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Transcript: Mayor Adams Delivers Remarks, Announces Appointments of Climate Leadership Team

January 31, 2022

Peggy Shepard, Chair Of The Environmental Justice Advisory Board: So, good afternoon to the New York City Environmental Justice Advisory Board members and to our special guests here today. Today is the culmination of the past two years of work to complete the scope of work for the city wide Environmental Justice Study. This was a study that was mandated by local law. It's one that we have engaged in community town hall meetings to hear directly from community residents throughout the city to better understand the environmental and climate justice issues that are of primary concern and that affect the health and sustainability of the cities communities. There cannot be climate justice without environmental justice. And so that report that comes out of this study will be a foundation for the Environmental Justice Advisory Board to help develop a comprehensive plan to address the environmental and climate justice concerns of New York City residents in our frontline communities. Our special guest today is Mayor Eric Adams who we hope will commit to a strong public engagement and the political will to support a robust environmental justice plan. So please welcome Mayor Eric Adams for a very special announcement today.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you very much, and I am not a special guest, all of you are, and I want to thank our entire Environmental Justice Team. Today at City Hall, once again, we are Getting Stuff Done, on combating climate change, focusing on environmental protection and environmental justice. This is my first meeting with my Environmental Justice Team. In a few moments, we introduce my new climate team. All of us will be working together to create plans for a clean, sustainable and resilient future. And even more importantly, turning those plans into progress, and making sure that progress is felt in every community across the city. New Yorkers are realistic. Climate catastrophe isn't some far off threat. It's here, it's happening, and our city is taking action now. By the end of my four years in office, 100 megawatts of solar will be installed on schools, libraries, community centers, and other public buildings. Reaching this goal will reduce our reliance on oil and natural gas. We've already started, the city recently installed 500 kilowatts of solar power at the Thomas Edison Career and Technical High School in Jamaica, Queens. We'll also be building out citywide resiliency projects and infrastructure, breaking ground on a massive clean energy complex at Ward's Island Water Resource Recovery Facility, overseeing construction of up to 10 megawatts of solar energy and one megawatt of battery storage, and completing the city's first comprehensive study of environmental justice.

Far too long the difference between an environmental incident and an environmental crisis is what neighborhood it has happened in. People of color and low-income communities experienced a disproportionate share of pollution and environmental degradation, lack of access to greener space and healthy foods, something we forget often. People of color face greater danger from climate change and extreme weather even though they contribute the least to our emissions. It's been it's been that way for far too long. But we're going to change it. Climate Justice is social justice. Why we are creating a new office of climate and environmental justice? Brings together our Climate Resiliency and Sustainability Teams with Environmental Coordination and Environment to Remediation offices, unite the policy team and the operation team under one umbrella, and appoint one leader to oversee this critical work. Today I announce my climate team. First, announce our new Chief Climate Officer and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, Rit Aggarwala is well known it noted as a leader in this field, and the new Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Environmental Protection Operation, Vinny Sapienza who will report to Rit in his role as DEP Commissioner. And also our new Executive Director of the Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, Kizzy Charles-Guzman, who will report to the leadership in this area as well.

Today is just the beginning of our journey towards the future. These three extraordinary public servants will lead the way. We're going to protect our city, our future, our people, we're going to create a green economy with 1,000s of good jobs, including an education and workforce development pipeline to these green jobs, so we ensure the jobs we create are filled by our neighbors, and we won't ignore those who have been ignored in the past, particularly Black and Brown students. We're going to deliver environmental justice and health benefits for Black and Brown communities, and change the way we think about the relationship between food and our climate, something that is often ignored, and no one wants to talk about, but I will as your Mayor. Now, let's introduce the Environmental Justice Team, who we Get Stuff Done here as City Hall.

Moderator: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. First up we're going to have to hear from our Deputy Mayor for Operations, Meera Joshi.

Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Operations: Thank you, Mayor Adams. Thank you, Peggy, for your work today. Thank you for your advocacy. Thank you to the entire environmental justice team for your work, your time and your commitment. I'm deeply honored today to lead the climate team that we're announcing. I'm honored to lead an integrated approach to environmental justice. This is work that's central to every city agency and must be a part of how we provide service to all New Yorkers, water quality, widely varying proximities to parks and green space, and what about our trash? Some neighborhoods are plagued by illegal dumping and exposure to hazardous waste, noise, air quality, traffic congestion, access to fresh foods, and logically priced nutritious foods. We know all too well that people flourish or diminish based on the quality of their environment, and if we want to flourish as a city, we must protect and improve the living working school and transportation spaces of all New Yorkers and for our future New Yorkers. Today, the Adams administration recognizes that resolving these important and very much apparent issues that plague many New Yorkers takes an integrated approach, one that enables all of the Mayor's previously separated environmental offices to work in coordination and rightly elevates the role of the Department of Environmental Protection. And putting this initiative under the Office of Operations ensures coordination with all of New York City's major operating agencies. I'm thrilled to bring the combined commitment and expertise of Rit, Vinny, and Kizzy on board to Get Stuff Done. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you so much. And now we're going to hear from our new Chief Climate Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Rit Aggarwala.

Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala, Department of Environmental Protection: Thank you, Adriana. And thank you so much, Mayor Adams and Deputy Mayor Joshi for having the confidence in me to give me this opportunity. As Mayor Adam said, climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face as a city. In the past the Bloomberg and de Blasio administration's made significant progress in laying the groundwork for what we must do. But we're now in the critical decade of the climate fight, and it's under this administration that we will have to implement the plans and achieve the targets that have been set on decarbonization and on resilience. And as the Mayor points out, we have to do this in a way that intentionally addresses the history of environmental injustice that is written all over the city, injustice that is often directly related to climate, but also extends to challenges such as air quality, water quality, and food access. And so our challenge is to operationalize these three things, resilience, decarbonization and environmental justice, and to drive them into the daily operating decisions made across a wide variety of city agencies. I'm tremendously excited to take on the role of Chief Climate Officer, and I'm especially thrilled and honored to lead the Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP is 6,000 men and women work from Tottenville all the way up to Delaware County to make sure that this city and another million New Yorkers upstate have the nation's best drinking water, to protect our waterways and to manage stormwater. The work they've done is reflected in the fact that our harbor is cleaner than it has been in more than a century and we've seen whales, dolphins and sea horses in our harbor. The DEP has responsibility for stormwater, places it on the frontlines of climate change, and I'm going to work very hard to make sure that the DEP is doing all it can do to lead on resilience and protect all New Yorkers.

I'm particularly grateful to Vinny Sapienza, who has done a great job as commissioner and who has graciously agreed to stay on as chief operating officer so that I and all New Yorkers can continue to count on his expertise and dedication. And I'm very pleased to have Kizzy Charles Guzman as my other partner in this work. No one in New York City is better qualified to lead the Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice than Kizzy, who started her career at We Act under Peggy's leadership, who's worked then in my former office in City Hall on air quality, who served in the Department of Health and who has since worked on water, on cooling our neighborhoods, and on decarbonizing our buildings. Her CV really does read like the job description she's about to have. And all of us are lucky to have her. Mr. Mayor, again, I thank you very much, and we will get stuff done.

Moderator: Thank you so much for it. And now we're going to turn it over to our new Executive Director for the new office, the Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, Kizzy Charles Guzman.

Executive Director Kizzy Charles Guzman, Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice: Buenas tardes mi gente, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for tuning in. A special thanks to our Environmental Justice Advisory Board for letting us crash your meeting. And Mayor Adams, thank you so much for your confidence. I am so excited and to have the opportunity to lead this work, which is clearly very close to my heart. And why is that? Well, I immigrated to New York City as a young teen and went to high school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in the 90s. Very much different environment than is considered what is considered a very hip place today. And back then I knew my neighbors, and learned about community support, grit and resilience from an early age. I was also an unpaid intern at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which helped me appreciate how hard nature works for us, and also showed me what it meant for environmental resources to be gated, protected, and beautiful while Prospect Park a few feet away was at a time considered dangerous. But that's where my community, my friends hung out. Despite at all the park was the respite, it's still a place to build community, still a place to breathe, and nature there worked even harder. And I pursued my education and continue to experience a stark difference between rural and suburban spaces, natural areas and their adjacent cities. So, because of those formative experiences, I dedicated my career to environmental health and sustainability right here in New York City with Peggy. I still live in my same neighborhood just blocks away from my old high school. And over my 15 years in City government, we have really built a tremendous arsenal of policies that have made us global leaders. And I have delivered work that intersection of climate, sustainability, health and racial equity. So today, I'm thrilled and honored that I get to continue to serve, we're going to step up and accelerate the pace of our preparation for the extreme weather that is already affecting our communities. And we're going to do everything we can to stop emitting pollutants or hurt our health and hurt our planet. We will focus on improving our neighborhoods today while also preparing for the challenges of tomorrow. I'm excited to work with Rit and Vinny and our city, state, federal partners and the many advocacy organizations and activists on the ground. Together, we will execute on the vision that the Mayor campaigned on, a focus on working class New Yorkers, their health, their quality of life, their resiliency, and their lived experiences. Going forward equity and health will not just be co benefits of our investments, they will be the North Star that guides this administration's climate portfolio. Our agencies are up for the challenge. Together we will improve and save lives. There's no time to waste. So, let's get it done.

Moderator: Thank you, Kizzy. We're now going to hear from our Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Environmental Protection, Vinny Sapienza.

Chief Operating Officer Vinny Sapienza, Department of Environmental Protection: Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. I've had the great privilege of working both shoulder to shoulder with and then leading an incredibly dedicated and talented team at DEP. Together, we've made tremendous progress in improving our local waterways and ensuring that New York City's drinking water remains world renowned. But all of those efforts and all of our water and wastewater investments are at risk due to climate change. Increasingly intense storms, warmer temperatures, and rising sea levels threatened DEP's future ability to provide ample amounts of high-quality drinking water and to keep our city streets from repeatedly flooding, as they have been in underserved communities. And that's why Mayor Adams mandate for city agencies to coordinate and to accelerate our climate initiatives is so important. Having collaborated with Rit and Kizzy over the years, I know that the expertise and leadership that they bring to this effort is critical to its success, and the team at DEP is eager to begin working with them. Finally, while we make these fundamental changes, DEP must continue providing daily essential services so that there are no surprises when you turn the kitchen tap or flush the toilet. I want to thank Mayor Adams, Deputy Mayor Joshi, Commissioner Aggarwala and Executive Director Kizzy Charles Guzman for their confidence in me to manage DEP's utility operations, and I pledge my full support and the overall mission. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you, Vinnie. Now, we're going to hear from the President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, my former boss, Julie Tighe.


Moderator: Thank you, Julie. We're now going to hear from Tiffany and Taylor with the Regional Plan Association.


Moderator: Thank you, Tiffany. And finally closing out the announcement portion of our meeting, last but never least, Carter Strickland for the Trust for Public Land.


Moderator: Thank you very much. And this concludes the announcement portion of our meeting. And I will now close out the Environmental Justice board meeting. Thank you.

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