How is NYC City Council Stacking Up on Environmental Legislation?

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In 2009, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) put out a New York City Council Scorecard, which graded each Council member’s commitment to sustainability by examining the members’ voting and sponsorship records. NYLCV based its findings on 13 bills, including bills on energy efficiency, energy audits, bicycle storage, brownfields, and stormwater. Members, including Brewer, Garodnick, and Mark-Viverito, scored perfect 100s on the scorecard while others, like Dilan, Eugene, and Ulrich, scored below 20.

So are the environmental legislators of 2009 still standing up for sustainability? Have the low scorers decided to turn green? How environmental are the newer Council members?

Below, the Human Impacts Institute takes a look at the votes and sponsors of six environmental bills that have passed recently to determine if and how things have changed.

A Closer Look At the Environmental Bills of 2011

Solar Rooftop installations

Before Local Law 20 was passed, height limitations in building code provisions prevented some building owners from installing solar power collection and generation systems, because the provisions counted the systems as additional height or stories if they covered more than one third of the roof.

In an effort to incentivize the installations of solar thermal and photovoltaic panels, Local Law 20 permits solar panels to cover more than one third of the area of a roof without counting as an additional floor.

This bill will encourage building owners to install solar panels on their roofs without the extra cost. The bill will help make New York City carbon neutral and help build a solar power industry in the city.

Cool Roofs

Local Law 21 states that any construction or modifications involving the recovering or replacing of an existing roof covering is required to be white in color or EnergyStar rated as highly reflective for at least 75 percent of the area of the roof, unless the area to be recovered or replaced is less than 50 percent of the roof area and less than 500 square feet.

Other exceptions include portions of the roof covered by a green roof system, roof areas used as a playground for children, and terraces on setbacks that cover less than 25 percent of the area of the largest floor plate in the building.

This bill was passed in an effort to combat the urban heat island effect, which is created by the city’s dark absorbent surfaces and lack of vegetation. A cool roof transfers less heat to the building below so that less energy is used to cool the building and less greenhouse gases are emitted.

Food Metrics Report

According to Int. No. 615-A, the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS) is required to issue an “annual city food metrics report”, which would report information on various “metrics” related to FoodWorks’ goals and recommendations.

Foodworks is a ground-to-garbage approach to making a more sustainable food system in NYC, addressing issues from all the phases of the food system, including “agricultural production, processing, distribution, consumption, and post consumption”. Examples of metrics required by the bill include “the number of and amount of annual revenue earned from vending machines located in facilities operated by the Department of Education” and “the number and description of, and dollar amount spent on, nutrition education programs administered by HRA and DOHMH”.

By calculating the various metrics across the phases of the food system, we will be able to determine which aspects of our food system are not sustainable and how we can fix them. The Foodworks initiative, backed by this bill, can help preserve regional farming and local food manufacturing and decrease waste and energy usage.

Local Food Procurement

Int. No. 452-A require the city chief procurement officer to encourage city agencies to purchase food that is grown, produced, harvested, or processed in New York. The bill calls for the development of guidelines, the training of agency contracting personnel on implementing the guidelines, and the monitoring the agencies’ implementation of the guidelines.

The bill aims to “reduce transportation costs, reduce its vulnerability to short-term price shocks in the international food market”, and “help support regional farmers to ensure that agriculture remains a prosperous and sustainable industry in New York State”. The bill will help cut back on greenhouse gas emissions given off by the transportation that carries food from other states.

Packaging Waste Reduction

Int. No. 461-A requires the director of citywide environmental purchasing, in consultation with OLTPS, to establish guidelines to assist in the reduction of packaging for all contracts entered into by city agencies for the purchase of goods.

Wherever practicable, the guidelines would require agencies to eliminate packaging or use the minimum amount necessary for product production, use packaging that is reusable or recyclable, and reuse pallets and packaging materials by contractors. The bill encourages vendors to reduce waste, use fewer resources, and recycle materials.


Res 507 builds upon Local Law 20 and adds greenhouses to the list of rooftop structures that may be excluded from height limitations. If a greenhouse covers more than a third of a roof area, it is not considered an additional story.This bill encourages building owners to build greenhouses, which help reduce the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, and retains stormwater.

I was surprised to find that all of the NYC Council Members voted affirmative to all of the mentioned bills, except those who were excused or absent. I also found that the same several individuals usually sponsored the bills.

The top champions of sustainability appeared to be Brewer, Lander, Van Bramer, Levin, Lappin, Gennaro, and Barron, who all sponsored all six of the bills. Chin, James, Palma, Williams, Gonzalez, Vallone, and Jackson sponsored all but one bill.

Notable members include Brewer, who continues her reign of excellence in sustainable legislation, and Barron, who transformed from one of the lowest scoring members on the NYLCV scorecard to an advocate and leader of environmental bills.

If you get the chance, thank our NYC City Council Environmental Committee members for a job well done!

By Jenny Cheng, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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