PlaNYCDespite perceptions to the contrary, New York City is by some measures the most environmentally friendly city in America:

“Eighty-two per cent of Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bicycle, or on foot. That’s ten times the rate for Americans in general, and eight times the rate for residents of Los Angeles County. New York City is more populous than all but eleven states; if it were granted statehood, it would rank fifty-first in per-capita energy use.”

Admittedly, these green credentials are more a byproduct of the city’s high population density than of some concerted, citywide environmental plan. Nevertheless, even in the second category New York is making efforts.

On Earth Day in 2007, for example, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched PlaNYC, a multi-year plan that (among other things) calls for a 30-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. Since then, the initiative has comprised activities as diverse as planting trees and creating the first city-wide greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

To bring fresh life to the plan, Mayor Bloomberg today announced 132 new initiatives. Yup, you read that right — 132. Among the ones mentioned by name in the press release are:

  • A plan to improve the city’s air quality by reducing the amount of heavy heating oil that’s burned. A modest 10 percent reduction in airborne particulate matter, the mayor suggests, could prevent more than 300 premature deaths, 200 hospital admissions, and 600 emergency department visits.
  • Something that’s being billed as the Change By Us Social Media Tool, which according to the mayor will enable “New Yorkers connect to the City agencies and non-profits that can help them green their neighborhoods.”

Hm. I’m not quite sure where they’re going with that second idea. But phasing out dirty fuel to reduce premature deaths and hospital admissions sounds like a solid idea.

So does installing solar panels on area landfills, which is also among the mayor’s new ideas:

New York City will create solar power plants atop capped landfills capable of generating power to supply 50,000 homes as part of a renewed effort to reduce climate-changing carbon gas emissions. … [The plan] would reduce the city’s reliance on emergency generators that burn petroleum-based fuel on hot summer days when electricity demand peaks, said Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor.

As an aside, building solar power plants atop landfills or blighted industrial areas offers policymakers the opportunity to make productive use of otherwise marginal, unproductive land land. What’s more, these so-called brownfields are often in close proximity to transmission lines, which helps reduce project development costs. We’ve followed the topic over the past several years.

Another of Bloomberg’s new initiatives envisions establishing a fund to provide loans to New York residents who make energy-saving improvements to their property:

Daniel Bragdon, the mayor’s sustainability director, said the Bloomberg administration will create the New York City Energy Efficiency Corp., which will use $37 million in federal funding to make loans to property owners interested in energy-efficiency upgrades to their buildings.

These energy improvements, officials said, will pay for themselves over time and help the city reach its goal of a “30% reduction in 2005 carbon emissions.”

Whether any of these initiatives will help Mayor Bloomberg’s flagging popularity ratings is anyone’s guess. But on the day before Earth Day, you can’t fault him for not trying.

Related reading: PlaNYC 2010 Progress Report (PDF)