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.