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New York Passes Landmark Bill to Cut Buildings’ Carbon Emissions, Energy Use

New York City has adopted a plan to reduce carbon pollution from large buildings by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030—roughly a 26% cut from present-day emissions—with an approach that limits the cost to low-income residents and creates local jobs.

“Supporters say the bills represent the largest emissions cuts adopted by any city worldwide and offer a template others can follow,” InsideClimate News reports. “Buildings account for two-thirds of the city’s emissions, so slashing their energy use is critical to meeting New York’s larger climate goals.”

The plan sets emissions caps for individual buildings and lays out a menu of options for meeting them. The local legislative package includes measures to get more green roofs in place, boost renewable energy use, and study options for replacing the city’s 24 large fossil plants within the city with renewable energy generation, InsideClimate states.

“As far as I know, this is the largest carbon reduction initiative for buildings anywhere in the world,” said John Mandyck, CEO of the non-profit Urban Green Council. The bill’s sponsor, Council Member Costa Constantinides, called it a “downpayment on the future of New York City,” adding that, “today, we sent that message to the world by enacting the boldest mandate to reduce carbon emissions.”

The Real Estate Board of New York opposed the bill on the basis that it exempted too many buildings. But “the legislation won the support of environmental groups, community activists, and unions, who cheered not just emissions cuts but the thousands of jobs they expected to be created by the demand for retrofitting buildings with new insulation and other energy efficiency measures,” InsideClimate writes.

The realtors’ objection to the bill tied in with the feature that made it realistic for New York’s lower-income residents. “A number of types of buildings, including houses of worship and any with a rent-regulated apartment, do not have to meet the emissions caps, but will instead be required to implement low-cost measures such as insulating pipes and windows and installing controls on radiators,” InsideClimate explains. That carve-out was “meant to ease the burden on poorer residents, since landlords would pass costs on to tenants. Buildings smaller than 25,000 square feet, which account for about 40% of the city’s building space, are not covered.”

While the real estate board said the bill covered too few buildings to meet its goals, and would discourage energy-intensive businesses in sectors like technology, its backers focused on the high carbon footprint of New York’s big luxury apartments.