Two Pieces of Good News for the Climate

Photo via New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Facebook page.

With two separate blows, New York State has moved to block energy derived from burning fossil fuels.

After a 5-year battle fought by local environmental groups and eventually the State, plans have fallen through to upgrade a facility at the Port of Albany so it could process heavy crude oil from the Canadian tar sands. Massachusetts-based Global Companies has finally walked away from its legal fight to install boilers at the port, which would have been necessary to prepare the crude for rail transport.

Opponents of the upgrade maintained that the facility would threaten the Hudson River, and contribute to global climate change. Continue reading “Two Pieces of Good News for the Climate”

UPDATE: State Senate Votes To Stop NYC From Enacting Plastic Bag Fee

(This story was updated on 1/20/17 at 3pm.)

The New York State Senate passed a bill this week that seeks to bar New York City from enacting fees to curb the use of disposable grocery bags in favor of more environmentally-friendly, reusable alternatives.

The State Senate has passed legislation introduced by Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn which prohibits the “imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” Felder’s bill seeks to reverse an about to go into effect 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags provided by New York City retailers.

Felder’s bill passed Tuesday (1/17). There is a similar bill in the State Assembly, sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Cusick of Staten Island. The Assembly bill is currently in the Cities Committee.

To become law, the bills would have to be passed by both houses of the legislature, and then signed by the Governor.

Do you have an opinion about this issue? Today’s the day to express it. Find the contact info for your State Senator here. Find your State Assemblymember here.

New York City’s Bag Fee On The Line
Proponents of New York City’s plastic bag fee, which passed the City Council 28-20 last May, say it will rein in the ubiquitous use of shopping bags — that pile up every year in landfills — and bring New York in line with cities like San Francisco and Washington D.C., which have passed similar legislation. Spearheaded by Council Member Brad Lander, the new five-cent fee on paper and plastic shopping bags is supposed to go into effect on February 15th.

Strictly speaking, the 5-cent fee is not a tax. The money is kept by retailers, and does not go back to the City. After the fee was passed, Senator Felder told The New York Times that it was “nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class — the most disadvantaged people.”

New York City residents purchasing groceries with food stamps or via the WIC program are actually exempt from the fee, as are soup kitchens. The 5-cent charge does not apply to bags obtained from pharmacies, produce and liquor stores.

“Anti-Environment Power Grab”
Council Member Lander described Senator Felder’s bill as a “small-minded, pro-waste, plastic-industry-funded, undemocratic, anti-environment power-grab.”

“With Trump and the GOP Congress rolling back climate protections and bullying cities, it would be shameful for Albany to join them. Don’t they have more important work to do?” Lander asked in a recent statement.

“New York State legislators who care about the environment must defend the right of localities to advance effective, forward-looking environmental policy,” Lander continued.

The fierce debate over the bill exposes broader disagreement regarding how New York City should reduce its production of solid waste. The de Blasio administration has set the highly ambitious goal of sending zero solid waste to landfills by 2030 — only 13 years away.

Every day, roughly 21,000 tons of residential and commercial trash is moved by truck, barge and rail out of New York City. While only a fraction of our overall waste output, plastic bags have become symbolic of the city’s larger struggle with trash.

New Yorkers use 5.2 billion carryout bags per year, the majority of which are not recycled, says Bag It NYC, a coalition of community-based organizations which has supported the fee. The City pays an estimated $10 million to transport 100,000 tons of plastic bags to out-of-state landfills every year, they say.

Unfairly Impacting Low-Income New Yorkers?
Southern Brooklyn lawmakers have led the way in arguing that the plastic bag fee would disproportionately impact low-income and elderly New Yorkers.

In the State Assembly, the effort to reverse the bag fee is supported by Steven Cymbrowitz, Dov Hikind, Peter J. Abbate, William Colton, Jaime Williams, Nicole Malliotakis and Pamela Harris of Southern Brooklyn, along with Walter Mosley of Fort Greene, Erik Dilan of North Brooklyn, Maritza Davila of Bushwick and Charles Barron of East New York.

New York City Council Members Mathieu Eugene (Flatbush) and David Greenfield (Midwood) voted against the bag fee last year. Jumaane Williams (Flatbush) came out in support of the fee — after supporting legislation was amended to require that a study be conducted of its impact on low-income New Yorkers.

Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who represents sections of Midwood, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, said he supports measures to protect the environment, but that the law should be written to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags, not punish those who don’t.

Similarly, Council Member Mark Treyger of Coney Island acknowledged that some higher-end grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, reward customers who use reusable bags, but he maintained that “for residents of Southern Brooklyn, this is not an equitable solution.”

