Climate activists call on Maura Healey to embrace rules she struck down as AG

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A group of climate activists are calling on the state’s Democratic governor-elect to push for stricter building codes which they say will help the state meet its climate goals and lower heating costs for consumers.

“The time for half measures is over in Massachusetts,” Logan Malik, executive director of Massachusetts Climate Action Network said following a virtual meeting held Tuesday. “We need Governor-elect (Maura) Healey to step in and deliver on equitable building decarbonization and the adoption of an all-electric, truly net zero stretch code.”

Out-going Gov. Charlie Baker signed several climate change focused bills during his time in office, but the Climate Change Act of 2021 fired up climate enthusiasts around perhaps the most boring of subjects, building codes, because of language that could encourage builders to construct so-called “net-zero” buildings.

What a “net-zero” building was, precisely, was decided by the Department of Energy Resources and announced in September along with a new “Stretch Building Energy Code,” a stricter set of rules into which municipalities could opt. Climate activists noted the new code allowed the construction of new buildings equipped to use natural gas, despite legal requirements to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The Commonwealth has a moral and fiscal obligation to do as much as we can to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. We should be leading by example and showing the world the way forward in net-zero fossil fuel-free new construction of home and commercial buildings of all sizes,” state Rep. Steve Owens said during the meeting.

According to Joe Curtatone, former mayor of Somerville and president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, the state’s housing crisis is going to require the construction of hundreds if not thousands of affordable housing units. Those units, he said, represent an opportunity.

“With a specialized stretch code that meets the moment, we will set the marketplace. It will also help us achieve the type of housing equity, genuine and authentic opportunities to rent or buy a home, and achieve our public health goals for all,” he said. “If we don’t, we will continue to see a compounded exacerbation of speculative investment of people who see housing as a commodity and not as a human right.”

Curtatone said push toward net-zero isn’t a problem that can be solved by the 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts on their own, but one the state government will need to step in and solve with firmer rules than they issued in September.

“I can tell you this as a former Mayor,” he said. “Cities and towns are looking for leadership from the state on these issues. This cannot be a town by town basis.”

Healey has dealt with the issue directly as recently as this year, when the town of Brookline attempted to create an ordinance banning the use of fossil fuels in new construction. In her role as Attorney General she said she supported the town’s clean energy goals, but nevertheless sued to prevent the rule from taking effect, saying residents had a right to use whatever utility service they chose.

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