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NYC Energy Audit Shows Cleaner City, But Not Because of Transportation

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 07:10 PM

New York City is polluting less. The city's newly released 2010 greenhouse gas audit reveals that America's largest city reduced carbon emissions by 1.1 percent in 2010, down to a total of 54.3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That's a slightly smaller reduction than previous years.

On a per capita basis, New Yorkers use about one third the national average when it comes to energy consumption. The report attributes that strong environmental showing to several factors including smaller average home size, especially in apartment buildings, and the nation's highest rate of non-automobile commuting. The city says, 76.7 percent of New Yorkers get to work without using a private car.

That's partly why transportation in New York emits just 21 percent of GHGs compared to 29 percent nationally, according to the most U.S. recent greenhouse gas audit from the Environmental Protection Agency. Here's how the transportation energy consumption breaks down in NYC, in the NYC audit:

2010 Transportation greenhouse gas emissions in NYC. Click to enlarge.

It is buildings, though, that are the biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters in the big apple at 75 percent of the total. Commercial and residential buildings -- including the fuel to heat them and the electricity to power the air conditioners that cools them -- combine to emit almost four times as much CO2 as transportation sources in New York City. That's why much of the gains in environmental efficiency recently have come from more efficient energy use in buildings and in power generation improvements.

As explained in the audit, there are myriad factors at play: "New York City’ s carbon footprint decreased 11.7 percent from 2005 to 2010, due to milder weather, reduced electricity use, reduced heating fuel use, reduced solid waste generation, new power plants and cleaner imported electricity, more efficient steam generation..." Transportation didn't even make the long list.

As this chart shows, how New Yorkers get around hasn't changed all that much, so it just isn't a major factor in the environmental changes from the last year:

Click to enlarge.

For a national point of reference, according to the EPA greenhouse gas audit, transportation emissions dropped four percent from 2008 to 2009, the most recent data available. That's due in large part to the economic slowdown that reduced travel and shipping levels. Before that, America had been on a steady march towards higher and higher transportation emissions, according to the EPA. Transportation emissions have risen 17 percent since 1990, "due, in large part, to increased demand for travel and the stagnation of fuel efficiency across the U.S. vehicle fleet."

New York City is nearly on pace to meet the goals set by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007 to reduce overall emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

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