In July and August 2022, A Better City received robust comments from members about the proposed update to the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code and the development of the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code, released on June 24th. The resulting A Better City comments were sent to DOER by August 12th and posted on A Better City’s blog in September.
DOER set up a technical advisory committee who met throughout the summer of 2022 to review all the comments received in August, along with technical code language. Based on the committee’s technical review and comments, DOER released final code language for the Stretch Energy Code and Specialized Municipal Opt-in Code on September 23rd as follows:
On November 2nd, DOER held a webinar to provide an overview of the updates to the Stretch Energy Code and New . . .
On September 28, 2022, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) released the proposed Article 37 Zoning Update and Zero Net Carbon Policy & Standards for new construction for public review and comment. In addition, the BPDA released the final report of the Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) Building Zoning Initiative, which is the final version of the recommendations from four Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs): Low Carbon Buildings; On-Site Renewable Energy; Renewable Energy Procurement; and Embodied Carbon Reduction. A Better City hosted a working session on the draft TAG recommendations in December 2021.
A public meeting and listening sessions were held by BPDA staff throughout September and October 2022, to discuss the newly released zoning update, policy, and standards. Additionally, meetings were held with various stakeholder groups including A Better City and its members. On October 17th, John Dalzell, the BPDA’s Senior Architect for Sustainable Development, gave the following presentation to A Better City members, followed by a robust discussion.
Questions raised at that meeting on October 17th, along numerous other comments received from members were compiled into A Better City’s comments on the proposed article 37 Zoning Update and Zero Net Carbon Policy and Standards, submitted to the BPDA . . .
In late October, A Better City submitted comments on the Commonwealth’s anticipated Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2050, which is intended to guide the State’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. Additionally, ABC leadership serves on the Global Warming Solutions Act Implementation Advisory Committee and provided constructive feedback directly to Undersecretary Chang and staff in that forum.
A Better City’s comments focused on sector-specific recommendations for the transportation, buildings, natural and working lands, and power sectors, as well as recommendations for cross-cutting and enabling policies to implement across all sectors.
For transportation, ABC urged the State to clarify and strengthen proposed public transit investment throughout the Commonwealth and to not be overly dependent on zero emission vehicles, in addition to supporting zero emission commercial fleets, smart roadway pricing strategies, and employer-focused efforts for transportation demand management.
For buildings, ABC recommended prioritizing deep weatherization as a pre-requisite to building electrification, with sufficient incorporation of digital technologies like building automation systems, as well as commissioning a study to detail the projected increase in electricity demand by load zone, developing a Clean Heat Clearinghouse, establishing climate financing mechanisms to spur building decarbonization, and pursuing public education campaigns for building electrification.
For natural and working lands, ABC recommended establishing baseline data for existing tree canopy and considering opportunities for public-private partnerships around tree canopy maintenance, improving tree equity, and expansion on . . .
In November, the Resilient Massachusetts Action Team (RMAT) released the draft Massachusetts Climate Change Assessment (Assessment), which was a culmination of RMAT’s work and ongoing collaboration across state agencies around the State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (SHMCAP). The Assessment released by RMAT is intended to highlight the most urgent and extreme climate threats facing the Commonwealth state-wide, while also sharing what additional climate threats impact specific regions within the Commonwealth. A Better City participated in a series of stakeholder engagement meetings in 2021 and 2022 that helped to inform the draft Assessment, and we are grateful to notice that the State has since incorporated our comments around elevating extreme heat as a core and urgent climate threat statewide. In addition to our verbal comments offered at stakeholder meetings, A Better City also submitted written comments to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) in the Baker Administration on November 16, 2022.
In addition to considering climate risks at a state- and sub-regional level in Massachusetts, the Assessment also considers climate threats by sector, and it is important to note that the sectors included are different than those associated with the Global Warming Solutions Act and Implementation Advisory Committee. The Assessment highlights climate threats across the human sector, the infrastructure sector, the natural environment sector, the governance sector, and the economic sector. A Better City’s comments offered cross-sector recommendations in response to the Executive Summary, as well as sector-specific recommendations and regional recommendations. For our cross-cutting comments, ABC . . .
A Better City played an active role in the development of Boston’s 20-Year Urban Forest Plan (UFP), serving as a Collaborating Partner on the Community Advisory Board, as well as participating alongside ABC members and colleague organizations in a Developer Focus Group. One of the key challenges discussed in the development of the UFP is that over 60% of Boston’s existing tree canopy is on privately owned land, with little data on the status of that canopy or future plans for tree canopy maintenance and expansion.
One policy lever to govern tree canopy is the establishment of a tree protection ordinance, which would impact the maintenance and stewardship of existing trees on both public and privately owned land in Boston. While there was a tree ordinance proposed by Boston City Councilors Braedon and Arroyo, the ordinance did not move forward. As we heard in the UFP Developer Focus Group and other forums, tree protection ordinances could have significant unintended consequences in stalling affordable housing projects, in creating conflicts between critical infrastructure upgrades (including safe utilities), in recovering from extreme winds and storm damage, and more. As many private landowners pointed out, there are developers and landowners who are very interested in preserving and expanding their tree canopy and are doing so already without the need for punitive tree protection ordinances. With new developments increasingly considering tree canopy and other forms of green infrastructure improvements, alongside institutional properties like Northeastern University and Harvard University maintaining arboretums on their campuses, there is already significant leadership and momentum to be leveraged on privately owned land in Boston.
