Conservation Group Releases Environmental Scorecard for City Council

The New York League of Conservation Voters has released its latest environmental scorecard for New York City Council, and it appears Staten Island may need detention. While the City’s other boroughs scored well (with Manhattan taking the top score), two of Staten Island’s three council members voted against almost every environmental bill that was examined.

Must be something in the water. No seriously, there literally might be something in the water, considering they voted against a bill to control water pollution and sewage.

Breaking it Down

Each year, NYLCV chooses a selection of environmental bills and rates council members based on their votes and bill sponsorships. This year, NYCLV examined 12 pieces of legislation (detailed at the end of this post); three were classified as priority bills and council members’ actions were weighted doubly on these. Negative votes and absences counted against the final score.

Council members are graded individually; these scores are then averaged to form a grade for each borough. For the past year, Manhattan scored the highest, though Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens were very close behind.

Here’s how the borough scores break down:
Manhattan: 89
Brooklyn: 85
Bronx: 83
Queens: 82
Staten Island: 43

The following individual council members received perfect scores (100):
Bronx: Andrew Cohen, Fernando Cabrera, Ritchie Torres
Brooklyn: Stephen Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Rafael Espinal, Carlos Menchaca, Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, Alan Maisel
Manhattan: Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, Daniel Garodnick, Ben Kallos, Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez
Queens: – Costa Constantinides, Daniel Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer, Elizabeth Crowley, Donovan Richards

Councilman Joe Borelli, right, with Staten Island’s other Republican member of the City Council, Minority Leader Steven Matteo. Photo credit: William Alatriste for the New York City Council

Notably, no council member from Staten Island received a perfect score, and in fact, with average scores of just 27, Steven Matteo and Joe Borelli had the lowest scores of any council member (Brooklyn council member Darlene Mealy also scored a 27).

What gives, Staten Island?

Check out the entire report and let us know how your representative scored. (Related: find your council member here.)

What’s in a Grade

NYLCV, in consultation with more than thirty environmental, public health, transportation, parks and environmental justice organizations, selected twelve bills that would form the basis of the council members grades.

For the curious, here are the 12 bills:

  • Single-Use Bag Bill – Intro 209: This bill places a five-cent fee on single use bags at retail, convenience and grocery stores with limited exceptions. Intro 209 passed on May 5, 2016 by a vote of 28-20.
  • Community Commitments Tracker – Intro 1132: This bill would require an agency of the Mayor’s choosing to maintain a publicly accessible online database tracking all written Mayoral commitments as part of any city-sponsored application subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). It would also require such agencies to report, on June 30th of each year, the current status of all unfulfilled and fulfilled commitments made six months prior to such report. Intro 1132 passed on December 15, 2016 by a vote of 48-0. The Mayor signed it into law on December 22, 2016.
  • Controlling Water Pollution and Sewage – Intro 1346:  This bill is related to the operation of New York City’s municipal separate storm sewer systems, and would require management practices to reduce discharge of pollutants in stormwater runoff from all municipal operations and facilities in the MS4 Permit’s area. Intro 1136 was heard by the Committee on Environmental Protection on December 13, 2016.
  • Identifying Environmental Justice Issues – Intro 886: This bill helps agencies identify the serious environmental issues that plague residents and communities of New York City. Intro 886 was heard by the Committee on Environmental Protection on January 28th, 2016.
  • Clean Heating Oil – Intro 642: This bill mandates that heating oil used in any building in New York City must contain at least 5% biodiesel by volume after October 1, 2016, with a timeline for reaching 20% by October 1, 2030. Intro 642 passed on September 28, 2016, by a vote of 47-3. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill into law on October 18, 2016.
  • Green Buildings Package – Intro 1160, Intro 1163, Intro 1165: These bills require energy and water benchmarking, lighting retrofitting, and sub-metering requirements for buildings 25,000 square feet or larger. Intros 1160, 1163 and 1165 all passed by votes of 50-0 and were signed into law by the Mayor on October 31, 2016. This package of three bills was scored as one vote.
  • Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure – Intro 1124: This bill requires the Department of Transportation to establish a pilot program for the installation of street parking electric vehicle charging stations. Intro 1124 passed 50-0 on November 16th, 2016, and was signed by the Mayor on December 6, 2016.
  • Creating a Solar Ombudsperson within the NYC Department of Buildings – Intro 739: This bill would create a Solar Ombudsperson position within the NYC Department of Buildings to respond to questions, complaints, and concerns about solar power systems. Intro 739 was introduced on March 31, 2015 and is awaiting a hearing in the Committee on Housing and Buildings.
  • Indoor Asthma in Residential Dwellings – Intro 385: This bill would require building owners to inspect for and fix allergens that can lead to asthma, such as mold and pests. Intro 385 was introduced on June 11, 2014 and is awaiting a hearing in the Committee on Housing and Buildings.
  • Barnes Dance Pedestrian Crossing Systems Study – Intro 1177: This bill would require a study on the feasibility of implementing the Barnes Dance pedestrian crossing system in certain dangerous intersections. Intro 1177 was heard by the Committee on Transportation on November 15, 2016.
  • Car Sharing Access – Intro 873: This bill would allow for the reservation of designated parking spaces, including metered spaces, in public parking facilities for car sharing programs throughout New York City. Intro 873 was heard by the Committee on Transportation on December 12, 2016.
  • Recycling Carpeting – Intro 201: This bill would require recycling or reusing discarded carpeting from commercial units or buildings. Intro 201 is scheduled to be heard by the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management on January 31st, 2017.

