On January 1, 2024, New York City became the largest city in the United States to ban polluting, poisoning fossil fuels in new buildings. The city’s gas ban, passed in 2021, was a huge victory for grassroots activism. And as the climate movement gains momentum, New York is setting a new benchmark for meaningful action in the U.S.
The city has been setting these remarkable benchmarks for nearly a decade. Back in 2014, thousands of climate activists marched in New York City against fossil fuels. Months later, the state passed a nation-leading statewide ban on fracking. Five years after that, the state legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
New York’s Climate Act is still a vanguard for greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandates nationwide. It requires a 40% reduction from 1990 pollution levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050. This climate action can’t come soon enough. From deadly flooding to suffocating wildfire smoke, the stark reality of our climate-changed world is making its mark in New York.
The challenge now is achieving the aggressive goals in the climate law, and we’re hard at work pushing New York’s elected officials to do just that.
As we careen into a dangerous unknown, New Yorkers are fighting against all odds for a livable future. At City Council hearings and in the State House, on street corners and at farmers’ markets, New Yorkers have spent the last five years stopping gas plants and pipelines, passing gas bans, and expanding publicly owned renewable energy.
Here’s what comes next.
New York Climate Laws Will Slash Building Emissions
Buildings are New York City’s largest polluters, responsible for 70% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Getting serious about climate and public health means getting serious about cleaning up the buildings where we live, work, and play.
As of January 1, all new buildings under seven stories built in New York City must be all-electric. According to New York State Energy Research and Development Authority president and CEO Doreen Harris, that means roughly 20,000 new units across all five boroughs with zero fossil fuels. And it means thousands of people going about their lives in buildings with cleaner indoor air, lower energy bills, and no climate pollution.
The new year also saw New York City’s Local Law 97 go into effect. Also known as New York City’s Green New Deal Law, Local Law 97 is the world’s most important city-level climate and jobs law. It sets existing large buildings on a path to eliminating emissions by 2050, and, if properly implemented, could create tens of thousands of new green jobs.
Despite Mayor Adams’ new rules for Local Law 97, which delay enforcement and introduce loopholes, New Yorkers are already seeing benefits from it. Owners of the city’s largest buildings have made common-sense improvements, like new windows and lightbulb swaps, in anticipation of the law’s enactment. And compliance is far outpacing initial estimates.
And this is only the beginning. Under New York’s All-Electric Building Act, passed this year, every new building in the state will be built without fossil fuels by 2029. That translates to roughly 40,000 buildings every year.
Not Just Climate — Electrification Saves Lives
The New York City and state gas bans combined will dramatically slash emissions, preventing up to 6.1 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2040. That’s the same as keeping 1.3 million cars off the road.
Aside from its life-saving climate effects, New York City’s gas ban will also mean cleaner air, indoors and out. From stoves to boilers, fossil-fueled appliances in our homes release dangerous air pollution. Heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases like asthma, and even premature death can all be traced to these mainstays.
A recent study found that nearly one-fifth of childhood asthma cases in New York are attributable to gas stoves in homes. Another study found that fossil fuel use in New York buildings led to nearly 2,000 premature deaths — more than half in New York City alone.
These impacts disproportionately harm communities of color. But eliminating gas in buildings will eliminate associated health risks and save lives.
We Can’t Afford to Keep Fossil-Fueled Homes
Electric appliances are not only healthier than their fossil-fueled counterparts — they also mean lower energy bills. For one, many electric appliances, like heat pumps and electric water heaters, are more energy efficient. For another, electrification means cutting the cord on volatile fossil fuel prices, which have driven energy bills sky-high in recent winters.
Modeling suggests that new all-electric single-family homes in New York City will have 10% lower annual utility costs, which means $6,800 in savings over 15 years. A separate analysis found that all-electric construction would save residents of new homes statewide an average of $904 per year in heating costs. This is especially important for low-income families, who spend three times more of their income on energy than non-low-income families.
But not everyone is building a new home or moving into one. Millions of New Yorkers live, work, and play in unhealthy, expensive, polluting, fossil-fueled buildings. And the costs are ballooning. Double-digit rate hikes up- and down-state are saddling families with as much as $70 extra in energy costs every month.
We can change that. We are fighting for bold legislation that will lower energy costs and support an affordable transition off fossil fuels for all buildings.
The Next Step for New York: the NY HEAT Act
The NY HEAT Act would stop new gas expansions and prevent utilities from passing the costs of new gas lines onto existing customers, which costs New Yorkers $200 million a year. The bill would also cap energy bills at no more than 6% of household income for low- and middle-income families. This would save them as much as $75 every month.
The legislation is politically popular; it passed in the State Senate last year. Earlier this month, Governor Hochul threw her support behind the bill by including some of its key provisions in her 2024 budget proposal. This year, we’re calling on Governor Hochul and the state legislature to get the full bill passed.
From the state fracking ban back in 2014 to the All-Electric Building Act, we’ve seen how grassroots organizing can achieve huge progress in New York. Now, as always, we’re pounding the pavement and hitting the phones to make a real difference for families and the planet.
Into 2024, we’ll be fighting for the NY HEAT Act and even more climate action. That’s how we win healthier communities, affordable energy, and a livable future for everyone.
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