Bloomberg’s Biggest Fight for His Green Legacy Yet to Come

Bloomberg
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The City Council has approved Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plan. Now all the mayor must do to secure his legacy, beyond seeing that measure through at the state level, is enact his year-old PlaNYC 2030 agenda and solve global warming. Okay, the goal may not be to solve it entirely. But Al Gore would not envy all that Bloomberg's up against: In less than two years he has to take on the powerful real-estate and construction lobbies — the ones who just gave him a hand with congestion pricing, a much friendlier issue — and risk turning them into enemies, then prevail over resentful Albany lawmakers.

In the grand scheme that is PlaNYC, congestion pricing is but one small accomplishment. To truly bulwark the city against more efficient world capitals — and global-warming-induced tidal waves — means reforming the buildings that produce 80 percent of our city's greenhouse gases. Bloomberg has proposed new authority over buildings' energy use that require approval from Albany. The Real Estate Board of New York is lukewarm on the battle. “Building owners don't use the energy,” board senior vice-president Marolyn Davenport tells us. “Unless tenants and users of electricity are part of the city solution, I don't see how they do it.” The board has also called the mayor's proposal to tune up old buildings by 2015 too rushed. And the construction lobby, which went to the mat for congestion pricing in part because too many jobs slow down when trucks get stuck in traffic, has emphasized new power plants and kept pretty much mum on the mayor's push for cleaner power.

Even without Dan Doctoroff, who crafted the clean-energy authority and fund, the mayor can surely bring his tested powers of persuasion to bear on these lobbies. But with the real-estate market softening, their appetite for costly upfront investments and their stomach for more fights with state lawmakers figure to weaken. Bloomberg, though, can muster powerful developers and world-economy titans (consider greenie Rupert Murdoch, whose carbon enlightenment Bloomberg cites in speeches, or Bill Clinton, whose foundation is funding NYC public-housing retrofits) and bring their case to the public arena. And he can afford to piss off legislators and lobbies — architects are already finishing up his foundation headquarters on the Upper East Side. So expect Bloomberg to fight more arcane battles in the next year, but don't expect him to get rolled. If the mayor has to become a maverick to keep his legacies from (literally) washing away, he will. —Alec Appelbaum

Get more green ideas from Mayor Bloomberg and Dan Doctoroff at our coverage of the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Forces of Nature" Gala.