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Flooding Deaths Push Council to Demand Climate Change Plan for New York

After Hurricane Sandy battered New York nearly a decade ago, city leaders made bold promises that they would remake the city to survive higher …

Flooding Deaths Push Council to Demand Climate Change Plan for New York

After Hurricane Sandy battered New York nearly a decade ago, city leaders made bold promises that they would remake the city to survive higher temperatures and rising seas.

On Thursday, the City Council, pushed into action by the devastation of Hurricane Ida, moved to step up pressure on city government to honor those promises, approving legislation that requires City Hall to make a comprehensive plan to protect every city neighborhood from the threats of climate change.

Under the bill, the mayor must create the plan to deal with wide-ranging dangers — rising seas, extreme heat and floods from hurricanes and downpours — and a list of solutions that ensures that all agencies work together on the problem.

The legislation also seeks to remedy years of concerns that slow-moving plans to protect Lower Manhattan’s Financial District have eclipsed equally urgent needs in working-class neighborhoods, like those in Queens and Brooklyn where people died in last month’s flash floods caused by remnants of Hurricane Ida. It requires the plan, aimed at protecting the city’s residents and 520 miles of coastline, to assess the needs of each area and to find ways to first address the most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Mayor Bill de Blasio will not veto the bill, a City Hall spokesman said.

“It’s crazy this wasn’t done right after Sandy — it’s the obvious thing to do,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

While the measure does not have the power to mandate particular funding or a set of projects, figuring out the needs and potential costs — and ensuring that any administration must take into account the finding of the United Nations and city climate science panels and the recommendations of all relevant city agencies — is an overdue minimum step, Council members said.

“You can’t solve the problem if you don’t look at it in an comprehensive, transparent way,” Mr. Brannan said.

He said fixing sewers “may not be as sexy” as big projects to protect marquee Manhattan waterfronts, but every city decision large and small should consider the effects of climate change and how to manage them.

A bipartisan group of Council members who have pushed the measure for two years have long expressed frustration that the administrations of Mr. de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, have not moved more quickly to protect New Yorkers who live in less wealthy, working-class neighborhoods.

Lonnie Portis, the environmental policy coordinator for WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a group that advocates for poor, Black and Latino neighborhoods disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, said the group had worked to make sure the law specifically addressed the needs of those communities, “which are hit first and worst” by climate change.

City officials and lawmakers have taken a number of steps to bring post-Sandy plans to fruition, like pension-fund divestments from fossil-fuel companies, measures to curb the city’s emissions of planet-warming gases and efforts to shore up parts of Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens from storm surges.

But by 2019, the city had spent just 54 percent of the $15 billion the federal government allocated after Sandy struck in 2012 to protect against climate-related dangers, and day-to-day climate-related policies were still in the hands of an alphabet soup of city, state and federal agencies.

That year Costa Constantinides, Mr. Brannan’s predecessor at the helm of the Council’s resiliency committee, and other city lawmakers introduced the first version of the bill.

It did not immediately win support from the mayor or Council leaders, but Ida, and the deaths of 15 New York City residents, most of whom died as basements flooded, changed the calculus, proponents of the measure say. Since Ida, Mr. de Blasio has released an updated climate resiliency plan that commits $2.7 billion in new funding and stresses the urgency of addressing problems like basement flooding. But with his term ending, most of the work will fall to his successor.

Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate and likely next mayor, also released a new climate plan — far more detailed than any he had presented during the primary campaign — after the Ida floods.

The Council measure has been expanded from earlier versions to cover a wider range of climate effects: not just waterfront flooding but extreme rainfall, heat, and wind and even wildfires. It requires the mayor to deliver the first plan by Sept. 30, 2022.

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