New York City’s 3-year climate law finally gets some details

In 2019, the city council passed Local Law 97 with ambitious goals to fight climate change by putting carbon caps on the city’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings.

But over the past three years, there has been little indication of how owners and managers might achieve the ambitious goals.

On Thursday, the Buildings Department finally released a set of draft rules that govern how landlords can comply with the law.

But even as some owners began to figure out how to comply with the law, the lack of specific regulations prevented them from moving forward. The proposed rules provide some clarity.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty until now on a number of questions that will be really important in determining how to calculate your emissions, when you need to start doing it in 2024,” said Zachary Steinberg, senior vice president of the policy for the New York Real Estate Board, which pointed out that the rules needed further consideration.

Most building owners to whom the law applies must comply with the law starting in 2024, and emissions limits will be reduced in 2030 and 2050. Otherwise, owners could face fines of $268 for each tonne of emissions above the limit.

The proposed rules provide ways to determine each building‘s energy consumption and annual allowance for the amount of greenhouse gases it may emit.

The DOB also released a preliminary list of buildings subject to the law. Local Law 97 applies to all buildings over 25,000 square feet, including some grocery stores, distribution centers, offices, and several types of apartment buildings.

The DOB will finalize the rules by the end of the year, after a public hearing on Nov. 14. And working with a series of working groups, the agency will develop more rules for how the law will work in the future.

“This is a major overhaul of New York City’s physical infrastructure over the next several decades, so its implementation is critically important,” said Pete Sikora, director of campaigns on the Climate and Inequality at New York Communities for Change. “The implications are simply huge: thousands of jobs and huge pollution reductions at stake.”

Large targets

The goal of Local Law 97 is to reduce building emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 in the five boroughs.

The city is using its own properties as a test case for the law, supporting more than 10,000 energy efficiency projects among 2,000 buildings since 2014, according to the DOB.

A 2022 report from the Center for an Urban Future noted that while these buildings have shown an overall decrease in emissions of nearly 10% since 2014, eight of 25 city agency buildings have actually increased their emissions.

One way for building owners to comply with the law without making changes is to purchase renewable energy credits generated by solar and wind projects to offset their buildings’ carbon emissions related to electricity consumption supplied. by public services. Most of the electricity that powers New York City is generated from fossil fuels.

The option to purchase renewable energy credits, which the proposed rules do not limit, will likely benefit the commercial sector – where electricity accounts for a larger share of the energy used – than the residential sector. For most residential buildings, the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions come from equipment that provides heat and hot water, which means buying on credit will only help homeowners conform.

Homeowners will eventually be able to buy credits tied to two massive power transmission projects underway to help bring clean electricity to the city, but the law goes into effect before those projects come online.

The energy efficiency rating sign on an office building at 50th Street, November 5, 2021.

Hiram Alejandro Duran/ THE CITY

To physically conform to the ceilings, building owners can, for example, replace oil and gas furnaces and water heaters with more efficient electric models.

At Luna Park, a five-building Mitchell-Lama co-op in Coney Island with more than 5,000 residents, the council is looking to install energy-efficient heat pumps, which can keep an apartment warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

“We plan to go green and not have a boiler system,” said board chairman Roman Grinberg. Its development, like other low-income rental and co-op properties, will not have to comply with the law until 2035.

In the air

Without the rules finalized, owners have wondered what to do to comply with the law, especially since its regulations are pending.

“Until all the variables are fixed, it’s hard to make decisions,” Durst Organization spokesman Jordan Borowitz said. Durst previously said his One Bryant Park skyscraper in Manhattan could face $2.4 million in fines under the law.

Several questions about the operation of the law remain, and some should be addressed in future rule proposals. For example, the DOB said it would reduce fines for landlords who demonstrate “good faith efforts,” as the proposed rules state, or who face hardship but have not yet define what it is.

And little information is available on enforcement mechanisms, including how the DOB will issue penalties and how landowners can seek redress or appeal.

“These rules don’t directly answer those questions about enforcement,” said Danielle Spiegel-Feld, executive director of NYU’s Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy and Land Use Law.

The city introduced property owners to its NYC Accelerator program, which provides guidance and resources for buildings to emit less carbon and become more energy efficient.

Laurie Schoeman, director of climate and sustainability in the capital division at Enterprise Community Partner and a member of a group helping to write the rules for Local Law 97, stressed the importance of federal funds about to be paid to New York from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“As a city, we need to take advantage of this moment and leverage additional federal and state financial support to help bring these buildings into service, to help these buildings adapt,” a- she declared. “We are at a very important inflection point for the city. You should take advantage. »

About Ethel Nester

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