NYLCV Scorecard Released; Brooklyn Makes the Grade, Staten Island Flunks

The New York League of Conservation Voters today issued its annual scorecard of New York City Council members, rating them for their votes on a series of environmental legislation introduced over the past year.

“Council Members earn points by casting pro-environment votes or for co-sponsoring pro-environment bills,” writes the group. “Of the 12 pieces of legislation scored this year, three were classified as priority bills and council members’ actions were weighted doubly on these. Negative votes and absences counted against the final score.”

Score by Score

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New York League of Conservation voters released the New York City Council 2015 scorecard today. Read the entire report here.

Council members were given individual scores, which were then averaged by borough. The results may not surprise you greatly: Brooklyn came in highest while Staten Island didn’t even make a passing grade. In fact, with a score of 57, the borough actually dropped four points from last year’s score of 61.

Here’s the borough breakdown:

Brooklyn: 87
Manhattan: 84
Queens: 83
Bronx: 65
Staten Island: 57

The following individual council members received perfect scores:

Manhattan: Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Helen Rosenthal Bronx: Andrew Cohen and Ritchie Torres
Brooklyn: Stephen Levin and Carlos Menchaca
Queens: Costa Constantinides, Elizabeth Crowley, Donovan Richards, and Jimmy Van Bramer

No one from Staten Island received a perfect score.

Interested in how your council member scores? Check out the full scorecard here.

The Bill Breakdown

NYLCV based the council members scores on 12 specific bills (from a pool of 70). The 12 bills were selected after consultation with a group of New York City’s leading environmental, transportation, public health, parks, and environmental justice organizations.

The bills include those related to a fee on plastic bags, child-safe products, a microbeads ban, a park maintenance tracker, community air quality surveys, identifying environmental justice issues, geothermal energy, clean heating oil, right of way for pedestrians, school environmental data reporting, LEED standards for new construction and solar technology in city-owned buildings.

 

NYC Considers Scrubbing the Microbead

“This is not the end of exfoliation as we know it,” New York City Council member Dan Garodnick reassured New Yorkers on Wednesday. But if his latest bill passes, New Yorkers may indeed be seeking a new way to scrub.

At issue are “microbeads,” tiny, spherical pieces of plastic used as abrasives and exfoliants in a wide range of personal care and cosmetic items. Garodnick’s bill, introduced in the New York City council this week, would ban the sale of these products and impose fines on stores that continue to carry them.

