New York City Environmental Issues

Mayor Michael Bloomberg created a blizzard of new environmental and infrastructure initiatives in his 12 years in office. New York City's next mayor will face countless decisions about these initiatives, many of which are catalogued in the administration's 2007 sustainability plan, PlaNYC, and in progress reports published each year. Environmental attorney Christopher Rizzo lays out what he believes are the 10 most critical issues, in order of civic priority. Three of themclimate change resiliency, protection of the drinking water supply and creation of new and cleaner energy sourcesare critical to the city's future, while seven other issues are still fundamentally important to the city's viability.

CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCY

Before Superstorm Sandy hit New York City a year ago, Mayor Bloomberg was already focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the city's contributions to climate change. Chief among his initiatives is PlaNYC's goal of reducing the city's emissions by 30 percent by 2030, which the city is well on its way to achieving. But the 2007 PlaNYC contained this eerie premonition of Sandy: "The sobering images of Hurricane Katrina still haunt us ... for many New Yorkers, the idea of a similar catastrophe affecting our own city is unthinkable." That kind of storm is, of course, now very "thinkable, " and the city must focus not only reducing emissions but also on adaptation.

In June the Bloomberg administration released its 400-page report on renovating coastal areas to be more resilient to sea level rise and storms. The report contains a laundry list of improvements to buildings, utilities, gas supplies, transportation and social services during emergencies. But the most important and expensive recommendations relate to rebuilding shorelines. They include raising coastal elevations, reducing wave action and stopping storm surges through floodwalls, levees and surge barriers. The most comprehensive approachthree floodgates at the Arthur Kill, Narrows and Hell Gatehas been written off as too expensive and difficult. So the next mayor must figure out how to build dozens of smaller projects like levees around lower Manhattan, floodgates at South Brooklyn inlets and berms in the Rockaways. These will require complicated environmental reviews under laws that strongly discourage in-water construction. And they will require strategic decisions about the use of eminent domain.

DRINKING WATER

New York City's three reservoir systems (the Catskill, Croton and Delaware) have adequate capacity, especially if water efficiency continues to improve. But the city has been granted a filtration avoidance determination by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Catskill and Delaware systems, one of few U.S. cities to receive one. In 2007 the EPA granted the city a 10-year waiver under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act from filtering its drinking water in exchange for a commitment to aggressive protection of these two watersheds.

If the EPA were to revoke the filtration waiver in 2017, the city would need to construct large filtration plants at a cost of many billions of dollars. For example, the city is now completing a $3.2 billion water filtration plant for the Croton system, which supplies a mere 10 percent of the water supply and does not have a filtration waiver. The alternative for the next mayor will be to continue to buy and protect land in the watersheds and create innovate farming, forestry and sewage treatment practices for nearby residents. This effort must continue and expand alongside existing efforts to complete the third water tunnel (which is now operational in Manhattan), explore new sources of drinking water and restrict hydrofracking in the city's upstate watershed.

ENERGY

PlaNYC predicts that New York City's electricity demand will rise by 30 percent by 2030, requiring new sources of electricity. By contrast, in 2013 the New York Independent System Operator predicted adequate capacity through at least 2020. Regardless, the likely closure of aging and polluting oil-fired power plants and potential closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant creates uncertainty that must be addressed. The city may need several new power plants by 2030 or equivalent capacity from outside the region. The state regulatory process to authorize these new power sources requires years of advance planning.

Current Environmental Issues

Current Global Environmental Issues

Recent Global Environmental Issues

Major Global Environmental Issues