NYLCV Testifies at City Council Hearing on Building Emissions

At a City Council Environmental Protection Committee hearing last week, NYLCV testified in support of groundbreaking legislation that would make New York City the first in the world to set carbon emissions standards for buildings, which generate 70% of greenhouse gases in the City. The legislation would put the city on track to reach its goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050 and be a model for cities around the globe.

Intro. 1253 requires buildings of over 25,000 square feet to make energy-efficiency upgrades to limit emissions or face stiff penalties. These buildings are produce 30% of the city’s emissions.

NYLCV has been working on this issue as a member of the 80 by 50 Buildings Partnership, a collaboration of about 40 leading building and energy stakeholders lead by Urban Green Council. It includes NYLCV as well the 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.

NYLCV’s New York City Program Director Adriana Espinoza testified that the bill’s framework is solid but said it could be strengthened and had three proposals for doing so.

Along with several other environmental advocacy groups, NYLCV believes the bill should require more from rent-regulated buildings, which are currently exempt under the current legislation. The exemption was put in the legislation in order to prevent owners of rent-regulated buildings from raising rents as a result of renovations done to meet the emissions targets. These types of retrofits could constitute Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) in rent-controlled apartments. Many advocates believe this could exacerbate NYC’s affordable housing crisis and contribute to displacement.

NYLCV raised two concerns with the full exemption. It would mean as much as 30% of the city’s carbon emissions from buildings 25,000 square feet would keep pumping into the sky, weakening the emissions reductions the bill aims to achieve.

“By some estimates, the exclusion of rent-regulated buildings will leave over a third of all greenhouse gas emissions from buildings over 25,000 square feet unaddressed,” said Espinoza.

The exemption of rent-regulated buildings would also mean low-income tenants would not enjoy the benefits of clean buildings—which include cleaner air.  These environmental justice communities suffer disproportionately from respiratory diseases exacerbated by dirty air.

“It is likely that these buildings and the New Yorkers living in them are those that could benefit the most from energy efficiency upgrades,” Espinoza said.

NYLCV understands that achieving emission reduction goals should not exacerbate the affordable housing crisis in New York City, and believes any framework that includes rent-regulated housing should protect against displacement. We recommend that rent-regulated buildings implement the low-cost upgrades recommended by the 80×50 Buildings Partnership. These types of improvements include lighting, indoor temperature sensors, and insulation upgrades, which will not trigger MCI rent increases.

Another recommendation that NYLCV made pertained to the “building emissions intensity” metric used for the compliance deadline of 2022-2023. This type of metric does not take into account building usage or occupancy and will not be used following the NYC-specific metric that a task force will create by 2030. NYLCV suggested that the first compliance deadline zero in on the worst polluters.

“The worst 10% of performers, as determined by benchmarking from Local Law 87, should be required to reduce energy use by an established percentage,” she said. Local Law 87 requires buildings of 50,000 square feet and more to undergo periodic energy audits and retro-commissioning measures, and the bill would expand that to all buildings over 25,000 square feet.

NYLCV also recommended capitalizing on the green jobs opportunity that the legislation brings.  The city estimates that the bill will create more than 14,000 new jobs and already includes outreach and training for building owners. We proposed offering outreach and training opportunities for building and maintenance staff as well.

Read more about other testimonies at the hearing here.

The time to act on climate is now. NYLCV recognizes that this legislation is one of the most comprehensive and significant steps the City can take in the fighting climate change and applauds the City Council for taking up this issue and leading the way for other cities to follow. We will continue to work with the City Council throughout the legislative process.