Council Member Lander’s office notes that fees like the one passed by the City Council “have been proven to reduce the consumption of plastic bags by 60% – 90%. Across age, race, religion, and neighborhood…”

Officials from Washington, DC, which has a large low-income population, testified at a New York City Council hearing in 2014 that their five cent bag fee has been successful across all of Washington’s income groups.

The District’s Department of Environment (DDOE) commissioned a survey in 2013 which found that 83 percent of residents and 90 percent of businesses said they either supported the bag fee or had no strong feelings about it. Eight out of ten residents said they had reduced their use of disposable bags because of the fee.

What do you think about the plastic bag fee? How do you feel about the State Senate and Assembly’s efforts to reverse it?

(Alex Ellefson contributed reporting for this story.)

Despite National Uncertainty, Cuomo Plans Surge In Off-Shore Wind Power

While the incoming Trump administration says that it will promote investment in fossil fuels, New York State is planning to head the other way and lead the nation in wind power generation.

In his 2017 State of the State address this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed that New York build 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 — including a 90 megawatt project off Montauk, Long Island and an 800 MW project off the Rockaway Peninsula.

The Governor’s office said that the state’s plan is the “largest commitment [to off-shore wind] in U.S. history.” If all 2.4 gigawatts of wind power are developed, an estimated 1.25 million New York households would no longer rely on fossil fuels as their source of electricity.

Cuomo described wind as an “untapped resource” for New York.

“New York’s unparalleled commitment to offshore wind power will create new, high-paying jobs, reduce our carbon footprint, establish a new, reliable source of energy for millions of New Yorkers, and solidify New York’s status as a national clean energy leader,” the Governor said.

New York State Moves Ahead With Transition To Renewable Energy

Ramping up wind power will be critical to New York’s objective that 50 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030.

Looking further ahead, Governor Cuomo said he has directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Energy Research and Development Authority to “determine the most rapid, cost-effective, and responsible pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide.”

The State Assembly has already passed a bill which would commit New York State to the use of 100 percent renewables by 2050. Environmental advocates are urging the Governor to support the bill.

Long Island To Become Wind Power Hub

By the end of 2017, the state says it will complete an “Offshore Wind Master Plan” for the Long Island coast, which has “some of the most favorable conditions for offshore wind in the United States.”

Cuomo said the state is determined to ensure that all of New York’s off-shore wind projects are both cost-effective and environmentally responsible, and developed in “close collaboration” with local communities. The Governor’s office specifically mentioned its intent to work with fishermen and others in the maritime industries who could be negatively impacted by off-shore wind arrays.

The Governor also promised that the arrays will not be visible from the coast as new turbine foundation technology enables construction in deeper water.

helicopter_wind_turbines

As a first step, Cuomo called on the Long Island Power Authority to approve a 90 MW offshore wind project 30 miles southeast of Montauk. The project has the potential to be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm, and is located in an area that can host up to 1,000 MW of offshore wind power.

According to the Governor’s office, the Montauk wind farm is the “most innovative and least cost way to meet the growing power needs of the South Fork and to provide cleaner energy for Long Island.” Contract negotiations are reportedly close to final, and LIPA will vote on the project at its January meeting.

Governor Cuomo also called on state agencies to ensure that a 79,000 acre site, 17 miles south of the Rockaway Peninsula, is developed to generate approximately 800 megawatts of wind power.

Last month, the international energy company Statoil Wind US LLC bid $42.5 million and won a federal auction for a 25-year lease to develop a wind farm on the Rockaway site.

Using Clean Energy To Grow the Economy

While it is unclear whether the incoming Trump administration will honor this country’s existing carbon reduction commitments, New York State plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and achieve the internationally-recognized target of an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The state plans to do this by overhauling New York’s energy system (our sources of power, along with the way in which energy is delivered to consumers).

The state sees the transformation of the local energy sector as an economic development tool. According to the Governor’s office, New York has already deployed $5 billion to stimulate investment in clean technologies like solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Over 105,000 low-income households across New York have permanently cut their power bills with energy efficiency assistance from the state. Those savings can then be used by families for other goods and services, and reinvested in the local economy.

The state is also anticipating ongoing job gains in manufacturing, engineering and other sectors related to clean energy, and points to the solar industry as an example of potential growth.

Since the start of 2012, New York has seen a 750 percent increase in megawatts of installed solar. New York’s solar industry is now the fourth largest in the nation and currently employs more than 8,250 workers, an increase of more than 3,000 jobs since 2013.

