Why Mayor Wu says Boston's 'hands are tied' on tackling the city's biggest source of emissions

Winthrop Center office building in downtown Boston is one of the largest buildings in the world to use passive house design. (Credit: MP Boston)
Winthrop Center office building in downtown Boston is one of the largest buildings in the world to use passive house design. (MP Boston)

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Exhale. It was way too close for comfort, but the U.S. women’s soccer team advanced to the World Cup knockout round after tying Portugal this morning. And it doesn’t get any easier from here. The team’s next game is this Sunday at 5 a.m — likely against Sweden.

Anyway, it’s already August. Let’s get to the news.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is chipping away at the city’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings. But she’s growing a little restless she can’t move faster. During her monthly interview yesterday on Radio Boston, Wu said “our hands are tied” on some of the city’s biggest climate initiatives. “We have the resources, the willpower, the partnerships that are ready to go,” she said. “And yet we’re still waiting to hear back if we will get into the state’s 10 communities pilot program to be able to fully regulate how we can allow for — or phase out — fossil fuel infrastructure in buildings.”

  • What is she talking about? Under state law, Massachusetts cities and towns are not currently allowed to ban gas and oil hookups in new buildings or mandate all-electric construction. Boston has, however, moved to join a pilot programcreated by last year’s climate law, that would let some communities do so (with exceptions for certain buildings like labs and hospitals).
  • The catch: The pilot program is limited to 10 communities, but more than 10 want to join. According to state regulations, Boston won’t find out if it makes the cut until next March at the earliest. For her part, Wu isn’t satisfied with the scope — she wants more than 10 communities to be included — or the timeline, given the state’s 2050 climate goals: “We need to get started now.”
  • Baby steps: For now, Wu is focusing on what she can control. On Monday, she signed an executive order banning fossil fuels in all newly constructed or extensively renovated municipal buildings (think: schools, community centers, libraries, etc). WBUR’s Walter Wuthmann has more on the order here. It’s also worth noting Boston has adopted the state’s “stretch” code, which makes fossil fuel hookups more expensive, but does not ban them.
  • The numbers: Buildings account for 70% of Boston’s overall emissions. But municipal buildings are only a tiny fraction of that. Municipal emissions make up just 2.3% of all Boston emissions, and city-owned buildings account for a third of that 2.3%. That’s why Wu wants to take more sweeping action, even if some worry it could temper needed housing production.
  • Go deeper: You can listen to Wu’s full interview on Radio Boston — including her defense of the plan to move the John D. O’Bryant school to West Roxbury — right here.

Decision time: That budget deal we mentioned Monday? The House and Senate both swiftly passed the $56 billion package and it hit Gov. Maura Healey’s desk yesterday afternoon. The 10-day countdown now begins for Healey to sign the spending bill (and potentially veto parts of it).

  • One item we didn’t talk about yesterday: If signed, the budget would reinstate a pandemic-era policy that banned landlords from evicting tenants if they are seeking state financial aid to pay rent. The original program expired at the end of March.

New month; new MBTA closure: Tonight marks the beginning of another series of evening and weekend diversions on the Red Line’s Braintree branch, which will continue through the end of August. (There’ll also be corresponding diversions on the commuter rail.)

  • On weeknights: Shuttle buses will sub in for a section of the Braintree branch every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at 8:45 p.m. (This week and next week, it’s between between North Quincy and JFK/UMass; then it’s between Quincy Center and Braintree on Aug. 15-17, Aug. 22-24 and Aug. 29-31.)
  • On weekends: Shuttle buses will replace train service for the entire branch — from Braintree to JFK/UMass. Those diversions will begin at 8:45 p.m. each Friday and run through Sunday.

The NAACP is wrapping up its five-day convention weekend in Boston tonight with an event featuring Hillary Clinton. Rep. Ayanna Pressley also delivered the keynote address at the convention’s “Black Met Gala” last night. You can listen to her full speech here.

P.S.— Speaking of the T, MBTA General Manager Phil Eng is making his first appearance on Radio Boston today. Tune in at 11 a.m. and send us your T-related queries through the Radio Boston text club.


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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