Boston: Divest from Fossil Fuels!

Congratulations to Boston City Councilors Lydia Edwards, Michelle Wu, and Matt O’Malley for having introduced on March 17 an ordinance that would divest City funds from the fossil fuel, tobacco, and private prison industries. As Councilor Edwards tweeted: “Boston has led on divestment before. It’s an effective strategy. We need to put our money where our mouth is.” You can view of video of the City Council meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpgPrJlA9kU. The introduction of the proposal begins at 19:00.

All City Councilors except Councilor Baker signed on in support of the proposal during the City Council meeting.

If you live in Councilor Baker’s district, we urge you contact him in support of this divestment proposal: Frank.Baker@Boston.gov or 617-635-3455.

If you live elsewhere in Boston, check to see if your Councilor serves on the Committee on Government Operations and urge them to take urgent action to move this proposal forward.

The proposal can be found at https://meetingrecords.cityofboston.gov/sirepub/cache/2/szzfwfbwhhyhd3eladi13p4o/3194760317202107251154.PDF on page 13.

The text is also copied below:

AN ORDINANCE RELATIVE TO THE INVESTMENTS OF THE CITY TREASURY

WHEREAS: The City of Boston exercises significant discretion in investments of the City Treasury; and

WHEREAS: Investments of the City Treasury carry significant exposure to fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS: Climate change is an existential threat, requiring mobilization across every sector of government and society; and

WHEREAS: The City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts have established strict greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in order to climate change; and

WHEREAS: In 2014 and 2019, the Council held hearings related to divestment from fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS: The Council has previously voted to support state legislation authorizing and directing pension fund investment; and

WHEREAS: In February 2019, the City of Boston updated its Cash Investment Policy to promote Environmental, Social and Governance standards in local investments; and

WHEREAS: The Boston City Council has taken local action to divest the City Treasury from tobacco, to promote human rights and to combat apartheid; and

WHEREAS: Additional measures to promote sustainability and socially responsible investment are necessary; NOW

THEREFORE BE IT ORDERED:

Be it ordained by the City of Boston, as follows:

SECTION 1. The City of Boston Code, Ordinances, Chapter 6, Section 3, is hereby amended by striking section 6-3.7 and replacing it with the following:

6-3.7 Prohibiting Certain Local Investments

(a) No public funds under the care and custody of the Collector-Treasurer of the City of Boston, as specified in subsection 6-3.11, shall be invested or remain invested in the stocks, securities or other obligations of any company which derives more than fifteen (15%) percent of its revenue from the sale of tobacco products.

(b) No public funds under the care and custody of the Collector-Treasurer of the City of Boston, as specified in subsection 6-3.11, shall be invested or remain invested in the stocks, securities or other obligations of any company which derives more than fifteen (15%) percent of its revenue from the combustion, distribution, extraction, manufacture, or sale of fossil fuels, which shall include coal, oil and gas, or fossil fuel products. The Collector-Treasurer of the City of Boston shall divest public funds under their care from investments related to fossil fuels no later than December 31st, 2025.

An electric distribution company with corporate affiliates that combust, distribute, extract, manufacture or sell fossil fuels shall be considered a fossil fuel investment.

The Collector-Treasurer shall establish a screen for non-fossil fuel energy sources, including biomass energy, and related combustion activities, including incineration technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis, which have a deleterious impact on the human health and the environment by (1) negatively impacting climate change and/or (2) contributing to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, cardiovascular diseases or premature death.

(c) No public funds shall be invested or remain invested in the stocks, securities or other obligations of any company which derives more than fifteen (15%) percent of its revenue from the operation, maintenance, servicing or supply of carceral facilities.

(d) Any proceeds of the sales required under this subsection shall be invested as much as reasonably possible in institutions or companies which invest or conduct business or operations in the City of Boston or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts so long as such use is consistent with sound investment policy.

SECTION 2. The City of Boston Code, Ordinances, Chapter 6, Section 3, is hereby amended by inserting after section 6-3.7 the following:

6-3.7.2

Report on Local Investment Within 120 days of enactment on this section, the Collector-Treasurer shall submit a report to the Boston City Council regarding the feasibility and legality of alternative investment strategies. Such report shall include:

● A review of the financial instruments and investments permitted for the city treasury

● A review of the financial instruments and investments permitted for the pension funds of the City of Boston and its affiliates

● An analysis of the feasibility and legality for the City of Boston to direct investment toward (1) land or housing; (2) community economic development, included in cooperative businesses and businesses that are not publicly traded through a stock market index; (3) public infrastructure within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; (4) public infrastructure outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. To the extent such investments are not directly permitted, the Collector-Treasurer shall investigate whether similar investments could be made through combined investment funds or banking or trust investments authorized by Section 55 of Chapter 44, Section 38A of Chapter 29, or other relevant sections of the General Laws.

