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As Earth Day Approaches, Checking In on NYC Mayor's Environmental Plans

DAVID NEWTOWN, HOST: New York City Mayor Eric Adams was not vocal about climate change issues during his campaign, but in late January, he created a Climate Task Force to address climate change in New York City. With Earth Day on Friday, we thought it was a good time to give Mayor Adams a report card. I have here Dr. Steven Cohen, former executive director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. Thank you for joining me.

STEVEN COHEN: Thanks for having me.

NEWTOWN: So, to start off, what report card would you give for Mayor Adams?

COHEN: Well, I'd say the class has just begun so I'm not sure I want to grade him yet. He's only been in for 100 days, but his team wasn't appointed till the first week of February. We just lived through eight years with a mayor who did nothing but talk. And so I like to give his new team some time to actually do something.

NEWTOWN: Let’s talk about Mayor Adams’s key commitments to climate sustainability. The first one is installing 100 megawatts of solar on schools, libraries, community centers and other public buildings. What does that look like for New Yorkers? And how is that a good idea for a regular New Yorker on the street?

COHEN: Oh, it starts with—the city has control of 4000 buildings. And so one of the things that the city can do—it’s the same thing the federal government is doing—is using their own purchasing power to influence the market in the city. One of the problems with rooftop solar in a city like New York, is that we have to be careful about making sure that firefighters still have access to the buildings. And so we have to be very careful about where we put those solar arrays. But there has been a lot of discussion over the last few years, and now we have an approach to it. I think this is a good start. You set the example and you put it in your own buildings.

NEWTOWN: The second point was on expanding resiliency projects and infrastructure in New York City. First off, could you explain what resiliency projects are?

COHEN: We already have baked into the atmosphere enough carbon dioxide and other global warming gasses that we have a warming a warmer planet. And so that means we're going to have extreme weather events. And we have to be more resilient or stronger to resist those impacts. And the city has done quite a few things after Hurricane Sandy to get ready for at least the problems that we saw along the waterfront. The problem is that it's not just the waterfront. We're going to have to actually invest a lot more than we thought to protect ourselves from extreme weather events.

NEWTOWN: The next point that Mayor Adams put forth was about breaking ground on a massive clean energy complex at Ward's Island Water Resource Recovery Facility. In addition, Eric Adams also put into place a plan to turn the city into a wind energy hub. How do you feel about these ideas of making New York City a center for clean energy in the US or even in the world?

COHEN: Well, I think New York City can make a contribution. I also think that the Long Island area, the south shore of Long Island in particular, is ripe for wind development. In fact, there's—there are plans in place. So the city shouldn't be divorced from the state here. New York State is doing quite a lot and the city should be part of what's going on.

NEWTOWN: The relationship between de Blasio and Cuomo was rather fraught. Are there signs that Adams and Hochul are working together better in terms of climate ideas?

COHEN: Yeah, fortunately, Adams is an adult and Hochul is an adult, and we had two school-yard guys duking it out over God-knows-what, and the city suffered, and the state suffered. It was really idiotic. We've already see Adams—seen Adams and Hochul working together and enjoying press conferences and cooperating with each other. And frankly, New York City, as large and powerful as it is, in terms of formal jurisdiction, is a creature of the state. It's very important that the mayor and the governor work together, and I think we're in a much better place right now.

NEWTOWN: Dr. Stephen Cohen, former executive director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. Thank you for being here today.

COHEN: Thanks for having me, David.

David Newtown, Columbia Radio News.


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