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Mass. Towns Seek Permission To Lead On Emission Cuts

A gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove. (Thomas Kienzle/AP)
A gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove. (Thomas Kienzle/AP)

Officials in a handful of Massachusetts communities think they've cooked up a worthwhile strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and want the state's permission to try it out.

"Let us be your test kitchen," Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine told lawmakers Tuesday. "Let Arlington, let Lexington, Brookline and Acton, others that are pursuing this — let us put this effort forward. The people of Arlington want it to go forward."

Three bills before the Municipalities and Regional Government Committee would prohibit fossil-fuel infrastructure in new buildings or those undergoing major renovations in Brookline, Lexington and Arlington. Rep. Tami Gouveia and Sen. Jamie Eldridge have also filed bills that would allow municipalities interested in pursuing such policies to do so without first receiving legislative approval.

Local officials from the three towns described the bans as a way to help phase out use of fossil fuels to combat climate change and move the state and municipalities closer to their emissions-reduction goals.

A sweeping climate policy law signed in March commits Massachusetts to reducing  its greenhouse gas emissions to a net-zero level by 2050, a timeline that has officials and advocates looking for ways to boost energy efficiency and adoption of renewable power.

In Lexington, 66% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, select board member Mark Sandeen said. He said Lexington Town Meeting voted 175-7 to request authority from the Legislature to restrict fossil fuels via a home-rule petition (H 3893).

Chapdelaine said that allowing the towns to proceed now with measures that have been overwhelmingly approved by their residents will allow the local officials to come back to the Legislature with evidence in support of a broader policy. The Town Meeting vote for Arlington's petition (H 3750) was 225-18, Rep. Sean Garballey said.

Brookline Town Administrator Mel Kleckner said his community has a history of piloting policies that would go on to gain traction across the state, including bans on single-use plastic bags and flavored cigarettes.

"We believe the success of these initiatives and the demonstrated ability of the town of Brookline to manage regulations related to these compel the Legislature to support Brookline and other municipalities who wish to advance the ball on climate action," he said. "By doing so, the commonwealth will be able to assess the cost and other impacts of this policy as it considers statewide action to meet our shared goals on greenhouse gas emissions."

Brookline's home rule petition (S 2473) is not the town's first attempt at moving away from fossil fuels in buildings. A 2019 Town Meeting vote approved a ban on the installation of gas and oil infrastructure in new construction. Attorney General Maura Healey last summer knocked down the resulting bylaw, finding that it conflicted with state laws and regulations but writingthat she agreed with its policy goals.

Eldridge said the bill he and Gouveia filed is a response to Healey's ruling that municipalities did not have the authority to restrict fossil-fuel infrastructure.

Their bill (H 2167, S 1333) would give cities and towns the option of requiring all-electric buildings if they choose to do so, without first petitioning the Legislature.

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