Climate Change, Energy, Environmental Justice, Racial Justice, State and Local

What’s Next for Mayor Adams?

Sadaab Rahman (he/him/his)

ELR Staffer, Fordham Law School 2023

*This piece was authored before Eric Adams entered office.*

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams is outspoken about many issues. When the discussion revolves around crime and safety, he always has an opinion. But, when the issue is the environment, he is unusually silent, especially compared to other Democratic mayoral candidates. This is a missed opportunity. As one of the largest cities in the world, New York City could lead the way in climate change initiatives. Environmental advocates have called on Adams to speak more on these issues, but it remains to be seen what will be done. Adams ran on a plan called “Greener City, Brighter Future;” however, at this point, he has yet to go more in-depth on implementing his agenda. This is unfortunate because environmental justice is essential, particularly in communities of color, which seem to be disproportionately affected, and whom Mayor-elect Adams has spoken about. Now, while it does appear that he supports common-sense changes (like switching NYC’s electric grid from fossil fuels to renewable energy), details are sparse. In fact, POLITICO notes, his climate agenda is less than ten pages long. And while former mayor Michael Bloomberg and soon-to-be former mayor Bill de Blasio have track records of mixed success when it comes to the climate, their climate agendas were fairly comprehensive and led to needed changes.

Mayor Bloomberg started the practice of commissioning an annual sustainability report and phased out the use of “dirty oils.” Mayor de Blasio worked hard to reduce emissions, albeit not nearly as much as he had hoped, seeing as emissions rose in recent years, in part due to the emissions from the hundreds of large buildings in New York City. Thus, Mayor-elect Adams has his work cut out for him. Skyscrapers make up the vast majority of emissions in New York City, and Mayor-elect Adams will need to hold those landlords accountable. However, many of these landlords are corporations (who Adams has promised to be friendly with), meaning it remains to be seen how forceful he will be with them. Fortunately, under Local Law 97 (passed in 2019), large buildings are required to cut back on emissions or face fines. This law will go into effect in 2024, during the Adams administration, so enforcement will fall primarily on him. To date, Adams has seemed to prefer encouraging good behavior and practices that can help the environment more so than demanding it. This, of course, results in smaller-scale changes rather than the larger ones New York needs. Still, there is hope that Adams could rise to the occasion as the next mayor. After Hurricane Ida struck in September, Adams focused on more resilience planning. His remarks following Ida demonstrated a need for a sense of urgency in combating climate change, stating, “Mother Nature’s not going to wait on us for a 20-year plan. We never expected to see the Brooklyn Bridge flood. We never expected to see people dying in their basements. We have to adjust with the horrific state we’ve left our planet in.”

Mayor Adams’ administration is pledging to create an early warning system to warn New Yorkers of imminent environmental threats, bring apartment basements into compliance with city codes, conduct citywide climate stress tests by simulating extreme weather events, and appoint a climate resilience czar to the City Planning Commission. These policies might not be everything, but it is a start.

2022 Update: New York City Mayor Eric Adams launched “Leading the Charge” — a $4 billion plan to combat climate change, create healthier learning environments, improve air quality in communities disproportionately burdened by climate change and environmental injustice, and help develop the next generation’s green workforce.