The government agency tasked with ensuring city-owned buildings and vehicles don’t contribute to climate change is facing a $1 billion cut to its preliminary capital commitment plan. Of those, $775 million directly impacts environmental efforts.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

A city-owned electric car. New York City government owns or leases some 30,000 vehicles, managed by DCAS.

The agency tasked with managing city government’s buildings and vehicles is facing some hefty budget cuts, which lawmakers and advocates say could jeopardize New York City’s ability to comply with its own climate mandates.

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) could see over $1 billion in cuts under the preliminary capital commitment plan, which covers long‑term investments in facilities and infrastructure for the next five years. Of those, $775 million come from “reductions to resiliency, sustainability and energy efficiency projects,” according to the Comptroller’s office.

Councilmember Lincoln Restler, who chairs the committee on governmental operations, says the reduction is so significant that it makes up 17 percent of all cuts in Mayor Eric Adam’s capital plan.

“If Mayor Eric Adams is committed to climate justice, he needs to work with the City Council to reverse these indefensible cuts,” Restler told City Limits.

At a City Council hearing last month, DCAS officials broke down some of the elements being slashed in the budget. They include a $538 million reduction to energy conservation projects that will help make government agencies and city-owned buildings more climate friendly.

On top of that, the Department will see a separate, annual cut of $15 million for electric vehicle purchases as part of the mayor’s Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG).*

DCAS is tasked with managing the city’s properties and various agencies, including making sure they meet their environmental goals. Not only does it handle the purchasing of climate-friendly electric vehicles for the city’s expansive fleet, but it also distributes resources for energy efficiency upgrades that aim to decarbonize city buildings. That includes switching out old cooling and heating systems for more efficient ones powered with non-polluting electric energy. 

Making cuts to the agency’s environmental arm, Restler says, will directly impact the city’s ability to meet its climate mandates like the landmark building emissions law, Local Law 97. 

“[The cuts] may save the city some money today, but it undermines our ability to manage the pending climate disaster that is upon us. There is no room for backsliding or backstepping or compromising in the fight against climate change,” the councilmember said.

Leading by example?

The department’s energy management program will be taking the $538 million hit in the capital budget. The total budget for DCAS’ capital plan—which spans from fiscal year 2024 to 2028—is approximately $1.7 billion, according to the agency.

Another $295 million for these energy efficiency efforts will be diverted or pushed back to the next capital plan, according to DCAS officials

“Our active and in-progress decarbonization projects remain unimpacted and will continue to contribute towards compliance with our emission reduction mandates,” DCAS spokesperson Dan Kastanis said in an email. 

“Despite recent fiscal headwinds, we remain unwavering in our commitment to advance fleet electrification goals and Local Law 97 mandates,” he added.

Local Law 97 (LL97), went into effect this year promising to curtail carbon pollution from buildings, which contribute to nearly 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The law sets a cap on the amount of carbon that buildings larger than 25,000 square feet can emit over a series of compliance periods, the first one of which kicks in next year.

The city and its related authorities own or lease over 17,000 properties, according to the Department of City Planning (DCP), though it was not immediately clear how many are subject to LL97 rules. 

Last December, Beatrice Thuo, executive deputy commissioner for citywide operations at DCAS, admitted at a public hearing that they “expect to fall short of our Local Law 97 reduction target for 2025.”

The department has also pledged to reduce emissions generated by government operations 40 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.

At the December hearing, Thuo said they were working hard to get “as close to” that goal as possible.” But added that they have faced a series of “challenges” to achieving that 40 percent goal, including the pandemic, contracting delays and pressure on the administration to curtail spending that are “outside of the city’s control.”

Still, the environmental community is alarmed by the cuts and the department’s inability to meet Local Law 97’s first compliance period.

“All of this makes me question how serious the administration is about addressing citywide emissions reductions,” said Shravanthi Kanekal, senior resiliency planner at New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.  

“These budget cuts are going to hurt the public sector’s progress in building decarbonization and we can’t expect the private sector to completely comply when the public sector is not complying. We expect the city to lead by example when it comes to building decarbonization,” Kanekal added.

And her colleague, Senior Transportation Planner Kevin Garcia, believes the city should also be setting the example when it comes to electrifying its vehicles. 

“When you look at the larger budget the $15 million cut seems small, but it’s not just this budget, it’s future budgets as well,” Garcia said. “We’re concerned that this first cut is going to lead to a ripple effect of additional cuts or that the city may decide that they don’t need to put funding towards electric vehicle purchasing.”

Last year, DCAS’ budget for new electric vehicles was $25 million; this year it’s down to $10 million. The reduction will translate to 350 to 375 fewer electric cars in the city’s streets per year, according to DCAS Commissioner Dawn Pinnock.

The department said that as of March of this year there are 5,000 electric vehicles among the 28,000 cars the city owns, representing 18 percent of the overall fleet. 

The goal, signed into law by Mayor Adams in the fall of last year, is to transition the city’s entire automobile fleet—including all of its school buses—to zero emissions vehicles by 2038.

DCAS says its on track to meet this year’s electrification target of securing 5,500 electric vehicles. 

“We are pleased to report that the City is exceeding previous estimates in transitioning our fleet to zero-emission vehicles,” Kastanis of DCAS said in an email.

While environmental groups have applauded the agency for staying on track with their electrification goals, they worry that budget cuts could snowball and ruin that head start. 

Adams recently secured a $15 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) to build an electric truck and vehicle charging depot in the Bronx. 

But Jaqi Cohen, director of climate and equity policy at the environmental non-profit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, warns that relying on applications for federal grants only isn’t wise, since New York isn’t always guaranteed to get them. 

“When it comes to our zero emissions transition in general, New York plays a really disproportionate role in the United States because other cities are looking to see how we implement this transition so they can follow suit,” Cohen said.

“With the whole country watching, we need to be throwing everything we can into ensuring the success of transitioning to zero emissions.”

*This story has been updated to provide additional details about planned cuts for electric vehicle purchases.

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