● A review of any strategies the City currently employs to effectuate local investment

SECTION 3. This ordinance shall take effect upon signing.

Filed On: March 17, 2021

Summer Internship Opportunity

Application deadline: April 1

Boston Climate Action Network is accepting applications for a paid internship position, Outreach Organizer, to support our campaign to cut greenhouse gas emissions from Boston’s largest buildings. More than half of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the largest 3% of its buildings. We are working with allies to pass legislation to bring these buildings to net zero emissions by 2050.

The City Council will be actively debating our proposed legislation this summer. We need to build a volunteer base to advocate for our campaign in ways that resonate with the public. As the BCAN intern, you will help build our volunteer base in every City Council district, with training and support from BCAN staff and longtime volunteers.

At BCAN, we use phone, email, video conferencing, and, to the extent that it is COVID-safe, in-person canvassing and presentations to reach out to local communities, recruit new members, and build volunteers’ skills.  We will track the campaign’s progress through volunteer sign-up rates, petition signatures, and attendance at meetings with activists, the public, and political figures.

Essential qualities of successful applicants:

  • Familiarity with Boston’s neighborhoods
  • Ability to attend events at a variety of locations in Boston on a daily basis as needed
  • An understanding of climate justice and of the climate impacts affecting Boston residents
  • Ability to work well with volunteers with diverse communication skills
  • Effective public speaker

Helpful qualities:

  • Boston residency
  • Involvement in a community-based organization within the City of Boston
  • Fluency in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, or Cape Verdean or Haitian Creole

Hours are flexible with the expectation that you’ll work approximately 20-25 hours during the 9 to 5 weekday and approximately 10-15 hours during evenings and weekends. The start date is negotiable, but not earlier than May 1 and no later than June 15.

Applicants must supply their own computer and work space and be experienced with working remotely. Please indicate in your application your level of expertise with Google Docs and Sheets, Zoom, and Powerpoint.

Stipend: $16/hr, 35hrs/wk, 12wks. Deadline for applications: April 1. Send resume and cover letter to BostonClimateAction@gmail.com with the heading: Internship application. No phone calls please.

Donate to win big in 2021

You know the facts of climate change. You want to “fight like hell for the living,” as Mother Jones has told us. Boston Climate Action Network is leading the effort for city-level urgent and ambitious action on climate. Here are four reasons to join us in the fight and donate to make sure we win big in 2021. 

  1. We put our muscle where it makes a tangible impact. As residents of Boston, we know our City Councilors and Mayor listen to us. When we move City of Boston policy, that sets a precedent for the rest of New England. For example, soon Boston residents will have 10% more regionally produced renewable energy feeding into our electricity grid, for no extra cost, thanks to the BCAN-promoted Community Choice Electricity program.
  2. We focus on issues that take big bites of the climate apple. Our current campaign – Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases – aims to radically reduce emissions from the biggest source of emissions in the city: large residential and commercial buildings.
  3. We know how to  network! There are countless groups in Boston working to solve various aspects of the climate crisis and the social crises that make climate issues so difficult to resolve. BCAN brings a social and political lens to climate organizing and builds networks for every campaign.
  4. We’re in it for the long haul. For 20 years we’ve been building the climate justice movement in Boston, training activists, educating the public with theater and song, and forming coalitions to achieve our goals. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain strong. This year as policies to meet our 2030 and 2050 goals are battled out in city hall and in community forums, BCAN will continue to push the envelope. The transition to low-carbon heating and high efficiency buildings will not happen unless activist groups like BCAN turn out residents to demand ambitious measures. 

Boston will also be choosing a new Mayor in 2021. The verbiage will be flying and BCAN will be there to parse the routine ideas from the truly innovative. You count on BCAN to alert you to Boston’s climate news every two weeks and to the moments when you need to show up so City Hall understands the force of people’s desire for urgent climate action.

Can we count on you to support the key role BCAN plays in leveraging Boston as a climate leader nationwide? Please become a sustaining donor this year if you do, or make the most generous annual donation your budget permits. 

Our climate is changing exponentially fast, and a dollar toward activism now can prevent having to spend hundreds of dollars for climate adaptation measures in the decades to come.

