It's Earth Day, and Mayor de Blasio has introduced OneNYC: The Plan For a Strong And Just City, an ambitious update to Bloomberg's PlaNYC, the sweeping sustainability initiative introduced in 2007 that called for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and building code upgrades to combat flooding, among other environment-friendly goals.
— Andrew J. Hawkins (@andyjayhawk) April 22, 2015
Speaking at a press conference in Hunts Point in the Bronx this morning, de Blasio explained that OneNYC will put special emphasis on fighting climate change and economic inequality, simultaneously. "The title says it all," he said. "The idea here is that our strength derives from our fairness. The very process of addressing our environmental challenges is part of how we address our economic challenges."
By this logic, de Blasio's new environmental plan pledges to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty by 2025 ("To ensure that this happens, we must do all we can to continue to raise the minimum wage," the report reminds us). It also pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (with help, the plan details, from $1 billion in city funding for energy efficiency improvements in municipal buildings.)
The Times reports that some advocates are worried that de Blasio's emphasis on social and economic equality will distract from pressing environmental issues. The mayor admitted yesterday that even though he believes that environmental and economic sustainability have to be addressed together, "Some of my brothers and sisters in the environmental movement don’t get that yet.”
These seemingly disparate initiatives are organized across four "visions" in the 332-page plan [PDF]. Vision 1, "Our Growing, Thriving City," covers affordable housing initiatives and related topics; "Our Just and Equitable City" touches on healthcare, criminal justice reform, and Vision Zero; "Our Sustainable City" covers issues of air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and water management; "Our Resilient City" calls for environmentally-friendly building upgrades, and defense against the impact of natural disasters.
Here's de Blasio showing off the solar panels at City Hall yesterday, which check boxes in visions Three and Four:
Another notable aspect of OneNYC is de Blasio's new Zero Waste program, which aims to cut the amount of waste disposed in New York by 90% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
For starters, the plan details, "The city will conduct a study to determine if there are substantial inefficiencies in the way waste is collected." This will be a complicated endeavor, considering the current state of the city's commercial waste system, which is oversaturated with competing private companies.
One of the city's clunkiest waste-management practices is garbage export—trash is currently exported from overcrowded waste-management facilities in low-income New York City neighborhoods, by train, barge, and flatbed truck to dumps upstate, as well as in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. De Blasio is hoping to streamline garbage export, which currently costs $350 million a year, the Post reports. The plan notes:
In 2015, the City opened the North Shore Marine Transfer Station in College Point, the first of four converted marine transfer stations.... At the North Shore facility, Department of Sanitation employees transfer waste from collection trucks into sealed shipping containers to be shipped out by barge. Once it operates at full capacity, that facility will shift nearly 1,000 tons of waste out of the overburdened neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.
Angela Tovar of Sustainable South Bronx was standing behind de Blasio during the press conference. She told us afterwards, "I think the very idea of the mayor coming to Hunts Point, a community that has been overburdened for quite a while with an overabundance of waste facilities, showed that there is a real commitment to address these issues. Here in Hunts Point we have nine truck-based waste-transfer stations. To see commitment from the city to alleviate the burden on neighborhoods like ours is very exciting."
The plan also suggests monitoring large buildings with periodic waste audits, and requiring food service establishments to separate out food waste, which currently comprises about a third of total commercial waste. All of that organic waste could go to a compost heap, rather than a landfill.
Transform Don't Trash NYC, which issued a report earlier this week that New York City's commercial recycling rate is a dismal 24%, seems optimistic about the plan. “Private sanitation and its low recycling rates, inefficiency, pollution, and poor working conditions have been ignored for too long," TDTNYC said in a statement this morning. "Moving forward with the de Blasio road map of zero waste... is central to addressing climate change and environmental justice."
OneNYC also calls for a solution to our serious plastic bag problem. According to the plan, "Single-use plastic bags make up 2.3 percent of the City’s waste and cost the City nearly $10 million per year to dispose of in landfills." Therefore, "we will work with the City Council to reduce the overall impact of these products on our local environment."
During a Q&A session after his remarks, de Blasio reiterated that he is currently negotiating with the Council about a proposed bill that would require a 10 cent charge on plastic bags. However, he shied from an official endorsement.
It's important to keep in mind that the total cost of this massive plan has yet to be announced, although the Post reports that next month's city budget proposal may include some of the funding for Zero Waste.