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Massachusetts Legislature Legalizes Gas Bans

ZeroCarbonMA congratulates the Massachusetts State Legislature — especially Senator Mike Barrett and Representative Jeff Roy — for including in its imminent climate bill a provision to allow 10 municipalities to enact so-called “gas bans” prohibiting the installation of new fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction and major renovations.

In last-minute deal-making, the gas ban provision was tied to a requirement that communities meet any of several affordable housing requirements, such as meeting the 10% affordable housing threshold set by Chapter 40B, in order to implement a gas ban.

It is the necessary choice. “This progress is sorely needed in the face of growing federal gridlock, including a Supreme Court that has begun to neuter the EPA and a United States Senate hijacked by fossil fuel interests,” said Jesse Gray, author of Brookline’s 2019 gas ban.

It is the equitable choice. “Low and middle-income communities are exposed to more health-harming air pollution and suffer more resulting health consequences than others,” said Wendy Stahl, a doctor and member of Brookline’s Zero Emissions Advisory Board. “Gas burning appliances release toxic fumes both indoors and out. For example, cooking with gas is associated with 42% increased rates of asthma in children, and gas appliances emit significant toxins even when they are not in use. These negative outcomes can be reduced with all-electric construction.”

It is the fiscally responsible choice. “Construction costs for all-electric buildings are similar or less than gas – and much lower than other fossil fuel sources – yet in all cases have lower life cycle costs, lower operational costs, lower emissions, and result in significantly improved indoor and outdoor air quality — as well as substantially better health outcomes,” said architect Lisa Cunningham, a co-founder of ZeroCarbonMA. “We have to work rapidly to decarbonize and electrify our existing buildings, but in the meantime it makes no sense to be building new fossil fuel infrastructure that we will have to pay for twice – to install and then to rip out –at far greater cost than building it correctly the first time.”

It is a timely choice. “This provision highlights the growing number of municipalities moving to ban fossil fuel infrastructure, including most recently Washington, DC,” said David Mendels, a co-founder of ZeroCarbonMA. “It heralds a new chapter in climate history, in which meaningful climate action is accelerating dramatically in cities and towns, pressuring states to address our climate crisis with meaningful action.”

“Advocates, technical experts, and lawmakers worked together to craft legislation that provides more tools for communities in the fight against climate change,” said Representative Tommy Vitolo, who represents Brookline. “The 10 towns provision is an excellent example of what we can do when we collaborate to create effective solutions to urgent problems.”

When the original provision was proposed a few months ago, five Massachusetts communities had passed local bans. But in the intervening months, five additional communities have passed them. The ten Massachusetts communities that have passed bans so far are Acton, Aquinnah, Arlington, Brookline, Concord, Cambridge, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton, and West Tisbury. Seven of these communities appear to meet the affordable housing requirement in the compromise language.

Many more municipalities are in the process of enacting such bans, but this new provision will authorize a total of only ten communities. Attorney General and Gubernatorial front-runner Maura Healey has made clear that she will not allow such municipal bans without the Commonwealth’s consent, which is why this legislation is so important.

Banning fossil fuels in new construction is a necessary first step towards weaning ourselves off polluting and unhealthy gas, oil, and other fossil fuels that is needed to begin to address reaching our MA and Federal mandates of 50% reduction by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.

We are suffering through a global apocalyptic heat wave, again disproportionately affecting those most at risk, including LMI communities and BIPOC. ZeroCarbonMA applauds the leadership of Senator Mike Barrett and Representative Jeff Roy and the State Legislature for reaching consensus to take this small but important first step to allow at least some municipalities to start implementing practical legislation that has overwhelming support in their communities. We now urge Governor Baker to sign this legislation that has garnered strong support not just in these communities but throughout the Commonwealth. We must act with far greater urgency to address our climate crisis and we will continue to partner with the State Legislature on more impactful legislation. Our future hangs in the balance.

Courtesy of ZeroCarbonMA

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