In late September, much of New York City was underwater. A storm dropped seven inches of rain in less than a day. Flooding overtook basement apartments and filled streets to the hip; curtains of water fell over the open doors of subway trains.
Scientists have shown that storms like this one are getting wetter and more intense because of the climate crisis. The good news: New York City’s Local Law 97 promises to meaningfully tackle the greenhouse gas emissions driving the crisis.
Local Law 97 will cut emissions from some of the city’s biggest climate polluters — buildings. But the Adams administration has released rules that severely weaken the law’s impact.
September’s storm emphasizes the long-known fact that we need strong climate action, now. We can’t let Adams slow-walk action to the benefit of his wealthy real estate donors. We need Local Law 97 to be carried out to deliver its promise and potential.
How Local Law 97 Will Lower New York City’s Climate Pollution.
New York City’s buildings are responsible for two-thirds of all its emissions. That’s because they use a lot of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels.
Local Law 97 reduces buildings’ climate impact by placing limits on how much buildings can emit. The limits lower over time, and the first one goes into effect in 2024.
The second, lower limit takes effect in 2030, and the third limit mandates net-zero emissions by 2050. Buildings emitting above the limits will have to pay substantial fines.
Owners can tackle their emissions by converting their buildings to run on electricity. They can also improve their buildings’ energy efficiency with new appliances and better insulation. Improvements like these reduce the amount of energy their buildings use in the first place.
We know that these changes are good for people and the planet. Along with reducing climate impact, Local Law 97 will create tens of thousands of jobs; it’s projected to create more than 100,000 by 2030.
The law will also lower air pollution and energy bills. The latter is especially important as energy bills — particularly for homes with gas heating — rose to new heights last winter. We can expect more spikes this upcoming winter.
Mayor Adams’ Rules on Local Law 97 Cancel Out Many Benefits
In September, four years after the City passed Local Law 97, Mayor Eric Adams finally released rules proposing how the City would carry out and enforce it. But we were disappointed and frustrated to see two measures that will weaken it.
First, the proposed rules delay fines for buildings that haven’t met the first emissions limit. Instead of starting to issue fines next year, the rules propose starting in 2026.
That gives illegally emitting buildings a two-year free pass. It also gives landlords and real estate interests another two years to fight for even weaker rules.
Second, the rules give owners large leeway to buy renewable energy credits instead of making real improvements on their buildings. These credits are supposed to fund bringing more renewable energy onto the city’s grid.
But these credits take away local benefits for tenants and neighbors. All the jobs, lower energy bills, and lower air pollution won’t happen if owners aren’t actually improving their buildings.
Put simply, credits allow owners to buy their way out of climate action and avoid delivering benefits to New Yorkers.
Plus, more research is showing that renewable energy credits don’t actually help grow renewable energy projects. They often have a much lower climate impact than companies claim.
These two measures won’t help everyday New Yorkers. However, they will help Mayor Adams’ real estate donors, who have fought to weaken Local Law 97.
The real estate industry loves to argue that the law is too harsh to comply with, especially the 2024 limits. But by this past August, only 11% of the city’s buildings had yet to meet those 2024 limits. That’s far greater progress than the 20% that the City’s real estate board predicted.
What’s more, the law’s cost to real estate pales in comparison to the cost that climate change will have for New Yorkers.
New York Can’t Afford to Slow Walk Local Law 97
Climate change has already arrived in New York City. Besides September’s flooding, we have also seen a climate summer for the books.
In July, smoke from record-breaking wildfires in Canada turned the city’s air unbreathable. Soaring heat and humidity pushed bodies to their limits.
Heat-related deaths in the city have climbed over the past decade. This threat is especially dire for Black New Yorkers, who die from heat stress at double the rate of white residents.
It’s clear we need drastic action on climate change. Lives are at stake.
That’s why we’re demanding that the City carry out Local Law 97 without Mayor Adams’ watered-down rules. We can’t let landlords and real estate lobbyists hijack the climate action we desperately need.
While the real estate industry pours money into efforts to weaken Local Law 97, we’re fighting back.
With allies New York Communities for Change, college campus-based NYPIRG, and TREEage, an organization of teen climate activists, we’re pressuring the Adams administration to pull its proposed rules.
Together, we’ve rallied outside of City Hall and educated community members. We’ve mobilized dozens of volunteers and gathered support from council members and borough presidents across the City.
We know that Local Law 97 has huge potential to help create a more livable future for all New Yorkers. But we won’t get there by giving in to moneyed interests and slowing progress.
On November 2, we’re rallying again to demand that Mayor Adams pull his proposed rules. We need Adams to support working New Yorkers, not shill for his biggest campaign donors. We need climate action now, not in two years’ time. Our city and planet can’t wait.
New Yorkers: Help us help Local Law 97 reach its full potential! Join us at the rally on November 2.