Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality in the 33rd District: White Paper

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Introduction:

When it comes to the climate crisis, our leaders have waited so long and mitigated so little that moderation will fail us. We live in a waterfront district that could be deluged when the next big storm hits. We must act. Together, we can transform the 33rd into the first carbon neutral district and be a model for Brooklyn, New York City, and beyond.

To end our dependence on fossil fuels and reach carbon neutrality in the 33rd District, we need a holistic and highly localized approach. Here are our ten proposals:

  1. Electrify and retrofit our buildings.
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These bold new initiatives build on climate policies already in place and target the largest sources of emissions in the city and our district: buildings, transportation, electricity, and waste. By empowering and incentivizing residents to act urgently to reduce emissions in each of these sectors, we can end our dependence on fossil fuels. With the right mix of new policies and financing, we can help both our planet and our communities in cost-effective ways.

This vision for a carbon neutral 33rd District is informed by overarching principles:

  • We must act urgently and boldly. While some progress is being made at every level of government to address climate change, the timelines and scale of the proposed solutions are wholly inadequate. We need to move with unprecedented urgency to confront the climate crisis and we need legislative solutions that will tangibly and rapidly reduce carbon emissions. Locally, elected officials must lead these efforts. We will make powerful decisions together as a community that may be hard or unpopular, but are necessary to avert climate related disasters.

To save our neighborhood, our city, and our planet, we will need the city, state, and federal governments to each enact bold Green New Deals that reimagine our policies across the board. The plans described in this paper are guided by core objectives, including the elimination of fossil fuel infrastructure, building a 100% renewable energy electric grid, and creating tens of thousands of good, union jobs. To achieve these objectives we must reconsider our approaches to vehicular traffic, waste disposal, zoning and development, and more. While we aggressively push the federal and state government for critical action and hold corporations accountable, we can and must act closer to home. Achieving carbon neutrality will require significant legislative action in the City Council, smart incentives, and dynamic local organizing to galvanize our community to make greener choices. We can start making the tangible, vital changes we know to be necessary right here and right now in the 33rd District.

Our neighborhoods are where the vision and values of the Green New Deal become a reality. Whether you are a renter, homeowner or commercial landlord — there are actions we can take to help make our district carbon neutral. If elected, the 33rd Council Office will serve as an organizing home for this mission. We will help people make changes in their own lives, mobilize their neighbors, and advocate for legislation that provides more government assistance and action. We will encourage our neighbors with more resources to invest more, and work together to ensure low-income and BIPOC residents — who are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis — experience the positive impacts of these policies.

Our path to carbon neutrality is the aggressive implementation of all of the 53 proposals we lay out in this plan. To effectively track our results, we will work with City agencies to monitor key metrics for our district, including the number of installations of solar panels, in-home battery energy storage systems, heat-pumps, and retrofits. Broad adoption of these resources will allow our district to make a tangible difference in the fight against climate change.

While this white paper is singularly focused on reducing emissions, it is also critical that we aggressively pursue comprehensive coastal resiliency projects to ensure our built environment can survive the big storms to come. Our waterfront community is vulnerable and we must do everything we can to protect it.

Here are the ten environmental priorities that will lead us towards carbon neutrality, and the dynamic organizing plan that will get us there block by block. With these changes we can achieve carbon neutrality and make the 33rd District a model for Brooklyn, our city, and beyond.

Reaching Carbon Neutrality In the 33rd — A Green Organizing Hub:

This robust ten-point plan to address climate change will benefit the entire city because we are all in this together. In the 33rd District, we will actively organize to ensure our neighborhoods have the resources they need to make the transitions we know we must embrace. If elected, our Council District Office will serve as a green organizing hub, bringing together the community and launching outreach efforts. We will have a staff member dedicated to climate justice and a team of climate fellows to help spread the word and reach residents across every corner of the 33rd. Our team will craft and distribute clear and compelling materials to help make it easy for neighborhood residents to take actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Through door knocking campaigns and phone banking, we will guarantee that every resident in the district knows about all the greener alternatives, from heat pumps to composting options, and the various resources available to help implement changes.