The bill is co-sponsored by 12 additional City Council members.

Plastic on Your Plate

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Microbeads are small, buoyant pieces of plastic used as exfoliants in personal care products.

Microbeads are found in about a hundred products in the U.S., including toothpaste, body wash, and facial cleansers. Because they are so small (5mm or less by most estimates), they easily pass through wastewater treatment plants and are ultimately discharged into New York’s waterways.

A report published by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman estimates that “nearly 19 tons of microbeads [are] potentially being discharged into New York’s wastewater stream each year.”

“The effect,” Rachel Abrams wrote in The New York Times, “is similar to grinding up plastic water bottles, other products of concern to environmentalists, and pumping them into oceans and lakes.”

Microbeads found in the sand. Photo credit: VIMS
Microbeads found in the sand. Photo credit: VIMS

Once in the water, the plastic particles persist for decades and have been shown to absorb chemicals out of the water, particularly toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

They also become food for fish and other aquatic creatures who mistake the buoyant, colorful particles for fish eggs and insects.

According to Schneiderman’s report, “hundreds of different species have been documented as ingesting plastics, ranging from tiny creatures to small fish to larger species like birds, turtles and mammals.”

Ingested plastic has been shown to cause serious harm to wildlife, including internal abrasions and blockages resulting in reductions in food consumption, stunted growth, and starvation. Studies have also shown that the microplastics can be transferred from prey to predator, meaning the toxin-coated plastic could be making its way up the food chain—and possibly to your dinner plate.

“The fish eat ’em. The fish are then eaten by other animals. They end up in our food chain. They end up on our dinner plates,” Schneiderman told WNYC.

Ban the Bead…One County at a Time

None of this is news to lawmakers in New York. In fact, New York was the first state in the nation to call for a ban on microbeads. However, twice now the bill has failed to pass through the Senate, despite garnering nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in the Assembly (139-1). This summer, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan neglected to even bring the bill up for a vote.

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This map, provided by Environmental Advocates of New York, details the range and status of microbead bans across the state.

In that time, six other states have enacted legislation to ban or restrict the use of microbeads, including Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana, and Maryland. Bills are pending in Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and Oregon.

While the honor of being first in the nation is now lost, local New York governments are attempting to bypass the Senate stalemate. Seven county-wide bans have been proposed or enacted across the state.

If Garodnick can garner enough support for his bill, New York City would be the eighth.

Consumers looking to avoid microbeads on their own can view a list of products containing the plastics here.

NYC’s Plastic Bag Bill Lives Despite Mayor’s Ambivalence

New York City’s “Plastic Bag Bill” is not dead. Stuck in legislative purgatory since late 2014, the bill has seemingly gathered momentum in recent months—but will it be enough to push the Mayor off the sidelines?

Councilmember Brad Lander of Brooklyn has been holding summertime reusable bag giveaways, including one last week in front of City Hall. Lander and other supporters of the bill, including Councilmember Costa Constantinides, are putting bags in the hands of New Yorkers—perhaps persuading some folks who are reluctant to pay for a once-free plastic bag.

But, one crucial ally is still missing: Mayor Bill de Blasio. While the recent OneNYC Plan commits the city to dramatically reducing plastic bag waste, the Mayor has offered scant details on how that’ll happen. For now, it’s not the proposed bag bill; the Mayor has steadfastly refused to weigh in on the legislation.

Co-sponsored by Lander and Councilmember Margaret Chin, the Plastic Bag Bill would require New York City stores to charge 10 cents for every paper and plastic bag they give out. Stores keep the fee. There are exemptions for meat and produce items, as well as for New Yorkers using the WIC and SNAP programs.

At the City Hall giveaway, Lander said he was “hopeful” the Mayor would “finalize his position” in the next few months.

The legislation needs a mere four more votes to pass in the City Council—what’s holding de Blasio back?

Reason #1: Is It Basic Math?

Plastic bags wave from a tree in New York City.
Plastic bags wave from a tree in New York City.

