Eric Adams Said Next to Nothing About Climate Change During New York’s Recent Mayoral Primary

Local advocates worry about the probable next mayor’s ties to real estate developers and their opposition to the city’s ambitious green building law.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, New York City's likely next mayor after apparently winning the June primary election, attends a ticker tape parade on July 07 for healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers. Credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, New York City's likely next mayor after apparently winning the June primary election, attends a ticker tape parade on July 07 for healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers. Credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

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Eric Adams, New York City’s likely next mayor, built his campaign around the issues of crime and public safety and said little to voters about climate change or other environmental issues. 

While the city’s Board of Elections has yet to release certified results from the recent Democratic primary, Adams appears to have finished first in the ranked choice voting. His closest opponents, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley, conceded last week. 

A former police captain, state senator and current Brooklyn borough president, Adams would become the city’s second Black mayor if elected. He will face Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa, founder of the neighborhood patrol group Guardian Angels, in November.

“I was watching for climate promises, and didn’t see them,” said Sara Gronim, co-leader of 350Brooklyn, a local affiliate of the international climate advocacy organization 350.org.

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Adams does have an environmental plan called “Greener City, Brighter Future,” which includes building the city’s resilience to coastal storms. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment on his climate policy. 

Although climate change did not play a big role in the primary election, it will certainly loom large in New York during the next mayor’s term. “The challenge is so immense, that of course the leadership from the next mayor is going to matter,” said Daniel Zarrilli, a special advisor for climate and sustainability at Columbia University, who previously served as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s chief climate policy advisor.

“He’s also going to need to take a hard look at heat and air quality,” said Zarrilli, adding that the next mayor has a big opportunity to promote environmental justice across the city’s neighborhoods.

Adams’ plan calls for reducing New York’s reliance on peaker plants, which generate electricity from gas and oil during times of peak power demand. He wants to “systemically decommission” the aging and polluting plants, which are located disproportionately in neighborhoods of color. 

Adams supports transitioning the city’s electric grid from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but has not specified a timeline for this transition or for closing the peaker plants. His plan also includes promises such as creating a Youth Climate Corps, increasing funding for recycling in public housing, subsidizing the Citi Bike system and converting asphalt schoolyards into green playgrounds. 

Clashes with Community Members Over Developing the Brooklyn Waterfront

Adams appears to have changed his mind on the contentious issue of how to develop Brooklyn’s Sunset Park waterfront. As borough president, Adams supported a plan to rezone an industrial section of the neighborhood and expand a high-end commercial development called Industry City, owned by Jamestown Properties and Belvedere Capital. Local progressive groups opposed that proposal, citing concerns about gentrification and a lack of community engagement. 

UPROSE, a grassroots environmental justice organization based in Brooklyn, presented an alternative plan for a Green Resilient Industrial District that emphasized green industry—manufacturing, transportation and training for things like wind power and energy efficiency—over retail and office space. 

UPROSE and its supporters argued that preserving the waterfront’s industrial nature would allow space for large-scale clean energy businesses and programs, and create better-paid jobs for Sunset Park’s predominantly working class Latino and Asian residents.

“We were advancing a vision for an industrial waterfront that would build for our climate future,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of UPROSE. Her organization met with Adams and his staff to discuss this vision, but she said Adams declined to support their proposal. 

After much back and forth, Industry City withdrew its rezoning application last year when Sunset Park’s City Council member Carlos Menchaca announced his opposition to the project. 

Today, one of the main points in Adams’ environment plan is to “make New York City the wind power hub of the Eastern seaboard,” using waterfront areas like the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal next to Sunset Park. This plan is much closer to what UPROSE had proposed and already partially achieved by helping to ensure Brooklyn will soon become a base for two offshore wind farms planned by the Norwegian oil company Equinor.

Yeampierre said she is still wary of Adams, but hopeful they may work together in the future. “There’s what he says. And then there’s what he does,” she said. “We’re hoping that his actions match his rhetoric, because that has not been the case up until now.”