Our efforts to engage the community will extend well beyond our office walls, our website, and social media. From the McCarren Park Greenmarket to Wyckoff Gardens Tenant Association meetings and every community event in between, we will be out in the community listening to ideas on how we can best work together to curb our emissions and disseminating helpful information that guides residents on how to take action. We hope to inspire tenants to organize their buildings to demand retrofits, help neighbors launch community solar campaigns, and connect NYCHA residents to green jobs. We will organize commercial corridors in our community, from Manhattan and Bedford Avenues in North Brooklyn to Montague Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brownstone Brooklyn, to encourage every single business to implement smart, cost-effective policies that maximize reusability and sustainable best practices. We will implement job training programs that connect low-income and communities of color from our neighborhoods to new quality green jobs. We will organize and fight for expanding green space in our community, such as the full build out of Bushwick Inlet Park, to improve our air quality. And with the strong backing of a unified community, we will rally and push for the legislative changes we need in the City Council to turn our ideas into reality.

The Plan:

1. Electrify and retrofit our buildings

Heating, cooling, and powering our buildings generates approximately 70% of the city’s emissions. We must upgrade the way we use energy in our buildings — from single-family homes to office towers — to slash energy waste, reduce utility bills, and achieve carbon neutrality. Energy retrofits can include improvements to building insulation, new heating and cooling systems, upgraded appliances and electric fixtures, better lighting, and improved windows and rooftops. A critical aspect of these improvements is removing fossil-fuel burning systems, from heating to stoves, and replacing them with efficient, electric systems, such as heat pumps and advanced induction stoves. Electrification of buildings helps both to lower our emissions and to improve the health of residents by reducing indoor air pollution from burning oil and gas.

Local Law 97 of 2019 (“The Climate Mobilization Act”) was a groundbreaking piece of local legislation to ensure large buildings achieve the necessary energy upgrades, but the extent of the climate crisis requires even bolder, more innovative action. Close to half of the climate pollution from buildings comes from residential buildings, so it is imperative that we help homeowners access the tools needed to affordably upgrade their buildings to save on energy costs and achieve our sustainability goals. We must leverage new financing tools and expand incentives to make energy retrofits an affordable reality for homeowners, and continue to enhance retrofit requirements for large buildings. We must be vigilant to prevent the real estate industry from gutting the Climate Mobilization Act.

A deep energy retrofit aims to achieve a 50% or greater reduction in building energy usage and can reduce carbon emissions 30% or more. In the 33rd District, our goal is to identify actions that every building owner can take to improve the energy efficiency of their building.

Lastly, while retrofits are vital, we must also focus on new construction. Following the lead of municipalities across California and Massachusetts, the City Council should ban gas hook ups in new developments and in gut renovations. By eliminating new gas hook ups, we can better ensure that development in our community is environmentally responsible and more cost effective over time. Cities are the most energy efficient places to live, but new construction must help, not hinder, realization of a carbon neutral future.

We will pursue the following resources, tools, and strategies to facilitate electrification and retrofits of our neighborhood building stock:

To expand funding for energy retrofits:

  • Increase awareness and help at least 1,000 building owners access PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) funding, which is an innovative financing tool that allows property owners to access low-interest loans to finance 100% of efficiency and clean energy project costs.

To realize higher standards for energy efficiency:

  • Expand the Climate Mobilization Act (Local Law 97) to cover all buildings over 10,000 sq. ft. (currently only covers 25,000+) with cost consciousness and equitable requirements to facilitate upgrades to higher energy efficiency.

2. Prioritize efficiency upgrades for NYCHA residents

Any climate change and resiliency agenda must place the most historically marginalized among us at the forefront, as the impacts of the climate crisis are most keenly felt by these communities. In New York, this means we must prioritize a Green New Deal for public housing. The 33rd District includes 12,000 individuals living in deplorable conditions in seven NYCHA developments. The largest development is Gowanus Houses, which still has unfinished capital work to repair damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy over eight years ago. We must secure the funding to comprehensively renovate these developments, swiftly transforming them into environmentally efficient, healthy, and safe homes.

