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July 29, 2010
Gennaro makes city cleaner and greener

by AnnMarie Costella, Chronicle Reporter

In addition to being an area lawmaker, City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) is also a trained environmental scientist and geologist. After conducting research on biofuels, he knew they should be a part of the city’s cleaner and greener future. 

“The buildings that exist now are the same buildings that are going to exist in 2030,” Gennaro said, “so it is of critical importance that we look at these buildings and make them cleaner.” 

Gennaro has authored a bill, Intro 194-A, that will replace 20 million gallons of petroleum annually with an equal amount of renewable, sustainable and domestically produced biodiesel, thereby reducing air pollution and improving quality of life throughout the city. 

“It is a great step forward,” Gennaro said. “People think most of the city’s pollution comes from mobile sources such as cars and trucks, but about 79 percent comes from buildings.” 

New York consumes 1 billion gallons of heating oil annually, more than any other city in the United States. But we are also home to the largest biodiesel plant in the county and a growing grease collection industry. That grease, Gennaro says, is the city’s cash crop, because biofuel can be refined from vegetable oil. 

“By changing the type of oil we use, we will reduce pollutants and spend less money on maintaining and operating our heating systems, while simultaneously reducing our dependence on overseas sources of energy,” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said in a statement. 

Under the new legislation, beginning on Oct. 1, 2012, the city will require the amount of sulfur in number 4 heating oil to be capped at 1,500 parts per million — cutting the current cap in half. It would also require that all heating oil used after Oct. 1, 2012 contain at least 2 percent biofuel. 

“This legislation will literally make us breathe a little easier,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “By both reducing legal limits of sulfur and introducing renewable energy sources in home heating oil, we will greatly enhance the quality of the air we breathe and create new economic opportunities to foster the biofuel industry in our five boroughs.” 

There are three grades of heating oil — numbers 2, 4 and 6 with 2 being the cleanest, 6 being the dirtiest and 4 being a combination of the two. Gennaro believes that in the future the city will eventually get away from using the number 6 grade completely. 

“The New York City Community Air Survey, the first of its kind in any American city found that low-grade heating oil is a leading source of neighborhood air pollution,” the city health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, said in a statement. “Cleaner heating oil will help New Yorkers stay healthier and live longer.” 

It is estimated that the improvements under the new regulations could potentially save hundreds of lives each year because the soot created by heating oils contains heavy metals and other pollutants that can damage the heart and lungs and lead to illnesses like asthma. 

Metro Terminal Corporation in Brooklyn is one of the first biodiesel manufacturing plants blending biodiesel with oil in order to produce heat and hot water. They recently partnered with the Doe Fund, a nonprofit group that will provide them with the grease it collects from restaurants so they can recycle it into biodiesel. 

The New York Oil Heating Association, which represents 150 heating oil wholesalers, has expressed support for Gennaro’s legislation. 

“The heating oil of the past will soon be gone,” CEO John Maniscalso said in a statement. “Instead, the ultimate standard — an ultra low sulfur biodiesel heating oil, will take its place and truly become a clean, green, value added product that New Yorkers can be proud of.” 

Gennaro’s bill is expected to pass the City Council on Thursday.

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