New York City – the world’s energy finance capital and one of the world’s largest commodity trading marketplaces – is a fitting location for the Center on Global Energy Policy. As part of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the center will seek to “provide independent, balanced, data-driven analysis to help policymakers navigate the complex world of energy.”

At Wednesday’s launch event, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined by energy experts and US government officials, who helped officially inaugurate the new energy policy initiative.

The mayor pointed out that 200 years ago steam power made its debut in New York City and soon after Thomas Edison brought electricity. “And today, many key energy issues are unfolding right here in New York, like the future of nuclear power, shale gas development, energy finance…,” and many others he said.

Discussions about energy issues tend to be “skewed toward the extremes,” said Bloomberg, and we need discussions that transcend political ideologies and don’t pander. “At the top of the to-do list for energy policy, political pandering is problem, when you look at fracking and the future of nuclear plants you have to do something based on real science that evaluates the benefits and risks.”

The mayor discussed the Indian Point nuclear plant located approximately 20 miles north of New York City that is undergoing re-licensing hearings, with many opposed, including Governor Cuomo. The plant has become a lightning rod of controversy, with many calling for it to be shut down due to safety concerns. On the other side, nuclear proponents point to the jobs and tax revenue generated by the plant and say replacing 2,000 megawatts of power will increase utility bills and could result in reliability issues.

Mayor Bloomberg also weighed in on another highly controversial issue – fracking. “Fracking just sounds like a bad word, there are too many consonants in it,” he said. Bloomberg said, in his view, fracking can be done safely if the proper regulatory checks and balances are in place and highlighted unconventional natural gas development as another polarized energy issue with extreme views on both sides.

The mayor also devoted a large portion of his speech to an issue that is not readily apparent to many New Yorkers, the fact that 80% of New York City’s air pollution is emitted from buildings that burn heavy fuel oil for heating. “Just 10,000 buildings in New York City burn heavy forms of heating oil, but they contribute more soot pollution than all cars and trucks on the City’s roads,” according to the Clean Heat Program website, an initiative Bloomberg’s administration started to deal with the air pollution issue.

A major barrier to transitioning buildings from heating oil to cleaner natural gas is a lack of gas pipeline infrastructure feeding the city. The mayor said he has lobbied for the Spectra and Rockaway lines that would significantly expand natural gas supply, though he’s faced staunch opposition. “People are against these pipelines, but this is New York and people are against everything,” he joked.

“But there is a real crisis, people are breathing this air, including our children, and we need to address this issue,” he said.

Mayor Bloomberg said the city and country need to move to cleaner, more resilient energy systems and embrace energy efficiency, but to do so effectively, we must rely on rigorous science-based research and hopefully the Center on Global Energy Policy will help accomplish that.

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