A state court judge this week dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the city’s Local Law 97, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from buildings.
The lawsuit was filed in New York Supreme Court in May 2022 by two Queens co-ops, their board presidents and an LLC that owns a Manhattan residential and commercial building.
The City Council passed Local Law 97 in 2019 to tackle the city’s largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions: buildings. Starting in 2024, the law limits how much carbon buildings larger than 25,000 square feet can spew. The limits become stricter in 2030. Building owners not in compliance could face fines of $268 for every ton of emissions above the limit, which could stretch into six figures annually for some.
The plaintiffs in this case argued that Local Law 97 is preempted by the state’s green transition law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, and violates due process because of its penalties, which they further argued are improper taxes.
Judge J. Machelle Sweeting disagreed, and on Monday granted the City of New York’s motion to dismiss the suit.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision which upholds the City’s ability to enact sensible legislation to tackle harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” said New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix in a statement.
Plaintiffs Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village co-op, and Warren Schreiber, president of Bay Terrace Cooperative, both said they were “disappointed” by the dismissal and plan to appeal.
“We’re hopeful that we will prevail once we appeal that decision,” Schreiber said.
The plaintiffs are not paying for their legal representation but would not disclose who is.
Owners looking to comply with Local Law 97 can reduce their carbon emissions by making physical changes to their buildings — such as installing solar panels, improving insulation and upgrading the boilers — and by purchasing renewable energy credits that support clean energy projects.
Friedich and Warren have both said their buildings would not be able to afford the upgrades necessary to bring their co-ops into compliance with the law nor the fines expected as a result.
“We just don’t have the ability, at this point, to comply because of the money that would be necessary to fully. It’s just impossible,” Friedrich said.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs made the argument that Glen Oaks, which has over 2,000 units, would face hefty fines — millions of dollars — over the two compliance periods starting in 2024 and 2030, even with upgrades to boilers.
But in the ruling, the judge pointed out that the expected fines would amount to about $31 per month per unit in the second compliance period, dropping to about $23 with boiler upgrades.
Friedrich pushed back on that.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Those aren’t the numbers,” he said.
The Department of Buildings proposed rules in September that would grant two-year reprieves from fines for buildings that can prove they’ve made “good faith efforts” to comply with the law, such as creating a plan to decarbonize and including financial details for how to follow through. Buildings risk retroactive penalties if they do not complete their plans.
Friedrich and Schreiber said they’re both seeking to get the good-faith break.
While some stakeholders approved of the proposed rules, others characterized them as moves to weaken the law.
On Thursday, some lawmakers and environmental advocates in the latter camp rallied in front of City Hall to push back on the proposed rules.
The action followed last week’s public hearing on the rules, which hundreds of people attended.
The DOB will finalize the proposed rules by the end of the year.
“The Adams Administration is committed to fully enforcing this nation-leading climate initiative in a way that supports building owners who are making efforts to comply with the law, and penalizing those who are not,” DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said in a statement.