Michael Bloomberg Owns the Environment

Yesterday, Al Gore went to Queens to appear with Michael Bloomberg and praise the mayor for, among other things, an

Yesterday, Al Gore went to Queens to appear with Michael Bloomberg and praise the mayor for, among other things, an energy-efficiency initiative that entails painting rooftops white.

The former vice president, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-global-warming advocacy, said he was "proud to endorse the leadership and the actions" of Bloomberg on the environment.

In the 2009 New York City mayoral election, to the extent that it has been about anything, has revolved around big issues like education and the economic struggles of the city's middle class. In terms of the environment as a visible campaign issue, yesterday was probably it.

Not that there ever would been much of a green-issues debate anyway. Michael Bloomberg has a fairly good record on the environment, and even if there are aspects of his platform that some environmentalists aren't totally happy with, his Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, doesn't have an environmental résumé to speak of. Nor has the Thompson campaign sought to offer an alternative to the mayor's environmental agenda.

"Trying to compare the two, you really can't, because Bloomberg has his program, and it's pretty straightforward and out there," said Tom Angotti, professor of of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College.

Thompson's environmental policy is, Angotti said, "not very well fleshed-out. "

Still, it wouldn't be entirely unreasonable to expect a more vigorous discussion of the city's environmental policies, asymmetric election contest and all, given the number and gravity of the environmental issues facing the city: asthma-causing particulate pollution in the short term, for example, and wholesale flooding from rising sea levels in the long term.

So let's pretend, for a moment, that urban environmentalists were in a position to make demands of the mayor, and were inclined to do so. (And let's pretend, while we're at it, that there exists a clearly defined standard of urban environmentalism for a New York City official to live up to in the first place, which there sort of isn't.)

What would they ask for?

PlaNYC, Bloomberg's opus, is where many of his environmental policies come from. The mayor's current environmental initiatives, at various stages of implementation, include building more parks, painting miles of bike lanes, planting a million trees, establishing new idling laws, rerouting solid waste from truck to barge, and taking public transportation more seriously than previous mayors. Most recently, in August, he announced an ambitious plan to improve mass transit.

He's also endeared himself to transportation enthusiasts by hiring Jannette Sadik-Khan, who may turn out to have a more visible impact on city planning than any appointed official since Robert Moses.

Bloomberg's plan is big and far-reaching and, not incidentally, readily marketable.

"It's a very simplistic kind of approach to the environment," said Angotti, the professor. "It's very quantitative, it's the kind of thing that his management consultants recommended to him. 'Hey, you want to get numbers? A million trees.'

The only environmental group on Bloomberg's long list of institutional endorsers, so far, is the New York League of Conservation Voters. The president of the NYLCV, Marcia Bystryn, said in a brief phone interview that Bloomberg has "the most comprehensive sustainable agenda in the country." She praised his use of "strategies and metrics."

(The organization also backed him in 2005. Last May, Bloomberg spoke at the organization's gala.)

Other environmental groups, by choice or by law, aren't allowed to endorse specific candidates, but they do talk about what they'd like to see from city government.

Bystryn listed energy policy, mass transit, urban greening, air quality and water quality.

Robert J. Pirani, the Regional Planning Association's director of environmental programs, listed quality of life, port, estuary and sewer management in anticipation of rising sea levels, plans to accommodate expected population growth and parks.

Though she said nothing about politics, Eva Erbskorn, a field organizer for Greenpeace, said a major concern for New York City is rising sea levels, which will cost the city a lot of money for flooding and other effects.

Alex Mathiessen, president of Riverkeeper, said the city's priorities ought to be "continue to work to improve water quality" by protecting the harbor, repairing sewage treatment plants, preventing hydrofracking upstate, repairing aqueducts, and soon, studying the effects of pharmaceuticals in the water supply. Riverkeeper also supports the state D.E.P.'s effort to make the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site.

The Web site of the Sierra Club lists committees on energy, population, watershed, transportation and the Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Council on the Environment, according to its site, is working on Greemarkets, recycling, environmental education and community gardens and the Atlantic Yards.

A lot of the concerns here sound a lot like the ones addressed in PlaNYC, although the Bloomberg administration has seemed inclined to put more emphasis on air pollution, energy efficiency and access to healthy food than it puts on water issues.

The administration has increased access to the waterfront, but it has not put a public emphasis on issues involving the upstate watershed, and unlike Riverkeeper, the mayor opposes the E.P.A.'s effort to make the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site. (Bloomberg believes that the inflexible mandates and inevitable legal maneuvering triggered by a Superfund designation would interfere with development planned for the area, thereby delaying any cleanup.)

After the mayoral election reaches its inevitable outcome, Bloomberg will push on with PlaNYC. And, in the absence of any alternative proposals, the mayor's agenda and the New York-urban-environmentalist-establishment agenda will be one and the same.

For now, no one's complaining. Michael Bloomberg Owns the Environment