Can New York lead the country in linking job growth with fighting climate change? And can it do so in the face of federal ambivalence, or worse? Andrew Cuomo is betting yes.

Cuomo Can Bypass Trump’s Anti-Climate Agenda Now, Lawmakers & Activists Say

With President-elect Trump’s inauguration only days away, individual states are preparing to lead the way on responding to climate change – how to prepare for it, and how to reduce its worst effects by cutting carbon emissions.

New York State has already shown that it is prepared to prioritize human health over fossil fuel extraction with its refusal in 2014 to permit high-volume fracking. Now Governor Cuomo is being urged to support what advocates say is the “most ambitious climate legislation in the country” – the Climate and Community Protection Act.

Details on the Bill

The bill, which has already passed the New York State Assembly, has four key objectives:

• Commit New York State to the use of 100% renewable energy by 2050, and 50% by 2030;
• Dedicate 40% or more of climate investments to environmental justice and low income communities;
• Create good local jobs in clean energy, and protections for workers impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels; and
• Use funding to “accelerate a worker and community-centered transition to a sustainable economy.”

Read the text of the legislation here.

“New Yorkers have witnessed firsthand the devastating loss of life, homes and livelihoods caused by Superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee,” said Assemblymember Steve Englebright after the bill passed the Assembly in June. Englebright chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation committee and is the bill’s lead sponsor.

“These extreme weather events are related to climate change…storms, the migration of lobsters to cooler waters, new pests, and threats to public health all point to the undeniable fact that climate change is happening now, not in some distant future,” he continued.

“This legislation includes provisions to both minimize the potential impacts of climate change and address the impacts that cannot be mitigated. It will also advance environmental justice and provide new well-paying jobs in the field of clean energy,” Englebright concluded.

The Climate & Community Protection Act is also being pushed by NY Renews, which describes itself as a multi-sector, statewide coalition of 100 environmental, social, labor and economic justice organizations.

The group’s stated mission is to “move New York State’s economy off of fossil fuels and foster a just transition to renewable energy.”

Lawmakers and activists are urging Governor Cuomo to include the legislation in his 2017 budget. In the State Senate, a bipartisan majority reportedly supports the bill.

New Yorkers can contact the Governor’s office at (518) 474-8390, or via his webform, to share their thoughts.

The National Context

New York State has already set the goal of an 80 percent cut in fossil fuel emissions by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels), as has New York City. It is unclear if the incoming Trump administration will have any objectives related to climate change.

Trump has stated publicly that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, and that the U.S. should exit the Paris Climate Accords. He has appointed a series of fossil fuel advocates to high-level cabinet posts, including Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil as the new U.S. Secretary of State; former Texas governor Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy; and Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the central arguments used to delay action on climate change is that cutting back on fossil fuel use and extraction will harm the U.S. economy and cause job loss.

NY Renews, which arose from organizing around the 2014 People’s Climate March, argues that New York State will be able to address climate change and socio-economic inequality with the same set of policies.

The coalition says that an economy centered around renewable energy has the potential to revitalize many local communities, and create thousands of new jobs, with the added benefit that jobs in solar, wind and hydro are safer for workers than jobs in the fossil fuel industry.

“This legislation offers tremendous opportunities to preserve and expand our workforce,” said Assemblymember Michele Titus, chair of the State Assembly’s Labor committee. “As our state begins to rely more on renewable energy, the demand for quality skilled jobs will also increase, offering hardworking New York families the job security they need and deserve.”

Five Things To Focus On As We Prepare For A Trump Presidency

Like everyone else, I have spent the last two weeks trying to wrap my head around the results of the presidential elections.

Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s election is a huge setback for this country’s efforts to come to grips with our changing climate and threatened natural environment.

Among my colleagues at NYER, there is a range of political opinions, but we are clear on the primacy of science, and everyone’s need for a healthy environment. The vast majority of the scientific community has been sounding an alarm for years that if our planet is to support future generations, we have to change course now, especially when it comes to fossil fuels.

For the time being, this country’s incoming leadership refuses to acknowledge the profound importance, and compromised state, of our environment. In light of that, here are five things that I am personally taking to heart as we head into 2017.

To be clear, these are my opinions, based on what I’ve learned as a reporter and as a person.

I really hope you’ll send us your feedback. And we’ll do our very best to keep covering the environmental issues — like air and water quality, trash management & recycling, energy supply, and climate resiliency — that impact readers in the metro area.

