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Advocates Push City to Allow Alternative Technologies Under Local Law 97

Bill Morris in Green Ideas on May 11, 2023

New York City

Local Law 97, carbon capture, building carbon emissions, co-op and condo boards, CarbonQuest.

At the Grand Tier residential tower, carbon is captured as it leaves the gas-fired boiler, then converted into a liquid, loaded into trucks and transferred to Brooklyn, where it is used in the making of cinderblocks (photo courtesy of CarbonQuest).

May 11, 2023

Last December, the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) released what it called “final” rules on how co-op and condo boards can reduce their buildings’ carbon emissions enough to comply with Local Law 97, part of the city’s sweeping Climate Mobilization Act. In fact, those “final” rules are still being tweaked. And while the tweaking proceeds, advocates are pushing the DOB to approve alternative green technologies as acceptable tools for complying with the law.

Among the advocates in conversation with the DOB is Brian Asparro, chief operating officer at CarbonQuest, a company that offers a technology known as carbon capture. As Habitat reported in its March issue, such a system is now operating at the Grand Tier, a luxury residential tower overlooking Lincoln Center, Carbon exhaust is captured after it leaves the building’s gas-fired boiler, then it’s then converted to a liquid, loaded into trucks and delivered to a Brooklyn company that uses the liquid carbon in the making of cinderblocks. It’s what’s known as a “circular economy.”

“We’re working with the city to make a rule so that carbon capture can play a role in complying with Local Law 97,” Asparro says. “What we’re trying to do is provide a framework for building owners to use emerging technologies, including geothermal. Local Law 97 doesn’t have specific mechanisms to take in new technologies as they emerge, and that potentially makes it more difficult for property owners to comply with the law. We’ve been engaged with the mayor’s office and the DOB to work toward recognizing carbon capture as part of Local Law 97. We believe many people would benefit if that happens sooner rather than later.”

Andrew Rudansky, a spokesman for the DOB, confirms that Laura Popa, DOB’s deputy commissioner of sustainability, has been in conversation with these advocates. He adds that new rules will be released “in the coming months.”

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Meanwhile, these advocates appear to have an ally in City Hall. Kayla Mamelak, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams, says in a statement: “The Adams administration is committed to the full implementation of Local Law 97 and meeting our climate goals. The city has been engaging with stakeholders about the use of their carbon-sequestration technology for compliance with Local Law 97; however, as currently written, the law does not allow for carbon capture to be used to offset the emissions produced by buildings. We are eager to continue these conversations and are currently working on a pilot program to better understand their technology to determine whether and how it can further the city’s decarbonization goals.”

These local conversations echo conversations that have been taking place in Washington. Lawyers and lobbyists with the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric utilities, have met with Environmental Protection Agency officials at least two dozen times over the past two years to discuss power plant regulations, The New York Times reports. As a result of those and other conversations, the Biden administration has announced the first regulations to limit greenhouse pollution from existing power plants. 

The proposals are designed to effectively eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s electricity sector by 2040. However, the government is not mandating carbon capture. Rather, it is setting caps on pollution rates — similar to Local Law 97 — which power plant operators would have to meet. They could do that by using a different technology or, in the case of gas plants, switching to a fuel source such as green hydrogen, which does not emit carbon.

Meanwhile, Asparro reports, carbon capture is catching on in New York City. CarbonQuest has five more projects under way, with completion expected later this year.

“It’s a matter of time before more buildings adopt carbon capture,” he says. “This technology measurably reduces carbon emissions, and it’s already starting to accelerate.”

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