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The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has held a series of public meetings to provide a status report on the North Washington Street Bridge Replacement Project, which has been paused since September 2021 when cracks were observed in several welds. Work is currently underway implementing a Corrective Action Plan to fix the defects, and the remainder of the work is expected to begin shortly. Upcoming milestones currently schedule moving traffic to the new bridge structure in December 2023 followed by removal of the temporary bridge, substantial completion with all traffic, bus lanes and two pedestrian walks open in December 2024, and final completion by March 2025. The contractor, JF White, and MassDOT will evaluate possible methods to accelerate the completion of the work, which is running approximately two years behind the original schedule.
The work completed so far includes the completion of placing piers in the water and installation of 60% of the steel structure. Installation of steel was halted when fifty-two welds were found to have cracks in the top girders. The welds were tested, and calculations verified the safety of the steel, but responsibility for the root cause of the defects has not yet been determined. The parties agreed to work together and to proceed with developing a Corrective Action Plan in 2022. Repairs need to be undertaken now because the welds are currently accessible and would be less accessible when the next stages of construction are done, which would cover the location of the welds. One hundred ninety-two locations need to be rewelded to correct the defects.
Meanwhile, as traffic continues to use the temporary bridge, traffic changes have been implemented in Keaney Square in response to pedestrian concerns, including adjustment in signal timing, lane striping, and signage. Changes have also been made to support the operations of . . .
On September 21, 2022, Mayor Wu announced the release of Boston’s 20-Year Urban Forest Plan (UFP), one of the core components of Boston’s Healthy Places Initiative that also includes Boston’s Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston, and a forthcoming Open Space and Recreation Plan anticipated in 2023. At a launch event in the Arnold Arboretum where the City accepted a gift of 10 dawn redwood trees from the Arboretum to symbolically launch the UFP, Mayor Michelle Wu, Reverend-Chief Mariama White-Hammond, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ryan Woods, City Councilors, and PowerCorps Boston leaders and students all spoke to the UFP’s strategy and framework that emphasizes tree canopy retention and expansion in environmental justice neighborhoods with disproportionately low tree canopy coverage, a strategy also known as promoting “tree equity.” A Better City was honored to attend the launch event and to serve on the City’s UFP Community Advisory Board as a Collaborating . . .
On August 1, 2022, MassDOT issued a large format, 57-page Notice of Project Change (NPC) for the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project that described changes to the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project since completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Report in 2017. The NPC also outlined additional studies to be undertaken in preparing a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SDEIR) in 2023.
Comments on the NPC were due to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs MEPA Office on September 13, and the MEPA Certificate was signed by the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on September 23. The Certificate described the project and summarized the content of the NPC as well as described requirements for the scope of the SDEIR. The Certificate also summarized the content of 225 comments received on the MassDOT report. Comments included support for the selection of the Modified At-Grade alternative as the Preferred Alternative replacing the viaduct; concern for impacts on Charles River wetlands, water quality and navigation; concern for climate change; and support for multimodal transportation, including bike and pedestrian facilities, and design of West Station and other rail and bus transit improvements.
A Better City’s comments on the NPC emphasized five points: . . .
On August 16th, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law, thereby enacting the largest federal investment in climate change to date in the United States. With sweeping investments in lowering energy costs, bolstering clean energy workforce development, scaling up domestic manufacturing of clean energy technology, supporting small businesses, expanding electric vehicles, providing cleaner air, lowering healthcare costs, supporting climate-smart agriculture, and investing in resilient communities, the Biden Administration promised to “combat the existential threat of climate change and build a clean energy future that creates jobs, advances environmental justice, and lowers costs for families.1” The IRA commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 40%, or about 1 gigaton by 2030 (also known as 1 billion metric tons), which amounts to 10X more impact on U.S. climate commitments than any other piece of legislation thus far enacted. Specific commitments and investments from the IRA include:
Lowering Energy Costs
The IRA offers greater regulatory certainty by extending tax credits for wind, solar, and energy storage through at least 2032, and encourages projects that benefit low-income communities and that provide a prevailing wage (often aligned with union wages). The IRA estimates that millions of homes will install rooftop solar and storage, alongside considerable utility- and community-scale projects for clean energy development. Specific IRA components seeking to lower energy costs include:
A Better City has been closely watching the Department of Energy Resources (DOER’s) update to the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code and the development of the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code. Our blogpost from April 2022 summarized our comments to the codes’ straw proposal, released in February 2022. DOER received over 1,200 comments to the straw proposal and on June 24th, 2022, released draft code language that included:
Comments on the draft language were due on August 12th. Thanks to the detailed input from many members, we were able to submit robust comments that included both technical and broader concerns and recommendations.
Our technical concerns and recommendations followed the structure of the codes themselves and are summarized below: