New-York News

Court resurrects lawsuit against Local Law 97

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A state appeals court has revived a lawsuit that seeks to overturn a city law aimed at slashing carbon emissions from buildings. The legal challenge is a potential complication for the Adams administration as the city prepares to enforce the contentious climate law beginning next spring.

A panel of appellate judges from the New York State Supreme Court on May 16 reinstated the lawsuit filed by a small coalition of co-op and building owners challenging Local Law 97. The judges’ decision modifies a November 2023 ruling from Supreme Court Justice J. Machelle Sweeting that had dismissed the suit and ostensibly put the matter to bed.

But the appellate judges found one of the lawsuit’s four arguments compelling enough to let the case move forward, namely that the city “failed to show” that New York’s state’s more comprehensive climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, does not preempt Local Law 97, according to the decision.

“That was always our main point,” said Warren Schreiber, a plaintiff and the president of Bay Terrace Cooperative Section I in Queens. “And the most recent court seemed to agree with us, and we’ll move forward and hopefully have a fair hearing on this.”

However, the judges upheld the lower court’s dismissal of three other arguments, which claimed that Local Law 97 violates due process because of penalties for those who fail to comply.

The 2019 law, which took effect at the start of this year, aims to reduce the city’s largest source of planet-warming emissions with escalating carbon caps on buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. Owners who skirt the law could face fines of $268 per ton of emissions over the limit — a penalty that for some properties could stack up to six figures or more annually.

Many buildings began to meet the law’s initial targets at the start of this year, but there is no universal approach. The path to compliance depends on building type, age, finances, existing systems and how well — or poorly — a building has been maintained. Local Law 97 also allows some properties to comply on different timelines.

Reports showing that buildings are in compliance with the law are due beginning May 2025.

The appeals court ruling is a troublesome development for the Adams administration as it works toward staffing up to implement the law, but it does not yet change things for building owners who must meet Local Law 97’s requirements.

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said the Adams administration “stands by its bold, world-leading climate law and will continue to defend it in court.” 

“The most important thing New York City can do to reduce our impact on climate change is decrease our greenhouse gas emissions,” Paolucci told Crain’s. “Local Law 97 remains in effect and the city will continue to move forward with implementation while advancing programs, like the NYC Accelerator, to support building owners.”

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Caroline Spivack , 2024-05-23 18:12:11

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