Mayor Adams tapped a team of environmental experts Monday to lead his administration’s fight against climate change — but admitted he has not formulated a plan for how to wage key aspects of that battle just yet.
Marking the first environment-related announcement of his administration, Adams said Rohit Aggarwala, a longtime adviser to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will be his chief climate officer. The newly created post is meant to streamline the city’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of rising global temperatures.
Aggarwala, who was also appointed commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, will work closely with Vincent Sapienza, the DEP’s chief operations officer, and Kizzy Charles-Guzman, executive director of the newly created Mayor’s Office of Climate Change, Adams said.
The trio will be tasked with hashing out plans for fulfilling some of Adams’ campaign promises on climate, like installing power grids capable of generating 100 megawatts of solar energy atop schools, libraries and other public buildings by the end of his four-year term.
The mayor affirmed time is of the essence.
“Climate catastrophe isn’t some far-off threat. It’s here. It’s happening,” said Adams in a live-streamed speech at City Hall.
But in a press conference following the speech, Adams was light on details when asked what he had in mind for upgrading the city’s decades-old sewer systems. The sewers were rapidly overwhelmed on Sept. 1, 2021, when remnants of Hurricane Ida barreled through New York, killing more than a dozen residents.
“Of course, we can’t lay out everything that we’re going to do because we are inundated with problems with our environment and things we’ve done wrongly in the past,” Adams said. “Retrofitting and building on our sewer systems is not a four-year plan, let’s be honest about that. What we need to do is we need to look at whatever projects we’re doing now should not be built for what was in the past. We should be hitting pause right now, do an analysis.”
Improving the resiliency of the city’s infrastructure — from streets and subways to sewers and buildings — has been listed as a top priority by climate change experts and lawmakers since Ida.
Before being elected Brooklyn borough president in November, former Council member Antonio Reynoso argued that aging sewers must be retrofitted quickly, especially as extreme weather events are likely to grow more destructive due to climate change.
“Why is (the Department of Environmental Protection) concerned about money, when, if not handled and taken care of, we have a loss of life for residents and significant long-term structural damage to homes, to businesses and to our local city infrastructure?” Reynoso said at the Sept. 14 hearing.
At Monday’s press conference, Aggarwala said there’s “a variety of things that we’re going to have to do” to address resiliency. But, like Adams, he conceded the pieces aren’t there yet.
“The plan is not exactly there. We’re going to be developing the Adams administration plan on resiliency. It’s going to be extraordinary, and it’s going to be really good because it’s really important,” he said.
By contrast, Adams released a climate policy blueprint during last year’s campaign that struck an urgent note on the importance of resiliency efforts.
“It’s only a matter of time until the next superstorm overwhelms our coastal communities, threatening the homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure of countless NYCers. We need to move boldly on resiliency projects across NYC,” stated the blueprint, released last April.
Beyond resiliency, Adams and Aggarwala both committed to focusing on curbing the impacts of climate change on communities of color, which have historically been subject to higher rates of pollution.
Adams, who’s vegan, said he will also make food part of his agenda on climate change, including by potentially serving less meat in public schools.
“No one wants to talk about that — the global consumption of meat and dairy, how that impacts the environment,” he said. “We are going to dig into this area as well. We are leaving no stone unturned.”
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