New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Real Estate Industry Pushes Back Against Clean Air Rules

New York City

Climate Mobilization Act, COVID-19, building ventilation, carbon emissions, co-op and condo boards.

"Climate change is not putting itself on hold because of COVID-19."

Aug. 31, 2020

This was probably inevitable. The coronavirus pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of co-op and condo life in New York City. Now it’s threatening to derail the city’s ambitious plan to slash the carbon emissions of big buildings, the Daily News reports.

In 2019, before the pandemic hit, the city enacted Local Law 97 to cap emissions given off by buildings, including co-ops and condominiums, that are 25,000 square feet or larger – about 50,000 buildings citywide. The restrictions begin to go into effect in 2024 and are intended to cut emissions 80% by 2050. Building owners who fail to meet staggered benchmarks will face stiff fines. But now some building owners are claiming that those goals have become harder to reach after the state instituted pandemic-inspired ventilation guidelines in order to make their interior spaces safe.

“There’s a need to increase the rate of air replacement and have greater filtration,” says Jordan Barowitz, head of government relations for the Durst Organization, which owns and operates dozens of buildings in the city, including commercial skyscrapers, mixed-use residential buildings and rental housing. “To make a space more COVID-safe, you’re using more carbon, and you’re penalized by Local Law 97.” 

If all building owners covered under Local Law 97 – also known as the Climate Mobilization Act and the Green New Deal – decided to retrofit their buildings to stay within its requirements, the estimated cost would be $20 billion over the next decade, according to the Urban Green Council, a group dedicated to making buildings more environmentally friendly. But that cost could be reduced by renewable-energy credits or a carbon trading scheme. Proponents of the Climate Mobilization Act contend that the real estate industry’s latest concerns are nothing more than a thinly-veiled push to water down the new requirements so top carbon emitters like Trump Tower, the Seagram Building and the Empire State Building don’t have to be brought under the law’s guidelines.

 “The real estate industry bitterly opposed the passing of New York City’s Green New Deal law,” says Pete Sikora, who sits on an advisory board created under the law. “There is now a coordinated push to weaken it.” Sikora notes that buildings are the leading source of carbon emissions in the city, and the real estate industry has plenty of time to adjust before the law – and its penalties – go into effect in 2024. “The pandemic,” he adds, “is going to be over by 2024.”

John Mandyck, head of the Urban Green Council, says the issues now facing building owners and the city should not be framed as an either/or scenario, and that instead of trying to change Local Law 97, the industry should be focused on identifying technologies that can address both problems. “We can’t sacrifice climate for health and we can’t sacrifice health for the climate,” Mandyck says. “Climate change is not putting itself on pause because of COVID-19.”

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