Jan 4 2014
Environmental Groups Await de Blasio’s First Steps
Photo credit: Steve Sands  via Getty Images
January 4, 2014
Environmental Groups Await de Blasio’s First Steps

Category

Government
In his inaugural address, Bill de Blasio spoke of his commitment to building on Mayor Bloomberg’s substantial efforts to safeguard New York City’s environmental and public health.

But where will he start? How exactly will de Blasio approach PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s far-reaching and multi-year sustainability plan for the city? And how does de Blasio plan to protect New York City residents from the mounting effects of climate change and other environmental challenges, such as air and water pollution?

Another question is what de Blasio really thinks about the city’s increasing dependence on natural gas, and pending gas infrastructure projects like the Rockaway pipeline and a liquid natural gas port off the New York coast.

In a post on New York League of Conservation Voters’ blog, Dan Hendrick, the League’s vice president for external affairs laid out the first steps he believes the new mayor will need to take.

“Key personnel appointments” will set the tone, Hendrick said.

An “important office that environmentalists are watching” is the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Hendrick added. “The agency oversees the city’s water supply and sewers, and plays a key role in protecting water quality in the New York Harbor. As of now, Commissioner Carter Strickland, who was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, remains on the job,” he stated.

And how will the new mayor approach planning for New York City’s future in the era of climate change, rising sea levels and more extreme weather?

Hendrick notes the importance of who is appointed Director of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability . “This office helps set broad sustainability policies and helps city leaders monitor progress of environmental initiatives,” he said.

“The Director of Resiliency — who heads the city’s efforts to prepare for a changing climate — will be in this office as well,” he added.

What about the ongoing battle to make New York City’s streets more livable for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers? The new mayor has appointed a successor to Janette Sadik-Khan, who attracted so much attention for her installation of bike lanes and new traffic patterns throughout the five boroughs.

Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio named Polly Trottenberg as Transportation Commissioner. Hendrick reports that Trottenberg is a “veteran” policy maker, who is currently the Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He adds that, “her resume includes stints with the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Sen. Chuck Schumer.”

And will de Blasio continue the striking advances made by Bloomberg and the City Council in terms of mandating organic waste recycling and converting waste into energy?

Hendrick says that Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty will stay in place for now. “But the broader direction of De Blasio’s solid waste program has yet to take shape,” he points out. “Solid waste was an issue that came up during the campaign, and this agency plays a key role in the city’s recycling efforts.”

Hendrick thinks the first real test of the mayor’s environmental priorities will be the city budget.

“Later this month or early next month, the de Blasio administration will start making its policy trajectory clear when the mayor releases his first budget proposal. It will show the mayor’s funding priorities for city agencies and initiatives and will give an early look at where sustainability ranks among the new mayor’s priorities,” concluded Hendrick.

Powering The City

Perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the environmental community regarding sustainability is the question of how the city should power itself.

Owen Crowley, of Sane Energy, wrote on the organization’s blog recently that “activists organized to attend two forums that were part of Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio’s ‘open conversation about the future of New York City’.”

One session at the Transition Tent looked at “Sustainable, Healthy and Resilient Construction,” specifically energy use for buildings. Making the city’s building stock more energy efficient has been a priority for the Bloomberg administration and the City Council.

Another session discussed “The Future of Food Policy in the Post-Bloomberg Era”.

Crowley noted, “people do not have enough information about their options; that people who make energy decisions are not necessarily the people who consume energy…There was a strong call [at the sessions] for leadership, to steer New York City towards a course of true sustainability.”

“The engagement level was high,” wrote Crowley.

Crowley argued that there was an economic development rationale for moving immediately to a focus on renewables. “Retrofitting buildings and infrastructure for sustainable energy would employ carpenters, plumbers, electricians and pipe fitters for decades,” he wrote.

And he asserted that, “New York City has the power to be influential across the Northeast, not merely within its borders.” Crowley said that there were calls by environmental activists at the Transition Tent “for New York and other cities to force a recalibration of State agencies and commissions, including the Public Service Commission”, which regulates power rates and utility service.

Crowley and Sane Energy maintain that the proposed off-shore LNG port, the Rockaway and Spectra pipelines, and related gas infrastructure threaten public health, including New York State’s upstate food shed.

“We encouraged people to call the 800 numbers on food packages and ask company reps if fracking is happening where their product is grown or produced. Our friends from the Brooklyn Food Coalition spoke from the panel, and hundreds of the new Food not Fracking postcards were handed out,” Crowley said.

Crowley concluded, “clearly, a sentiment is widespread—it’s time for a change, and what has been missing is the leader. The challenge has been set for De Blasio—let’s see if he has the mettle to take it up.”

Other environmental organizations, like the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund, which received funding from Bloomberg’s private foundation to examine ways to carry out hydraulic fracturing safely, have not advocated   that New York City reject natural gas outright as an ongoing energy source.

In the meantime, the city waits for the new mayor to show his environmental cards.

Photo credit: Steve Sands  via Getty Images