New York City embraces pillar of AOC's Green New Deal, passing building emissions bill

Key Points
  • The New York City Council passes legislation setting new standards for greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.
  • The measure aligns with one of the central pillars of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.
  • The bill aims to slash planet-warming pollution from city buildings by 40% over the next decade.

The New York City Council on Thursday took a major step toward implementing a pillar of the Green New Deal, the aggressive blueprint for addressing climate change supported by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The council passed a bill that requires large buildings to meet new standards aimed at reducing their carbon footprint. The bill aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the city's buildings by 40% over the next decade.

That will require many building owners to take measures to make them more energy efficient.

The bill is packaged with several other green initiatives in the Climate Mobilization Act and was passed ahead of Earth Day, which is Monday.

Lawmakers say the bill will help New York achieve its goal of slashing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

It is also a response to the federal government's "surrender" in the fight against global warming under President Donald Trump, said council member Costa Constantinides, who introduced the bill.

The legislation aligns with one of the topline goals in Ocasio-Cortez's plan. Her Green New Deal, which would overhaul the nation's economy, calls for retrofitting all buildings for energy efficiency within 10 years.

Green New Deal remains in the spotlight for the 2020 elections despite Senate defeat
Green New Deal remains in spotlight for 2020 elections

Constantinides' bill is somewhat less ambitious. It would mandate that all buildings 25,000 square feet or larger meet new standards. That is roughly the size of a freestanding grocery store or a small big box retail space.

The statute would apply to more than 50,000 of the city's 1 million buildings, which account for about 30% of the city's greenhouse gas emissions. Altogether, buildings emit about two-thirds of the Big Apple's planet-warming pollution.

It would allow some buildings — those that do not meet the new standards but perform better than other structures — to come into compliance later in the 10-year window. It also eases the requirements for rent-stabilized buildings to prevent financial hardship on low-wage New Yorkers.

The bill has broad political support in New York. Thirty-eight of the city's 51 council members sponsored the legislation, and it ultimately passed in a 45-2 vote. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will sign the bill.

"As the Trump administration escalates its assault on environmental protections, our cities and states are assuming the mantle of leadership. New York City is taking critical climate action with the passage of bold legislation," said Donna De Costanzo, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's eastern region climate and clean energy program.

Climate foreclosure crisis
Climate foreclosure crisis

However, it faces opposition from the powerful Real Estate Board of New York. Earlier this week, REBNY said the bill will not help New York meet its emissions targets, arguing that the many exemptions will leave too few building owners to shoulder the financial cost of the legislation.

The real estate trade association warned the bill would discourage developers from constructing large, dense buildings and dissuade landlords from leasing to energy-hungry tenants such as technology and media companies.

"Three years from now, when a new City Council is seated, the press releases issued this week cheering the Council's 'bold' action will be long-forgotten and the hard truth will settle in," REBNY said. "With so many exemptions and carve-outs, we will be confronted with the fact that our city is off-track from meeting its ambitious 40 percent carbon reduction goal by 2030."

Other bills in Thursday's package would clarify wind-power standards in the city, require some buildings be topped with green roofs or solar panels and establish a sustainable energy loan program.