NYC LL97, The Climate Mobilization Act, Local Law 97 of 2019 or Bill 1253-C
The Local Law 97 Guide for Building Owners
The New York City Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) of 2019 is identified by the Mayor's Office of Sustainability as a group of four local laws: 92, 94, 95 & 97. Local Law 97 (LL97/2019) is the most impactful of the four laws in that it imposes unprecedented emissions regulations on nearly all buildings in the City over 25,000 sf.
Both Local Laws 92 and 94 (LL92/2019 & LL94/2019) deal with requirements that the roofs of certain buildings be partially covered in green roof or solar photovoltaic electricity generating systems.
Local Law 95 (LL95/2019) modifies the building energy efficiency grading scale that is part of Local Law 33 of 2018 (LL33/2018). Under LL33, owners of certain buildings are required to display their building's energy efficiency grade "in a conspicuous place".
Summary of Local Law 97 of 2019
LL97/2019 is the heart of what is officially called the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA), but is often referred to as New York City's Green New Deal. This latter label is erroneous as Local Law 97 has little to do with the "GND" and the title is actually more befitting another plan for OneNYC 2050.
What makes the Climate Mobilization Act significant is that it takes a very different approach from most other plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings. Since energy is the major source of building emissions, most plans target reductions in building energy consumption to decrease emissions. Alternatively, Local Law 97 takes aim directly at emissions by defining an absolute limit on emissions based on a building's use classifications and the amount of floor space dedicated to each classification. A building's annual emissions limit is calculated by summing the products for each different use classification coefficient (tCO2e per sf) by the square feet of each different usage classification in the building.
Covered Buildings under LL97
New York City's Local Law 97 of 2019 applies to, or "covers', more than 20,000 buildings throughout the five Boroughs.
"Covered Buildings" generally means:
Buildings that are not "covered" include:
Refer to the full text of the legislation for complete details about covered buildings.
Local Law 97 Benchmarking, Reporting & Portfolio Manager
Benchmarking is the heart of LL97. Initiated under Local Law 84 of 2009, benchmarking is the process by which covered New York City buildings are required to report on their building's actual energy and water usage. The original law applied only to buildings over 50,000 sf. Various changes to the law now make it applicable to covered buildings over 25,000 sf with reporting due by May 1 every year.
To make it easier for owners to report energy and water data as well as provide administrators a consistent means for collecting the data, the City utilizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The Portfolio Manager is free to use, and in many locations energy, electricity and water providers can automatically upload usage data for a building from their utilities directly into the Portfolio Manager. City administrators, using access granted by the building owner, can download annual data directly from the Portfolio Manager for a building. Although it is collected, water usage data has no bearing on building emissions.
Reporting of energy usage is required annually by May 1 and is utilized to calculate a building's GHG emissions. Various types of energy consumed are assigned coefficients related to GHG emissions: purchased electricity, natural gas, district (purchased) steam and #2 and #4 fuel oil. When multiplied by the appropriate coefficients, the energy consumption yields a number that is supposedly equal to the building's emissions in metric tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). CO2 is identified as the most prevalent greenhouse gas, therefore the greenhouse effect of other gases are normalized to the effect of CO2 which gives rise to the term "CO2 equivalent". Summing the "tCO2e" for each energy consumed gives the annual emissions for a building.
Local Law 97 Fines & Calculations
Once the annual emissions and the annual emissions limit have been calculated for a building, it's easy to determine if a building is in compliance with LL97, or not. If the annual emissions are less than annual emissions limit, the the building is in compliance. If the annual emissions exceed the annual limit, the building is non-compliant and some fines may be payable. While might seem that $260 per metric ton of emissions is a relatively small penalty, large buildings can easily produce thousands or even tens of thousands of tons of tCO2e over their emissions limit. This can result in the annual LL97 fines running into the hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars.
To reach the City's ultimate GHG emissions targets, the building emissions limits under LL97 decrease over time. The initial limits are valid from 2024 through 2029. The limits then drop substantially for 2030 through 2034. The limits from 2035 onward are not yet defined but are supposed to be established by 2023 and are expected by be lower yet.
A Climate Change Primer for Building Owners
Since Local Law 97 is all about building emissions, the following is an explanation of climate change and greenhouse gases (GHG) for building owners.
What is Climate Change?
The starting point for a discussion about climate change is a clarification about the difference between global warming and climate change. “Global warming” is simply an increase in the Earth’s average temperature, while “climate change” refers to global warming plus all its potential effects such as ice melting and rising seas. However, in today’s context, global warming has an evolving and more complex meaning.
Throughout the millennia, the Earth’s average temperature has been much higher and lower than it is today, so global warming is nothing new. In the contemporary lexicon, however, global warming specifically refers to anthropogenic or human-caused warming. The term “climate change” as used in LL97 and all other plans and legislation in New York very broadly refers to all of the negative effects of rising global temperatures due to human activities, including living and working in buildings.
What Causes Climate Change?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations in 1988 for the purpose of assessing the science related to climate change. To this end, the IPCC prepares reviews and recommendations regarding the social and economic impact of climate change and potential strategies for responding to it. Since 1988, the IPCC has delivered five Assessment Reports with the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) issued in 2014 and the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is expected to be finalized in 2022.
In simple terms, the IPCC’s reports theorize that human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) and numerous other gases are the main contributing cause of global warming. The theory suggests that certain gases (greenhouse) can alter the Earth’s balance of incoming and outgoing energy. The Earth heats up due to the absorption of massive quantities of energy from the Sun and cools off by radiating similarly massive quantities of energy out into the blackness of space. Without equilibrium of this energy flow, the Earth’s temperature has to change up or down.
Greenhouse Gases & Radiative Forcing
The IPCC’s theory suggests that increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are inhibiting the Earth’s natural process of radiating energy to space and causing the Earth’s temperature to rise. This inhibiting influence of the gases is called “radiative forcing” or “climate forcing”. In addition to having different radiative forcing effects, greenhouse gases also have different lifetimes before they decompose or are otherwise removed from the atmosphere.
To simplify the evaluation of different sources and types of greenhouse gases, the IPCC developed the concept of “Global Warming Potential” which normalizes the radiative forcing effect of all other gases to that of the most abundant greenhouse gas, CO2. This normalization of effects and lifetimes results in a common unit for all greenhouse gases, the so-called “CO2-equivalent emissions". Throughout LL97 and many other works about climate change and building emissions, the term “metric ton of CO2 equivalent” or “tCO2e” is commonly utilized to define absolute quantities of emissions. The term is also utilized as a coefficient on a “per unit” basis such as tCO2e per square foot, per Btu or per kWh.
CO2 and the Climate
Critical to all life on Earth and forged in the heart of aging stars, carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the Universe. The Earth’s total inventory is enormous at approximately 148,000 gigatons (GT) with the largest quantities of carbon found in massive sinks such 100,000 GT trapped in soil and rock, 38,000 GT entrained in the oceans, 560 GT in living plants and 750 GT in the atmosphere. However, a certain amount of carbon is perpetually in motion as shown in the carbon cycle above.
Despite the seemingly large amount, atmospheric carbon represents a minuscule part of the atmosphere. By volume, Earth’s atmosphere is made up of:
While the subjects of climate change, greenhouse gases and building emissions can be complex, and sometimes controversial, it's advantageous for building owners to have an understanding of the underlying concepts.