Mayor Naming Sustainability Officer

December 3, 2014 Updated: December 3, 2014

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio is poised to take another step toward achieving his lofty goal of making the nation’s largest city its greenest one.

De Blasio on Wednesday will create a new agency, the Office of Sustainability, and name Clinton White House veteran Nilda Mesa its first director, administration officials told The Associated Press (AP).

Officials told the AP about the move ahead of de Blasio’s public announcement later Wednesday.

Mesa will assume the position two months after de Blasio announced that he wants New York City to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 from its 2005 levels.

“We owe it to our kids to do right by them and rather than pay later, look at what it is we need to do for the long-term health of the city and its citizens,” Mesa said in an interview Tuesday. “This is a vision for a New York that is sustainable on a larger scale than has been imagined before for any other city.”

Mesa spent years working in President Bill Clinton’s administration, serving as associate director of the White House Council of Environmental Quality and then the Environmental Protection Agency’s counsel to the NAFTA task force, where she implemented legislation related to trade and the environment.

She then spearheaded Columbia University’s sustainability program before joining the de Blasio administration 10 weeks ago as the director of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination. But that department will now be merged with the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to create Mesa’s new agency.

Pledge

De Blasio, a Democrat who took office in January, has pledged to spend $1 billion in capital funds to enhance the energy-efficiency standards of all the city’s public buildings. The city also will offer incentives to persuade private building owners—some of whom have expressed unhappiness about the cost of the proposed retrofitting—to follow suit.

Mesa acknowledged the potential difficulty of some of those negotiations and did not rule out that the administration, if the incentives failed, would move to make the changes mandatory. But she said the impact of Superstorm Sandy in the region two years ago might make the improvements an easier sell.

“There’s nothing like an extreme weather event to bring home to a lot of people the importance of trying to deal with climate change,” said Mesa, who said she would visit other cities to research their green practices.

Several environmental advocates praised de Blasio’s choice of Mesa as his first sustainability officer.

“She brings an impressive track record in government, the private sector, and with communities,” said Andy Darrell, New York Regional Director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

From The Associated Press