Both across and beyond the 33rd District, a Green New Deal for NYCHA is essential. NYCHA is the largest landlord in the city, and decarbonizing NYCHA is imperative to meeting the City’s climate reduction goals. We must eradicate the public health threats posed by mold, rats, lead paint, and broken elevators, while comprehensively electrifying buildings and improving air quality. Retrofitting our buildings will require substantial resources and we can generate meaningful economic opportunity by training and hiring NYCHA residents into these well-paying jobs with benefits.

NYCHA has already committed to electrifying buildings by 2050 as part of its effort to fulfill the requirements set forth in the Climate Mobilization Act, but this timetable is too slow and there is not yet a path to funding these vital improvements. We must hold NYCHA to a more aggressive timeline in order to meet our emissions goals and eliminate the myriad of health hazards residents are exposed to every day. These retrofits will also significantly improve the reliability of heat and hot water for NYCHA residents, eliminating another unacceptable health and safety risk that has plagued NYCHA residents for decades.

Our proposals to make NYCHA safer for residents and our shared climate are:

  • Eliminate gas from all NYCHA buildings and procure electricity from renewable sources.

3. Expand tax incentives and ease regulatory approvals to install solar on all viable rooftops

New York City rooftops are a massive untapped potential source for clean energy. Solar power is a reliable and renewable source of electricity that reduces demand on the grid by generating electricity and recovering thermal energy for reuse. New York City has made strides in the past few years to increase the number of solar panels on city rooftops. In 2019, the City Council passed legislation to require new buildings to have solar panels or green roofs, and some of the largest apartment complexes in the city have demonstrated the potential of solar. However, we must expand incentives and ease regulatory burdens to help all homeowners reap the benefits of solar — and ensure our city is fully utilizing our rooftops to capture this vital resource.

While solar panels eventually pay for themselves through electricity savings, the upfront cost can be expensive. There are currently a combination of local, state, and federal tax credits available to help offset this burden, but we must expand these credits in order to dramatically increase the pace of solar installations across the city and put us on track to being carbon neutral. The City must also streamline the permitting process to ensure that government bureaucracy does not prevent New Yorkers from moving ahead with their solar plans.

In the 33rd, we will take action even as we wait for these changes. We will provide every landlord and homeowner with a Solar Installation Kit, which will provide critical information on consolidating applications for relevant tax credits so that panels can be secured and installed affordably and efficiently.

We will pursue the following proposals via local law to make the expansion of solar energy onto every viable roof in the 33rd as simple as possible:

  • Expand the NYC Property Tax Abatement to the maximum authorized by current NYS law, and work with the NYS Legislature to expand eligibility to include larger community projects.

4. Legalize and incentivize the use of in-home battery energy-storage systems:

Solar energy is most valuable and efficient when it is paired with a battery energy-storage system — a critical component to fully harnessing renewable energy. Energy storage allows homeowners to store excess electricity from either the grid or solar panels. Excess electricity generated by solar panels is typically sold back to the grid, but with a storage system, homeowners can save the energy for later. This reduces the load on the grid during peak times and allows homeowners and businesses to fully capture the benefits of solar energy. Energy storage also allows your home to operate independently of the grid if there is an outage — enabling you to power your critical needs in a crisis. Without energy storage, solar energy will not be able to power your home during an outage. The grid is designed to accommodate the highest demand days of the year so when more customers install solar and energy storage in their homes, the size of the grid and delivery infrastructure can be reduced, saving everyone money and reducing reliance on the heaviest polluting plants that are utilized when demand spikes.

FDNY does not currently permit installation of lithium-ion batteries inside buildings. Outside installation is permitted, and FDNY recently adopted standards to help streamline this process. This was a welcome development, but we must go further in order to greatly expand the use of energy storage in NYC and ensure all residents installing solar panels are also installing home energy storage. These changes will alleviate congestion on the grid, improve the resiliency of our energy infrastructure, and allow homeowners to maintain power during outages — a vital need for our waterfront district.

In the 33rd, after we have legalized in-home batteries, we will canvass all current buildings with solar-panels to inform them of the rule change and the financing options for batteries. Moving forward, we will work with City agencies to ensure that every time a permit is filed for solar panels, information about batteries is also provided to builders. And we will incorporate in home battery storage as an integral component of our 33rd District Solar Installation Kit.

These are steps we propose that will increase battery storage usage in the district:

  • Legalize the use of in-home lithium-ion batteries via City Council legislation.

