The Council passed a flurry of environmental bills Thursday, including measures to create a citywide climate adaptation plan, an all-electric school bus fleet and an office of urban agriculture.

Adi Talwar

Williamsbridge Oval Park on the morning of September 2nd after a night of record breaking rainfall in New York City caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

On Thursday, the New York City Council approved several environmental bills aimed at preparing for extreme weather, electrifying the city’s school bus fleet and promoting urban agriculture. 

The voting members were joined at the meeting by former Councilmember Costa Constantinides, who long-championed climate legislation before he resigned from his post in April.

“We sure do appreciate the legacy you are leaving,” Councilmember Adrienne Adams told Constantinides, referring to the former Environmental Protection Committee chair as the city’s “climate guru.”

Among the bills passed was Intro. 1620-A, which requires the creation of an intra-agency climate adaptation plan, outlining how the city will “protect residents, property and infrastructure” from the effects of extreme storms, flooding, heat, wildfires and sea level rise. It will also consider the disproportionate effects these hazards would have in environmental justice areas. The plan, overseen by the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, must be posted online by September 30, 2022 and updated every 10 years, the legislation dictates.

“Our infrastructure is no match for extreme weather,” said Speaker Corey Johnson at the meeting. “The damage is only going to get worse, which is why our city needs to more aggressively plan for climate adaptation.”

Justin Brannan originally introduced the legislation in June 2019, shortly after the state Senate voted to pass the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Since then, the bill has been modified to include the entire city, rather than just the shoreline, as it was originally drafted.

Brannan told fellow councilmembers that his bill will help to ensure the 15 lives lost during Hurricane Ida were not in vain. “It’s just a start, but something that should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “And something that will finally take into account holistically the entire city of New York and the impacts and vulnerabilities to climate change, with an eye on environmental justice communities.”

The Council also approved a measure to transition the city’s 10,700 school buses from diesel-powered to zero-emission vehicles by Sept.1, 2035.

“Use of these diesel fuel school buses places unnecessary health risks on New York City school children,” said James Gennaro, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection at the committee’s hearing Thursday morning.

He also noted that he and bill sponsor Daniel Dromm have researched retrofitting of diesel buses to all-electric operation, an option that is half the cost of purchasing new buses.

“That’s how we’re going to get this done,” he said.

The legislation sets five-year deadlines beginning in July 2023 for the Department of Education to report updates on implementation to the mayor and the speaker. 

Thirty percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions originate from the transportation sector. This summer, a Harvard study found that vehicle emissions could be linked to premature deaths—from respiratory or cardiovascular disease—of at least 1,400 New Yorkers in the study period of 2016. 

Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law a bill requiring that all new passenger vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission models by 2035, while new medium- and heavy-duty trucks must be zero-emission by 2040. It was the first major climate legislation at the state level to be signed into law since the passing of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050. 

Dromm, a former Queens public school teacher, said that he was prompted to sponsor this legislation, which he introduced in 2018, after parents in his district of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst expressed concern over their children’s health. 

“Dirty buses and the noxious fumes they spew most impact the individuals who spent the longest time on them: drivers, and special education and homeless students,” he said. 

Finally, the Council passed two bills that require the city to establish an office of urban agriculture and an urban agriculture advisory board. The new office must produce a report every five years, with the first due by Oct.1, 2023. 

“This pandemic has shown us how fragile our food network is,” said Councilmember Ben Kallos, adding that the office will work to build farms on public housing land as a way to combat economic inequality and lack of access to healthy food.  

The legislation was sponsored by Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, East Flatbush, Crown Heights, where residents struggle with access to healthy food, she said.

“This particular bill will allow for us to actually have a report that we will be able to use in order to receive and gain more resources for our gardens, for our organizations that support access to healthy fruits and vegetables,” she said. “This is a start to making sure that we put communities that are lower-served at the forefront.” 

Liz Donovan is a Report for America corps member.