De Blasio to Force Aging Buildings To Curb Greenhouse Emissions

NEW YORK (Washington Post) -

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that he will force thousands of aging buildings to become more energy efficient, a first-of-its-kind initiative intended to make the Big Apple a national leader in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

The initiative would mandate that owners of existing buildings larger than 25,000 square feet invest in more efficient heating and cooling systems, insulation and hot-water heaters in the years ahead.

If approved by the City Council, the requirements would apply to about 14,500 private and municipal buildings, which the mayor’s office says collectively account for nearly a quarter of New York City’s emissions. Most buildings would need to comply with new efficiency targets by 2030, or their owners would face penalties.

“This means bringing the worst-performing buildings in line with the best-performing buildings,” said Mark Chambers, the city’s director of sustainability. Some older structures are “burning three or four times” as much fossil fuel as newer, more efficient buildings, he noted.

The proposed mandates would be the latest — and most far-reaching — action the de Blasio administration has taken, to position New York City as a leader in slashing emissions.

In 2014, de Blasio announced his “80×50” plan, with a goal to reduce those emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050. In June, de Blasio signed an executive order reaffirming the city’s commitment to the international Paris climate accord just days after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the agreement.

“We have to take matters into our own hands,” de Blasio said as he directed city agencies to report by Sept. 30 on their efforts to achieve reductions in carbon emissions.

But the proposal is likely to garner criticism. For starters, the de Blasio administration is proposing annual penalties that increase with a building’s size and its fossil-fuel usage. Beginning in 2030, a 30,000-square-foot apartment building that exceeds certain energy targets would pay $60,000 for each year it doesn’t meet the new standards. A building with 1 million square feet that was operating outside the required efficiency standards would pay as much as $2 million. Buildings not in compliance would also be prevented from receiving permits for major renovations.

The administration insists the new initiative could lead to lower long-term energy costs and create as many as 17,000 “green jobs” as older structures are retrofitted. But many owners are likely to face big upfront costs to meet the new requirements. City officials said they intend to help owners afford energy upgrades through low-interest financing.