New York City Seeks to Implement Historic Pollution Reductions in Buildings

A coalition of over 40 environmental, governmental, housing, labor, and real estate groups recently unveiled the Blueprint For Efficiency plan to mandate dramatic energy use cuts in New York City’s large buildings. Led by Urban Green Council, the 80 by 50 Buildings Partnership was made up of a diverse group of stakeholders including, NYLCV as well Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, ALIGN NY, the Real Estate Board of NY, New York Communities for Change, SL Green, 32 BJ, and others.

In conjunction with the plan’s release, City Council Member Costa Constantinides announced plans to introduce legislation this fall that would reflect much of the plan’s recommendations. In a historic move that could set a new standard for cities around the world, the plan and accompanying legislation represent an attempt to achieve potentially the largest single reduction of emissions in any U.S. city.

The plan and accompanying legislation come after two years of discussions and negotiations between the city administration, City Council, and stakeholder groups on how to address the biggest contributor to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions – buildings. They are a vital part in the city’s path to meet its commitment to reducing emissions 80% by 2050.

The plan and legislation, still being drafted, would require the buildings over 25,000 square feet, about 50,000 of the city’s largest buildings, to reduce energy use by 20% by 2030, as well as to set a framework for increasing the cuts to 60% by 2050.

Greenhouse gases that are produced to provide heating, cooling, and electricity in buildings make up nearly 70% of the city’s emissions. For example, steam heating systems are used in 80% of large multifamily buildings. Many older steam systems are inefficient and offer abundant opportunities for energy savings.

The recommendations include shortening the season of required heating in buildings, expanding the city’s Retrofit Accelerator to make it easier to property owners to implement emissions reduction measures, and enacting financing initiatives to open funding streams for owners.

Other proposals in the plan are to require low-cost energy savings from owners of rent-stabilized housing in order to avoid triggering Major Capital Improvements that would translate into rent increases in those buildings, setting different reduction targets per building based on relative efficiency, and mandating that city-owned buildings lead the way by to reducing their emissions twice as fast as private-sector buildings.

If these recommendations are implemented, NYC buildings will be a third of the way to their 2050 emissions-reduction goal.

Although many of the coalition’s members may not agree on  the specifics of every recommendation, all acknowledge that the city must implement bold emissions-reductions policies in order to achieve its climate goals. The city administration, City Council, and all partners remain hopeful that the drafted bill will be met with support.

NYLCV looks forward to working with the City Council and Mayor to make this vision a reality.