5. Provide low cost financing to encourage mass utilization of electric heat pumps

Conventional heating and cooling systems make up over 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions — a significant percentage of total building related emissions. To eliminate these emissions, we must make the switch to new clean energy technology, such as heat pumps. Heat pumps are two to four times as efficient as conventional heating sources and they are a safer and healthier choice. With no combustion of fossil fuels, fuel storage, or carbon monoxide emissions, heat pumps improve the daily lives of homeowners and also allow you to have more control over your indoor temperatures. Heat pump retrofits can bring building emissions closer to zero and are a vital step in reaching our emission goals.

Some building owners in NYC have already started to invest in heat pumps, but there are informational gaps, financial hurdles, and regulatory burdens preventing their widespread use. Heat pump retrofits require running new lines throughout a building and installing units in every apartment, and this process can be costly, especially given the low cost of gas.

Locally, we will engage every large apartment building in the district, every affordable housing development, and every office and commercial building to inform owners of the current heat pump financing options. As heat pumps rely on electricity, they are more efficient when our grid is more efficient. However, even with the current sources of our grid, the Urban Green Council estimates that heat pump retrofits could reduce residential emissions by at least 20%.

To maximize utilization of heat pumps, we will pursue the following approaches:

  • Require heat pump installations to be fully covered by new or existing energy financing programs, including PACE and all other NYSERDA financing programs.

6. Make the Brooklyn Navy Yard a home for clean-energy industry and Green Jobs

We need to bolster our green industries by finding creative ways to grow them in New York City — and by ensuring these new green union jobs go to the New Yorkers who need them most. The Brooklyn waterfront is the perfect hub for this work — from the new wind turbine plant at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, located right here in the 33rd. The Brooklyn Navy Yard has a storied history of serving our nation and our city during times of crisis, and it has the capacity to step-up again in our fight to save our planet. We can create quality, union, green jobs and transition workers away from industries that have detrimental environmental impacts.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has already taken steps to serve as a hub for green-infrastructure, but more can be done to transform the Yard into a home for the burgeoning offshore wind industry and solar industry. The northeast has been referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind, and we need to identify potential waterfront locations to generate wind energy and support off-shore operations. By preparing and transitioning our workforce into the industries that will dominate the foreseeable future as we mobilize to save our planet, we can better ensure worker job security and socioeconomic stability. And the Navy Yard itself must serve as an example — we need to install solar and battery storage systems in every building in the complex.

We will pursue the following steps to place the Brooklyn Navy Yard at the center of our green transformation:

  • Commit available Brooklyn Navy Yard sites to supporting offshore wind operations.

7. Mandate composting and recycling to reach Zero Waste

Waste production makes up a small percent of our city’s total emissions, but achieving zero waste is still vital to realizing carbon neutrality. Composting and recycling are critical steps that every New Yorker can take to help reach our goals. New Yorkers throw away half of their recyclable waste, and an additional 10% of the waste stream consists of textiles and other products that could be diverted from landfills. We must implement more aggressive measures to realize a Zero Waste city — where we dramatically reduce waste sent to landfills.

In the 33rd District, like the rest of New York City, we have lost curbside pick up of compost due to budget cuts. The community in Greenpoint responded by creating our own community compost initiative: The North Brooklyn Compost Project. Community members drop off their compost at multiple park locations throughout the neighborhood and our neighborhood’s compost is transported to a community compost facility in Long Island City. The widespread commitment to continue composting by community members only underscores the urgency with which we must restore expanded composting infrastructure.

The following actions are needed to reach Zero Waste:

  • Restore funding for the citywide composting program, so that every resident of the 33rd District can put their compost on their curbside for pickup each week.

8. Encourage participation in voluntary renewable programs

Most utility companies allow customers to choose a green energy company as their supplier, while continuing to receive the same service from the utility company. Participation in these voluntary programs helps increase the development of renewable energy sources and makes the grid cleaner for all. This is an area in which tenants have agency over the energy sources that power their homes.

