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Mayor de Blasio's Pledge to Cut Climate Pollution by 80% Can Lower Bills, Safeguard New York

de Blasio and Urban Efforts on Climate Change

Raya Salter, Senior Utility Advocate, New York City

On the heels of a historic march through the streets of New York City to demand global action on climate change—and heading into the gathering of world leaders at UN headquarters for the Climate Summit—Mayor Bill de Blasio has made a dramatic pledge for progress here at home.

The mayor announced today that New York City is committing to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In the fight against climate change, this is HUGE news. New York City is the largest city in the world to make this 80×50 commitment, and the carbon reductions from these efforts will be significant. On top of that, the Mayor’s leadership on this commitment and the programs that accompany it will serve as an example for other cities and municipalities of all sizes to take meaningful actions to help protect the environment. Nearly two years after Sandy caused a tragic loss of life and property while ravaging the City’s infrastructure, this is an impressive and substantial commitment to create a more stable climate for the future. 

This announcement of the 80×50 goal, and the programs to get there,  can also help make the City’s ambitious affordable housing plan a reality. That’s because energy efficiency for affordable housing can do more than provide greenhouse gas reductions.Energy efficiency can make housing healthier and more affordable. This can include reducing energy costs in New York City Housing Authority buildings and private affordable housing around NYC, reducing tenants’ bills and freeing up capital and operating funds to make other repairs. The emphasis on efficiency in multifamily buildings, and preserving affordability, is a great move towards creating more affordable housing in NYC while improving the lives of New Yorkers.

Home energy costs pose a crushing burden to New York residents today. Particularly for very poor individuals and families,  home energy costs threaten a households’ ability to cover expenses for housing, food, medical care and other essentials. Tackling buildings’ energy efficiency can make a positive difference in the health and wealth of our communities.

Some of the housing programs in the Mayor’s announcement include:

  • Energy efficiency retrofit “accelerator” to help 20,000 private buildings save money through reducing energy use, many of which are affordable or rent-stabilized
  • Work with  the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make energy efficiency measures easier to get done in public housing
  • Community-wide building efficiency programs starting with East New York and Brownsville (900 buildings)
  • Green grant program for energy efficiency in private affordable housing for those buildings that agree to remain affordable
  • Energy audits as part of Housing Preservation and Development’s building rehab programs

That’s a lot of apartment buildings, which means a lot of New Yorkers’ will get significant improvements to their homes through things like better and more reliable heating systems, lighting, appliances, and windows. Not only will this help reduce energy waste (reducing energy bills), but it will also make the buildings better places to live by reducing drafts and improving indoor air quality.

The announcement also includes improvements to scores of other public buildings, including schools, hospitals, libraries and fire and police stations. All told these improvements to public and private buildings are estimated to save $4 billion over ten years, and create thousands of jobs in construction and energy-related services while also providing training to building operators to run their more efficient buildings.

The Mayor’s news follows the release of a climate platform from the City Council including legislation for an 80×50 goal, expansion of green jobs, improved energy efficiency in municipal and private buildings and investment in low-carbon transportation. The City Council has been a leader on climate and other sustainability issues for years.

NRDC is committed to these efforts to improve housing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we have some more suggestions about maximizing efficiency in affordable housing in (check out this previous blog post for details).

And while building efficiency is the least-cost most impactful climate measure, with many benefits for residents, let’s not forget solar! As part of the City’s plan to eventually transition to a totally fossil-fuel-free future, there’s a commitment to 100 megawatts of solar power from City buildings and 250 megawatts of private solar over the next decade—enough to power more than 110,000 NYC households. That’s an enormous expansion of renewable energy in NYC, (eight times more than the current amount of privately-deployed solar).

Efficient buildings that incorporate distributed generation like solar and combined heat and power into microgrids, can make NYC more resilient to future storms. For one, resilient structures with back up-power, including schools, firehouses and other critical facilities, can provide sanctuaries of heat and light during a major weather event. In addition, resilient buildings can become more flood resistant and provide power continuity during a storm. Also, distributed generation can provide power the whole year long! This saves money on fuel and electric costs and can also make the electric system more flexible and efficient, making power more reliable and preventing costly system upgrades.

All told, this is a fantastic announcement for New York and the world, and we can say the Mayor really did #ActOnClimate!

Photo Credit: Cities and the Future of Fighting Climate Change/shutterstock

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