Boston Must Lead By Example — 2019 Climate Action Plan Update

The City of Boston recently published its Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2019 Update, which lays out a five-year decarbonization roadmap aligned with the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.  BCAN volunteers have taken a close look at the part of the CAP that relates to reducing carbon emissions from existing buildings, since this sector accounts for more than half of Boston’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the key ideas outlined in the CAP is that of carbon emissions performance standards,  mandatory carbon emissions targets by building type that decrease over time. The emissions standards would be established by amending the City’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), which currently applies to buildings of 35,000 or more square feet. The process of developing these standards will begin in 2020, and the City expects to propose an amendment to BERDO in 2021. 

Establishing building performance standards is an important step forward toward carbon neutrality.  Low-carbon buildings save money and bring better health to occupants. Setting standards would give property owners clear mandates to guide their maintenance schedules and would show that the City is taking climate change seriously.

We applaud the City for recognizing that establishing performance standards is a crucial element of what must get done in the next 5 years if we are to meet our 2050 goal. We value the public process that must precede putting more teeth into BERDO, but given that we are in a climate emergency, we are concerned that the City’s timeline for retrofitting existing municipal buildings seems very slow.

According to the CAP, the City intends to reduce annual emissions from municipal buildings by a mere one percent in 2019, plus an unspecified “additional emissions reductions” in 2020 and beyond.  Municipal building upgrades are not dependent upon a public process, and an explicit and ambitious timeline for deep energy retrofits of every City-owned building must be made public in 2020. The goal for carbon neutrality in City-owned buildings should be set much sooner than for private buildings.

We are also concerned that there is no plan to address existing buildings under 35,000 square feet. In the near-term, the threshold for BERDO should be lowered.  Also, two promising ideas that would benefit many residents should be pursued: rental energy efficiency requirements and energy scorecards that must be made public when a property is rented or sold.  Scorecards would empower buyers and renters and create a market-based incentive for owners and landlords to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Both of these ideas should be researched, and if possible established, within this current 5-year plan.

Lastly, we are concerned that the CAP does not address enforcement penalties for non-compliance with BERDO.  At present a number of building owners regulated by BERDO have not even complied with the existing mandate to make public their energy use data. Given Boston’s extreme vulnerability to flooding and heat waves, and the consequences of climate change for those worldwide who have contributed the least to the climate emergency, we must use sticks as well as carrots to push Boston’s building owners to decarbonize as quickly as possible.

Read more about our campaign to strengthen and expand Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) at https://bostoncan.org/green-buildings/.

You can find Boston’s website about BERDO at https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/building-energy-reporting-and-disclosure-ordinance.

You can read more about Boston’s Climate Action Plan at https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/boston-climate-action#climate-action-plan.

San Jose Bans Gas Pipelines for New Buildings by 2020

On September 18, San Jose, CA became the largest US city to ban construction of new gas pipelines. All new buildings will have to be electric starting January of 2020 (in less than 4 months!). With its aggressive move, the City of San Jose is displaying the sense of urgency experts and the public alike are calling for in fighting the climate crisis. The ban is remarkable not only because of the size of San Jose (it’s the 10th largest city in the US, with over 1 million inhabitants), but also because of the very short notice developers received. It is as if the city was telling the construction industry: “Get your act together. The technology is there and you can do this.” 

With its ban on new gas pipelines, San Jose cuts through two of the bigger obstacles to addressing the climate crisis adequately: (1) utilities that not only delay the transition to clean energy but plan to expand the use of fossil fuels and (2) parts of the construction industry that continue to do business as usual and fail to recognize their role and responsibility in fighting climate change. 

From the standpoint of developers, it may be a bit of a scramble to revise plans at such short notice, although alternative technologies such as electric heat pumps are available. However, from the standpoint of investors or building owners it should be a no-brainer, since US cities with climate goals are also beginning to mandate energy retrofits to existing buildings. Why pay for a gas heating system now if I will be required to replace it soon with electric heat? 

From the standpoint of a city, any new gas-heated building makes it harder to meet that city’s carbon reduction goals. But this is not the only problem to consider:  

  1. The generation of natural gas through fracking results in methane emissions which have been vastly underestimated in the past. While methane emissions at a production site are not counted towards a city’s carbon inventory, they nevertheless contribute to heating up the planet. 
  2. Fracking also generates considerable amounts of soil, water, and air pollution in addition to the methane release. 
  3. Gas leaks from aging pipeline infrastructures within cities result in additional methane emissions. A July 2019 study shows that for six big east coast cities, including Boston, methane emissions are twice as high as recent EPA estimates suggested. They contribute to global warming, create health problems, kill trees, and jeopardize safety.
  4. Some gas companies don’t cooperate when asked to fix their gas leaks (see National Grid vs. City of Boston
  5. An aging pipeline infrastructure can pose a massive, immediate safety risk, as seen from the recent incidents in the Merrimack Valley

Given the current building boom in Boston, the City needs to look into serious measures to stop the expansion of gas infrastructure, and do so quickly. San Jose has set an example of one way to accomplish this.  Locally BCAN is part of a group of organizations calling on the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to revise Article 37, Boston’s Green Building Code, to enact a similar ban on gas hook-ups for new construction. The Boston node of 350-MA is among the leaders of that no-gas-in-new-construction campaign.

