Electeds and environmental activists criticized rules they say would weaken the city’s efforts to crack down on pollution from large buildings during a Tuesday hearing.
Local Law 97 is set to go into effect next year and will require thousands of the city’s largest buildings to curb their carbon emissions or pay stiff penalties.
Rules outlined last month would allow for owners who aren’t in compliance but show “good faith efforts” to get a two-year extension — something many owners have welcomed but environmental activists say could “gut” the legislation.
“Don’t promulgate rules that contain dangerous delays and unnecessary loopholes,” said organizer Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch. “The law’s standards are realistic, they’re practical, they’re achievable and they’re necessary.”
Councilman Lincoln Restler said the proposed rules would “undermine the intent of the law and severely compromise our ability to meet the emissions targets.”
“We must send a clear message to every building owner and every building manager in New York City that efficiency upgrades are not optional,” the Brooklyn Dem added.
The city has cited pandemic delays as one reason for the two-year allowance. Department of Buildings spokesman Andrew Rudansky pointed out that “good faith” provisions were included in the original text of Local Law 97 when it was passed in 2019.
“Some buildings have an easier and less costly road to reducing their emissions. Others have a much harder and extended pathway,” said DOB’s Laura Popa.
A number of elected officials expressed concern stemming from the agency’s staffing, pointing to the city government’s hiring freeze.
“[The department] currently doesn’t have the capacity to review every compliance plan for those requesting a delay, so we cannot expect them to be able to handle this massive influx of paperwork,” said Councilman Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan). “All this would do is delay the program even further.”
Rudansky told the Daily News that the department’s vacancy rate is currently 13%, similar to pre-pandemic levels, and said the agency is “continuously planning ahead” for the rollout of Local Law 97.
Buildings are New York City’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city comptroller’s office. And while most buildings subject to Local Law 97 are already in compliance, many of the remaining 11% or so have been pushing back.
“We don’t want to see this law weakened in order to make things easier for building owners and the real estate industry,” testified former civil servant Edith Kantrowitz.
Several speakers voiced their appreciation for the “good faith” allowances. Others went further and said the rules are still too burdensome.
“I see that as a way to lock in property owners to make sure that they do get ultimate compliance,” Councilman James Gennaro (D-Queens) said of the directive. “I support the rules. They are certainly faithful to the law that we all passed.”
“Overall, these rules go far to ensuring the city’s financially struggling rental housing is better able to comply with the law,” said Adam Roberts of the Community Housing Improvement Program.
The DOB will review the public comments and release a final version of the proposed rules by the end of the year.