When progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York last year, many were hopeful that he would follow his strong words about addressing climate change with some real action. But there weren't a lot of signs of that during his first year in office, disappointing many environmental activists. Among other things, he had left the directorship of the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability empty. That office was created by the city's previous mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been a strong advocate for climate action.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
But now, Inside Climate News reports, that may be changing.
Last week, de Blasio appointed Nilda Mesa, who has worked at the White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as leading Columbia University's sustainability program, to be director of a new Office of Sustainability. That office will combine the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability and the Office of Environmental Coordination, which Mesa had headed since September, and will focus on addressing climate impacts.
"I am thrilled to lead the Office of Sustainability as we implement the mayor’s sweeping new policies and work toward an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050,” said Mesa in a statement. "As New Yorkers, we’re all in this together. We breathe the same air, drink from the same water supply and suffer the same impacts of climate change. Let’s leave a legacy for our kids that will make them proud.”
Environmental groups were positive about the announcement.
"She has sterling environmental credentials and the ear of the mayor and his top officials—two extremely valuable assets for success in this position," Eric Goldstein, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's New York City Environment program, told Inside Climate News. "There had been a gap in critical personnel. We're glad it has been filled by a quality candidate."
“We look forward to working with her and the administration on the city’s next comprehensive sustainability plan, and on the larger mission of creating a greener, healthier city for all,"Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, told the New York Capital. The group has previously charged de Blasio with not being aggressive enough on climate issues.
While de Blasio spent much of his first year addressing other issues such as schools, housing and transportation, he took strong environmental stands during the UN Climate Summit and the People's Climate March in his city in September. He made a pledge to cut the city's emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels, making New York the largest city in the world to commit to such an ambitious goal. At that time, he released a plan called One City Built to Last that described what the city would do and what private landlords would be required to do to to become more energy efficient. It laid out a detailed blueprint for retrofitting buildings, cutting energy use and developing clean, sustainable energy sources, as well as creating green jobs.
"Given the ambitious agenda that Mayor de Blasio has laid out and the great leadership he has put in place, it's apparent that he is devoting much-needed attention to NYC's climate and environmental issues," Kizzy Charles-Guzman, policy director of The Nature Conservancy's NYC Program and a former member of the long-term planning agency's staff, told Inside Climate News.
In addition, Inside Climate News reports, the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists working to analyze the impact of global warming on the region, will be issuing new projections in a month or two.
"Not having someone in leadership didn't stop our work at all," said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a Columbia University climate scientist and co-chair of the panel. "But I'm thrilled all the same that someone is now there to lead, and that that person is [Mesa]."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
- Biden Commits to Banning Fossil Fuel Subsidies After DNC Dropped It ›
- As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs ... ›
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Grayson Jaggers
The connection between the pandemic and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress of isolation coupled with a struggling economy has caused many of us to seek comfort with our old friends: Big Mac, Tom Collins, Ben and Jerry. But overindulging in this kind of food and drink might not just be affecting your waistline, but could potentially put you at greater risk of illness by hindering your immune system.
- 15 Indigenous Crops to Boost Your Immune System and Celebrate ... ›
- 15 Supplements to Boost Your Immune System Right Now - EcoWatch ›
- Should I Exercise During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Experts ... ›
- The Immune System's Fight Against the Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
As the world continues to navigate the line between reopening and maintaining safety protocols to slow the spread of the coronavirus, rapid and accurate diagnostic screening remains critical to control the outbreak. New mobile-phone-based, self-administered COVID-19 tests being developed independently around the world could be a key breakthrough in making testing more widely available, especially in developing nations.
- FDA Approves First In-Home Test for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- When Should You Get a COVID-19 or Antibody Test? - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
- Trump Insider Embeds Climate Denial Into Agency Reports ... ›
- Climate Denier Is Named to Leadership Role at NOAA - EcoWatch ›
New Jersey is one step closer to passing what environmental advocates say is the strongest anti-plastic legislation in the nation.