Legislature approves climate bill; fossil fuel ban notes housing concerns
The Massachusetts Legislature enacted a compromise bill (H. 5060) to advance offshore wind generation and to address the effects of climate change. Of particular concern to the HBRAMA was a provision sought by the Senate, but opposed by the House, that would require the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to establish a municipal demonstration project allowing a limited number of cities and towns to restrict or prohibit all new building construction or major renovation projects that utilize fossil fuels (coal, oil, propane and natural gas).
Section 83 of H. 5060 includes a fossil fuel ban, but establishes important criteria sought by the HBRAMA to mitigate its effect on housing. For a community to qualify to participate in the demonstration project, it must first have met the 10 per cent housing affordability threshold set under Chapter 40B of the General Laws or has been granted safe harbor status through an approved Housing Production Plan by the Department of Housing and Community Development; or has approved a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is permitted as of right; provided, that such multi-family housing shall be without age restrictions and shall be suitable for families with children. In either case, a community would have 18 months from the bill becoming law to reach the benchmark.
This fossil fuel ban was proposed by senators in response to Attorney General Healey’s past rulings that any local bylaw or zoning bylaw that seeks to ban the installation of fossil fuel infrastructure in new building projects is prohibited by existing state law governing building permits and the regulation of gas utilities. The HBRAMA and other real estate development groups, as well as chambers of commerce, business organizations, unions and the utilities have all opposed such bans.
Only 10 towns will be allowed to take part in the demonstration project at any one time, and the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) will have to collect and report out a range of data about the program’s impact, including on housing production and housing affordability.
The ten communities that are considered likely to seek participation in the demonstration project are:
- West Tisbury
The DOER, in conjunction with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development may promulgate regulations governing the demonstration project.
As this issue of On The Level went to press, Governor Baker is reviewing H. 5060 after legislators mostly rejected amendments he proposed to the bill. The governor has ten days to sign or veto the bill.
A copy of Section 83 can be found [here].