Perhaps it’s simple political math: with his poll numbers faltering and a recent string of political misfires, the Mayor may be reluctant to throw weight behind another seemingly unpopular measure.

A recent poll by NBC News 4, The Wall Street Journal and Marist College sure makes the bill sound unpopular: 63% of respondents opposed the proposed 10-cent charge.

But at last week’s giveaway, Lander noted that he talks to numerous New Yorkers at similar events and “everyone agrees: something needs to be done.”

The numbers bear this out. New Yorkers throw out 5.2 billion plastic bags each year, which costs the city over $12 million a year to transport to landfills. And at last Thursday’s event at least, New Yorkers seemed pleased to get reusable bags and receptive to the idea of changing ingrained habits.

Reason #2: New Yorkers Love Free Plastic Bags?

The Plastic Bag Bill would place a 10-cent fee on each bag handed out by retailers.
The Plastic Bag Bill would place a 10-cent fee on each bag handed out by retailers. Photo credit: William Miller.

As Councilmember Lander conceded, New Yorkers are reluctant to pay for something that used to be free.

But is this a perverse bit of New York entitlement? Do we think we’re owed free plastic bags? Are we simply too stressed to remember to bring reusable bags with us? Or, are we all so cranky from other urban inconveniences that we resent yet another expense, albeit a seemingly modest one?

We certainly don’t seem to think the bags are worth the money. In his recent opus on the bag battle, New York Magazine’s Adam Sternbergh noted that “(O)ne paradox of the pro-bag position is having to argue that plastic bags are a valuable commodity that people nonetheless aren’t willing to pay a few cents for.”

There are some folks who re-use the bags as trash liners and makeshift tote bags. Virtuous as this may be, plastic bags can only be re-used for so long before they end up in the trash. Some folks also claim the bags don’t lead to litter, a charge that’s hard to square with Bag It NYC’s map of errant plastic bags.

Reason #3: Is It Government Over-Reach…Or An Attack on the Poor?

Opponents have done a good job re-branding the bill as a tax and another “nanny-state” overreach. While the ten-cent charge is a fee, not a tax (the dime goes back to store owners, not the government), New Yorkers may generally be skeptical of government efforts to re-shape habits. Witness the fate of former Mayor Bloomberg’s over-sized soda ban.

And, despite exemptions for New Yorkers using food stamps and WIC, there have been charges that the proposed fee disproportionately targets poor and minority residents, an assertion that has to give pause to a Mayor who won office in part by promising to end New York’s yawning income gap.

It also might explain City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito’s reluctance to endorse the fee. A leading Bronx reverend recently urged the Speaker to “sack” the fee lest it “push vulnerable families, seniors and immigrants from slipping below the poverty line.”

Councilmembers Brad Lander and Costa Constantinides hand out reusable bags to eager New Yorkers.
Councilmembers Brad Lander and Costa Constantinides hand out reusable bags to eager New Yorkers. Photo via Brad Lander.

This puts a sharper focus on Lander’s bag giveaways. Getting free reusables into the hands of New Yorkers might put a friendlier face on the bill, showing that the fee is not part of a government-engineered “stick” meant to beat New Yorkers in to better habits.

Rather, the city is willing to help its citizens make practical, achievable changes that will curb waste and save money. This sort of community outreach worked in Washington D.C., where a recent 5-cent fee was much more enthusiastically embraced.

We’ll see if there are more bag giveaways here…and if they stir the Mayor and Council Speaker to some sort of action.

Searching for Answers about “Critical” Resiliency Upgrades to NYCHA Buildings

While Hurricane Sandy is just a memory for many New Yorkers, thousands of the city’s public housing residents are still living with temporary boilers, closed playgrounds, mold, and other damage to their buildings, apartments and outdoor spaces caused by the historic storm.

Real help is supposed to be on the way from the federal government, but now there are concerns about more delays and even the assuredness of the repair dollars themselves.

On March 31st, the City announced the allocation of approximately $3 billion in federal funding -the largest FEMA grant in the history of the agency- to repair and protect at least 33 New York City public housing developments that sustained severe damage during Sandy.

