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Climate Change: New York City Buildings to Face Greenhouse Gas Limits – Or ‘face steep fines’

  • The city is expected to pass a law that would establish fines for buildings that do not comply with new emission caps.

New York City is about to embark on an ambitious plan to fight climate change that would force thousands of large buildings, like the Empire State Building and Trump Tower, to sharply reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation, expected to be passed by the City Council on Thursday, would set emission caps for many different types of buildings, with the goal of achieving a 40 percent overall reduction of emissions by 2030. Buildings that do not meet the caps could face steep fines.

The effort comes as New York, among other states, has undertaken a number of initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, and as the country debates the merits and necessity of the Green New Deal, the congressional proposal to tackle climate change and create new high-paying jobs in clean energy industries.

But New York City’s move — opposed by real estate industry executives in part because of the associated costs to meet the new targets — may be unprecedented, according to John Mandyck, the chief executive of the Urban Green Council, an umbrella group that includes real estate developers and environmental groups, among others.

“This is huge,” Mr. Mandyck said. “I haven’t seen a city that has tackled climate change head-on in a way like this, setting specific targets for buildings and providing a path forward for how they can comply through innovative policy tools.”

Buildings are among the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions because they use lots of energy for heating, cooling and lighting, and they tend to be inefficient, leaking heat in the winter and cool air in the summer through old windows or inadequate insulation. An inventoryof greenhouse gas emissions published in 2017 found that buildings accounted for 67 percent of the city’s emissions.

The legislation, part of a package of bills known as the Climate Mobilization Act, comes after little progress was made during years of efforts to nudge, cajole or provide incentives to building owners to make voluntary cuts in energy use.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called the bill “very aggressive” during an unrelated news conference last week, has said that he would sign the legislation, and that his administration had worked closely with the Council as it drafted the bill. The mayor has been toying with running for president, and he has sought opportunities to project himself on a national stage as a champion of progressive causes, including as a leader in fighting climate change.

“It’s going to revolutionize our ability to reduce emissions through our buildings which are really our No. 1 problem here in New York City,” the mayor said.