring New York's buildings to become more energy efficient, reducing carbon emissions.
New York's buildings are its biggest caise of carbom emissions, officials said. Photo: David Ingram

The biggest cause of carbon emissions in New York is not the cars that clog the city streets, but the buildings that make up the iconic skyline — and to combat that, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday the first city-wide mandate to make buildings become more energy efficient.

“We love our skyline, we look to it with pride, but we also have to be honest — that’s part of the problem and needs to be addressed,” de Blasio said.

Speaking in front of the water at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, de Blasio announced the initiative requiring building retrofits to boilers, water heaters, roofs and windows in order to meet strict fossil fuel use targets by 2030. 

If building owners fail to meet these targets, they’ll face serious fines, he said. The owner of a one million square-foot building would pay as much as $2 million in fines every year if they do not conform to the new standards.

The initiative is intended to show that New York is a leader in fighting climate change as the effort on the federal level has stymied.

“Today’s announcement is the first in a series. We will have a lot more to say as we come up on 90 days since President Trump tragically started the process of taking the U.S. out of the Paris Accord,” de Blasio said.

“It’s a sad statement that the actions of the President of the United States are putting his own home town at risk, but that’s the truth,” the mayor continued. “By stepping away from the Paris Agreement, President Trump has endangered New York City, but New York City is not going to take it lying down. We’re taking matters into our own hands.”

The average cost of retrofitting a building depends on its size, officials said, but for smaller buildings, the cost can reach around $15,000 for minor upgrades. For building owners with limited means, the city will provide low-interest loans for the upfront costs.

“Then, they will benefit from the cost savings,” de Blasio said. “Any time you retrofit, you reduce your energy use, and it ultimately pays for itself.”

For the “big landlords,” the mayor said, “they have the money, they can make these changes.”

The city says it will work to ensure that the retrofits do not cause landlords to raise their rents. There’s no need to burden tenants, de Blasio said, because landlords will ultimately get their money back. Making a building more energy efficient also lowers bills for residents, officials said.

The initiative will help create 17,000 green jobs, the city estimates. Through a previously announced initiative, the city pays for training to prepare New York residents to do this kind of work.

New York believes that it can reach a higher goal than the requirements outlined in the Paris Agreement, de Blasio said, and tackling building emissions will help that effort. The mandated fossil fuel caps will apply to all buildings over 25,000 square feet, with the plan focusing on the 14,500 buildings that are the “worst offenders,” producing nearly one-quarter of the city’s emissions.

“If we want to visualize what this one single change would mean to the city, why this is the single most powerful action — this change to our buildings is equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road in this city each year,” the mayor said.

The mayor’s office will work with City Council to pass this legal mandate in the coming months, de Blasio said, “because we know time is not on our side. We have to act urgently.” 

 
 
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