NEW YORK (PIX11) — While the city is still digging out from the weekend’s snowstorm, Mayor Eric Adams announced his new climate leadership team. He said that communities of color are most strongly affected by climate change, and that he’d chosen climate policy leaders that reflect those communities and their needs.
He announced that Rohit Aggarwala will be the new Department of Environmental Protection commissioner and chief climate officer. Vincent Sapienza was named DEP chief operations officer, and Kizzy Charles-Guzman will be the head of a completely new agency — the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice. Mayor Adams said that the MOCEJ combines many city environmental agencies into one.
“Today’s announcement of my Climate Team really personifies that we believe that taxpayers should be getting their money’s worth,” Adams said as he announced the new leaders.
Charles-Guzman said that even though she’ll oversee what had been a list of agencies, the climate mission for the city is even more broad.
“What is so desperately needed,” she said, at an early afternoon news conference, “is every civil servant, every public employee, [every] city employee thinking that climate [change] and addressing inequity is their job.”
The mayor also said he’s committing to at least four key environmental commitments: installing 100 megawatts of solar panels on schools, libraries, and other public buildings; building a Clean Energy Complex on Wards Island; launching the city’s first ever comprehensive study of environmental justice; and expanding resiliency projects and infrastructure.
Those projects will be like the East River Park project, between the FDR Drive and the East River, in Lower Manhattan. Aggarwal, the new DEP commissioner, called that project “gigantic,” and important.
“It’s primarily designed to deal with storm surges,” he said. “That is one important aspect of the resiliency agenda. We’re certainly going to be looking at where there are other places where we need similar work.”
He also said that massive flooding, like the city saw during Tropical Storm Ida, is a real problem that’s likely to increase, going forward.
“We have to figure out how to absorb more rain water,” he said. “This is what climate scientists have been warning us about for 20 and 25 years.”
Mayor Adams also said that the production of beef and beef products, including dairy milk, is environmentally unfriendly, and is contributing to climate change. He said that he wants New York City to be part of changing that situation, and that he intends to do that through changes in school lunch menus.
Aggarwal, Adams’s new DEP chief, also said that city agencies will coordinate to help prevent neighborhoods from being unbearably hot. It was a problem that he said most strongly affects the poorest communities in the city.
By contrast, the announcements came as the city cleans up from the weekend snowstorm.
That storm, though, is also a sign of a changing climate, at Rob Frydlewicz, a weather historian and the curator of the New York City Weather Archive pointed out.
“Global warming brings a little more moisture in the air,” he said.
As a result, in part, of more atmospheric moisture, the New York City region is getting more snow. He noted the average winter snowfall, which used to be 22 to 25 inches per winter, is now much higher.
“In this century, ” he said, referring to the year 2000 to the present, “we’ve been averaging about 31 inches.”