Monday, August 23, 2010

Check out the latest CIVITAS news in the Summer 2010 Newsletter at


Save the Date for openhousenewyork on October 10, 2010. CIVITAS will lead a tour of the Upper East Side and

East Harlem and discuss how public policy and community activism have

shaped the neighborhood.

Stay tuned for openhousenewyork event listings in Time Out New York next month

and at

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Clearing the Air on the Upper East Side Forum:

Each espousing an irrefutable barrage of photographs, statistics and graphs, four allies converged to urge New York City’s building residents and managers to switch from burning No. 6 oil to either No. 2 oil or Natural Gas. Brought together by CIVITAS, they collectively argued that utilizing No. 2 oil would not only drastically reduce air pollution and the city’s carbon footprint, but—in a most vital sticking point—save the buildings money.

Their push may have come at a fortuitous moment, given widespread concern about the Gulf oil spill, Global Warming and the city’s current heat-wave, the last of which was on full display July 21.

Isabelle Silverman of the Environmental Defense Fund kicked off the proceedings with familiar images of billowing black smoke. She explained that this kind of smoke—most common to “fancy, Park Avenue” buildings—was responsible for the city’s high asthma rate, “twice the national average.”

She added that, despite all the focus elsewhere, heating oil “puts out 50% more pollution” than cars and trucks combined. She invited audience members to check out EDF’s interactive website,, shows which buildings burn No. 6 oil.

Lewis Kwit of Energy Investment Systems and a building resident manager Sean Wade continued the discussion, with presentations tailored more to the economic benefits of converting to No. 2 oil or Natural Gas.

Kwit said that Natural Gas prices are 20-30 cents lower than No. 6 oil “and projected to stay that way.” He claimed that the heating cost of the average No. 6 oil-burning building had shot up precipitously over the last 10 years, and that building managers would continue to pay a higher price

Wade used case studies to present the economic benefits of the switch. He said using No. 2 oil had cut oil consumption in one of his former buildings by around 40% and, like the others, presented No. 2 oil and Natural Gas use as an unequivocal no-brainer.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Policy Advisor on Air Quality Kizzy Charles-Guzman concluded the presentation by touting the Mayor’s work on the issue. Leading off the discussion by joking that she’s “not an intern, just short,” Guzman stood tall against the No. 6-oil burning buildings that are responsible for the city's residual oil consumption.

Charles-Guzman also discussed Intro 194, a bill before the City Council. According to a testimony submitted by City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Caswell Holloway, the bill “caps the allowable sulfur content in No. 4 fuel” and “would effectively” lead No. 6 oil to “no longer be used.”

Yet for all the reasons their push makes sense now, there’s still a sense in which getting buildings to change their heating oil comes at a bad time.

As soon as the Q&A session began, a property manager shot up and explained that buildings’ finances were already stretched thin by the recession. “We’re already overburdened…how can you ask [the] board to undertake a cost and keep a modicum of control over finances,” he asked.

This sentiment was echoed by Joe, a man I spoke with before the conference began, who neglected to give his last name. Joe, a handyman for a Park Avenue building, said that he’s “interested” in potentially making the switch, but that “the cost is the main thing.”

Still, against the low hum of the air-conditioning, Kwit in particular pushed back at the notion that the switch constituted a financial sacrifice. He assailed the notion that the switch would even necessarily cause a short-term dip into a building’s pockets, saying, “you can still start in the black.”

Jeff Stein, Cornell ’13, is a CIVITAS intern and writes for the Cornell Sun