New DEP Rules Will Reduce Air Pollution

Emissions from the burning of Numbers 4 and 6 heating oils.
Credit: Environmental Defense Fund / Isabelle Silverman


Hats off to the NYC Department of Environmental Protection for passing new, more stringent rules for boilers efficiency. These changes will really make a difference, since boilers are responsible for much of the city’s air pollution. Yet some related recommendations of the Green Codes Task Force proposal remain unimplemented.

The new rules will help cut overall carbon pollution, as well as the particulates that cause childhood asthma. Oil boilers have had their efficiency standard raised from 80% to 83%, an improvement that could save tens of thousands of dollars each year in a big building. And for the first time, natural gas boilers must be tested instead of just fuel oil ones.

Testing quality control will be improved now that it must be performed by a qualified technician using a calibrated, up-to-date device. And in accordance with the Green Codes Task Force recommendation, tests will be conducted annually instead of every three years, which is in line with best industry practices for clean boiler operation. Together, these changes mean we should see fewer black clouds belching from city chimneys next winter.

The rules also remove barriers to more efficient boilers and make it easier for owners to do the right thing. Some boiler applications can be filed online instead of on paper, a welcome improvement. And it will be easier to install condensing boilers, which are super-efficient but require different types of venting than the original permitting process was designed for. These are great strides in making the new rules more user-friendly while boosting efficiency.

However, the rules do miss a few low-cost opportunities for owners to cut pollution. One is specific to gas boilers, which have two main types: small  “atmospheric” boilers, and all others, including the large ones in buildings over 50,000 square feet that are responsible for about half of all energy use in the city. The Green Codes Task Force recommended specific efficiency standards relevant for each type of gas boiler: 79% for the small atmospheric ones, and 81% for the big ones. But the new DEP rules don’t distinguish between the types, holding all gas boilers to the same 80% standard. By choosing not to use a customized standard, the rules make it harder for atmospheric boilers to pass the test, while not holding the larger boilers to a high enough standard. One percent may not sound like a big difference – but since these boilers are so big, it adds up.

Other quibbles: owners would save time if they were allowed to submit test results electronically, instead of transferring results onto a city form. And inexplicably, the city actually increased the amount of smoke boilers may legally produce. These issues may be dealt with when the city updates its Air Code, which according to DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd will be later this year.

These are big changes that will make a real difference to NYC, so kudos to DEP, and we look forward to further improvements. And if you’re keeping score at home, this brings the total number of green codes proposals implemented to 48. You can read the full details about this and all the other proposals on our Green Codes Proposal Tracker.