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Already Too Late, City Hall’s Climate Plan Denounced as Too Little

A law from last fall required a comprehensive citywide plan to deal with climate change, but observers say what the Adams administration came up with is hardly what’s needed.

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In July Mayor Eric Adams toured new structures that are part of Manhattan’s East Side Resiliency Project, including this flood wall that shows water height in feet at Asser Levy Park.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Last fall, the City Council passed a bill that required the Mayor’s Office to create a citywide ”climate adaptation plan.”  

While outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the legislation, it was his successor who was tasked with delivering that plan.

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration in late October — nearly a month after the plan was due — unveiled its response to the law, a plan called AdaptNYC. Several environmental advocates say it falls short of the law’s requirements.

“It completely misses the mark,” contended Mike Dulong, senior attorney at Riverkeeper, who added that it was “beyond belief” New York doesn’t already have a comprehensive strategy to address climate change.

‘Woefully Inadequate’

Enacted on Nov. 7, 2021 —  five days after Adams was elected — Local Law 122 stipulated that City Hall evaluate a broad array of climate threats — including extreme heat, wind, rain, storms, sea-level rise and wildfires — and come up with ways to address them at the local level.

Those who supported the law, which requires an updated plan every 10 years, argue Adams’ AdaptNYC is not the holistic climate change agenda that the law requires and they wanted to see.

The plan required, as the legislation describes, “considers and evaluates a range of climate hazards impacting the city, including its shoreline, and identifies and recommends resiliency and adaptation measures and non-structural risk reduction approaches to protect and prepare the city’s residents, property and infrastructure.”  

It would also propose strategies, adaptation measures and programs, policies or incentives to “safeguard communities from climate hazards or to remove a structure from a location at risk of a climate hazard,” and would evaluate the effects of those strategies on vulnerable areas.

In testimony submitted to the Council last month, Eunice Ko, deputy director for the nonprofit New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, called AdaptNYC “a far cry” from what Local Law 122 called for and said it was “woefully inadequate to protect and prepare our communities from the climate crisis.”

Turning Stuyvesant Cove Park into a construction site is one part of the East Side Coastal Resilience project, pictured last December.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY

But New York City’s top climate officials — including Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner and Chief Climate Officer Rit Aggarwala and Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Executive Director Kizzy Charles-Guzman — said that AdaptNYC does comply with Local Law 122 and that there’s more to come.

As they were both questioned during an October City Council hearing by the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, Aggarwala stressed that “resilience is going to be an ongoing process.”

The Adams administration officials said in April they will release a citywide sustainability plan — called PlaNYC in the Bloomberg administration and OneNYC under de Blasio — that lays out goals for addressing climate change and other social and economic challenges.

During the same October hearing, Charles-Guzman described AdaptNYC as a tool for New Yorkers to access information.

“Nobody wants to sit through and read the 500 pages worth of another plan. What they actually want to hear about is, how is it that we’re keeping them safer, when is it that we’re coming to their community to ask for their input on their feedback, right?” she said. 

In a statement to THE CITY, Office of Climate and Environmental Justice spokesperson Amy Sohn echoed Charles-Guzman.

“Creating a climate-resilient New York City requires us to constantly pivot and shift based on risks and funds, which is why a citywide plan is not a silver bullet for solving climate resiliency,” she wrote in an email.

Plans to Make More Plans

Alia Soomro, the deputy NYC policy director for New York League of Conservation Voters, acknowledged the encouraging signs from the Adams administration on resiliency but also expressed disappointment that AdaptNYC doesn’t seem to meet the law’s provisions.

“It is a good resource to have everything compiled about all the different plans and policies. It doesn’t substitute for the plan that’s mandated in the law because that web resource only lists projects and plans that are already in the pipeline,” Soomro said.  “They have to come out with recommendations. It has to be forward-looking.”

She said she’d like to see a comprehensive plan, one that “definitely doesn’t have to be 500 pages.”

Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), who sponsored the bill but last year lamented its lack of teeth, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The climate plan law also ordered the administration to identify neighborhoods most vulnerable to various climate hazards, with special attention paid to areas disproportionately burdened by pollution in order to guide the city’s resiliency priorities.

AdaptNYC does not do that — yet. The administration announced a new program called Climate Strong Communities that will over two years develop resiliency projects for specific neighborhoods still lacking post-Superstorm Sandy upgrades and facing worsened environmental burdens. The hope is to tap into federal funding available for green projects through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to make those goals a reality.

Ko, of the Environmental Justice Alliance, took issue with the plan to make more plans.

“While we appreciate conversations with communities, communities are suffering from planning fatigue and want these conversations paired with funding for and implementation of tangible projects and programs that will actually keep them safe from disaster today and in the future,” Ko’s testimony stated.

One of those potential projects is the $1 million flood plan for East Harlem, which the de Blasio administration shelved in 2018 and prevented from public disclosure. The neighborhood remains unprotected.

Eager to highlight and encourage action, three nonprofit groups — the Regional Plan Association (RPA), Rebuild By Design and Environmental Defense Fund — developed a map that tracks resilience plans around the city, whether led by the community, a college or government, including the East Harlem one. 

Those plans can inform and possibly accelerate the Climate Strong Communities process, said Rob Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment at the RPA. 

“Hopefully it’s more on the community’s terms because they’ve already been through the process at the community level so they can go right to the city with it,” he said. “Where work has been done, that should serve the city well. Nothing should be lost.”

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