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Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 5

The Bloomberg administration has done what it can to require future mayors to deal with global warming. But will Bill de Blasio follow Bloomberg's lead?

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 22, 2013

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work.

Chapter Nine: Race to the Finish

The Team

In a high-rise a few blocks from City Hall, about 30 people gathered on Jan. 2, 2013 to begin creating the plan that would help New Yorkers rebuild homes and businesses damaged by Superstorm Sandy and prepare the city for future climate-related disasters. Some of them knew each other. Others didn't. Each had been recruited because of his or her very specific skills in energy, policy, infrastructure, the economy or climate change.

Seth Pinsky and Marc Ricks, the project's leaders, had spent a month selecting the people they wanted and persuading them to say yes. Many had to quit or take leaves of absence from high-profile, high-paying private sector jobs.

"There is a real sense of civic pride among New Yorkers," Pinsky said. "People recognize that [Sandy] was an unprecedented event in the city's history and they really wanted to contribute to the recovery."

At that first meeting, Pinsky laid out the team's strategy. Bloomberg wanted the plan to focus not just on protecting New York from the next Sandy, but from any other climate change threats that lay ahead.

The project was framed around three questions: What happened during Sandy and why? What could happen in the future because of climate change? What, specifically, should be done to prepare for those possibilities?

"It was a very simple, but very powerful way of organizing our work and our thinking," Ricks said.

Ricks tried to prepare the team for the personal sacrifices they'd have to make to get the project done on time.

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 4

Sandy struck the city. Fory-four New Yorkers died. Thousands of homes were lost. The devastation pushed adaptation to the top of Bloomberg's priorities.

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 21, 2013
Superstorm Sandy: Global Warming Is Here

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work. 

Chapter Seven: Find Lessons in the Storm

A Shifting Forecast

On October 11, 2012 a single wave of low pressure off the west coast of Africa traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, forming a system of clouds, wind and rain. As the storm hit the Caribbean, it gathered size and strength from the area's warm waters.

On October 24, the storm developed an eye—officially making it a hurricane. The World Meteorological Organization named it Sandy. After slamming into Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas, Hurricane Sandy turned northeast, running parallel to the eastern shoreline of the United States. 

Scientists were conflicted about what would happen to Sandy as it moved north. European weather models showed it running straight toward New York and New Jersey. The U.S. National Weather Service projected it would move out to sea.

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 3

The city's economic reality flipped 180 degrees. The budget deficit reached $4 billion. Bloomberg's climate plan would suffer, but only briefly.

Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 20, 2013

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1 and Part 2), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work.

Chapter Five: Accept it, Move On

The Plan Presses On

In his speech in Washington, D.C. on April 8, 2008, Bloomberg didn't hide his bitterness over his loss in Albany. Legislators "didn't even have the courage to vote on it—they just killed it in a back room. That's not leadership," he said.

Congestion pricing was important, he added, "but let me make something crystal clear this morning. The other 126 initiatives are important, too, many of which … require no approval by any other level or branch of government."

The mayor's sustainability team moved a little more slowly over the next couple months, exhausted and drained by the loss of one of their most ambitious projects. They had launched many smaller initiatives during the congestion-pricing fight. Now, with just 18 months remaining in Bloomberg's second term, they had to rally again and get more initiatives into place to preserve their environmental agenda under future mayors.

In the Bullpen, digital countdown clocks bore the message "Make Every Day Count" and flashed red numbers reminding them of their deadline.

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 2

The pace was frantic. People were exhausted and cranky. Some spent nights in their offices. At times they felt they'd never get all the work done.

Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 19, 2013

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work.

Chapter Three: Assemble the Team

An Essential Recruit 

Rohit Aggarwala knew next to nothing about the debate brimming in New York City over how to accommodate a million more New Yorkers by 2030. The 34-year-old transportation buff, who goes by Rit, was a rising star at the global consulting behemoth McKinsey & Company. He was working on a big project and starting the run to make partner.

Still, Aggarwala was intrigued by the call he got in March 2006 from Marc Ricks, a former McKinsey colleague who was now Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's chief of staff. For more than six months, Doctoroff had been creating a strategic land use plan to accommodate the extra people. But the project had become so complex that he and Bloomberg decided it needed its own staff and office. Would Aggarwala consider leading the transportation piece of the plan, Ricks asked?

"As an intellectual challenge, what could be more appealing for somebody who was interested in transportation, who is from New York and loves New York?" Aggarwala said, looking back at the chain of events that pulled him into Bloomberg's fold.

Exxon Overlooked, Masked Safety Threats in Years Before Pegasus Pipeline Burst

Selective risk reporting caused Exxon to underestimate the vulnerability of the pipe that passed through Mayflower, Ark., federal regulators said.

Nov 14, 2013

In the years leading up to ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline rupture in Arkansas, the company delayed a crucial inspection, put off urgent repairs, masked pipeline threats with skewed risk data and overlooked its own evidence that the oil pipeline was prone to seam failures, according to federal pipeline regulators.

The assertions are laid out in a bluntly worded notice sent to Exxon and released last week by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA, pronounced fimm-sa). The preliminary citations, which came with a proposed $2.66 million fine for Exxon, grew out of the agency's investigation into the March 29 Pegasus seam failure that sent an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude into a Mayflower, Ark. neighborhood.

"From my perspective, this is a pretty important notice," said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant who serves on the PHMSA safety standards advisory committee for oil pipelines. "They've used some fairly strong words ... and they don't choose their words casually."