1.) We are not alone — there is a global environmental movement

greenpeace 3
Local villagers celebrate the Indian government’s September decision to stop a coal company from mining in the Mahan forests of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. (Photo: Greenpeace)

There is not enough media coverage of the fact that people of all backgrounds are engaged in important environmental work across the world. You can hear their voices and stories from organizations like Greenpeace International, and news outlets like Democracy Now, which reported directly from the U.N. climate talks in Morocco last week.

iowa water
Activists protesting construction of the Iowa section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Opposition to the pipeline in Iowa has not attracted as much media attention as the protests in North Dakota. (Photo via Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Facebook page.)

There are a myriad of important and useful ways we can support — and be a part of — the global environmental movement in the next year.

For starters, citizens of this country can contact incoming members of Congress, and the new administration, to voice their opinion on whether the U.S. should remain an active participant in the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, and its 2015 Paris Agreement.

“Will that accomplish anything?” a friend said to me the other day. Well, the alternative is that we remain silent as the Trump administration tries to pull the U.S. out of the global climate accords. Consider this: 48 nations — including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines — promised to “rapidly move to 100% renewable power” at the UN climate summit last week, the Guardian reported.

It’s worth noting that significant public resistance to the Keystone Pipeline paved the way for the Obama administration to squash it, and, yes, this battle may very well be fought again.

(There are more ideas on what we can do below.)

2.) The majority of the American people accept the reality of climate change, and want to address it.

people-climate-march
Over 400,000 participated in the September, 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. There were solidarity actions in 160 countries the same day.

According to a Gallup Poll earlier this year, 65 percent of Americans now say that increases in the earth’s temperature over the last century are primarily attributable to human activities, rather than natural causes.

This represents a “striking” 10-percentage-point increase in the past year and is four points above the previous high of 61 percent in 2007, Gallup reports.

64 percent of U.S. adults told Gallup they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming — the highest reading since 2008.

3.) The facts, and science, will have the last word.

Satellite view of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Satellite view of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

According to an analysis released this month by the World Meteorological Organization, the planet just had its hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year, which will be beat by 2016.

“The effects of climate change have been consistently visible on the global scale since the 1980s,” the WMO reported, pointing to “rising global temperature, both over land and in the ocean; sea-level rise; and the widespread melting of ice. It has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods.”

The WMO singled out Superstorm Sandy as one of several “high-impact” global weather events whose likelihood was increased by climate change.

The October 29th, 2012 storm caused the deaths of 43 New York City residents and created $19 billion in economic damage in the five boroughs. Sandy had a ‘storm tide’ over 14 feet above Mean Low Water at the Battery. Fifty-one square miles of New York City flooded during the storm, 17 percent of the city’s total land mass.

4.) Local action is going to matter — a lot.

Cuomo_Fracking
When the gas industry first indicated that they wanted to carry out high-volume hydraulic fracturing in upstate New York, it was hard to imagine that a grassroots movement of regular people could stop it.

Some of this country’s most populous states — like California and New York — are moving ahead now to cut carbon emissions, and transform their energy supplies. How much will it matter? I heard a participant at the U.N. climate talks last week argue that local governments in the U.S. could accomplish half of our carbon reduction commitments, as per the Paris Agreement, without federal support.

In the next 14 years, New York State is planning to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, relative to 1990 levels. And the State says that half of New York’s electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The State’s long-term goal is to decrease total carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The City of New York has similar goals, and says it is looking even further ahead to a 100 percent carbon free future, along with zero waste to landfills by 2030.

Undoubtedly, there are many hard questions to be asked about how, for example, the State is reconfiguring our energy markets, and whether New York City can get to a zero waste future. But, we are arguably on the road.

5.) Building an environmentally sustainable society will be a long, challenging process, but we already knew that.

tree planting
Since 2007, almost 50,000 citizen volunteers have helped plant more than one million new trees across New York City.

Building a truly sustainable society — which is not a net drain on the planet — could take generations. That was true before November 8th, and remains so.

And as quixotic as it may seem, we know that it’s worth it. Every child — and every adult — deserves a fighting chance at a decent life, which will not be possible on a degraded planet.

How can we participate? Here are just a few suggestions that show the wide range of actions (personal, and as part of a group) that we can take:

  • call your senators and congresspeople and tell them what you think about retaining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the Clean Power Plan.
  • support candidates at all levels of government who share your views on clean energy, waste reduction, and strong protections for air and water
  • better yet, run for public office yourself!
  • get involved with and/or donate funds to national environmental advocacy organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and 350.org; and local groups like Environmental Advocates of New York and the NY League of Conservation Voters.
  • talk with your friends, neighbors and co-workers about climate change, and share fact-based information
  • participate in community meetings with local officials about issues like cleaning up polluted waterways and climate resiliency planning. If you live in NYC, these meetings are often sponsored by your local community board
  • learn about ways to reduce energy and water use, and generate less trash at home
  • participate in a neighborhood clean-up day
  • talk with the children in your life about environmental issues
  • you tell us — what can people do?

