NY1 News: New Heating Oil Rules Would Affect Thousands of NYC Buildings

(February 28, 2011)

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The Bloomberg administration is proposing new rules to rid the city of dirty heating oil that emits unhealthy black smoke into the air. But it turns out the city itself is one of the worst offenders when it comes to burning the filthy fuel. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

 Brandeis High School on the Upper West Side stays warm in the winter by burning what's known as number six heating oil. It's a high-sulfur oil that emits black smoke from buildings, polluting the air New Yorkers breath.

"We know for a fact that this kind of heating oil can kill people. We also know for a fact that cleaning up this heating oil is going to save lives," said Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association in New York.

The city is proposing to ban the dirtiest type of heating oil by 2015. By 2030, only oil with lowest level of sulfur or natural gas will be allowed.

If the new rules are approved, it won't just be Brandeis High School that has to change its ways. City officials say there are 455 city-owned buildings that use the two worst kinds of heating oils: number four and number six. In all, there are said to be close to 9,000 buildings citywide that do the same.

"These buildings burning four and six oil create more air pollution than all the cars and trucks combined in the city," said Isabelle Silverman of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The city's Department of Environmental Protection held a hearing Monday on the proposed rule changes. Property owners are pushing back hard, saying it will cost too much money to replace or upgrade boilers and put protections in place to ensure the new oil won't leak into the ground.

"Obviously there is going to be an out of pocket expense by co-ops, condos and owners of rental buildings, some of whom will be able to afford it and some of whom will not," said Mitchell Posilkin of the Rent Stabilization Association.

City officials estimate it will cost about $10,000 to upgrade a boiler so it can burn oil with less sulfur, but real estate industry estimates run much higher.

A spokesman for the DEP says city buildings would not be exempt from the new regulations.

Unless the Bloomberg administration decides to make major changes to the proposed rules, they are set to take effect later this spring.