While many of our neighbors are struggling to get by, now more than ever, there are also people in our community who are living comfortably. The 33rd District is among the wealthiest councilmanic districts in Brooklyn with median household income approximately 50% higher than the citywide average. Shared renewable programs, such as Community Choice Aggregation, can allow low and moderate income neighbors to benefit from clean energy. These types of initiatives shift the idea of energy as a household commodity to a shared resource that we can better afford by collectively organizing ourselves. The 33rd Council Office would launch an organizing campaign encouraging all residents to participate in appropriate, affordable programs to help make our district carbon neutral.

To help raise awareness and increase participation in renewable energy programs we propose to:

  • Launch an informational campaign to encourage more residents to switch to green suppliers & work with utility companies to simplify the switch process.

9. Accelerate New York City government’s transition to zero-emissions

City government must serve as an example to chart the best paths to carbon neutrality. With over 25,000 vehicles, 300,000+ employees, and thousands of buildings, City government operations are responsible for 5% of the city’s emissions. Beyond serving as a model, government investment in retrofits and other renewable resources can help lower prices for the private sector and spur further development of new solutions.

The City of New York has taken modest steps to reduce its own carbon footprint and is obligated to reduce emissions 50% by 2030, but much more can be done far more rapidly. The City must aggressively invest in retrofitting government buildings, make all new facilities carbon neutral, procure electricity from renewable sources, and shift to an all-electric City vehicle fleet.

The 33rd District is home to many government buildings, including the Brooklyn Municipal Building, and has the second highest concentration of government office space in New York City. We will work to ensure these buildings are prioritized for retrofits that go beyond the legal minimums, and will work to push other leased government buildings, such as MetroTech, to reduce emissions beyond the current mandates.

We will pursue the following strategies with City agencies:

  • Buildings: Retrofit all City-owned buildings and embrace cutting-edge high-efficiency, zero-emission, resilient designs, and maximize use of renewable energy sources.

10. Reimagine our transportation network

Transportation makes up 30% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions — the largest source after buildings. An efficient, safe transportation network is critical to achieving carbon neutrality and to improving our collective quality of life. To reduce dependence on gas guzzling cars and discourage personal car ownership, we can and must expand mass transit options, improve bicycle safety and affordable access to e-bikes, and increase availability of electric vehicle (“EV”) charging stations. We need to make it easier and more attractive to choose low carbon transportation options by enhancing pedestrian experiences, creating safer cycling routes, and pushing the MTA to improve bus and subway service. And we need to ensure that transit options are accessible, regardless of income or mobility, which will require both an expansion of elevator accessible stations and reduced-cost metrocards for low-income New Yorkers.

In the 33rd, we are fortunate to be a transit rich district with nearly 20 subway stations, but we need to further improve our transportation system so that every resident is able to get around safely, efficiently, and in eco-friendly ways.

Priority initiatives include:

Mass Transit:

  • Select corridors across the district for new busways and bus rapid transit routes.

Bicycle & Pedestrian:

  • Improve pedestrian experiences across the district by expanding public spaces, including permanent open streets, outdoor dining, and clean curbs.

Electric Vehicles & Cars:

  • Mandate EV charging stations in garages and expand public charging stations.

Other Modes of Transit:

  • Advocate for elimination of tourism and personal transportation helicopters and discontinue their access to City owned heliports.

Conclusion:

Implementing this plan and meeting our emissions targets will require a sustained effort and broad community support. We will be carefully tracking our progress — from the number of solar panels and batteries installed to waste output — to make sure we meet our goals and help us identify neighbors we haven’t yet reached. We will continue to adapt our policies and strategies as technology advances and federal, state, and local legislation moves forward. We will endeavor in all cases to ensure that mandated work can be accomplished affordably.

Our community has stepped up to fight environmental injustice time and again. We are opposing National Grid’s planned fracked gas pipeline into Greenpoint with the same fervor we brought to successful efforts to boot Radiac and their radioactive waste from the Williamsburg waterfront and to secure greater garbage equity across New York City. We hope to bring this energy and focus to realizing carbon neutrality in the 33rd, so that we can start making the changes needed to protect our neighborhoods. We will proudly strive to be the first place our neighbors turn when trying to figure out how they can make a difference in the fight against climate change.

BK born, raised, always. Running for City Council D33 w/ aplan to make our city affordable & end the climate crisis. City gov alum. Citibiker. Mets, Nets.

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