 

Finally, here are some interesting thoughts from Randy Cohen, who used to write The Ethicist column for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. In November, 2008, a Texas woman wrote to Cohen for advice because her neighbors had decided to lease their land for gas drilling, and she was under pressure to join them.

“For environmental reasons, we strongly oppose this drilling,” the woman wrote on behalf of herself and her partner. She asked Cohen if holding out, while all her neighbors went ahead, was a futile, meaningless gesture.

Cohen responded, in part:

“It is understandable that you feel powerless in the face of community-wide sentiment…but you should not sign the lease…

To fail to resist what you see as injustice simply because you fear that you cannot win the fight assures the very defeat you dread.

If nothing else, this is a short term view. Political struggle is long. Even if you lose the first battle, you fight on, and by resisting from the outset, you shape the conditions of that struggle.

The most potent argument for your declining to sign what you regard as a devil’s bargain is this: It violates your own principles…Ethics concerns our actions, not just our arguments.”

 

And so this next chapter in our history begins. As this post was being finished, President Obama moved to prohibit any new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, one of his last actions before leaving office.

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Photo: Greenpeace

Air Quality Advisory Today; 7th Alert Issued This Month

An Ozone Air Quality Advisory has been issued today for the New York City metro-area and Long Island.

The advisory applies to the five boroughs, Westchester and Rockland counties, and Long Island, including Nassau and Suffolk counties. Ozone is a powerful oxidant that can cause muscles in the airways to constrict, and make breathing more difficult.

The alert has been issued by the New York State departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, and is in effect today until 11 p.m.

It is the seventh such advisory issued this month, and (according to our count) the 14th advisory since the beginning of May.

Ozone Is A Public Health Issue

Ozone is considered to be a “dangerous” ground-level air pollutant. The New York City-metro area, like many other U.S. urban areas, is currently in “non-attainment” of 2008 federal ozone standards.

[The pollutant ozone is distinct from the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere. Ozone pollution is caused by auto exhaust and larger pollution sources, such as power plants burning fossil fuels. Ozone levels are also directly tied to higher temperatures.]

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) reports that ozone exposure causes “more than 400 premature deaths, 850 hospitalizations for asthma and 4,500 emergency department visits for asthma annually.”

Roughly 1 in 10 emergency room visits for asthma in the city are attributable to ozone pollution. “Ozone levels are one of the most serious air pollutants in New York City,” a spokesman for the DOH told this reporter in a 2014 interview.

Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx have all received “F’s” for their number of high ozone days between 2012 and 2014, according to the most recent analysis by the American Lung Association.

Data on ozone pollution in Brooklyn was not available.

Hard To Control

Unlike other air pollutants, ozone is not directly emitted by pollution sources — it is formed in the air during smog conditions.

High temperatures (over 80°F) and sunlight react with emissions from vehicles and smokestacks to form ozone. Hydrocarbons such as gasoline vapors and nitrogen dioxide – what the state calls “ozone precursors”- can help to trigger the gas.

According to the state, automobile exhaust and out-of-state emission sources (such as power plants) are the primary sources of ground‑level ozone.

New York City has made major progress in reducing levels of other air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter. Cutting ozone levels, especially because they are partially caused by out-of-state pollution sources, remains a huge challenge.

Take precautions- especially when ozone levels peak

Young children, those who exercise outdoors, those who work outside, and/or persons with respiratory disease (such as asthma) are being asked to consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity when ozone levels are the highest (generally afternoon to early evening).

When outdoor levels of ozone are elevated, going indoors will usually reduce your exposure. Individuals experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing should consider consulting their doctor, say state officials.

Ozone levels generally decrease at night. They can be minimized during daylight hours by the reduction of pollution from cars and other vehicles, for instance.

New Yorkers can help reduce ozone levels by using mass transit and conserving energy

State regulators are urging New Yorkers to:

  • use mass transit or carpool instead of driving, as automobile emissions account for about 60 percent of pollution in our cities;
  • conserve fuel and reduce exhaust emissions by combining necessary motor vehicle trips;
  • turn off all lights and electrical appliances in unoccupied areas;
  • use fans to circulate air. If air conditioning is necessary, set thermostats at 78 degrees;
  • close the blinds and shades to limit heat build-up and to preserve cooled air;
  • limit use of household appliances. If necessary, run appliances at off-peak (after 7 p.m.) hours. This includes dishwashers, dryers, pool pumps and water heaters;
  • set refrigerators and freezers at more efficient temperatures;
  • purchase and install energy efficient lighting and appliances with the Energy Star label; and
  • reduce or eliminate outdoor burning and attempt to minimize indoor sources of PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter pollution] such as smoking.

