WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Despite an ongoing budget crisis, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said making the city's air the cleanest of any U.S. city is the legacy he cares most about. The mayor unveiled updates to his environmental master-plan on Thursday as his administration attempts to double down on the greening of the Big Apple.
The 2011 version of PlaNYC, the greening initiative first released in 2007, includes the following new items:
• The phasing out of the city's biggest contributors to its heating oil soot — No. 6 and No. 4 oil, which are responsible for 85 percent of it — by 2015.
• A not-for-profit corporation to fund energy efficiency projects for buildings of all size.
• Utility-scale solar energy projects at capped municipal landfills like Fresh Kills in Staten Island that could power 12,000 homes while cutting the city's carbon foot print.
• Increasing the city's recycling goal and diverting 75 percent of the city's garbage from landfill disposal.
• Promoting urban agriculture, community gardens and composting.
• Establishing the NYC Community Brownfield Planning District (CBPD) Program and designating 25 planning districts where brownfield redevelopment is linked to community revitalization and eligible for city grants.
• Water Quality: invest $2.9 billion to construct cost-effective gray infrastructure projects that reduce the amount of untreated water discharged into our waterways.
• Make climate change part of Office of Emergency's Planning
At the PlaNYC rollout on Thursday, the production values were on the theatrical scale of a Bloomberg State of the City address including a docu-short and a panel of experts who warmed up the audience for the mayor inside Harlem's Gatehouse, part of the city's Croton reservoir system built in 1890. Administration staffers were also in attendance along with dozens of environmental activists.
Despite an ongoing budget crisis, Bloomberg, keeping the pledge first made in 2007, said making the city's air the cleanest of any U.S. city is the legacy he cares most about. He said 97 percent of the 127 PlaNYC agenda items from 2007 were launched within one year, but conceded some big items like congestion pricing had been beyond his grasp.
"There are some things we haven't gotten done but not because we haven't tried," said Bloomberg. "This is democracy, and sometimes democracies take awhile to realize what is in everybody's best interest and to come around."
He continued, "Some people say PlaNYC failed because you haven't gotten congestion pricing. ... I think we just have to find a ways to do what's right in the future."
The mayor, who leads the international coalition of mayors known as C40, is looking to head off global warming, and said green initiatives like bike lanes and turning Times Square into a pedestrian mall are already paying public health dividends.
"You wonder if some of these things matter," Bloomberg said. "Let me point out that life expectancy in New York City is today ... greater than it was 2002 when we came into office."
Working with the Environmental Defense Fund, the Bloomberg Administration is zeroing in on two classes of heating oil, No. 4 and No. 6, which expert says are used in just a fraction of the city's structures but cause the lion's share of soot.
"Just think about that — 4 and 6 oil more pollution than all the trucks and cars pollution combined is a major contributor to often deadly respiratory diseases," Bloomberg said. "The most defenseless New Yorkers, the very young and the very old and the already ill especially in low-income communities are the most vulnerable to its pollutants."
Isabelle Silverman, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said building owners who are burning the No. 4 and No. 6 would actually come out ahead financially if they made the switch to less polluting fuel.
"There's a real business case for buildings to save money," said Silverman. "When they go to the cleaner fuel, and waste less fuel."