Thank you for your support!

Loie Hayes, Natasha Khatri, Judith Kolligian, Stephanie Komorowski, Terry Mason, Michael Weinstein, and Andy Wells-Bean
BCAN Board of Directors and Campaign Coordinator

PS: To donate, you can mail a check to: BCAN, POBox 300984, Boston, MA 02130;
To make a tax-deductible contribution online:

  • Go to the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund website, grassrootsfund.org/donate/now
  • Fill in your contact information and preferred contribution, then scroll down to “Program”
  • Click on “Fiscal Sponsored Group”
  • Write in “Boston Climate Action Network”

Boston Rolls Out Community Choice Electricity with More Renewables, Lower Cost

The City of Boston has released the long-awaited details of its Community Choice Electricity program (CCE). BCAN is thrilled to confirm that CCE offers all Boston electricity customers a painless but meaningful way to take action against climate change. The prices are competitive with Eversource’s: in fact, you can buy greener electricity and still save money. The customer notification and enrollment process has begun, and the program itself starts in February. Read on to find out more.

How Green is CCE? How Much Will It Cost?

CCE will offer a choice of three products (electricity plans). Standard, the default option, will have 10 percentage points more renewable content than the minimum percentage required by Massachusetts law. This minimum, called the Class I RPS, goes up two percentage points per year and will be 18% in 2021, so Standard will start at 28% green. Optional Green 100 will be 100% renewably sourced. Optional Basic will contain the state-required minimum–as does Eversource’s Basic Service product. 

Prices for the respective plans will be as follows:

ProductPercentage Points Class I Renewables Above RPSTotal Percentage Class I Renewables (2021)Price (cents/kWh)Effective Time Period (2021)
CCE Standard (default)102811.409Feb.-Nov. 
CCE Optional Green 100
(opt-up)
N/A10014.764Feb.-Nov.
CCE Optional Basic
(opt-down)
01810.959Feb.-Nov.
Eversource Basic Service01811.882Jan.-June
Note: These prices are for the supplier portion of your bill–the price for the electricity itself, not for transmitting it to you. All Massachusetts customers pay additional delivery charges, and this will not change under CCE.

Here is what you would pay for electricity supply if your usage is a typical 600 kWh per month: 

ProductPercentage Points Class I Renewables Above RPSTotal Percentage Class I Renewables (2021)Monthly Supplier ChargesMore or (Less) than Eversource Basic
per Month
 
CCE Standard1028$68.45 ($2.84)
CCE Optional Green 100N/A100$88.58 $17.29 
CCE Optional Basic018$65.75 ($5.54)
Eversource Basic Service018$71.29 

So . . . with CCE Standard, you get electricity that is substantially greener than Eversource’s, for $2.84 less per month! If you can afford $17.29 more per month than you would have paid Eversource, you can opt up to 100% green and help fight climate change even more. Or, if every penny counts in your household, you can opt down to CCE Optional Basic and save $5.54 a month compared to Eversource, while still supporting a program that cuts carbon emissions citywide. We hope that you will choose the greenest CCE product that fits your budget. 

For full disclosure, we must explain that these prices are only for the time periods shown in the first table, and that prices for future periods cannot be guaranteed. During the life of the program, there may be times when Eversource’s rates are lower than CCE’s. The City, which makes no profit from CCE, aims to offer electricity that is as green as possible while keeping rates favorable over the long run. According to the Energy News Network, similar programs founded over the past few years in other Massachusetts cities and towns are saving their customers lots of money.

What Do I Have to Do?

If you are a Boston electricity customer and Eversource is your supplier, you will be receiving a detailed mailing from the City. Read it carefully. 

Meanwhile, here are the basics:

  • If Eversource is your supplier, you will automatically be enrolled in CCE. (You may opt out if you wish — though we’re not sure why you would.) Our previous blog post explains how to determine who your current supplier is. 
  • If you already have a supplier other than Eversource, you are not eligible for CCE while that contract is active. If you want to switch to CCE, go to the City’s “Protect Your Electric Account” page and scroll down to “How Can You Switch Your Electric Supplier?” to learn how to change without financial penalties.
  • New CCE enrollees are automatically signed up for the Standard product. To choose Optional Green 100 or Optional Basic instead, use this online form, or call the CCE supplier, Constellation, at (833) 930-3161.
  • If you join CCE, Eversource will still be your electric utility. They will still bill you and maintain the power lines, so customer service and system reliability will stay the same.

More Questions?

The City is hosting explanatory webinars starting December 14, with time for Q&A. Register here.