More helpful info from state regulators

The State issues Air Quality Health Advisories when Department of Environmental Conservation meteorologists predict levels of pollution, either ozone or fine particulate matter, which “are expected to exceed an Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 100.”

The AQI was created as a way to correlate levels of different pollutants to one scale, with a higher AQI value indicating a greater health concern.

A toll‑free Air Quality Hotline (1-800-535-1345) has been established by the DEC to keep New Yorkers informed of the latest Air Quality situation.

Further information on ozone and PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter pollution] is available on DEC’s web site and on the state Department of Health website.

Statewide Drought Watch In Effect; First Time In 14 Years

New York State needs more rain.

For the first time in 14 years, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a drought watch for all 62 counties.

Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state DEC, made the announcement last Friday.

“While most public water supplies are still generally normal throughout the state, below normal precipitation over the last 9 months, low stream flows, and reduced groundwater levels have prompted the need for this action,” Commissioner Seggos said.

A watch is the first of four levels of state drought advisories (“watch,” “warning,” “emergency” and “disaster”). The hardest hit areas in the state thus far are Western New York and the central Southern Tier, reports the Albany Times Union.

The DEC is not issuing any mandatory water use restrictions at the moment, but said that local public water suppliers “may require such measures.”

Water levels in the reservoirs that supply New York City’s drinking water are currently normal.

Precipitation Deficit

There is a “significant precipitation deficit…a lack of rain,” a staff member from the DEC’s Bureau of Water Resource Management told us. Rain shortfalls of 4 to 8 inches have been common over the last three months, the DEC said in a statement.

The dry weather dates back to October 1st — the start of the “water year” — and is beginning to significantly affect other water metrics, the agency said.

Stream flows and groundwater levels are “well below normal” throughout much of the state. Groundwater levels were seasonally worse in June compared to May and they are not expected to improve in the immediate future due to the existing shortfall, the DEC reported.

How You Can Help

The drought watch is expected to continue through the summer. The state has issued water conservation tips that “homeowners can take to voluntarily reduce their water usage”:

  • Fix dripping and leaking faucets and toilets. A faucet leaking 30 drops per minute wastes 54 gallons a month.
  • Raise your lawn mower cutting height. Longer grass needs less water.
  • Water lawns and gardens on alternate mornings instead of every day. Less frequent watering will develop grass with deeper roots, and early morning watering minimizes evaporation.
  • When using automatic lawn watering systems, override the system in wet weather or use a rain gauge to control when and how much water to use. A fixed watering schedule wastes water. Irrigate only when needed.
  • Sweep sidewalks and steps rather than hosing them. Eliminating a weekly 5-minute pavement hose-down could save between 625 and 2500 gallons of water per year depending on the flow rate.

More water saving tips can be found here.

More information on how drought can impact New York State can be seen here.

“We are encouraging residents throughout the state to conserve water whenever possible during the coming months,” Commissioner Seggos added.

Is Zero Waste Possible? Challenge To NYC Businesses Yields Encouraging Results

The de Blasio administration has pledged that by 2030, none of the city’s trash will find its way to a landfill or incinerator.

It’s a daunting task — New York City’s homes, businesses and public institutions generate roughly 20,000 tons of waste daily. The city’s Department of Sanitation has struggled for years to achieve a 20% recycling rate for residential trash; our private sector is doing somewhat better but reliable data is hard to find.

As incredible as the Mayor’s “zero waste” pledge sounds, his sustainability team has been chipping away at the goal — through expanding the use of residential composting, finding ways to turn organic waste into energy, increasing recycling options for electronic waste, etc.

The latest effort, the City’s Zero Waste Challenge, ended last week. Thirty-one private businesses attempted to see how much they could recycle or otherwise re-use their waste between February and June 2016.

The results are intriguing. Two companies were able to divert almost 100 percent of their trash from the waste stream. Half of the companies were able to divert at least 75 percent of their waste; and the other half removed at least fifty percent.

Why Composting Matters

How were these diversion rates achieved? Much of it involved composting organic material.

According to the Mayor’s Office, the participants in the challenge collectively diverted 36,910 tons of trash that would otherwise have been sent to landfills or incinerators. Two-thirds (24,500 tons) of that waste was composted.