Climate Preparedness Week (Sept 24-30)

Hot on the heals of the youth-led climate strike on September 20th, you can keep your activism alight by attending (or organizing) a local event as part of Climate Preparedness Week.

Climate Preparedness Week is a collaborative effort started by Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW), which is supported by the Better Future Project. CREW is a network of local leaders building grassroots climate resilience through inclusive and hands-on education service and planning.

Throughout next week, community groups, libraries, faith groups, local government agencies and more will be hosting interactive events across Boston and further afield.

From film screenings and book readings, speaker presentations and panel discussions, hands-on workshops to exhibitions, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to learn, give service, and take action to help better prepare our communities for extreme weather events.  

Check out ‘Wicked Hot Boston’ at the Museum of Science in Boston, dive into the ‘Emergency Preparedness Workshop’ at the First Church in Roxbury, or come together to watch the ‘Paris to Pittsburgh’ film screening at the JP branch of the Boston Public Libraries, co-sponsored by BCAN with Mothers Out Front.

Visit the Climate Preparedness Week website for the full line up across Massachusetts and beyond.

ACTIVISTS, OFFICIALS ASK FOR SWIFT APPROVAL OF CCE

An overflow crowd of climate activists, City officials, and others filled the Boston office of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) on Tuesday, August 20, for a public hearing on the City of Boston’s municipal aggregation plan. The hearing was one step in the DPU’s decision-making process regarding Community Choice Energy (CCE), the name of Boston’s proposed aggregation. In attendance were representatives of BostonCAN, Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), the Barr Foundation, Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), Clean Water Action, Community Labor United (CLU), Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MassCAN), Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club, and 350 Mass.

The testimony covered a wide range of arguments supporting approval of CCE. For example, BostonCAN’s speakers stressed the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, the importance of price stability and protection from unscrupulous energy suppliers, and the contribution of aggregations to state-level as well as citywide goals. BSAC students testified about the transparency and inclusiveness of the City’s CCE planning process. Mothers Out Front volunteer Emily Arnold said of CCE, “This program offers the greatest single reduction of Boston’s greenhouse gases and opportunity for growth of renewable energy use—and all the while Boston residents will not have to change a thing.” As only a parent could, she framed this message between a tale about teaching her five-year-old son to “work smarter, not harder” and a fervent hope that climate change will not rob him of a full lifetime to use his problem-solving skills.

Attendees urged the DPU not only to approve CCE, but to do so quickly. David Sweeney, Chief of Staff for Boston’s Mayor Walsh, reiterated the request in Boston’s plan that CCE be approved by August 31 to allow for a January 1, 2020 start date. In written comments, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office had articulated concerns that could delay CCE’s approval: (1) that the simultaneous shift of so many customers from Eversource to CCE could create “market uncertainty” and affect electric rates for non-CCE customers, and (2) that Boston must educate its large, multilingual public well enough to enable informed decisions about CCE participation.

Addressing the first issue, Sweeney argued that the lack of a decision about CCE has already created market uncertainty, and that the best cure would be a timely implementation.  Responding to the second challenge, Sierra Club’s Michelle Brooks pledged that her organization would help “by informing our roughly 10,000 members and supporters residing in the City of Boston throughout each phase of the implementation process.”

Last to testify, BostonCAN member Mike Prokosch said he expected Eversource to claim that they would need more time to transfer customer data to the City’s supplier. “They should have seen this coming,” said Prokosch. “They’ve had two years.”

BostonCAN awaits the DPU’s decision on CCE. We hope it is both positive and timely.

Community Choice Energy hearing at the DPU: Aug. 20

We have been pushing for the last 2 years to increase the renewable electricity coming to all Boston households and businesses through Community Choice Energy (CCE). Now we’ve reached a crucial milestone: a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). This state agency has the power to speed up or slow down our progress. Please speak out to ask the DPU to support the prompt implementation of Boston’s plan for Community Choice Energy.

When: Tuesday, August 20th at 2:00 pm 

Where: Dept. of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th Floor, Boston, MA, 02110

If you can’t attend the hearing, please take advantage of this opportunity to to express your support for CCE by submitting a short comment. Comments must be submitted by 5:00 pm on Aug. 20th.

If you would like to submit a comment to the DPU, please email it to these email addresses:

dpu.efiling@mass.gov and Sarah.Smegal@mass.gov
and CC javery@pierceatwood.com and BostonClimateAction@gmail.com

The text of your email must include:

  • The docket number of the proceeding D.P.U. 19-65
  • Your name and telephone number.
  • Your title if you represent a specific group or agency.
  • It may be useful to identify yourself as a resident of Boston, if you are one.

Please use a clear file name for the attached comment letter that does not exceed 50 characters in length, for instance D.P.U. 19-65 comment (and your name).

