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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu Bans Fossil Fuels in Construction of New City Buildings

Tue August 01, 2023 - Northeast Edition
Boston Herald & WBUR Public Radi

In the latest push for her Green New Deal, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu signed an executive order that prohibits city-owned buildings from being constructed or renovated in a way that allows for the use of fossil fuels.

The Boston Herald reported that the order, which went into effect after it was signed July 31, is part of the mayor's larger effort to implement a similar ban on new residential buildings.

"This executive order is a long time coming," Wu said during a Boston City Hall press conference. "It is dealing with what is fully within the city's control in terms of public buildings that will be newly built or undergoing a major reconstruction and renovation and committing that they will be fossil-fuel free."

She added that the move is part of the city's goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, noted Boston's WBUR, a public radio station.

"Wherever we can, at whatever scale is possible, we have to be accelerating those deadlines," Wu explained.

Boston's Green New Deal Director Oliver Sellers-Garcia said these municipal buildings will be constructed or renovated in a way that does not allow for the use of fossil fuels like coal, oil or natural gas in heating and cooling, hot water and cooking operations.

"That means no more fossil fuel combustion that causes greenhouse gas emissions, reduces air quality, and locks in infrastructure," he elaborated. "This executive order recognizes that as the owners of 380 buildings with 16.5 million sq. ft., we have an important role to play."

Municipal emissions constitute 2.3 percent of all Boston carbon emissions, according to Wu's office, and more than 70 percent of the city's emissions are from buildings.

Decarbonizing city buildings and converting them to electrification is a "major undertaking," Wu said, noting that the effort encompasses many school buildings, public housing units, boilers and appliances.

The order exempts new projects that are currently in the procurement, design or construction phase. It will apply, however, to future capital projects such as the renovation of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, and construction of new police, fire and EMS stations, and libraries, noted Boston's Deputy Chief of Operations Morgan McDaniel.

WBUR noted that Boston recently opted into a new state specialized code that requires new construction — even if currently hooked up to natural gas — to be wired for future all-electric use.

Those new regulations take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

Mayor's Directive Draws Praise from Many Quarters

Wu's executive order signing on July 31 prompted a visit from Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who praised her for pushing forward with the climate initiative.

While the new order only applies to city-owned buildings, Wu also is moving forward with a plan she announced last year that would ban fossil fuels in new residential building projects throughout Boston.

The City Council approved a "stretch code" ordinance proposed by the mayor in April that requires new residential buildings to add wiring for future conversions to electrification and to add solar.

The Wu administration also plans to apply by the fall deadline for acceptance into a state pilot project that will allow 10 Massachusetts cities and towns to ban gas hookups in new buildings.

Local developers praised the new executive order, which for now affects only public buildings, not private projects.

Tamara Small, chief executive of the commercial real estate development association NAIOP Massachusetts, told WBUR the private sector will watch carefully how the city deals with the challenge of developing all-electric buildings.

"The lab sector is particularly difficult to get to 100 percent electric," she said. "So, seeing how the city — with perhaps some additional public sector resources — could get there, will be helpful for us."

Boston's current capital plan includes over $130 million for developing decarbonized buildings and overhauling old ones.

"I think it will cost the city more money, but in the long run, I think it's a good investment," said Larry DiCara, a former Boston city councilor and real estate attorney.

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