Another 322 tons — all food — was donated.

The greatest overall waste diversion rate (across all participants) was achieved by produce distributors D’Arrigo Brothers of New York (95%) and the Durst Organization’s property at 201 East 42nd Street (95%).

Durst also achieved a 90% diversion rate at 205 East 42nd Street.

As part of their effort, D’Arrigo Brothers donated 172 tons of food to local charities and hunger relief organizations.

Getting organic material — food, yard waste, etc. — out of the waste stream has become paramount for the de Blasio administration. An estimated one-third of the city’s trash is actually organic material.

The Mayor’s Office said in a statement that the “best new program inspired by the Zero Waste Challenge” was the Starrett-Lehigh Building’s new organics collection program, which is free to all tenants and administered by RXR Realty.

Participants in the Zero Waste Challenge

Check out the greatest overall waste diversion rate achieved by type of business:

Arenas: Citi Field – 57%

Commercial tenants and building owners: Durst Organization, 201 E. 42nd Street – 95%

Food wholesalers, grocers and caterers: D’Arrigo Bros. of New York – 95%

Hotels: The Peninsula New York (66%) & Hilton Garden Inn Staten Island (66%)

Office tenants: Viacom – 87%

Restaurants/Caterers: Dig Inn Seasonal Market – 88%

TV production: Madam Secretary – 87%

Companies who achieved a 75% or more waste diversion rate:

Anheuser-Busch
Cleaver Co.
Dig Inn Seasonal Market, 509 Manida St
Durst Organization, 1 Bryant Park
Durst Organization, 114 W 47th Street
Durst Organization, 733 3rd Avenue
Etsy
Madam Secretary
Natural Resource Defense Council
Top Banana
Viacom
Sweetgreen, Columbia University

Companies who achieved a 50% or more waste diversion rate:

Disney ABC Television Group
Citi Field
COOKFOX Architects
Durst Organization, 1133 Avenue of Americas
Durst Organization, 4 Times Square
Durst Organization, 655 3rd Avenue
Hilton Garden Inn New York/Staten Island
Le Bernardin
Momofuku Milk Bar
Great Performances
Peninsula New York
The Pierre New York
USEPA, Region 2 Office
Whole Foods Market, Upper East Side
Whole Foods Market, Chelsea

Feds Host Public Meeting This Week On NYC/Long Island Wind Project

In the midst of political turbulence, the feds are continuing to plan for what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the country — right in our backyard.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is hosting a public meeting in Manhattan Wednesday night to discuss progress on the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project, which has been working its way through a multi-year review process.

Almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines could eventually be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula as part of the project. The wind farm could yield as much as 700 MW of energy—enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes.

BOEM is holding a public meeting this Wednesday evening (6/29), from 5 to 8pm, at the TKP New York Conference Center, located at 109 West 39th Street. (The meeting is in the Empire A Room.)

In the last two weeks, BOEM has held public meetings in four states (Long Branch, NJ; Hempstead and Westhampton Beach, NY; Narragansett, RI; and New Bedford, MA) in order to update the public on how the wind farm is progressing and offer additional opportunities for comment.

You can also weigh in on the project in writing — read about the public review process below.

Part Of The State’s Plan To Fight Climate Change

The Long Island – New York City wind project is intended to help New York State reach its goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

The project was launched as a collaborative effort between Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority and the New York Power Authority.

Auctioning Off Development Rights

BOEM is preparing to host a competitive auction where bidders will vie for the lease to develop wind energy in 81,130 acres of federal waters off the New York coast. The agency is also hosting a public seminar this afternoon to describe the auction format and explain the rules to participants.

Wind power is steadily becoming more commercially viable. Other potential wind farm developers have expressed interest in the site off the Rockaways, according to Tracey Moriarty, a BOEM spokeswoman.

NYER012215_01
Area off the Rockaway coast under federal review as a possible site for the installation of up to 194 wind turbines. (Courtesy: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

Developers of the Long Island – New York City project could construct as many as 194 wind turbines off the coast. The wind farm is moving through a four-step review process.

1.) Environmental & Visual Review

BOEM has conducted a preliminary environmental review of the potential impacts of a wind farm in the proposed ocean site.

Read more here about how to submit a comment on BOEM’s environmental review — the deadline is July 6th. 

What sorts of impacts could such a project have? Local wildlife habitats could be disrupted, as could commercial fishing areas.

