Outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leaving quite the environmental legacy.  This week, the mayor’s office announced that this past winter, NYC air quality reached the cleanest levels in more than 50 years – a success the administration attributes to its PlaNYC long-term sustainability initiative.  PlaNYC’s Clean Heat program was launched in 2011 and has phased out the use of the most heavily polluting heating oils resulting in sulfur dioxide levels in the air declining by 69 percent since 2007 and soot pollution dropping by 23 percent since 2008.

“In 2007, our PlaNYC agenda set an ambitious goal of having the cleanest air among the largest U.S. cities,” said Bloomberg at a Climate Week NYC event at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. “Today’s results show that we have already made major progress towards that goal, which is saving lives and improving the health of New Yorkers.”

The mayor’s office claims that the cleaner air is preventing 800 deaths and 2,000 emergency room visits and hospitalizations compared to 2008.

Through the Clean Heat program, over 2,700 buildings have converted to cleaner heating fuels since 2011 and 2,500 buildings are currently pursuing conversions. State and city regulations limiting sulfur content have also led to emissions reductions. Conversion to natural gas has also resulted in less pollutants in the air.

“New York City’s air quality is the best it has been in years and thanks to the initiatives in place now, it will only continue to improve,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Bloomberg has been criticized for defending Wall Street, endorsing the controversial stop-and-frisk program and overseeing a massive increase in wealth and income inequality resulting in the widest gap between the rich and poor of any major U.S. city. This has led to the rise of populist Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, who is the favorite to take over as NYC’s next mayor. However, the current mayor’s commitment to the environment and combating climate change cannot be denied and will certainly be one of his lasting positive legacies.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg unveiled a $19.5 billion climate change protection plan. During his tenure, NYC launched the  biggest bike sharing program in North America, rolled out real-time water metering, started a citywide composting program, announced a green roof initiative, proposed a charge on plastic bags, oversaw an electric taxi pilot program and many more sustainability initiatives.

+ NYC.gov press release

Lead image via The Climate Group

Other images © nycmayorsoffice