The Massachusetts towns of Acton, Arlington, Brookline, Concord and Lexington could pilot components of the state’s ambitious climate plan that was signed into law nearly a year ago.
House and Senate members serving on the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy held a hearing Jan. 19 that focused on a number of issues related to Gov. Charlie Baker’s and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s Roadmap to Achieve Net Zero Emissions by 2050 plan.
The legislative panel took up nine climate-related bills, many proposing home rule petitions that would give individual municipalities the opportunity to pursue local ordinances outlawing the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings.
State Rep. Michelle Ciccolo, D-Lexington, is the sponsor of a bill specific to her community.
Ciccolo said Lexington is poised to build 1 million square feet of new construction in the next two years – a figure that feeds into the anticipated 75 to 100 teardowns in the coming years to accommodate new housing developments.
In the legislation, Ciccolo said strict limits could be placed on new housing and major renovations to set the stage for the statewide rollout of fossil fuel bans.
“There are very smart provisions in this that won’t have a negative impact on Lexington’s ability to continue to build housing and commercial buildings,” Ciccolo said. “I think this is a great opportunity to have a handful of communities pilot some advanced techniques so that the rest of the state can learn what needs to happen in our building sector.”
Last March, Baker signed the climate legislation into law, setting the clock on a net zero emission plan by 2050.
“Climate change is an urgent challenge that requires action, and this legislation will reduce emissions in Massachusetts for decades to come, while also ensuring the commonwealth remains economically competitive,” Baker said in a statement at the time of the signing.
The plan includes a call to solidify a new set of statewide building code requirements. Baker and his administration had announced a planned draft of the code last fall, though the timetable has been shifted, in part to accommodate a public comment period.
Legislative proponents have touted the onboarding of the five test municipalities as an opportunity to get a jump-start on the statewide rollout.
State Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, is the sponsor of a bill promoting the adoption of renewable energy for heating, cooling and hot water. Connolly described the package of bills under consideration as “urgent” as he referred to current conditions as a “climate emergency.”
“Our municipalities are really trying to get to that net zero goal as quickly as possible,” Connolly said. “We need to take action to move away from fossil fuels.”
At the Jan. 19 hearing, the joint committee took testimony from a range of residents and representatives within climate-related grassroots groups.
Adele Franks of Climate Action Now Western Mass said her organization has been concerned with a recent trend in new construction in lieu of traditional gas hookups.
“Instead, some of our builders are adding propane tanks to their new construction,” Franks said. “Burning propane emits more greenhouse gas than burning natural gas. We’re getting put further behind in our goals to reach net zero. We are asking you to acknowledge our plight and remedy it.”
Sarah Dooling, a representative of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, called on lawmakers to continue taking steps to reduce fossil fuel emissions. Dooling said fossil fuels reduce the quality of indoor air.
“This is a public health problem,” Dooling said, pointing to the number of people who continue to congregate indoors in response to the pandemic. “It is really urgent that communities that are ready and willing to be test kitchens be allowed to do so.”
This article was originally posted on Bills could let Massachusetts towns serve as ‘test kitchens’ in quest to go fossil fuel free