The FEMA funds are supposed to go to 14 developments in Manhattan, 12 in Brooklyn, and 7 in Queens. Half of the funds are designated for repairs, while the other half will be aimed at implementing resiliency measures to better protect developments from future storms. This includes new construction of elevated boilers, installation of flood barrier systems, and acquisition of stand-by generators.

But a New York City Council oversight hearing yesterday found that “there is no clear timeline to begin construction and upgrades, and FEMA funding agreements remain unsigned.”

“It is evident…that NYCHA has no timeline or scope of work for upgrading its Sandy-impacted developments,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, chair of the public housing committee, in a statement after yesterday’s hearing. “NYCHA has only received $3.5 million from FEMA and it is not clear when it will receive the rest of the $3 billion grant it was promised.”

“There are still too many unanswered questions. I worry that months and years will go by and tenants will not see improvements,” Torres said.

Pushing for “Transparency and Accountability”

Torres said he would “continue to push NYCHA to articulate how it will ensure transparency and accountability to residents across the city.”

Richie Torres
New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx.

Yesterday’s hearing was chaired by the Council’s committees on public housing and recovery & resiliency. According to a statement released by both committees, the origin of the FEMA funding for the NYCHA repairs is now also in question.

“The bulk” of the $3 billion FEMA grant will actually be coming from insurance companies, maintained Torres and recovery & resiliency committee chair Mark Treyger, “further muddying how the money will be delivered to NYCHA.”

Council members Torres and Treyger also stated that they requested copies of the FEMA-approved project worksheets and a spending plan for the funds from NYCHA “several weeks ago.” NYCHA has responded that it must complete several procedural steps before the worksheets are finalized, the Council members reported.

Major Endeavor for a Struggling Agency

Both Council members Torres and Treyger say they question whether NYCHA has the capacity and workforce necessary “to carry out these historic levels of repairs and upgrades.” The agency is consistently underfunded, and has been plagued by reports of internal dysfunction.

According to the Council, NYCHA Executive Vice President for Capital Projects, Raymond Ribeiro, testified yesterday that construction will take place at 35 developments. Some of the projects will begin this summer, and will take between a year and a half to 3 years to complete, depending on the scope of the work.

Approximately 10,000 construction jobs will be created by the upgrades, Ribeiro noted. Council members and NYCHA tenant leaders say they will be watching closely to see how many residents obtain these jobs.

According to the City, the FEMA grant is subject to NYCHA’s recently negotiated Project Labor Agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, as well as its affiliated unions – which gives NYCHA residents access to union jobs and training.

Council members and tenant leaders will also be tracking NYCHA’s development of specific timelines for work at each of the 35 developments, and the agency’s community engagement process as it carries out the upgrades.

“We want to ensure that this investment is appropriately monitored…and that public housing residents benefit from this funding,” said Reginald Bowman, President of the City-Wide Council of Presidents, which represents NYCHA residents. “The first priority must be an assessment and plan by engineers and architects that specialize in…these types of projects,” Bowman said.

Losing Time and Money

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Temporary boiler installation at Red Hook Houses after Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Leticia Barboza / NYCHA.

Time is of the essence. NYCHA is reportedly spending nearly $467,000 a month to rent the temporary boilers that are still in use at impacted developments across the city.

And the city’s public housing stock is just as physically vulnerable today as it was before Sandy struck in 2012. Several major NYCHA developments lie in the city’s greatly expanded flood zones.

“Residents have serious questions regarding when work will finally begin…and when their lives will finally return to normal after hearing about this historic $3 billion [federal] commitment…Progress must be made on behalf of those families,” said Council Member Treyger.

It Still Lives: There’s A Rally To Pass The Plastic Bag Bill

Remember the plastic bag bill?  It’s alive…though seemingly stuck in City Council purgatory.

The New York League of Conservation Voters and other supporters aim to push the bill forward with a rally at City Hall at noon todayThe rally has a simple message for the Council and Mayor DeBlasio: pass the bill by Earth Day (April 22).

