City Council OK’s Boston bid to join fossil-fuel free construction pilot

The City Council voted 9-3 for a home rule petition that would make Boston eligible to apply to participate in a pilot program allowing cities and towns to restrict new buildings or major renovations from using fossil fuels.

Mayor Michelle Wu first proposed the petition, which needs approval from the governor and State House lawmakers to become law.

A new law passed earlier this year allows ten cities and towns to set up ordinances with the restriction or prohibition of using fossil fuels. The restriction could come through withholding a building permit or adding conditions.

The state law exempts research laboratories, hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Councillor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune and Jamaica Plain Councillor Kendra Lara stood to support the city’s petition, with Lara emphasizing the home rule petition allows Boston to be considered for the statewide pilot. Concerns from labor leaders and experts will be heard through a “robust engagement process,” she added, saying that she wants Boston to be the first community that has a union-endorsed gas ban.

But Dorchester Councillor Frank Baker rose to oppose the petition, saying the recent hearing on it was one-sided and an “echo chamber” of people who want to ban gas hook-ups. There were no representatives from National Grid, or from the plumbers and pipefitters unions.

The transition from fossil fuels “needs to be done gradually,” Baker argued, adding that he anticipates the petition will have an “adverse effect” on affordable housing and the economy.

Councillor At-Large Erin Murphy raised similar concerns, and added that there are more than a dozen cities and towns ahead of Boston in line for the statewide program. She said she looks forward to voting “yes” on the measure once she hears more views on the topic.

Along with Murphy and Baker, Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty was the additional “no” vote.

“The Greater Boston Real Estate Board, a trade group, also opposed the measure. Banning fossil fuels in building construction now, at this time and present market, will lead to a serious increase in housing costs, when global challenges like inflation and supply chain shortages are already adding to housing costs,” Greg Vasil, the group’s CEO, said in a statement after the vote. “As a result, addressing the present housing crisis will be even more difficult for Boston.”

But before the vote, Wu’s environment chief, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, told the State House News Service that the petition puts “our money where our mouth is.” Roughly 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to the buildings sector.

"There comes a point at which you have to say no more to ways of doing things that you know are not sustainable for the long run," she said. "Why would we continue to build buildings now that we know are going to lock in carbon dependency and fossil fuel dependency for 50, 70 more years if we're saying we're going to be net-zero in 2050?"

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.


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