Isabelle Silverman is an attorney in the New York EDF office and focuses on clean air, transportation and diesel issues.
I work on a high floor in a New York City office building and a few years ago, began wondering just that. So I contacted a consultant and found out that about 10,000 residential, commercial and institutional buildings burn highly polluting grades of heating oil (No. 4 and No. 6 oil), which causes the black smoke. No. 6 oil is also referred to as “residual fuel” as it is the bottom of the barrel – leftover after the refining process.
Pursuing further, we at EDF decided to find out how much pollution was created by these 10,000 dirty oil buildings. After researching the issue, we wrote and released a 2009 report, The Bottom of the Barrel: How Dirty Heating Oil Harms our Health and Pollutes our Air, showing that the dirty oil buildings were responsible for more soot pollution than all the cars and trucks combined in New York City.
In addition, we launched a web page with an interactive map showing every dirty oil building’s address. EDF also approached Mayor Bloomberg personally and the Mayor’s Sustainability Office recommending that permits for the dirty oil boilers be phased out as fast as possible. These actions put the issue on the map – literally.
For the first time, building owners realized that they were burning dirty oil when they could be burning much cleaner natural gas or regular heating oil. Natural gas being significantly cheaper than oil even presented a business opportunity when switching fuel. When combined with efficiency measures, building owners can reduce their heating fuel costs by more than 40%.
The Bloomberg Administration just issued a rule phasing out permits for the dirty oil (see also recent NBC coverage). EDF is also working in partnership with the Mayor’s Office to ensure that the switch to cleaner fuel happens as efficiently and fast as possible so New Yorkers (and its visitors) can breathe a little bit easier.
Note from Elena Craft:
EDF learned that reaching out to New York City elected officials, highlighting a regional air quality issue, and presenting facts as well as potential solutions, could be a win-win situation for all involved. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg and his administration for working with EDF and others on an important issue impacting millions. It is our sincere hope that similar achievements can be made through collaborative efforts working with our Texas big city mayors and other elected officials. Together, we can find mutually beneficial solutions to some of society’s most serious environmental issues.