The bill would ask customers to pay a 10-cent fee if they use plastic bags at groceries, bodegas and shops. The dime would go straight to the retailer, not the government as some detractors have claimed.

The bill stirred ardent emotions when it was debated last November. Supporters called it common sense legislation to spare NYC’s plastic-clogged waste-system and waterways. Detractors blasted it as government overreach and an unwitting tax on lower income residents.

Though the bill gained a key supporter in Council member Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, it still needs additional support from the Council and Mayor.

Perhaps today’s rally will do the trick.

Queens is NYC’s Greenest Borough!

A correction was made to this story on Monday, March 23rd regarding how New York City Council Members’ support of environmental legislation is tracked.

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Queens is New York City’s “Greenest Borough” when it comes to supporting environment-friendly legislation in the City Council. So says the 2014 Environmental Scorecard for the City Council, which was just released by the New York League of Conservation Voters.

The NYLCV looked at votes and other types of support, such as co-sponsorship, for nine key environmental bills in 2014 as a way to score Council Members. The bills, culled from an initial group of more than three dozen, were selected in consultation with the city’s leading environmental, transportation, public health, parks and environmental justice organizations, says the League.

Three of the bills were designated as “priority” and were weighted twice in the final score. Some of the bills are awaiting a full Council vote.

Battle of the Boroughs

Queens led the way with a score of 86 in 2014, but was closely followed by Manhattan.

Queens: 86
Manhattan: 82
Brooklyn: 76
Bronx: 75
Staten Island: 61

Staten Island’s representatives in the City Council scored the lowest of any borough due to their collective lack of support -to date- for legislation such as the plastic bag bill.

Two of Staten Island’s three Council Members -Vincent Ignizio and Steven Matteo- have also not joined colleagues in supporting a bill requiring the city’s ferries, including the Staten Island Ferry, to switch to less polluting forms of diesel fuel.

The Bills

1. Plastic Bags (priority)
Council Members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin sponsored Intro 209, which would reduce the use of non biodegradable carryout bags in New York City. The bill would impose a ten-cent fee on single-use plastic or paper bags. Awaiting a vote in the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management.

2. “80-by-50” Climate Change Pledge (priority)
Council Member Costa Constantinides sponsored Intro 378, which mandates a 30 percent reduction in citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, relative to 2005 emission levels, and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Signed into law by Mayor de Blasio on December 14, 2014.

3. Pre-tax Transit Benefits (priority)
Council Member Dan Garodnick sponsored Intro 295, which requires that every employer in New York City with 20 or more full-time employees offer the opportunity to use pre-tax earnings to purchase qualified mass-transit commuter benefits. Signed into law by Mayor de Blasio on October 20, 2014.

4. NYC Energy Conservation Code
Intro 550, introduced by Councilmember Jumaane Williams by request of Mayor de Blasio, conforms New York City’s Energy Conservation Code to the State’s energy code. Buildings covered by the new code will be 10 to 30 percent more efficient than presently required. The bill mandates higher efficiency standards for boilers, commercial lighting, and electrical meters. Signed into law by Mayor De Blasio on January 8, 2015.

5. Biodiesel-powered Ferry Fleet
Intro 54, sponsored by Councilmember Costa Constantinides, would require that every diesel fuel-powered city ferry, including the Staten Island Ferry, switch to an ultra low sulfur diesel fuel blend with at least 5 percent biodiesel by volume. A minimum twenty percent biodiesel by volume would be required by 2020. Awaiting a vote in the Committee on Environmental Protection.

6. Mold Resistant Building Materials
Council Member Steven Matteo sponsored Intro 93, which requires that a mold resistant gypsum or cement board be used in mold-prone environments such as walls of basements, cellars, below grade rooms, rooms containing water tanks, kitchens, and bathrooms. Signed into law by Mayor de Blasio on May 19, 2014.

