Espinal Takes Lead in Public Advocate Race On Environmental Issues

Council Member Rafael Espinal

City Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick, East New York) is leading the charge to make New York City one of the country’s top environmentally conscious cities, work he plans to continue if he is elected Public Advocate on February 26.

The Brooklyn native has made protecting the planet a central part of his campaign platform right from the start, committing himself to environmental issues as a top priority.

“The next Public Advocate has to be an advocate for all New Yorkers and they also must be an advocate for the environment that sustains us. Many New Yorkers are doing great things to protect the environment and stop climate change but the city government needs to be held accountable to make sure it actually achieves its environmental goals,” Espinal says.

Council Member Rafael Espinal (Contributed Photo)

Espinal, 34, in the last year, has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at decreasing the environmental footprint of New York City. One of these bills would make all NYC roofs “green”, requiring that new commercial developments cover all available roof space with a green roof system, solar panels, and small wind turbines, or a combination of all three.

“Green roofs help cool down the city and reduce stormwater problems, and solar energy helps us fight climate change and break free from the big energy companies who burn fossil fuels,” says Espinal.

In his time on the City Council, Espinal has seen the evolution of New York’s environmental policies as they become more mainstream. He welcomed the ambitious environmental goals in the City’s One Plan, but worries that not enough is being done to achieve the goals.

“Zero waste to landfill by 2030 is a great goal, but we’re not on track to achieve it. It’s the same with our stormwater goals – good plans, but not enough action. Meanwhile, our streets still flood too often and we’re creating too much trash. The next Public Advocate needs to push to get these plans back on track,” he says.

The environmentally conscious lawmaker is so committed to the issue, that if elected Public Advocate, he would create a team of staff dedicated to environmental issues. This team would focus on making sure other city agencies are meeting their environmental goals, as well as putting forward new ideas for legislation.

Espinal has already promoted one such idea, creating support for urban agriculture. He sees growing fresh, healthy food on New York’s rooftops as an important step towards reducing our reliance on food that travels a long distance before it hits our plates. By building greenhouses in all schools, Espinal hopes to educate children about where healthy food comes from.

And last May, Espinal introduced a bill that would ban non-biodegradable plastic straws and stirrers in New York City food service establishments.  If passed, the bill would make New York City the largest metropolitan area to institute a ban of this type.

City Councilman and Public Advocate candidate Rafael Espinal at a farmer’s market near Irving Square Park. Contributed photo.

“We use 13 million plastic straws every day in New York and a lot of them end up in the oceans, where they get eaten by fish and birds. That messes up our oceans and contaminates the whole food chain,” Espinal says.

The bill even got top celebrity activist Adrian Grenier to rally alongside the Brooklyn native as they pushed for passage of the legislation.

The planet conscious elected then followed that bill up this week with new legislation that would ban single-use plastic items for a sustainable alternative exists. The bill is set to lead the city into a plastic free future.

The measure would require the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), in consultation with the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to annually evaluate available alternatives for single-use plastic items. If the agency determines that there is an economically and environmentally viable alternative, the single-use plastic item will be banned.

“Plastic pollution poses an ever-growing threat to our marine ecosystems, our health, and our planet. We cannot afford to sit on our hands when it comes to the mind-boggling amount of plastic that pours into our oceans every year, every month, every hour. The scale of this crisis demands urgent, radical government action. Otherwise, we will soon live in a world where there is more plastic in our oceans than fish,” said Espinal.

Sponsored by Espinal for NYC.