Friday, September 1, 2023

Boston’s Executive Order to End Fossil Fuel Usage in New and Substantially Renovated Municipal Buildings

 Molly Lane

Last July, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu signed an executive order

ending the use of fossil fuels in new construction and major renovations of city-owned buildings. Mayor Wu previously mentioned her intention to draft and sign this executive order in her 2023 State of the City address.

The executive order encompasses both new construction of city buildings and renovation projects that affect 75% or more of a building’s square footage. Municipal buildings impacted by the executive order will include schools, Police and Fire Department stations, offices, and public-private partnerships on City land that house City facilities. Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, hot water, and cooking systems are all required to operate without fossil fuels in buildings and projects covered by the executive order. For now, Mayor Wu’s executive order only applies to city-owned buildings as under current Massachusetts law, municipalities are preempted from passing fossil fuel bans to the entirety of the city. The executive order is signed effective immediately, however, it does not apply to projects that began the building process before the executive order’s signing.

In Boston, municipal emissions make up 2.3% of all of the city’s carbon emissions, yet over 70% of those emissions come from buildings. Boston has seen efforts to decarbonize both publicly and privately owned buildings, and this executive order furthers these efforts. The city’s existing capital plan has already allocated more than $130 million to advance decarbonization and revitalize older structures. By 2050, Boston hopes to reach carbon neutrality city-wide, and this executive order expands upon the city’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) to achieve that goal. BERDO sets emission standards for large existing buildings and requires all covered buildings, including municipal buildings, to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The city of Boston owns over 16 million square feet of property, and the administration has indicated that it anticipates the change will increase the demand for the trades and professions that are part of the green building ecosystem. Programs such as PowerCorpsBOS support these efforts by training Boston residents for new jobs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in large buildings. PowerCorpsBOS is learning how to run building operations with maximum efficiency and passing this information on to trainees. Additionally, the administration indicates that it anticipates the executive order will save the city money as high-efficiency fossil fuel-free buildings are more cost-effective to maintain in the long run, thereby reducing municipal energy costs and creating savings that can be reallocated to other municipal services.

Molly Lane is a Law Clerk with Moriarty Bielan & Malloy LLC. She is currently a 2L at Suffolk University Law School where she is a Staff Member of the Moot Court Honor Board Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy.”

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