NYC Mayor Adams’ All-Star Environmental Management Staff

In his transient time in workplace, Mayor Eric Adams needed to take care of the homicide of two cops, an toddler shot within the face, a lady pushed to her demise within the subway, and a weekend snowstorm. By means of all of it, he has been a visual, reassuring, and energetic presence all through town, offering management and readability. Final week, he took the time between town’s many emergencies to announce his all-star environmental management group. Now, I admit I’m biased since two of the three people that the mayor appointed to steer on surroundings train in grasp’s applications I direct at Columbia College. This semester, Rohit Aggarwala, town’s new environmental chief, is educating the Politics and Coverage of City Sustainability in our environmental science and coverage program and Kizzy Charles-Guzman, the brand new environmental justice director, is educating our capstone workshop within the sustainability administration program . Each are skilled, devoted public servants and each are world-class specialists within the substance of their discipline. The truth that they take the time to show and mentor the subsequent era of sustainability professionals is a testomony to their excessive beliefs and sound values.

The third member of the management group would not train at Columbia, though he has an undergraduate diploma from right here. The mayor’s press launch offered his background and noticed that:

“Vincent Sapienza has devoted his profession to defending and enhancing New York Metropolis’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Sapienza served in three senior positions inside DEP, main the Bureau of Wastewater Therapy from 2009 via 2014, then heading the Bureau of Engineering, Design and Building via 2016, after which as commissioner for the previous 5 years. Sapienza is a New York State licensed skilled engineer and holds a BS from Columbia and an MBA from Hofstra.”

What’s most spectacular is that within the curiosity of making a unified and built-in environmental administration construction, Sapienza was keen to surrender the place of commissioner within the Division of Environmental Safety and transfer from CEO to COO. That is proof of his dedication to mission and the persuasiveness of Adams and his group.

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Rit Aggarwala was a key chief within the improvement of the Bloomberg Administration’s path-breaking sustainability plan, PlaNYC 2030. He has a deep, scholarly and sensible understanding of environmental coverage, politics, and administration. Kizzy Charles-Guzman has an extended historical past in community-based environmental justice and was as soon as the environmental coverage coordinator for the outstanding environmental advocacy group WEACT for Environmental Justice. I used to be removed from alone in applauding these decisions, in line with an announcement on WEACT’s web site:

“We thank Mayor Eric Adams for boldly committing to implement the suggestions of New York Metropolis’s first Environmental Justice for All Report,” stated Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder & Govt Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “And we additionally thank the Mayor for appointing Rohit T. Aggarwala, Vincent Sapienza, and Kizzy Charles-Guzman – a group that has the expertise and experience wanted to take significant motion on environmental and local weather justice. Congratulations to all!”

As vital as this stellar group is to town’s environmental future, so too are the structural modifications initiated by Aggarwala’s appointment as town’s chief local weather officer, which means that each one environmental applications in metropolis authorities are inside his purview. This begins with the consolidation of quite a lot of local weather, environmental justice and resilience items housed all through the mayorality that may now be built-in into town’s total environmental safety program. This consolidation is a robust indication that Mayor Adams means enterprise and intends to do greater than make symbolic pronouncements about local weather change and environmental justice. He really intends to take motion.

One space that was not talked about within the mayor’s announcement was town’s present effort to decarbonize its personal buildings and fleet of automobiles. My hope is that these efforts even have not less than a “dotted line” connection to town’s new chief local weather officer. With over 300,000 staff, over 30,000 automobiles and about 4,000 buildings, town authorities may be part of with the federal authorities and demand that its procurement processes adhere to inexperienced rules and that wherever possible, metropolis buildings needs to be retrofitted to save lots of power and convert to renewable power .

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New York’s transition to environmental sustainability will take a era to finish and can current monetary and operational challenges to our authorities. Along with the price of retrofitting our many elderly buildings, we have now the issue of flood management. After Hurricane Sandy, we had been involved with shoreline flooding, a logical response for a metropolis with about 600 miles of shoreline. We developed quite a lot of options for shielding the shore and likewise carried out efforts to develop inexperienced infrastructure to soak up rain and different sources of stress on our sewer system. In the summertime of 2021, we skilled a month with quite a lot of rain, and so town’s permeable surfaces had been saturated with water. Once we skilled a day the place rain fell on the price of 5 inches in a single hour, there was no place for the water to go and it flooded basements. In some basement residences, individuals had been trapped and died. That was the day we realized the bounds of inexperienced infrastructure. Whereas we should always use pure programs as a lot as we will to soak up extra water, it is clear we have to do extra.

Our infrastructure will not be designed to take care of the kind of excessive climate we noticed final summer time. It appears clear that earlier than we get world warming underneath management, we are going to see extra occasions just like the flooding we skilled throughout the summer time of 2021. We have to adapt our infrastructure to those new circumstances. It has been over a century since we confronted a problem of this scale. The development of New York Metropolis’s water system was the same and really costly problem. Whereas New York as soon as had plentiful and clear sources of groundwater, very early within the metropolis’s improvement, we polluted that supply of water and wanted to construct and pay for public reservoirs and water mains. The water system started with a reservoir on the present web site of Bryant Park, and the principle department of the NY Public Library and steadily migrated north as improvement proceeded and as we speak is on land owned by town within the Croton and Delaware watersheds. Our water provide is protected by New York Metropolis enforcement officers and annual expenditures of $300 million a yr. That system is among the primary duties of town’s Division of Environmental Safety and its Bureau of Water Provide. It’s funded by water use charges set by town’s Water Board. It could be {that a} comparable construction and system of funding can be required to assemble a system of flood management for New York Metropolis. Whereas nobody is worked up about paying extra taxes than they now pay, nobody is especially enthusiastic about flooded basements and subways both. The issue, in fact, is that it is simpler to generate income to pay for a sure want, resembling a organic necessity like clear water, than to pay for holding tanks for floods which can be solely predicted to occur and won’t happen typically sufficient to justify the spending.

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The benefit of town’s new environmental administration construction is that it’ll now have the organizational capability to develop a strategic strategy to addressing excessive climate occasions, the power to create financing strategies to pay for that strategy, and the engineering capability in DEP to research and handle the development and operation of no matter infrastructure town decides to construct. The earlier extra balkanized construction couldn’t deal with an issue this difficult. This construction can.

Final however not least, the elevation of the problem of environmental justice and the creation of a direct reporting line from Kizzy Charles Guzman to Rit Aggarwala implies that problems with neighborhood impression can be fastidiously factored into choices about environmental infrastructure siting and outcomes. New York Metropolis has begun the method of evolving into an environmentally sustainable metropolis. This new group and organizational design present cause to consider that the trail to sustainability could be accelerated throughout the Adams administration.

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