Correction, December 4, 2020. An earlier version of this post incorrectly cited typical electricity usage as 600 kWh per year, instead of per month. Comparisons of monthly supplier charges for CCE products vs. Eversource Basic Service have been recalculated accordingly.

“Say Her Name”: BostonCAN in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Boston

BostonCAN helped to swell the crowd during the “Say Her Name” march and rally, sponsored by Black Lives Matter Boston, on Saturday, July 4. The event was organized to “center and uplift the lives of ALL Black womxn [with] radical joy and dancing because, as Audre Lorde wrote, ‘it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.’ Womxn hold up half the sky all over the world and have always been essential, yet Black womxn are too often overlooked, erased, and devalued.”

BostonCAN volunteers at the Say Her Name rally.
BostonCAN calling for justice for Black women

Solidarity Strengthens our Movement: Black Lives Matter

Boston Climate Action Network understands that solidarity strengthens us rather than weakens us. Standing with movements that are not primarily focused on climate change expands our ability to envision and actualize a more equitable, sustainable world. As an organization focused on organizing City of Boston residents to speak out for climate justice, we know that anti-Black racism is one of the barriers we face to achieving our mission of climate justice; we also know that climate change continues to disproportionately affect communities of color.

In this historic moment when the flames of racist violence are being fanned by figures of authority, we join the majority in demanding societal recognition that Black Lives Matter and an end to systemic racism.  We invite you to join us in learning from the many Black activists speaking out about the links between police brutality, anti- Black racism, and environmental sustainability. Here are a few to get you started.

Dominique Thomas, 350.org Northeast Regional Organizer: “Black people in this country are being systematically suffocated, whether that’s with police officers using their knees to suffocate us, through the coronavirus attacking our lungs, or whether that’s through the fossil fuel industry…”

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: marine biologist and founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab: “…If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because, black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing….” 
https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/03/im-black-climate-scientist-racism-derails-our-efforts-save-planet/

Mary Annaïse Heglar, writer in residence at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and co-creator of the Hot Take podcast: “…it’s not just time to talk about climate — it’s time to talk about it as the Black issue it is. It’s time to stop whitewashing it. In other words, it’s time to stop #AllLivesMattering the climate crisis. It’s time to talk about how extreme heat exacerbates police violence and increases deaths from tasers. It’s time to talk about what happens in prisons, which often lack air conditioning and heat, as temperatures skyrocket. It’s time to talk about climate gentrification. It’s time to talk about the use of tear gas — which hurts respiratory systems during a pandemic that is already disproportionately affecting Black people — as environmental racism….” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/climate-crisis-racism-environmenal-justice_n_5ee072b9c5b6b9cbc7699c3d


Boston Climate Action Network is a member of Boston Clean Energy Coalition. We endorse its statement, posted to Facebook on June 12, 2020.

Statement of Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives

The Boston Clean Energy Coalition (BCEC) stands in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and all those working towards racial justice. BCEC was established in early 2017 to address the growing existential crisis of climate catastrophe, with a particular focus on grassroots organizing.

The destabilization of our global climate has its roots in the same exploitative and extractive foundation of our nation and the heart of our economic system, and to this day is inexorably entwined with the culture of white supremacy. While we have always understood this underlying connection between social and environmental injustice, the current moment requires us to step up our anti-racist efforts. Systemic racism demands systemic solutions that are based on listening, learning, empathy, solidarity, and action. No matter what lane we occupy in building a sustainable future, we can and will find ways to center and support racial justice.

We know that systemic racism is directly tied to an undue burden of environmental pollution and public health risk factors. We have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on folks identifying as black, indigenous, or people of color, and remain concerned about the environmental disparities that have contributed to this outcome. When “I Can’t Breathe” is again the horrible rallying cry against institutional racism, we also know that it is the awful daily truth for those who live in the most polluted areas of our city, in the sacrifice zones. We join the demand for justice for the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many others. We state loudly and publicly that Black Lives Matter.

Earth Day Challenge: Sign Our “Green Buildings” Petition

“When you’re up to your a** in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your objective was to drain the swamp.”

This saying really sums things up for climate activists these days! Fighting one global emergency is hard enough, and now another one threatens to distract us from our mission.

How do you remember your purpose in the midst of hard times? Annual events can help. The first event was wildly successful, drawing thousands to live rallies in many major cities and calling widespread attention to the issue. This year, the coronavirus pandemic has failed to interrupt the 50th Earth Day celebration, whose official calendar lists over 1,300 online events worldwide.

