City Council Holds Hearing on Building Emission Reduction Legislation

New York City is seeking to become the first city in the world to set carbon emissions standards for the greatest greenhouse gas generator in cities worldwide: buildings.

In New York City, buildings account for 70% of the city’s carbon emissions. A first-of-its-kind bill would put the city well on track to meet its goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

The City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection held a hearing last week on the legislation with testimony from a variety of stakeholders including NYLCV. Representatives of New York University,  the Sierra Club, New York Working Families, the National Resources Defense Council, the Urban Green Council, the Council of New York Condominiums and Cooperatives and others testified.

The trail-blazing bill, Intro. 1253 by Environmental Protection Committee Chair Council Member Costa Constantinides, would set greenhouse gas emissions for buildings over 25,000 square feet. These large buildings produce 30% of the city’s carbon emissions.

It would require energy-efficiency upgrades to limit emissions or face stiff penalties. Buildings would have to meet several targets between 2022 to 2050 and a task force would set metrics to measure the whether buildings are meeting the emissions limits. It is estimated that these limits would cause a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings 40% over the next decade.

The legislation will include an extensive education program for building owners and establish an office of Building Energy Performance within the Department of Buildings to enforce these standards.

The bill comes with a companion piece of legislation, Intro. 1252,  that would offer Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. This type of program allows property owners to finance the up-front costs of energy improvements and pay it back over time as an assessment on their property tax bill.

The City Council intends to make the policy scalable so that cities around the world could use it as a global template. This would make that would make New York City an international leader among green cities.

At the hearing, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, as well as many other organizations and community members, voiced support of the bill. Testimony from early adopters demonstrated that cutting building emissions is a green practice financially as well as environmentally. Between 2007 and 2012, NYU invested $11 million to cut its carbon emissions by 30% and saved $30 million in energy costs.

Some of those who testified praised the fact that the law would create new jobs for New Yorkers and encouraged the Council to hold its commitment to its schedule and plans for stringent enforcement.

NYCLV’s Adriana Espinoza offered support for the legislation, as well as suggestions to make even deeper emissions reductions.  The Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, and the New York Working Families Party echoed many of these suggestions. Read more about NYLCV’s testimony here.

The new legislation includes many recommendations made by the 80 by 50 Buildings Partnership, a coalition of over 40 governmental, housing, labor, real estate, and environmental groups, including NYLCV.  Over eight months and 85 meetings, with 70 experts from 40 groups, the Buildings Partnership developed 21 recommendations, many of which were included in the legislation.