Brooklyn Boro

A year of environmental policy in Brooklyn

2019: Year in Review

December 27, 2019 Scott Enman
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced New York City's Green New Deal on Monday. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography
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A lot happened in Brooklyn this year — from environmental policies to infrastructure changes to housing reform. We’ve wrapped up the key pieces for you in “2019: Year in Review.” 

The past 12 months were monumental for New York City in terms of environmental legislation — with many Brooklyn politicians at the forefront of green bills.

Among some of the green victories: The city created one of the most ambitious environmental plans in history. It made a commitment to green roofs. It banned plastic bags. See below for some highlights from our coverage.

New York City created the Green New Deal.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography
Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography

Mayor Bill de Blasio approved an ambitious $14 billion plan on Earth Day to attack global warming and combat climate change.

The Green New Deal will drive a nearly 30 percent additional reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030, while also creating tens of thousands of new jobs.

“Every day we wait is a day our planet gets closer to the point of no return,” de Blasio said. “New York City’s Green New Deal meets that reality head on. We are confronting the same interests that created the climate crisis and deepened inequality.”

Green roofs are now required on all new buildings.

All new buildings are required to install green or solar roofs due to legislation put forward by Councilmember Rafael Espinal: Photo: Espinal’s office.

One hundred percent of new residential and commercial buildings are now required to install green or solar rooftops following the passage of legislation from Brooklyn Councilmember Rafael Espinal.

All new buildings and any homeowner doing renovation on their existing rooftop will also have to invest in the green infrastructure.

Then the state committed to creating more green roofs, too.

The Brooklyn Grange in the Brooklyn Navy Yard uses its green roof for urban agriculture. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Grange
Brooklyn Grange’s Navy Yard location. Photo: Brooklyn Grange

State legislators voted to increase tax breaks for building owners who choose to implement “green roofs,” roofs covered by trees and vegetation.

The new law triples the tax break from $5.23 per square foot of green space to $15 in community districts prone to sewer overflows during rainstorms and lacking in green spaces. It also extends the already existing tax abatement until 2024.

Say goodbye to plastic bags.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags in New York, which goes into effect on March 1, 2020. Photo via pexels
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags in New York, which goes into effect on March 1, 2020. Photo: pexels

Come March, all New Yorkers will be required to bring their own reusable containers to the grocery store after a bill banning single-use plastic bags was signed into law on Earth Day.

The legislation, passed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will not only cut down on litter across the state, but will also protect wildlife from ingesting plastic and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal.

“Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year, and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish,” Cuomo said. “We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

Activists then turned their attention to paper bags and plastic bottles.

Single use foam was banned — and the city enforced it.

A coffee cup made from polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, lies on the side of a road. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
A coffee cup made from polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, lies on the side of a road. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Just months after banning plastic bags, New York City began to fine restaurants, stores and manufacturers that continued to offer single-use foam products — like takeout clamshells, cups and “packing peanuts” — after the material was banned on Jan 1.

Following a six-month warning period, the city’s Department of Sanitation began issuing penalties in July.

Electric vehicle charging stations became more readily available…

The package of bills would exempt state sales tax and registrations fees on purchases of electric vehicles and make it easier for charging stations to be installed in condominiums and apartments. Photo via Pexels
An electric vehicle charges. Photo: Pexels

New Yorkers are buying electric vehicles at a record pace, and a package of bills introduced earlier this year would make the eco-friendly cars less expensive and their charging stations more readily available in urban areas.

The “Green Wheels Green Streets” legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and State Sens. Jen Metzger, Tim Kennedy and Neil Breslin, would exempt state sales tax and registration fees on purchases of electric vehicles and make charging station installations easier in condominiums and apartments.

Cuomo did sign into law the bill pertaining to charging stations in condominiums and apartments.

…but not everyone was happy about it

The New York City Department of Transportation is looking to bring more than 100 new electric car charging stations to city streets. Photo: DOT

A plan to replace 120 parking spaces with curbside electric car charging stations was met with mixed reactions from Brooklyn community boards, with some calling it a “vanity project” while others embraced it as progressive policy.

EPA rejected city’s tunnel plan for Gowanus Canal cleanup

Gowanus residents are frustrated that the Department of City Planning hasn't taken much of their input into account when drafting a rezoning proposal for the neighborhood. Shown: the Gowanus Canal. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane
The Gowanus Canal. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

At the Gowanus Canal federal Superfund cleanup, the biggest news was the Environmental Protection Agency rejecting a competing plan put forth by the city to keep untreated sewage from entering the toxic Gowanus Canal.

In a letter obtained by the Brooklyn Eagle, Pete Lopez, regional administrator for EPA Region 2, told the city’s Department of Environmental Protection that his agency would move forward with its long-established decision to build two massive retention tanks along the canal — rather than install a tunnel to collect waste.

EPA took the cheap route to get sewage out of Newtown Creek

Newtown Creek. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Newtown Creek. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

At the Gowanus Canal’s northern neighbor, Newtown Creek, the federal agency tasked with overseeing the cleanup of the waterway approved a proposal put forth by the city to limit the amount of raw sewage entering the waterway — but residents said the plan falls short.

The EPA also said that it was reviewing a plan that could potentially clean up the first two miles of Newtown Creek at least five years ahead of schedule.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter

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