ITHACA, N.Y.—On Thursday, the steps of the New Roots Charter school became the platform local leaders, elected officials, and concerned citizens called on New York State’s government to pass a slate of policies to address the carbon associated with the state’s building stock, and construction. 

Buildings are a big slice of the pie when it comes to carbon sources. Daily operations like heating, cooling, cooking as well as the construction of buildings together account for an estimated 40% of global emissions.

Addressing these sources of carbon is complicated. It involves the interests of individual building and homeowners, municipal code enforcement, as well as issues of equity. The changes will be expensive and are out of reach for many low- to moderate-income households and individuals.

Despite these challenges, Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles (D-125) called the slate of bills “low hanging fruit” for the state if it wants to take action on climate change and follow through on the commitment of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York’s overarching climate and clean energy law which sets the aggressive goal of phasing out gas from new buildings by 2024, and achieving carbon neutral electricity generation by 2040.

The slate of bills being advocated for are the All-Electric Buildings Act, the Advanced Building Codes, Appliances and Equipment Efficiency Standards Act; and the Gas Transition and affordable Energy Act. These bills cover issues the Ithaca Green New Deal has already strived to address.

Among the changes that these bills would bring to New York State law are requiring all new buildings to make space and water heating all-electric and end the permitting for new buildings that rely on fossil fuel systems to perform those functions by 2027; allowing the NYS codes council to change building codes to include greenhouse gas emissions and update appliance efficiency standards; and require the Public Service Commission, the state regulatory agency that oversees utility companies, to develop an plan to ensure equitability for low income residents in the transition from gas to electric-sourced services. This plan would, under the act, have to be implemented by utilities.

“Buildings are not disposable. Buildings are around for 50 or 100 years,” said Kelles on Thursday. “You build a building from scratch that has natural gas infrastructure, that is creating a dependency on natural gas infrastructure for the next 50 to 100 years.”

“The number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York is the energy we use for heating our homes and commercial buildings. Number one by far. And so we cannot reach the climate targets of the climate laws without decreasing our use of energy, for home heating,” said Dr. Robert Howarth, a Climate Action Council member and researcher at Cornell University known for his pioneering work quantifying methane’s impact on climate change.

Dr. Luis Aguirre-Torres, the City of Ithaca’s Director of Sustainability, said on Thursday, “When we’re talking about all electric buildings, a lot of the time people just focus on the building, but we’re talking about people. We’re talking about people having a place to live.”

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn