BOSTON–Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced that she intends to file legislation to give Boston the local option to set building standards eliminating the use of fossil fuels for new developments and major renovations in Boston. Under the provisions of the state’s recently enacted Bill H.5060, An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind, the submission of this Home Rule Petition would make the City of Boston eligible to apply to participate in a 10-municipality pilot program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
The pilot allows cities and towns to develop local ordinances that restrict or prohibit new building construction or major renovation projects that use fossil fuels, including through the withholding or conditioning of building permits. The City will launch a community and stakeholder engagement process to define fossil fuel-free building standards, determine applicability, and set the multi-year timeline for phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Boston would join New York City, Seattle and Washington, DC, as major North American cities leading the transition to sustainable standards in development.
“Boston must lead by taking every possible step for climate action,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We are eager to carry out the intent of this state legislation and maximize its benefit by including the Commonwealth’s largest city—Boston’s participation will help deliver healthy, energy efficient spaces that save our residents and businesses on utilities costs and create local green jobs that will fuel our economy for decades.”
“The climate crisis requires us to abandon the fossil fuels that are choking the planet and polluting our communities,” said Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space. “It is essential that the fossil-free standards center the needs of environmental justice communities and impacted workers. The Environment Department looks forward to the launch of this community process to create a just transition to an economically thriving, equitable, and Green New Deal Boston.”
“Today’s announcement is a wonderful first step to getting fossil fuels out of buildings,” said Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Green New Deal Director. “This is complex and I’m so delighted that we are going through an in-depth, public process to get this right. We are getting at the heart of the climate crisis by centering equity and developing a model that can be a catalyst for economic change.”
To develop local, fossil fuel-free standards that promote economic opportunity for workers and residents, Boston will convene an Advisory Committee made up of stakeholders with expertise in environmental justice, affordable housing, labor and workers’ rights, building engineering and energy, healthcare and public health, real estate development and management, architecture and urban design, and distributed energy systems. The Advisory Committee will anchor a months-long community process to establish definitions, criteria for applicability, and the timeline to prioritize the complementary goals of decarbonization, housing affordability, equity and a just transition for workers. After consulting with the Advisory Committee, Mayor Wu will then file a local fossil fuel-free building ordinance with the Boston City Council.
“Implementing meaningful environmental regulations will propel us toward our 2050 carbon neutral goal and Boston’s participation in this pilot would allow us the opportunity to prove that clean energy can be accessible and affordable on a large scale,” said Councilor Kendra Lara. “I look forward to continued collaboration with labor leaders as we collectively steward an ordinance through the City Council.”
On-site combustion of fossil fuels in buildings accounts for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions in Boston, contributing to global climate change and local air pollution that disproportionately impacts low-income residents and communities of color in Boston. Research shows there is little-to-no cost increase for building efficient and fossil fuel-free multi-family housing. This standard delivers the long-term benefits of improved air quality, lower energy costs, reduced carbon emissions and enhanced thermal comfort to residents.
Through this pilot program, the City of Boston plans to demonstrate a model for an equitable transition to fossil fuel-free construction in New England. Notably, setting this standard would allow Boston to eliminate direct emissions in new construction in smaller buildings, where it’s known how to build to a net-zero standard that creates immediate cost savings and health benefits for residents.
“The BPDA is proud to support this important work with the Zero Net Carbon Building Initiative, which in partnership with this pilot program, will strengthen efficiency standards across the board,” said Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison. “We applaud the Mayor’s action today to further establish Boston as a national leader on decarbonizing building practices, and look forward to working together to ensure a greener city for all.”
The City will design the policy to complement ongoing decarbonization initiatives, centering environmental justice and equity. The City is already leading by example in its own construction initiatives, having adopted a zero net carbon standard for new municipal buildings and for City-funded affordable housing development. The City is also advancing proposed zero-net carbon zoning for larger buildings, coordinating with the state on the proposed updates to the statewide stretch energy code to ensure strong efficiency standards are at the core of the building decarbonization strategy, and continuing community engagement around regulations development for the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance, which requires existing mid- to large-sized buildings to reduce their emissions gradually to net zero by 2050.
“The Sierra Club commends Mayor Wu for taking this initial step to require new buildings and major renovations in Boston to be fossil-fuel free. With buildings accounting for roughly 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, we must target new buildings as some of the lowest hanging fruit, to achieve zero emissions through equitable electrification,” said Michele Brooks, Lead Boston Organizer with the Massachusetts Sierra Club. “This action has the potential to significantly improve air quality – creating healthier buildings to live and work in, and lower energy costs through increased efficiency. It is a win-win for the climate and our communities.”
“The Wu Administration has unequivocally proven its commitment to a Green New Deal for Boston through multiple policies rooted in equity and just transition, said Cabell Eames, Political Director at Better Future Project. “As a result of that leadership, Boston is equally suited to pilot a fossil-free ban on new construction, joining other cities and towns in leading decarbonization efforts for the state.”
The proposed home rule petition expands upon the Wu administration’s commitment to delivering a just transition and a Green New Deal for Boston, centering community priorities in all proposed policies and regulations. Mayor Wu previously announced efforts to electrify the city’s fleet, launching an electric school bus pilot program, deploying 20 buses during the 2022-2023 school year. She also recently announced the Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools (BPS), a $2 billion plan to overhaul BPS facilities, including new construction and renovation projects, as well as district-wide upgrades. Additionally, Mayor Wu announced the launch of the Solarize Eastie pilot program to increase solar panel installation and onsite battery storage in East Boston. Alongside the Public Works Department, she also announced the City’s curbside food waste collection program. This program will reduce the City’s reliance on landfills and incinerators, and make it more convenient for Boston residents to dispose of their household food waste. In July the BPDA adopted a decarbonization strategy for all agency property.