Prioritizing Justice in New York State Climate Policy: Cleaner Air for Disadvantaged Communities?

Since 2021, NYC-EJA, in partnership with Resources for the Future, several academic partners, and many of our community partners (member organizations, coalition partners), has worked to better understand how different methods of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) implementation would function to meet the goals this law outlines. The project we undertook used extensive, cutting edge climate and emissions modeling to discover how different policies and implementations would impact air quality and emissions in New York State. We found that the most effective policies at reducing emissions were those recommended by environmental justice communities. You can see the full report here and press release here.

The NYC Climate Justice Agenda is a research and advocacy campaign to address the need for comprehensive community-based approaches to climate action. Informed by the experiences of our member organizations, NYC-EJA monitors City and State government progress towards meaningfully and equitably addressing climate change, and provides strategic recommendations to dismantle historic environmental burdens for frontline communities in New York City.

In April 2020, NYC-EJA released its latest report, NYC Climate Justice Agenda 2020: A Critical Decade for Climate, Health, and Equity, which outlines urgent recommended strategies to enact a Just Transition, including specific timelines and concrete financial and legislative commitments to create healthy and resilient neighborhoods; tackle emissions in an equitable way; support climate adaptation for frontline communities; and generate good, green jobs in the process. The report focuses on three main themes aimed at achieving an intersectional set of environmental and climate justice goals: (1) Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Localized Emissions, (2) Advance a Just Transition Towards an Inclusive, Regenerative Economy and (3) Cultivate Healthy and Resilient Communities.

In April 2018, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance released NYC Climate Justice Agenda 2018 – Midway to 2030: Building Resiliency and Equity for a Just Transition, detailing key strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation that the City and State should adopt to ensure a Just Transition in New York City. The report focuses on four key areas of government action and policy: 1) Extreme Heat and Community Preparedness; 2) Air Quality; 3) Green Infrastructure Equity; and 4) Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.

In April 2017, NYC-EJA released NYC Climate Justice Agenda –  Climate Justice in a State of Emergency: What New York City Can Do. The report is a pragmatic roadmap with specific policy recommendations for how a progressive city can lead the way on environmental and climate issues while challenging the reactionary policies of the Trump administration. The report analyzed sustainability and resiliency efforts from City government, as laid out in OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City and New York City’s Roadmap to 80×50, and proposed specific policy recommendations for the following items:  (1) Urban heat island mitigation  (2) Food system resiliency  (3) Renewable energy and energy resiliency  (4) Air quality and low-emission zones  (5) Coastal resiliency  (6) Community engagement. These recommendations are critical to begin to reduce the vulnerabilities of low-income communities and communities of color to climate change impacts. To read NYC-EJA’s 2017 report, NYC Climate Justice Agenda – Climate Justice in a State of Emergency: What New York City Can Doclick here.

In 2016, NYC-EJA released NYC Climate Justice Agenda –  Strengthening the Mayor’s OneNYC Plan. This pioneering report is a critical evaluation of OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. The 2016 NYC Climate Justice Agenda reported on New York City’s progress over the inaugural year of OneNYC while providing recommendations on how the City could bolster its commitment to equity through specific policy and programmatic recommendationsTo read NYC-EJA’s 2016 report, NYC Climate Justice Agenda: Strengthening the Mayor’s OneNYC Planclick here.

Green Infrastructure (GI) is a key climate adaptation strategy that can increase community resilience to climate change. Our vision of nature-based solutions requires a commitment to equity and justice. NYC-EJA engages in multifaceted advocacy and research strategies to increase green infrastructure in low-income communities of color to mitigate historic environmental burdens, protect against growing climate vulnerabilities, and maximize co-benefits of GI including addressing air quality, extreme heat, stormwater flooding, and coastal protection.

Just Nature NYC
Just Nature NYC is a partnership between NYC-EJA and The Nature Conservancy’s NY Cities team. Our partnership advocates for more nature-based solutions, especially trees, across NYC to support climate justice and equity. We believe that these investments must be targeted strategically in frontline neighborhoods to help improve wellbeing and resilience, especially in the most heat-vulnerable communities of our city. We aim to provide analyses and resources to community-based organizations and propose remedies that are rooted in and elevate community leadership.