For us at Boston Climate Action Network, Earth Day reinvigorates our dedication to our “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign. BCAN decided in 2019 that, of many possible climate mitigation strategies, we would advocate for deep energy retrofits of Boston’s largest, most carbon-polluting buildings. Retrofits are also a priority for the City’s Office of Energy, Environment, and Open Space, which is planning to update current law with an emissions performance standard for large existing buildings. However, government plans can lose steam without support and demand from citizens. We need Bostonians to insist that the standard be set high, that enforcement be strict, and that the City allocate enough resources for implementation.

To that end, we are issuing an Earth Day challenge! We have written a petition to the Mayor and the City Council, and we aim to collect 500 signatures by 100 days after Earth Day, July 31. Please sign the petition yourself, and ask friends to do the same. Yes, let’s still drain the swamp, regardless of the alligators!

Green Buildings not Greenhouse Gases Petition

EEOS comes to BCAN to discuss the CAP update

On November 14, BCAN was fortunate enough to host special guests Kat Eshel, Ben Silverman, and David Musselman from Environment, Energy, and Open Space (EEOS), who presented on the work they are doing within Mayor Walsh’s office to combat climate change and its consequences for Boston. They provided us with a comprehensive overview of the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2019 update, and specifically of the City’s strategies for accomplishing the goal of reducing Boston’s total carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and reaching carbon-neutral by 2050. Boston’s primary objectives are to:

  • decrease energy demand and increase efficiency,
  • replace fossil fuel burning technologies with all-electric alternatives, and
  • achieve 100% clean energy use.

The City’s strategy acknowledges that mitigation and adaptation efforts must occur simultaneously in order to effectively address the risks climate change poses to the health and resilience of our city and its constituents. While adaptation strategies, such as preparing our infrastructure for rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other climate-related risks, are no doubt important, the EEOS department wisely noted that without meaningful and timely mitigation efforts, any climate adaptation steps taken will be rendered useless as the earth’s climate continues to change. In essence, making widespread efforts to adapt to an ever-changing climate (without actively combating the problem) would require constant updates using ever-depleting resources.

As you may be aware (we hope!), BCAN is focusing heavily on green buildings and strengthening BERDO (Building Energy and Reporting Disclosure Ordinance). Back in November some of our BCAN members volunteered to dig a bit deeper into the CAP update, and noted three particular concerns in a previous blog post: timeline for amending BERDO, lack of clarity around a plan for addressing buildings under 35,000 square feet, and no mention of enforcement penalties for noncompliance. In anticipation of our meeting with the EEOS team, we sent them these questions beforehand, and EEOS presenters thoughtfully incorporated them into their discussion.

Concern #1: the City’s timeline for amending BERDO seems too slow in light of our climate emergency, with a plan to develop standards in 2020 and propose an official amendment in 2021. While we appreciate the public process that must precede regulations of private buildings, we want the City of move faster on retrofits of municipal buildings. The Mayor deserves major props for announcing that all new municipal buildings being designed now will have to meet net-zero standards. Still, the City’s existing municipal buildings need substantial energy-saving retrofits and the City already has a dedicated program, the Renew Boston Trust, that could fund these projects at an accelerated pace.

EEOS reported that they are in the process of auditing the portfolio of municipal buildings to determine what measures they can take to establish a more aggressive timetable, and weigh the potential costs of retrofits with potential savings and emission reduction.

Concern #2: the update does not outline a plan for addressing buildings under 35,000 square feet. 

EEOS replied, Step 8 of the building performance standard strategy is all about identifying solutions for non-BERDO-regulated buildings. EEOS wants to work with experts and community groups and encouraged us to come to them with policy proposals, and identify buildings that might serve as good test cases for a whole-building retrofit!

Concern #3: the update does not address enforcement penalties for noncompliance with BERDO.

EEOS acknowledged the importance of enforcement strategies and penalties for noncompliance. They confirmed that as they develop the policies and regulations, they will also develop “accountability mechanisms” to ensure that building owners are not just incentivized to participate, but in fact face consequences if they do not.

Here at BCAN we feel fortunate for this presentation, and the opportunity for honest conversation and collaboration with EEOS. Knowing the City’s priorities helps organizations like ours to identify action steps that align with their initiatives, and provides increased opportunities for meaningful partnership. This is an encouraging example of healthy, substantive dialogue between a community organization and its political representatives.

We encourage you to read EEOS’ presentation to BCAN and join us in person at our next Action Team meeting to discuss our next steps! 

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.