Washington Post: Rules for major NYC climate law turn heads among developers, environmentalists

WASHINGTON POST, VANESSA MONTALBANO

Rules for major NYC climate law turn heads among developers, environmentalists

The New York City Buildings Department on Tuesday released the first set of final rules for a landmark climate law passed in 2019 that aims to significantly slash emissions from buildings that are larger than 25,000 square feet — the city’s biggest source of planet-warming pollution.

“Getting implementation of this law right is critical to the future of our City, which is why the Adams Administration is committed to a smart and carefully considered approach to this game-changing sustainability policy,” acting New York City Buildings Commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik said in a statement, referring to Mayor Eric Adams (D).

The finalized guidelines for Local Law 97 come after three years of uncertainty among property owners over how to comply with the law’s ambitious targets, which begin in 2024 for about 20 percent of buildings. The rules are meant to help determine each individual building’s yearly emissions allowance and energy use. By 2030, the regulations become much more stringent, with an expected 40 percent drop in buildings’ emissions citywide.

In October, the city agency released a draft version of the rules, immediately sparking criticism from environmentalists, who said the proposals risked weakening the intent behind the law, and real estate developers, who argue the rule is not specific enough.

But the final rules remain substantially unchanged from the original draft. The agency said it will be publishing more rules in the new year to address many of the concerns brought up during the public comment period and to further clarify what efficiency standards buildings will need to meet by 2024.
Already, the Real Estate Board of New York, or REBNY, has warned that about 13,500 commercial buildings are on track to miss strict 2030 compliance deadlines if energy consumption remains the same and if owners don’t purchase offsets, which is meant to compensate for on-site pollution via investments in land restoration or carbon storage elsewhere but is largely criticized by climate advocates as being ineffective.

Zachary Steinberg, REBNY’s senior vice president of policy, said that his company has been advocating throughout the rulemaking process for tools to help owners comply. He said there are two main concerns:

“What is the pace at which we’re demanding the reductions?”
“How does it reflect the economic activity that’s going on in those buildings?”
If building owners miss the deadlines, they could face a fine of $268 for each ton of emissions above the established limit, according to the city agency. However, Laura Popa, deputy commissioner for sustainability, told the Climate 202 that the agency is working on updated rules to address how the penalties will be assessed, “including consideration of mitigating factors like what constitutes a building owner’s ‘good faith efforts’ towards compliance.”

RECs on RECs on RECs
When the law was first approved, under Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D), an advisory board was created through the agency’s Bureau of Sustainability to help guide it and the mayor’s office on how to best reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve performance requirements under the law.

But now Pete Sikora, a member of the board and the climate and inequality campaigns director for New York Communities for Change, said it is unclear whether the current mayor, who did not appoint the people sitting on that board, will follow their suggestions.

“The question for the mayor is, is he going to side with working people to create jobs and cut pollution and fully implement the force of the world’s most important local level climate and jobs law, or is he going to side with the real estate lobby?” Sikora said.
He added his main issue involves relaxed rules around the “unlimited” use of renewable energy credits, or RECs, that the new rules say can be bought to offset the pollution caused by electricity use, as opposed to fossil fuels.

“If that’s the only limit, then the majority of office buildings don’t have to do anything at all through 2035. Literally nothing, but buy RECs,” Sikora said, adding that “that means the pollution would not actually be reduced, you just buy a REC.”

But, the agency said that those RECs are written directly into the law, so it can’t simply do away with them. Sikora and other environmentalists are proposing stricter limits on their use in the next set of rules to prevent wealthy property owners from “buying their way out of cutting their pollution,” he said.
Meanwhile, Steinberg said the RECs are critical to getting buildings on track for the more rigorous standards that will be enforced by the end of the decade. For one, he said, the construction needed to make most of those upgrades is very invasive and time consuming, especially at occupied buildings.

Plus, he said RECs are especially important right now while New York City still has a carbon intensive electricity grid, making it almost impossible for building owners to achieve 2024 targets without using them.

Once a reliable clean power market is established in New York, then Steinberg said the city should consider further limiting the RECs. Otherwise, the agency would just be holding owners accountable for what they can’t control, he added.

“We’re not sitting here saying there shouldn’t be climate regulations and we shouldn’t advance these goals of building decarbonization,” Steinberg said. “It’s about how are we going to do that and how do we do it in a cost-effective, rational way.”

Agency alert
Postal Service will electrify truck fleet by 2026 in climate win for Biden

The U.S. Postal Service will buy 66,000 new electric delivery trucks to build the biggest electric fleet on America’s roadways, marking a major achievement for a White House climate agenda that leans heavily on cutting emissions from vehicles, The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage scooped on Tuesday

The agency’s plans call for purchasing 60,000 delivery trucks from defense contractor Oshkosh, of which 45,000 will be electric. The Postal Service will also purchase 46,000 models from mainstream automakers, of which 21,000 will be electric.

President Biden has ordered the federal government to buy only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. With more than 217,000 vehicles, the Postal Service has the biggest share of the government’s civilian fleet. The agency will spend $9.6 billion on the vehicles and charging infrastructure, officials said, including $3 billion from the landmark climate law known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

Last year, the Postal Service initially intended to make only 10 percent of its fleet electric. But John Podesta, White House senior adviser for clean energy innovation, said he told Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that “the original plans were completely inadequate,” adding that DeJoy was open to discussing and revising the agency’s plans.

EPA enacts tougher pollution rule for trucks, vans and buses

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday unveiled a final rule aimed at curbing harmful tailpipe pollution from new trucks, delivery vans and buses, although the regulation does not go as far as many advocates had hoped, The Post’s Anna Phillips reports.

The Climate 202 scooped last week that the rule is not as stringent as California’s pollution standards for trucks, which many activists have hailed as a model for federal policy. Still, EPA Administrator Michael Regan told The Post that the regulation represents a “very aggressive action to protect the health of 72 million Americans and people living in these truck freight routes.”

Regan said the rule is the first step of a three-part plan to slash pollution and planet-warming emissions from trucks and buses. In the spring, the administration plans to release a separate set of greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

However, in a setback for California’s ability to set tailpipe pollution limits that are tougher than federal standards, the EPA also announced Tuesday that it would not decide until next year whether to issue the state a waiver under the Clean Air Act to enforce its own policies.

On the Hill
Spending deal includes climate-friendly agriculture bill

The government funding bill released Tuesday includes a bipartisan measure that seeks to help farmers sequester carbon on their land and verify the resulting emissions reductions, Marc Heller reports for E&E News.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act was introduced in April 2021 by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and other lawmakers. The measure passed the Senate last year by a 92-8 vote but stalled in the House amid opposition from Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), the incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee, as well as Democrats who wanted bolder climate policies.

The version of the bill that was included in the omnibus would create a registry of vendors who could help farmers measure the carbon reductions from conservation practices. But it would not require the Agriculture Department to certify these vendors as the original bills proposed.

The modified language reflects a compromise with Thompson, who sought to ensure that farmers would benefit financially from selling carbon credits, according to House Republican aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations.

Ben Pendergrass, vice president of government affairs at Citizens Climate Lobby, a group that advocates for carbon pricing, told The Climate 202 that the measure will boost the credibility of carbon offset programs by getting the government involved.

“Right now, it’s kind of like the Wild West,” Pendergrass said. “This will put some guardrails around carbon markets, giving people who are buying these credits more assurance that what they’re buying is actually sequestering carbon.”

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