The Just Nature NYC partnership creates a space for our organizations to collaborate, share knowledge and skills, and broaden the networks of people, organizations, and institutions across which we work with. We analyze data related to open/green space in NYC, alongside data on social and demographic factors and environmental hazards to better understand citywide inequities in access to nature and its benefits. We hope our research can be leveraged by local environmental justice communities to advocate for their needs, while highlighting trends throughout NYC and informing the broader policy landscape to help realize a city where nature and people can both thrive. To learn more about our work visit our GAGE Blog.

Forest for All NYC
The Forest for All NYC (FFANYC) coalition is made up of over 100 member organizations that represent diverse perspectives and span sectors, industries, interests and geographies – all working together to advocate for the most valuable natural infrastructure in NYC. The vision of FFANYC is for a healthy, biodiverse, robust, accessible, well-understood, and resilient urban forest that justly and equitably delivers its multiple benefits to all residents of NYC while helping the city adapt to and mitigate climate change. There are twelve key goals of the coalition, outlined in the NYC Urban Forest Agenda, including: achieving 30% tree canopy coverage equitably by 2035, establishing a citywide plan for the urban forest, cultivating urban forest careers, setting tree planting and management standards, and creating an urban forestry monitoring and research agenda.

NYC-EJA, in partnership with NY Renews, was a driving force behind the most progressive and ambitious climate action law in the nation, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), passed in 2019. This law outlines a variety of key climate goals focusing on emissions reductions and protecting and investing in disadvantaged communities to ensure they receive at least 40% of the law’s benefits. However, enacting a law and implementing one, are two distinct endeavors that require immense time, effort, and action. To continue driving this ambitious law, NYC-EJA has continued to work toward identifying and operationalizing policies and mitigation strategies to implement in order to meet the goals and mandates the law demands.

The NYS Climate Modeling Project is a partnership between NYC-EJA and a variety of research partners including Resources for the Future and several academic teams across multiple universities. This research partnership seeks to model a variety of climate policies that could help reach the CLCPA goals to determine how different approaches will impact emissions and air quality.

After over two years of work, our research teams released a major report: Prioritizing Justice in New York State Climate Policy: Cleaner Air for Disadvantaged Communities? Using extensive, cutting edge climate and emissions modeling, this report compared climate policies favored by the Hochul Administration-dominated NYS Climate Action Council with policies championed by environmental justice advocates intended to implement the CLCPA. This comparative analysis showed that the more ambitious, targeted policies advanced by environmental justice advocates would lead to greater emissions reductions than the official Climate Action Plan recommendations, indicating that bolder action is needed to reach the goals outlined in the CLCPA.

Our modeling work continues with ongoing further research into key emissions mitigation policies. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates on our upcoming releases.

The negative health outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic closely mirror the racial and socioeconomic disparities that environmental justice communities have faced for decades. Similarly, to climate change, COVID-19 is a threat multiplier. When the two crises intersect, the effects of poor air quality, extreme heat, and severe storms on environmental justice communities will be disastrous.

Download the COVID-19 and Environmental Justice Factsheet here.

With the support of the Kresge Foundation’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative, a national competitive process, NYC-EJA has partnered with its member organization THE POINT CDC to engage local communities in creating a comprehensive climate resiliency agenda that will strengthen both the physical and social resiliency of the South Bronx Significant Maritime and Industrial Area (SMIA). The South Bronx Community Resiliency Agenda (SBCRA) will engage local communities in creating a comprehensive climate resiliency agenda that will strengthen both the physical and social resiliency of the South Bronx Significant Maritime and Industrial Area (SMIA). This project flows, in large part, from the cutting edge Hunts Point Lifelines plan which was awarded funding through the HUD-sponsored Rebuild by Design competition. SBCRA provides a mechanism for sustained community engagement in support of implementing Lifelines and coordinated resiliency plans for the South Bronx SMIA communities. SBCRA envisions connecting greenways along our waterfront neighborhoods; levees to protect both the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center and residential neighborhoods from flooding; clean and renewable energy sources; jobs and business opportunities generated as a result of new investments; and community preparedness for future climate events.