We suggest you refer to our CCE website and the City’s CCE website for reasons you might include in your letter to the DPU. It’s fine to include just one reason that’s important to you. Please keep your letter brief.

If you prefer to send a letter via the postal service, note that your letter must be received by Aug. 20 (not postmarked by that date). Mail your comment letter to:

Mark D. Marini
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

Also mail copies of your comment letter to the following two people:

Sarah A. Smegal
Department of Public Utilities
One South Station, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

AND

James M. Avery, Esq.
Pierce Atwood LLP
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110

Heat Wave Hits Boston – And the World

Following the hottest June in recorded history, temperatures smashed records again in July.

Paris grabbed the headlines with an all-time high of 108.7 degrees, but the city of lights did not suffer alone. European weather maps showed much of the continent in the grip of a heat wave, along with the eastern United States from Texas to Chicago to Maine. In Boston, the temperature broke 90 degrees on 12 days in July, including two official heat waves (stretches of three or more consecutive days with highs in the ‘nineties). That compares with seven days last July, and an average of 4.3 days in July from 1981 through 2010.

As New York learned last month, our cities’ infrastructure was not built for such high temperatures. On July 13th, a blackout caused by a burning cable left 72,000 people in Manhattan without power for five hours. And on July 21st, as temperatures soared above 90 degrees for the third day in a row, ConEdison cut power to more than 30,000 customers in Brooklyn. The action was necessary, the company said, to prevent damage to transmission equipment overstressed by high demand for air conditioning.

Heat waves kill people, both directly and when air conditioning fails from loss of power. Expect many more blackouts—and heat-related deaths–in the future, unless we take immediate action to staunch the flow of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

What can you do to help speed the transition to a low-carbon energy grid? Please join us at a public hearing on Tuesday, August 20, at 2pm at One Atlantic Ave., in South Station, Boston for a hearing at the Department of Public Utilities on Community Choice Energy. We’re organizing speakers from as many organizations as possible and need as many Boston residents as possible to show their support for the swift transition to fossil-fuel-free electricity.

New England waters warming quickly

A new study finds that New England’s coastal waters have warmed faster than anywhere else in the continental U.S. What does the future hold?

As satellite data show that June 2019 was the hottest June on record, a recent study has found that the coastal waters off New England have warmed more than those anywhere else in the continental United States. An analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central revealed that average sea surface temperatures off New England have risen by 2–3°F since 1901, compared to increases of less than 1.5°F elsewhere on the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Warming seas cause many changes to marine ecosystems, including acidification, reduced oxygen concentrations, increased incidence of toxic red tide algal blooms, and migration of marine species to cooler climes. In New England, many fish species are expected to move northeastward by 100 to 600 km over the course of the century, depending on how fast the climate warms. Such changes in marine life can ripple through the ecosystem, as when reduced foodstock may have led to the starvation of some 350 puffins and auklets on St. Paul Island in Alaska in 2016‒2017.

In New England, climate change has already led to the collapse of lobster populations and the lobster-fishing industry to the south, and the explosion of populations and catches farther north. Connecticut’s landings fell by 96% from 1996 through 2014, while Rhode Island’s declined by about 75% from 1999 through 2017. Maine’s landings, by contrast, have increased by more than 200%, and lobsters now bring the state over $450M annually.

What fish will be common in the waters of Massachusetts in 2050 or 2100? And how long will Maine’s lobster luck last? The answers to these questions depend on how quickly we can replace fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy, staunching the flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Speak out in favor of speeding up the transition to renewably generated electricity for all Boston homes. Join BostonCAN as we practice giving testimony for the forthcoming a Department of Public Utilities hearing on Community Choice Energy. The hearing date is TBD, but we will start our practicing this coming Thursday, July 25, at 6:30pm at the  First Baptist Church, side entrance, 633 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. Or email Andy Wells-Bean to find out how you can get involved.

References

Copernicus Climate Change Service, “Record-breaking temperatures for June” (July 2, 2019). <https://climate.copernicus.eu/record-breaking-temperatures-june>

Climate Central, “In Hot Water: How Warming Waters Are Stressing Fish and the Fishing Industry” (June 26, 2019). <https://ccimgs-2019.s3.amazonaws.com/2019Fishing/2019Fishing.pdf>

Arnault Le Bris et al, “Climate vulnerability and resilience in the most valuable North American fishery” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 20, 2018). <https://www.pnas.org/content/115/8/1831>

James W. Morley et al, “Projecting shifts in thermal habitat for 686 species on the North American continental shelf” (PLOS One, May 16, 2018). <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196127&type=printable>

Jennifer Walter, “Climate change may have caused mass puffin die-off” (Discover Magazine, May 29, 2019). <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2019/05/29/climate-change-may-have-caused-mass-puffin-die-off/>

Emily Greenhalgh, “Climate and lobsters” (NOAA Climate.gov, October 6, 2016). <https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-lobsters>

Zoeann Murphy and Chris Mooney, “Gone in a generation: Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives” (The Washington Post, January 29, 2019). <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/gone-in-a-generation/fishing-climate-change.html