IEA: Tar Sands Export Pipelines Needed for Canada's Oil to Boom

Report thrusts the prominent energy institute into a critical part of the debate over the Keystone XL—whether the pipeline would worsen global warming.

Nov 14, 2013
Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine/Credit: Elias Schewel. T

Growth in the Canadian oil sands industry will depend on the construction of major new pipelines, including the disputed Keystone XL across the United States, according to a report by a prominent energy institute.

The faster new pipelines are approved, the more rapid the increase in tar sands production over the next two decades, the International Energy Agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook, released on Nov. 12. Accelerated growth would mean a surge in global greenhouse gas emissions, which the IEA has said are already on a "dangerous" course.

The finding thrusts the IEA into a critical part of the debate over the proposed Keystone XL—whether the project would worsen global warming. The IEA's conclusion contrasts with what the U.S. State Department said in its high-profile draft environmental impact study.

According to the State Department, tar sands production would increase with or without the Keystone XL, and therefore the pipeline wouldn't exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The question is important because Obama has said his decision will hinge on the "net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate."

Keystone XL Study Warns of Defective Segments on Pipeline's Southern Leg

Report by advocates says at least 125 sections on the southern portion of the Keystone have had to be repaired. Expert says concerns exaggerated.

Nov 12, 2013
Replacement work on the southern leg of the Keystone XL

Story updated on Nov. 13 at 2:30 a.m. EDT to include content of warning letters obtained by CBS from federal regulators to TransCanada.

Story updated on Nov. 12 at 3:20 p.m. EDT to include comments from TransCanada.

A group of environmental advocates and Texas landowners is urging federal regulators to block TransCanada from starting the southern leg of its Keystone XL pipeline, while new inspections are conducted and the company's construction and safety practices are investigated. The Oklahoma-to-Texas oil pipeline is nearly completed.

The activists, led by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, allege in a report released Tuesday that shoddy construction on the new line has caused more than a hundred defects that TransCanada has had to fix. They believe the "anomalies," even after repairs, could leave the pipeline vulnerable to breaks and spills.

They called on the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, to require comprehensive retesting and reinspection of the line before its scheduled startup around the end of this year.

The critics also want regulators to investigate TransCanada's construction and quality assurance records to see why so many repairs were needed and whether the company's practices, which have been criticized by Canadian regulators in the past, met safety standards. They are urging Congressional committees to hold oversight hearings into the matter.

Tiny Minnesota City Draws a Line in the Frac Sand Boom

Winona will be the first U.S. city to monitor pollution from trucks hauling frac sand en route to fracking operations.

Nov 11, 2013
Demonstrators protest against the frac sand industry in Winona on April 29, 2013

A college town in southern Minnesota is taking action against the frac sand industry that's booming amid America's drilling revolution.

Winona, Minn. will become the first local government in the nation to monitor air pollution that may be escaping from mounds of sand being trucked through town for delivery to fracking fields in North Dakota and elsewhere.

The move puts the city of 28,000 people at the forefront of initial efforts to address the health effects of silica sand, an ingredient used in fracking that has been linked to lung disease. It is part of a larger trend to understand the various impacts of natural gas and oil development on communities.

The data Winona collects will be used to determine if the city is within pollution standards set by the federal and state government, and it could help other towns build a case for monitoring frac sand pollution.

"This is not a specific city's problem—it's a regional problem," said Jim Gurley, co-founder of the Winona-based grassroots group Citizens Against Silica Mining.

Climate Talks in Poland Will Open Amid Flurry of New Scientific Warnings

All the reports sound a common theme: more needs to be done, and faster.

Nov 7, 2013
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres

As delegates from around the world descend on Warsaw for talks toward a new climate treaty, scientists are issuing more and more dire warnings that time is running out to avoid dangerous global warming.

In the past week, several new reports echoed the common theme that urgent action is required to reverse emission trends. Otherwise, greenhouse gas accumulations will surely break through the threshold that scientists say will lock in unacceptable warming—with the attendant droughts, floods, storms, sea rise and damage to ecosystems.

Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to set records, a Nov. 6 report by the World Meteorological Organization confirmed. The gap between a safe track for emissions and the business-as-usual track continues to widen, another organization's report said on Nov. 5.

Yet another, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, foretold consequences including disruption to food supplies and possibly rising violence.

Need for Keystone XL Erodes as U.S. Oil Floods Gulf Coast Refining Hub

Many benefits being touted by Keystone supporters are being delivered by the domestic oil rush. 'It's become a political football more than anything.'

Nov 6, 2013
An oil pump jack operates in Texas.

The ongoing U.S. oil boom has flooded the Gulf Coast with domestic crude to levels not seen in decades, creating a homegrown oil glut in the nation's refining center just as the Obama Administration prepares to rule on a pipeline that would add a torrent of heavy Canadian crude to the same region.

It's just the latest in a string of developments that have surprised and roiled oil markets since 2009, when the combination of falling fuel demand and an unexpected surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production began destroying widely held assumptions about the nation’s need for imports.

"U.S. oil production is at a point that is changing the entire globe, and this is just more evidence that the U.S. producers are far exceeding anybody’s expectations," said Phil Flynn, senior oil analyst at Price Futures Group. "This is part and parcel of the big story—the U.S. energy boom."

Conditions have changed so radically that U.S. refiners are now exporting record amounts of fuel to overseas customers, and there’s a parade of tankers delivering Texas oil to refineries on the east coast of Canada. As these and other surprising trends unfold, it's becoming increasingly clear that the controversial Canadian oil import pipeline, the Keystone XL, is not an urgently needed link.