Another possible impact is visual. BOEM has been studying the impact on views from the coastline of a hypothetical array of 100+ wind turbines measuring 577.4 feet (176 meters) from water level to blade tip, which are configured in a grid pattern with roughly 5,000 feet between turbines. The turbines are assumed to be painted pale gray per Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

The agency has generated photographs and videos to simulate views of this hypothetical wind farm under various weather conditions and times of day and night. The simulations were generated from a series of “key” observation points.

Public feedback regarding how the wind farm could impact the viewshed for coastal areas of New York and New Jersey will be used by BOEM as it finalizes the exact area of the ocean to be developed.

2.) Auction

A lease to develop the wind farm in federal waters will be issued to the winner of a competitive auction process.

The 60-day public comment period on the proposed sale of leasing rights ends on August 5, 2016. Read more here about how to submit a comment and see feedback on the project from other government agencies.

3.) Final Site Assessment

A site assessment plan will be developed, which involves the collection of more information (e.g., wind speed data, biological data) about the area proposed for development.

4.) Operations Plan & Final Review

The wind farm’s developer will submit a construction and operations plan. BOEM must then carry out a full environmental review of the project.

East Coast Cap & Trade Program Raises Millions for NYS, Clean Energy

As climate talks continue in Paris, New York and eight other mid-Atlantic states earned over $115 million this week from the sale of carbon allowances- $7 million more than projected. This week’s carbon auction, the third of four such auctions this fiscal year, was organized by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a “wildly successful” nine-state carbon trading program.

New York State’s share of the proceeds from the auction was $44.3 million. The funds will go toward energy efficiency and clean energy programs.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, is designed to both cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions emitted by participating states. Since the program’s inception, thirty RGGI auctions have collectively delivered $895 million for clean power, energy efficiency, technology innovation and green workforce development projects across New York. Projects have been initiated in every county, say advocates.

 Paying to Emit Carbon Pollution

RGGI includes New York State, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is the “first mandatory, market-based CO2 emissions reduction program in the United States.”

New Jersey was a participant in RGGI but Governor Chris Christie pulled the state out of the program in 2011.

Power plants in RGGI states must pay to emit carbon pollution. They participate in “auctions” in which they purchase “carbon allowances.” The price for these allowances is guided by a cap on how much carbon all RGGI states can collectively emit.

The idea is to keep lowering the cap in order to raise the allowance price- thus incentivizing power plants to switch to less polluting sources of energy. RGGI’s price on carbon allowances (currently $7.50 per allowance) has increased 256 percent in two years.

RGGI has implemented a new carbon emissions cap of 91 million short tons for participating states. That cap is supposed to decline 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020.

Does RGGI Work?

Supporters say RGGI is a national model for reducing carbon emissions and accelerating the use of renewable sources of energy.

Climate pollutant emissions from power plants across the region have dropped by more than 40 percent since RGGI was initiated in 2005, a coalition of 26 environmental and clean energy groups wrote in a February 10th letter to Governor Cuomo.

The program has raised almost $2 billion from auction proceeds across the nine participating states since 2008. RGGI has “defied critics by proving that reducing climate-altering pollution in a way that raises funds for clean energy is a true win-win,” says Albany watchdog group Environmental Advocates.

New York, as the largest state in the coalition, and the one with the most pollution emitted, received a little more than one-third of all RGGI proceeds in 2014. The funds are managed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

RGGI’s success has proved dangerous. In this year’s state budget, Governor Cuomo reportedly “raided” as much as $41 million (more than one-fourth of 2014’s proceeds) from RGGI, despite significant opposition. Twenty-three million of what was taken this year was to go directly to the state’s general fund to help offset “various energy related tax credits.”

Buildings = Carbon Pollution

A major portion of RGGI funds have been directed toward making the state’s residential building stock more energy efficient. New York’s buildings -residential, commercial and industrial- are the state’s second leading emitter of greenhouse gases, surpassed only by the transportation sector.

In New York City, buildings are the number one source of carbon pollution.

RGGI has paid for over 30,000 free or reduced-cost energy audits for New York State homeowners. It also helps to fund low-cost energy efficiency retrofits for single and multi-family buildings.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

As RGGI’s financial success continues, Governor Cuomo has moved to codify the goal that 50 percent of New York’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030.

The state is also calling attention to the fact that Congress passed two joint resolutions this week seeking to overturn the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which restricts carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The resolutions now head to the White House.

“The people of New York expect more out of the Republican members of the New York Congressional Delegation who voted to disapprove of the Clean Power Plan,” said Basil Seggos, acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The science has spoken and action to address climate change has bipartisan support,” Seggos continued. “It’s time for policy makers to act and protect our citizens from our uncertain climate future.”