NYC-EJA and our member organizations have been working to promote climate adaptation and resiliency in Hunts Point and other neighborhoods in the South Bronx that are impacted by disproportionate environmental burdens. Of particular relevance for the entire region is the storm surge vulnerability of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. This is the largest food market in the U.S. and second largest internationally – feeding over 23 million people throughout the region, while generating $3 billion in revenues and employing over 3,000 workers. As part of these efforts, NYC-EJA introduced the PennDesign/Olin team to Environmental Justice issues affecting Hunts Point, and facilitated a successful collaboration with THE POINT CDC –- who played a key role engaging local stakeholders and reviewing planning proposals throughout the planning/design phase of Hunts Point Lifelines. Winner of the Rebuild by Design competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hunts Point Lifelines has successfully created a planning framework to address issues of equity in its approach to reduce neighborhood vulnerability — while working in partnership with South Bronx communities. With the City’s commitment to provide a $25 million leverage to the original $20 million federal investment, the communities that live and work in the South Bronx are taking an important step toward a more sustainable and resilient industrial waterfront. SBCRA seeks to respond to resiliency needs of other communities within the SMIA, and hold implementation accountable to community priorities established thus far — and throughout a multi-year planning process that will have major impacts on the South Bronx waterfront.
On January 26, 2013, nearly 200 participants representing over 40 community, environmental justice, labor and civic groups from across New York City, New Jersey and Long Island – from the neighborhoods most impacted by Superstorm Sandy, and most vulnerable to future storm surges – convened the Sandy Regional Assembly to strategize how government officials should implement a Sandy rebuilding program. In April 2013, these groups presented their Sandy Regional Assembly Recovery Agenda – the first regional grassroots Sandy rebuilding and resiliency plan.  The Recovery Agenda was a mix of suggested capital projects and policy recommendations. In July 2013, the Sandy Regional Assembly released our Analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s SIRR Report, and whether it addressed vulnerable community priorities from the Sandy Regional Recovery Agenda. The Sandy Regional Assembly Recovery Agenda was designed to advance 3 goals:

  1. Integrate regional rebuilding efforts with local resiliency priorities;
  2. Strengthen vulnerable communities & reduce public health threats, and
  3. Expand community-based climate change planning, disaster preparedness & response.

The Sandy Regional Recovery Agenda was shared with Mayor Bloomberg’s Sandy Rebuilding team – called the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (or SIRR) – as well as with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, other members of the federal Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, the federal Joint Field Office established under the National Disaster Recovery Framework and headed by FEMA, and Governor Cuomo’s office. Several Assembly recommendations were incorporated into the Mayor’s SIRR Report. To address other missing priorities, the Assembly urged the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding task Force to:

  1. Demonstrate that recovery and resiliency planning efforts integrate community priorities and use transparent and democratic decision-making processes;
  2. Guarantee that NYC Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) integrate regional rebuilding efforts with local resiliency priorities; and
  3. Ensure that future New York City recovery and resiliency planning efforts address the needs of the most vulnerable communities.

The federal Sandy Rebuilding Task Force led by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan released their report in August 2013. The Federal Report – called the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy – included several Sandy Regional Assembly priorities missing from the SIRR, and highlighted the problem of environmental justice and industrial waterfront vulnerability to storm surges (see p. 132 of the Report.) On the 3rd Anniversary of Sandy, the New York Times invited NYC-EJA to write a short Op Ed. For more information on similar initiatives, see NYC-EJA’s Waterfront Justice Project & People’s Climate March.

Accomplishments

  • In 2023, in collaboration with the Forest For All NYC coalition, NYC-EJA helped shape and pass Intro 1065 – legislation requiring a citywide Urban Forest Master Plan to identify strategies and set goals to protect, care for, and expand the urban forest canopy with an overall goal of equitably expanding the urban forest canopy to 30% citywide, which will help curb the urban heat island effect. NYC-EJA also supported and helped pass ​​Intro 1066, which amends the City Charter to require the City to consider the role of trees and tree canopy in its long-term sustainability planning. Together, we believe this legislation will help make NYC more just, healthy, and resilient.