7. Safe, Energy-Efficient Construction Site Lighting
Intro 263, sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin, amends the New York City building code to require energy-efficient, high-energy temporary lighting on construction sites. Enacted on May 19, 2014.

8. Heating and Cooling Efficient Buildings
Intro 14, sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin, would correct for oversized heating and cooling equipment. Unnecessarily large systems result in operating inefficiencies. This bill would require the submission of the results of peak heating and cooling load calculations in construction documents submitted to the Department of Buildings. Awaiting a vote in the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

9. Bus Rapid Transit for All Boroughs
Intro 211, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, would require that the New York City Department of Transportation, in consultation with the MTA and with input from the public, submit a plan to create a citywide network of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines connecting New York’s five boroughs. The legislation would also require the development of strategies to integrate current and future rapid transit and ferry lines in the region. Awaiting a vote in the Transportation Committee.

[Descriptions of legislation based on more lengthy explanations provided by NYLCV.] 

The Dream Team

According to the NYLCV, New York City Council Members with a perfect record of supporting the nine key bills in 2014 were:

  1. BRONX – Andrew Cohen, and Ritchie Torres;
  2. BROOKLYN – Brad Lander, Steve Levin, and Antonio Reynoso;
  3. MANHATTAN- Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, Ben Kallos, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Helen Rosenthal;
  4. QUEENS – Costa Constantinides, Elizabeth Crowley, Danny Dromm, Peter Koo, Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards, Paul Vallone, and Jimmy Van Bramer;
  5. STATEN ISLAND – none

Sitting Out the Climate Vote

According to the NYLCV, the two lowest scoring City Council Members in 2014 -both with scores of 42- were Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island, and Andrew King of the Bronx.

Ignizio and King have not indicated support for the plastic bag and rapid bus transit bills, which are awaiting a Council vote. They also both sat out the Council’s vote on mandating an 80 percent reduction in New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Lights Out NYC?

Will New York City’s famous night skyline grow dim as we battle climate change?

City Council Member Donovan Richards (D-Queens) introduced a bill yesterday to address what he calls “unnecessary lighting”, or illumination, of city buildings at night.

“The ‘Lights Out’ bill is primarily about energy conservation,” said Richards, chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection. “Intro 578 ultimately mandates commercial buildings to turn off their lights when they are not in use, and hopefully encourage residential buildings to do the same,” he explained.

The legislation applies to buildings zoned for commercial, industrial and non–residential usages. Building owners who do not comply will be fined $1,000 per violation.

Does this mean that the Empire State Building and other New York City icons will go dark?

The proposed legislation states that landmarked buildings, more than twenty stories in height, can apply for a waiver from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. Building owners must be able to persuasively argue that their structure is a “significant part of the city’s skyline.”

Buildings that remain lit for security reasons may also be able to receive a waiver, as will small stores and seasonal holiday displays. Buildings used at night can remain illuminated until the last person leaves.

The Real Estate Board of New York -which represents the City’s building owners- has not yet responded to our request for comment. Richards said in a statement that his legislation will help building owners save “substantially in costs.”

Cutting the City’s Carbon Emissions

Intro 578, maintains Richards, will help to address one of the largest culprits of carbon emissions in New York City – buildings. According to the City, nearly three quarters of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from energy used to heat, cool, and power buildings.

Both the de Blasio administration and the City Council are calling for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050 citywide.

The Lights Out legislation could also make a difference for migratory birds. According to New York City Audubon, “in the dark, and especially in foggy or rainy weather when birds fly at lower altitudes, the combination of glass and light becomes deadly.”

For this reason, says Audubon, buildings such as the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, 501 Lexington Avenue (formerly known as Citigroup Center), Silverstein Properties, the Time Warner Center and the Worldwide Plaza now turn off their lights from midnight to dawn during the peak migration season, September 1 to November 1.

But for Donovan Richards, from the Sandy-battered Rockaways, limiting New York City’s contribution to climate change is the key goal. “Mortgaging the health of the planet upon the back of future generations continues to be an irresponsible and dangerous course of action,” Richards stated.