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Making The Law, Making The Law: Suite of New Green Laws Curbs Bad Heating Oils, Boosts Recycling

heating oil legislation gbnyc

Obviously we, um, have been a little passionate about the whole (terrible) New Domino thing recently (and also less recently). And so news that the New Domino development just received its expected rubber stamp approval from the City Council on Thursday, was obviously not received well here at gbNYC HQ. (Our bellowed profanities echoed in the marble hallways of gbNYC’s palatial LEED Platinum headquarters, if you must know) But, you know, these things happen in a city where real estate developers wield disproportionate power over a less-than-interested government. (That is, most cities) And the totally predictable bummer of New Domino’s approval (and the only slightly less bummer-y approval of the LEED Silver-hopeful Flushing Commons mega-development) shouldn’t obscure what was actually a very productive and praiseworthy Thursday for the City Council. In the first of what will hopefully be a long line of “Earth Day In (Fill In The Month In Which Earth Day Is Not Actually Celebrated)” moments, the City Council passed a suite of laws that bring to fruition some of the lower-hanging fruit among the Urban Green Council task force’s list of recommendations. Among these were the (very welcome) final banning of the loathsome toxic heating sludges known as Number Four and Number Six heating oils and the first expansion of the city’s recycling policies in 21 years.

The omnibus recycling law, which gets a thorough going-over from the Gotham Gazette’s Gail Robinson here, includes 11 different facets of pretty uniform worth, from mandated annual hazardous material collection events in each borough to the expansion of plastics recycling. (It also calls for a new recycling-sorting facility in Brooklyn by 2012, which is good news from a jobs perspective, unless you’re one of those squeakers who believes that government-created jobs “don’t count”) From a sustainability perspective, it should make a big difference. From my perspective, it’s also roughly half as important as improving the city’s heating oil standards.

We’ve written a lot about Number Four and Number Six heating oil — here and here, for starters — and some of that is due to my natural tendency to write a lot about everything. But bad heating oil is both nastier and more dangerous than even its telltale dense clouds of sad smoke suggest. While the city has not yet banned boilers that use Number Four and Number Six heating oil — although Mayor Bloomberg has promised to do so — the changes made on Thursday are pretty impressive. Among them are a phase-in of a New York State law that mandates lower sulfur content in Number Two heating oil, sets a (nominal) mandated usage of biofuels and halves the allowable sulfur content of Number Four oil.

“The Environmental Defense Fund praised the improvement in heating oil as a way of reducing the hospitalization rate for children with asthma and raising the failing grade the city now gets from the federal government for its air quality,” Mireya Navarro reports in the New York Times. “In a report last year, the group said that about 9,500 buildings in the city burning the dirtiest grades of heating oil – No. 4 and No. 6 – account for more pollution than cars and trucks. New Yorkers burn more than one billion gallons of heating oil a year.”

That last bit is a reminder of just what a big deal this is — few other cities use Number Six, for obvious neurotoxin-related reasons, and if it no longer finds a home in NYC’s huge heating oil market, it could essentially disappear from our shores. New Domino will be here a long time, too, stinking up the Williamsburg waterfront and occasioning perfervid editorials from goofy blogger types. But knowing that Number Six heating oil may not be with us that much longer is a nice reminder that, as easily wowed by silly mega-developments and as noxiously suck-uppy as it can be towards mega-developers, city government can still deliver results worth applauding.

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