New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg blames the intensity of superstorm Sandy, which struck Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states in October, on pollution caused by coal energy. He spoke at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Maryland.
“Sandy was developed by warmer-than-normal ocean waters, and it was amped by rising sea levels, and because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, when the storm came, it packed a greater wallop. And a lot of this is because of pollution that coal puts in the air,” Bloomberg said.
He said it is crucial that the U.S. clean up its air by eliminating coal, which makes up a significant amount of America’s carbon footprint, and move forward with cleaner energy sources. The mayor said he was pleased to see that through the work of environmental groups and tougher federal emissions standards, energy companies are shutting down coal plants because they are no longer economically feasible.
Another factor that has helped in making coal “a dead man walking,” is natural gas. Bloomberg said hydraulic fracturing in shale formations allows the U.S. access to an abundance of a cleaner-burning, low-cost energy source. However, it needs to be properly regulated, which he said the oil and gas industry seems to be fighting.
“History shows that when industries resist sound regulation, they really don’t pump their own cause; instead they set themselves up for disasters,” Bloomberg said.
Gas and renewable energy sources should be seen as allies rather than enemies, he said, because until the “holy grail” of energy storage is found, renewables will always need a reliable backup form of energy. Further, gas can fill in the gap as the U.S. makes the slow transition from fossil fuel energy sources to renewables.
Bloomberg praised Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the ARPA-E program for their efforts to advance clean and sustainable energy. New York is one of many cities around the world that faces adverse effects from climate change, such as rising sea levels. As such, the city has implemented energy efficiency regulations for buildings, vehicles and more, resulting in air quality that is at its best in more than a decade, even though its population continues to grow.
Sandy affected nearly every form of infrastructure in New York City, including energy, but the lesson has been learned, Bloomberg said. The city government has provided incentives for large buildings such as hospitals to invest in combined heat and power systems, and it is exploring how to make its grid smarter and more reliable.
Bloomberg said that while the ideas might not be new, they have a new sense of urgency in his city.