Op-Ed | Build a Green New Deal for New York

Washington D.C. resident Bill Snape, who represents The Center for Biological Diversity, dressed as a polar bear trying to bring attention to climate change outside the presidential debate at Hofstra University on Sept. 26, 2016.
File photo


It takes just one glance at a map of hurricane evacuation zones to understand the problem: New York City is in big trouble if climate change continues to accelerate. Now, we’re being punished by COVID because we failed to prepare properly even though scientists also told us to act. Yet we can make the crisis an opportunity for creating massive numbers of good jobs as we move to remedy our city’s inequalities. We’ll need big job-creating strategies to climb out of this economic crisis.

Last year, the Council passed Local Law 97 of 2019, which can become the beginning of a Green New Deal for New York. It requires large buildings to slash their climate pollution, which will generate tens of thousands of good jobs in design, construction and renovation as building owners upgrade their properties to high energy efficiency.

The law’s first requirements start in 2024, but a ramp-up in hiring as owners plan for compliance is already taking place. As energy efficiency designs are converted into hands-on work for contractors, there will soon be a substantial boom in renovation and construction work.
That’s just for starters.

Legislation we support will expand Local Law 97’s pollution reduction requirements to more large buildings, specifically rent-regulated buildings whose landlords can no longer impose “Major Capital Improvement” rent hikes under new state rent laws (the state’s new laws passed after Local Law 97 was enacted). This bill would create thousands of good jobs because many more large buildings’ landlords would be required to upgrade to high energy efficiency to slash their climate pollution.

We’re going to transform Rikers Island into a worldwide symbol of renewal by passing the Renewable Rikers Act. These bills will transfer ownership of the correctional facility to the Department of Environmental Protection and lead to construction of a large solar power facility on the island.

Turning Rikers into a clean energy hub for the city will be a fitting transformation as the city closes the facility.
In the longer term, we’ll need to pass a version of Local Law 97 to cover smaller buildings and create more supportive programs for these building owners, which will also create a massive wave of good, sustainable jobs over the coming decades.

At the same time, we will urge our state government not to allow permits for big, new fracked gas power plants in the City. In particular, Astoria Generating’s proposal for a 550MW plant in Sunset Park and NRG’s proposal for the Astoria waterfront would extend our city’s dependency on fossil fuels while polluting the air. Offshore wind, high energy efficiency, energy efficiency, an upgraded electric grid, and solar are our city’s energy future. The state should also raise taxes on corporations and the rich, who have benefitted from big tax cuts, to match with private investment for the massive, rapid transformation needed, including maximizing good, union jobs for low income and communities of color.

One of us is an activist who works in construction and one of us chairs the NYC Council’s committee on Environmental Protection. As New Yorkers, we’re in this together: In the Council we’ll hold hearings and consider legislation that continues to build a Green New Deal for New York. In construction, we’ll do the work to upgrade our city’s buildings to high energy efficiency and build the solar and wind power plus energy storage the city needs. Let’s learn from this crisis to transition to an opportunity to create good jobs to slash pollution. It’s time to get it done.

Councilmember Costa Constantinides was the prime sponsor of Local Law 97 of 2019. He is the prime sponsor of Intro 1947 and the Renewable Rikers agenda. Constantinides chairs the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.

Teo Salinas, a community leader from Sunset Park, works in construction and advocates for creating good, green jobs. He is a member of New York Communities for Change, a community organization.