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Eric Adams Starts Backing Off NYC’s Landmark Climate Rules

Mercy for landlords, a burning planet for everyone else.

4:11 PM EDT on September 14, 2023

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso speaking at a rally on September 14th, 2023. (Hell Gate)

For months, environmental advocates have been waiting with bated breath for the Department of Buildings to release its rules on how Local Law 97, New York's landmark climate bill, which is meant to decarbonize its carbon-spewing building stock, will actually be implemented. At stake was whether the Adams administration was serious about making landlords and big real estate do the hard work of transitioning off of fossil fuels for heating their buildings. 

On Tuesday, those tense environmental advocates finally got their hands on the new rules—and sure enough, Eric Adams had given his friends in real estate a huge, whopping gift—a two-year delay before the owners of large buildings are hit with penalties. In the original legislation, all buildings that exceed the carbon emissions limits set by LL97 were due to be handed fines for over-the-limit emissions they spewed in 2024. But now, if these proposed rules go into effect, a building owner can wiggle out of penalties if they demonstrate to the DOB that they're making "good faith efforts" to reduce their emissions. Those "good faith efforts" include coming up with a substantive plan with the DOB to start the decarbonization process for their buildings. (The proposed rules are subject to public comment before becoming finalized.) Advocates told Hell Gate that the "good faith efforts" are simply a stalling tactic, and that building owners have already had five years to prepare for implementation of the law. 

"Buildings that choose the decarbonization plan route to apply for Good Faith Efforts are given two years to meet specific benchmarks," a DOB spokesperson told Hell Gate. "If the building owners don’t meet those annual benchmarks, DOB can issue the back penalties they did not receive during those two years."

But environmental advocates aren't convinced this isn't anything but capitulation to the mayor's donors.

"[Mayor Adams] made a calculation that he's going to stand with his wealthy developer friends, instead of standing with the people of New York who have been suffering from deadly heat," Eric Weltman, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, told Hell Gate.

These proposed rules would also mean that building owners get another two years to continue lobbying both courts and the City to weaken the law, before they have to get serious about doing anything to cut emissions. 

At a rally outside of City Hall on Thursday, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso bashed Adams's delay in implementation. "We have over 100,000 people in homeless shelters, but we're not solving for that problem," said Reynoso. "What the mayor does have time for is to solve problems for the developer class. The mayor is saying the people with the most amount of resources, and the least amount of need, need more help."

In addition to the two-year delay, the DOB's proposed rules also fail to limit the use of renewable energy credits, which would allow building owners to offset their fines by investing in renewable energy projects. (The DOB has barred buildings involved in "good faith efforts" from purchasing RECs for the next several years).

Environmental advocates worry that unlimited use of RECs could derail the whole law, by allowing wealthy building owners to just buy their way out of compliance, avoiding costly retrofits. 

Explaining the proposed rules, a DOB spokesperson downplayed the credits, explaining they would only apply to a type of credit that isn't currently available for purchase, and that they won't be ready until the completion of major renewable energy projects, which are currently delayed until 2026. The DOB might revisit the RECs issue before 2026 with further rules, if the need arises. Those building owners taking advantage of the "good faith effort" provision would be barred from using RECs before 2030, the DOB spokesperson noted. 

Right now, 11 percent of New York's buildings aren't on track to meet the 2024-2029 compliance requirements in LL97, which was better than the original forecast of 20 percent when the law was written. Compliance is based on a complicated formula regarding a building's energy use and energy source, relative to its size. 

But despite the fact that most building owners are moving toward compliance, big real estate interests continue to see LL97 as an existential threat. Leading the charge against LL97 has been the Real Estate Board of New York, currently headed by Douglas Durst, of the Durst Organization, who has found several of his family's building's out of compliance with the new laws. Durst has hired former Adams Chief of Staff Frank Carone to advise on "business strategy." (Carone has said he did not advise his client on lobbying City Hall on Local Law 97 implementation.) REBNY has poured tens of thousands of dollars into lobbying against a strict implementation of the law, and according to public records, REBNY has spent over $85,000 lobbying City government on various issues so far this year, including Local Law 97.

REBNY is also behind the group Homeowners for a Stronger New York, which passes itself off as a group of co-op owners and homeowners concerned about the financial impacts that Local Law 97 will have on New Yorkers made to upgrade their heating. AMNY revealed earlier this year that the group gets all of its funding from REBNY.

A spokesperson for the Durst Organization told Hell Gate that its "taking a close look at the plan" and hopes that it "addresses some of our prior concerns." A spokesperson for REBNY said that it would also review the new rules.

The DOB's rules are now subject to a 30-day public comment period, and the Department of Buildings will hold a public hearing on the proposed rule on October 24. 

"We're going to pack the hearing and flood with comments, work with our allies on the City Council and push back to make sure we don't undercut a law that's not only important for New York's future, but for the entire world," said Food & Water Watch's Weltman. "What happens in New York City doesn't just stay in New York City—if we can get this right, every other city will know which path to take." 

Editor's Note: After feedback from the Department of Buildings, details in the article surrounding the deadline for compliance for buildings that make "good faith efforts"have been changed.

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