New York City is on track to blow a climate deadline

New York City is on track to blow a climate deadline
Yes, they're still up.

The Twelve Days of New York Climate Nerd Christmas keeps giving. Today's edition is a twofer, because New Year's Day is for being extremely flat. And there's an extra little stocking present: I finished moving from Substack to Ghost, like I promised. It still has that brand-new platform smell.

I managed to move over all of the Empire of Dirt subscribers to Ghost along with the old posts, and I hope the move isn't disrupting anything. If it is, please give me a shout at and I'll do my best to fix it for you.

On the eighth day of Christmas, the IRA gave to me: $8 million for methane

New York State is getting $8 million in funding from the feds — the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy — to help track and plug methane leaks from oil and gas wells in the state. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the funding on December 21, 2023.

The funding may help plug another crack: New York's proposed cap-and-invest program, aimed at reducing emissions with fees that will fund clean energy programs and payments to New York households, does not plan to include leaks from gas wells so far.

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas in its unburned state. In the first 20 years after its release, it is more than 80 times as powerful at trapping heat as carbon dioxide. But unlike carbon dioxide, it eventually decays into less potent gases. Going after methane pollution is low-hanging fruit for climate action, because even small amounts of methane leakage have such vast heat-trapping power in the short term.

In a total coincidence, the amount of money the feds are setting aside for New York to tackle methane leakage from all of the oil and gas wells across the state is almost the same as the amount the EPA planned to give to a single school district near me to replace its buses with electric vehicles. Onteora Central School District, my old alma mater, turned down the funding due to a mix of reasons: too much time pressure, not enough charging infrastructure, worries that local fire departments are not yet prepared to respond to a bus battery fire in a remote area with no fire hydrants. These are real problems, and they need a lot of good-faith local collaboration to solve.

On the ninth day of Christmas, Mayor Adams gave to me: Blown climate targets

New York City says it's going to miss the goal of cutting 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from its own government buildings by 2025. (That's, um. Really soon.)

Local Law 97, one of the most ambitious municipal climate laws in the country, took effect on January 1. New York State recently adopted a law that requires newly built buildings to be heated with electricity, with different timelines for different size buildings, and our largest city has a similar law on the books. But Local Law 97 goes further: It requires the city's largest buildings, the ones that are already built, to slash their emissions.

As The City's Samantha Maldonado reports in a recent story, the law requires city government to go farther and faster than private developers. City buildings must cut 40 percent from 2006 levels by 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.

So far, Maldonado writes, the city has achieved about a 25 percent reduction across its buildings — but the Adams administration is not going to get all the way to 40 percent in the 363 days we have left in 2024.

Climate targets are only as good as the concrete actions governments take to back them up, and although the deadlines in New York's landmark 2019 climate law are looming, both the city and the state of New York are still figuring out what that action looks like. Here's hoping the city gets its act together for 2030.

Access to clean power will be a key factor in meeting that deadline, for private developers as well as for municipal buildings.

In the next couple of years, two transmission lines — the locally-controversial Champlain Hudson Power Express and Clean Path New York — are expected to come online, bringing low-carbon hydropower and renewable energy into the city from Canada and upstate New York. Building owners that currently rely on dirty fossil-fueled electrical power downstate will then be able to buy clean power through the state's "Tier 4" program, which will count toward lowering their buildings' emissions.

Swapping natural gas heat for air source heat pumps or ground-source district heating — both of which are capable of being far more efficient than gas, and are powered by electricity — will eventually make an even bigger dent in the city's emissions, climate advocates hope. But that's a very tough problem to solve in large buildings and dense urban neighborhoods. Here's a terrific story from The Verge about how the New York City Housing Authority is trying to make the transition to heat pumps in public housing: a little bit of tech acceleration funding, and a lot of tricky policy work and outreach.

EMPIRE OF DIRT ON THE RADIO: I'm talking climate stuff with my pal Jason Dole at WJFF on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 3, for a show that will hit the airwaves and the digital stream at 6pm. Tune into Radio Catskill at

TO ALL EMPIRE OF DIRT SUBSCRIBERS: I hope you'll stick around on the new platform. I had some fun naming the membership tiers on Ghost while setting things up. Thanks for reading, and here's to a shiny new year.

On the ninth day of Christmas, Mayor Adams gave to me:
Blown climate targets
$8 million for methane

A punt on National Fuel
Boosts for new renewables
Coal country dollars
Local energy grants
Climate banking guidance
And a cap-and-invest study