  • The Just Nature NYC Partnership now released a translated version of “Opportunities For Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in NYC”. You can read the full Spanish version here “Nuevo informe — Oportunidades de crecimiento: Empleos basados en la naturaleza en Nueva York“.
  • The Just Nature NYC partnership released “Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in New York City” highlighting the complexity and variety of nature-based jobs across the city needed to build climate-resilient communities.
  • Thanks to NYC-EJA’s advocacy, the City passed two laws in July 2020 on extreme heat, Local Laws 84and 85 . The first law requires the NYC Department of Health to annually report on neighborhood heat vulnerability and the number of heat-related deaths, as well as an estimation of heat-exacerbated deaths. The second law requires the NYC Office of Emergency Management to develop and submit an annual comprehensive NYC cooling and communication plan.
  • The Just Nature NYC partnership released “How a Healthy and Equitable Urban Forest Can Help Communities Thrive” highlighting why the urban forest is an environmental justice issue.
  • In anticipation of the OneNYC update, NYC-EJA released the NYC Climate Justice Agenda to assess the extent to which the Mayor’s sustainability and resiliency blueprints address environmental and climate justice issues, and the type of progress achieved to date. The Agenda also highlights community-based initiatives and recommendations to address these issues.
  • The City committed to addressing the vulnerability of industrial facilities to climate change impacts through the Open Industrial Uses and Resilient Industry studies. These studies will help assess potential hazardous exposures from industrial sites in the event of severe weather, and create a detailed inventory of best management practices for pollution prevention and climate adaptation.
  • Mayor Bloomberg’s SIRR reportand the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding task Force’s reportincluded several Sandy Regional Assembly priorities, and highlighted the problem of environmental justice and industrial waterfront vulnerability to storm surges.
  • The Hunts Point Lifelines Proposal, submitted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and OLIN and supported by THE POINT CDC, received a combined $45 million from US-HUD’s Rebuild by Design Competition and the City of New York. NYC-EJA facilitated discussions leading to the adoption of issues & opportunities prioritized in the Sandy Regional Assembly Recovery Agenda for Hunts Point.
Center for Brooklyn History Talk: 10 Years After Hurricane Sandy (10/31/2022)
EIN Presswire: Senate Advances Environmental Protections (04/26/2022)
Bloomberg CityLab: How New York City Plans to Soak Up the Rain (04/14/2022)
House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Chairwomen Carolyn B. Maloney: Chairs Maloney and Grijalva to Hold Press Conference on Advancing Environmental Justice (03/09/2022)
EIN News Desk: Free E-Books Available: Resilience Matters: Opportunities for Action to Strengthen Communities (03/01/2022)
Public News Service: Studies Show Need for NYC Urban Forest Growth (12/15/2021)
Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Insights from the Experts: Extreme Heat and Air Quality (10/13/2021)
City & State: How New York can prepare for flooding (09/02/2021)
The Greater Podcast: The Connection Between Inequality and Environment (04/17/2021)
POLITICO: Air Quality Report (02/22/2021)
Scientific American: Policy Can Clash with Affordable Housing (07/24/2020)
Politico: A cross-country Covid trip (07/17/2020)
POLITICO: Capacity Market Concerns (07/13/2020)
Grist: Doing New York justice (06/25/2020)
Green Biz: The 2020 GreenBiz 30 Under 30 (06/22/2020)
WNYC: A Just and Resilient Climate (09/19/2019)
The River Newsroom: The End of Fossil Fuels in New York? (07/06/2019)
Capital Public Radio News: New York’s Aggressive Battle Against Climate Change (06/21/2019)
Politico NY: Carbon offset divide (05/20/2019)
Grist: Heat Check (07/11/2018)
Crain's NY: Cuomo must invest in climate justice (07/10/2018)
Queen Gazette: Queens College Business Breakfast (03/28/2018)
The Indypendent: Coastal Cities on the Edge (11/22/2017)
WNYC, The Brian Lehrer Show: A New York City Earth Day Check-In (07/22/2016)
Manhattan Times: Ground Control (04/20/2016)
Uptown Radio: City Struggling With Rising Sea Levels (03/04/2016)
Politico New York: Progressive caucus pushes two energy policies (12/14/2015)
CUNY TV: Still Struggling (11/11/2015)
WBAI Pacifica Radio 99.5 FM: Sandy Regional Assembly Issues Report (07/25/2013)
The New York World: Rebuilding from the ground up (04/02/2013)
Prioritizing Justice in New York State Climate Policy: Cleaner Air for Disadvantaged Communities? Report Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs Report Eddie Bautista presenting on Labor, Community, & the Climate Crisis New York City Panel on Climate Change Report, Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response (Chapter 5, Public Health Impacts and Resiliency): This New York City Panel on Climate Change report references NYC-EJA’s Waterfront Justice Project research on potential hazardous exposures in/around the Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIAs) in the event of severe weather. Sandy Regional Assembly, Recovery Agenda: Recovery from the ground up: Strategies for community-based resiliency in New York and New Jersey. Sandy Regional Assembly, SIRR Analysis & Recommendations to the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force: An assessment of the Mayors’ Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) Plan, and recommendations for the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.