The Importance of Cutting Buildings’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate advocates also harbor broader concerns about Adams’ relationships with real estate developers. New York already has ambitious climate change legislation that commits the city to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Much of those cuts needs to come from buildings, which account for approximately 70 percent of the city’s total emissions.

At the beginning of his term as borough president, Adams started a Renewable and Sustainable Energy Taskforce, which Sara Gronim from 350Brooklyn joined, along with staff from city agencies and industry representatives from National Grid and Con Edison. The group’s goals include “improving our energy utilization and creating a greener energy infrastructure,” according to its website. The task force provides Brooklyn residents and businesses with a list of building energy efficiency programs they can sign up for, including incentives for new heating and cooling systems and smart thermostats. 

From meetings with this group, Gronim got the impression that Adams and his administration “were benevolently disposed to listening about climate, but not really savvy about it,” she said.

Many of the energy efficiency programs promoted by the Brooklyn borough task force still rely on natural gas, something Adams has in the past been reluctant to transition the city away from. In 2019, 350Brooklyn urged Adams to oppose the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Adams was among the few New York City politicians who thought the pipeline project should go ahead, according to Gronim. 

“He said that in his opinion, developers needed access to more gas,” she said, and attributed this opinion on Adams’ part to donations from real estate developers. (A review by the New York Times of his campaign finance records found that more than a third of the private funds Adams raised for his mayoral campaign came from people linked to the real estate industry.)

Gronim, Yeampierre and others worry that real estate companies and developers will try to obstruct the city government’s efforts to slash building emissions. The Real Estate Board of New York has spoken out against Local Law 97, the city’s new climate legislation for buildings. Along with Columbia’s Zarrilli Gronim and Yeampierre agree that enforcing the law will be one of the most consequential actions the next mayor can take.

Local Law 97 is the “crowning achievement” of the de Blasio administration’s climate policies, said Zarrilli. The real estate industry could be a partner in achieving the law’s goals, he said, but cautioned that “the scale of the ambition is really something that can’t be negotiated away.”

Common Ground on Transportation and Food

Transportation and food are two climate issues that Adams more readily embraces. For many New Yorkers, the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the necessity of using more street space for pedestrians, cyclists and buses rather than for private cars. Adams supports congestion pricing, a policy some cities have adopted that charges cars to enter high-traffic business districts, especially during rush hour. 

At the same time, the city’s subway system has yet to return to pre-pandemic ridership levels, and recent extreme weather highlighted the system’s vulnerability to climate change. After videos of commuters splashing through waist-deep floodwater at a subway station went viral last week, Adams tweeted in support of more funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “This cannot be New York,” he said, calling for congestion pricing to pay for flood resilience upgrades.

Policies to reduce car traffic and boost other forms of transportation could be low-hanging fruit for a future Mayor Adams, who is an avid cyclist himself. “I think he gets the significance of transportation,” said Gronim, not just as a climate issue but as a health issue as well.

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Food might fall in the same category. Adams famously went vegan in 2016 after being diagnosed with diabetes. His campaign materials cite research on the meat and dairy industries’ greenhouse gas emissions, and state that he would reduce city agencies’ procurement of meat in favor of plant-based foods. Adams would also establish new urban farms on Governors and Roosevelt Islands, and hire private processors to expand the city’s composting program.

New York’s government shouldn’t view climate change as a siloed issue, Zarrilli said, but as deeply connected to issues like transportation, affordable housing and public safety. De Blasio’s administration began that reckoning with its OneNYC strategic plan for 2050, he said, a plan the city compares to the Green New Deal.

UPROSE in Brooklyn has long tackled climate change in this holistic way. Yeampierre hopes that if Adams is elected mayor, he will work more closely with frontline leaders like her organization. “I’m hoping that he will think of climate change with some humility. And humility means recognize that you need to be working with a variety of partners that are actually doing the work on the ground.”