Event Recap: ABC Conversation with MassCEC CEO Dr. Emily Reichert
May 15, 2024

In early May, A Better City hosted a conversation with the CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). During this event facilitated by ABC’s Director of Climate, Energy, and Resilience, Yve Torrie, Dr. Reichert shared about MassCEC’s role as a quasi-public state government agency that is funded through the state budget, and works alongside other state agencies, but is not part of one of the Secretariats. MassCEC serves as a key facilitator for industry to interface with state government and emerging funding opportunities and works with a variety of clean energy stakeholders, from homeowners to businesses and start-ups.

MassCEC works to support emerging technology in climatetech and in the clean energy space, including working with startups inventing new technologies to provide them with grants for testing, demonstration, and scaling up their business. MassCEC makes investments in climatetech through their 2030 Fund, or small investment fund that supports early-stage companies doing climatetech, disbursing $5M per year for every year between now and 2030. Such investments support efforts to decarbonize buildings and transportation, as well as manufacturing processes and to expand energy storage. Additionally, MassCEC is working to support the expansion of offshore wind in Massachusetts, towards the goal of 30 GW of power generation off our shores in Massachusetts and off the coast of Maine by 2035. Finally, Dr. Reichert discussed MassCEC’s investments in equitable workforce development, through programs like the MassCEC clean energy internship program and other opportunities for vocational schools, labor unions, and community colleges.

Dr. Reichert also emphasized the importance of supporting the Governor’s Mass Leads Act (H.4459), a $3.5B economic development bond bill that would provide $1B to climate innovation and technologies over the next 10 years, . . .

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A Better City & BPDA Article 80 Modernization Discussion Recap
May 13, 2024

On May 7, members of the Land Use and Development Advisory Committee along with a larger group of ABC members, guests, and BPDA staff met to discuss progress on modernizing the Article 80 project review process.  BPDA Deputy Director of Master Planning and Policy Nupoor Monani and Transformation Project Manager Kevin Crossley presented a summary of recent activities, with the goals of catching up on evolving ideas and receiving feedback on the process and material presented.  Kevin reviewed the timeline of the effort and outlined engagement methods used to identify problems with the current process and begin to identify solutions.  Emerging ideas have been prioritized with the top three: 1) establish clear, transparent performance tracking and approval (and rejection) of standards, 2) establish a predictable approach for determining mitigation and community benefits, and 3) reform advisory groups to build trust and generate more impactful and targeted input.

Three core changes proposed for the review process are: 1) effective engagement, 2) consistent standards, and 3) coordinated review.

For Effective Engagement, three actions are to expand community engagement methods to allow more inclusive and diverse participation, to require early engagement from developers based on standards and guidelines established by BPDA, and to replace current IAGs (Impact Advisory Groups) with new Community Advisory Groups (CATs).  During questions and responses, a broader definition of “community” to include people who spend time working in Boston as well as those who live here was suggested.  A concern was raised of potential delay in advancing development projects if there needs to be time to train CAT participants. 

For Consistent Standards, actions include new definitions in zoning for community benefits, mitigation, and enabling infrastructure; standardize criteria for small, large, and extra-large or . . .

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Boston and the Doom Loop
May 03, 2024

Our Times

Across the country, cities are recovering from the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The response to the pandemic led to precautions like remote work for many of us, supported by our robust communications tools, challenges of our transportation systems and social distancing, the desire for more independence, and the urge to enjoy more of our family time. These situations have lingered, and some of us are now blessed or burdened by a residual attitude supporting remote work. While downtowns suffer from unintended consequences of partially empty office space, vacant storefronts and failing small businesses, loss of urban vitality, and falling property values, these conditions now threaten to strain cities’ fiscal resources as property tax revenues begin to plummet. Our transportation systems have been skewed toward greater use of private vehicles bringing increased roadway congestion and starving fare revenues for transit.

Cities are in varying states of rebound and recovery. Much like our part of the country still rebounding from the weight of ice age glaciers that receded millennia ago, the pandemic recovery seems to be prolonged and not very uniform. Reportedly, St. Louis is still in the throes of commercial meltdown with huge vacancies and loss of property values while San Francisco that suffered the most visible contractions is beginning a gradual upturn in some quarters.

Here in Massachusetts, we have additional challenges of a transit system that has endured years of neglect and disinvestment, a housing market with supply and demand issues causing costs to rise, demographic imperatives of an aging population exacerbating the flight of educated population in their peak productive years due to high costs, and the impacts of climate change on sea level in the Gulf of Maine and in our diminishing winter bringing more rain storms and less snow for our ski areas.

Property values, tax revenues, costs, . . .

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Massachusetts’ House of Representatives Releases Proposed FY25 Budget
April 17, 2024

Written By: Tom Ryan, Senior Advisor on Policy, Government & Community Affairs And ISabella Gambill, Assistant Director of Climate, energy and resilience

 

On April 10th, the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means released their state budget recommendations for fiscal year 2025. This proposal from the House’s budget writing shows the full House of Representatives priorities for next year as well as the status of the State’s financial health. We were very encouraged to see that the House budget plan contains many of the ideas suggested by A Better City in recent months, and also has general alignment with Governor Healey on key transportation and climate issues. 

A few months ago, A Better City sent a letter that highlighted the need for increased state support for the MBTA, the opportunity to utilize the Fair Share surtax funding for infrastructure needs, and the challenges with decarbonization of existing buildings in the Commonwealth. In terms of transportation and support for the MBTA, the House budget certainly meets the moment. The House also strongly supports energy . . .

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A Better City Celebrates the Release of Massachusetts’ First-Ever Environmental Justice Strategy
April 17, 2024

In February 2024, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and the new Office of Environmental Justice & Equity (OEJE), led by Undersecretary for Environmental Justice & Equity María Belén Power, released the Commonwealth’s first-ever Environmental Justice (EJ) Strategy to provide an implementation and accountability framework for an equitable and just transition to a decarbonized economy. The EJ Strategy acts as a roadmap that will codify and embed environmental justice and equity principles, protocols, and practices into EEA and across all of its agencies. Environmental justice strategies and goals include:

  • Meaningful engagement, between EEA and its agencies and environmental justice communities, with intentional community-led processes designed with and for EJ communities.
  • Project impact analysis, in which EEA agencies will assess impacts of their projects using available state mapping and screening tools to identify impacted EJ neighborhoods.
  • Language access plans, which the secretariat will develop and adopt that comply with the Office of Administration & Finance (A&F) Bulletin #16 and Executive Order 615 ensuring meaningful access to agency services, programs, and activities for people with limited English proficiency.
  • Staff training and hiring, through which EEA and its agencies will implement an EJ training program series to educate and inspire EEA agencies to value EJ and equity, and to maintain them as core priorities of their work.
  • Metrics and tracking of current baseline and future environmental justice metrics to measure progress and impact over time.

In addition to overarching strategies and themes across EEA, the EJ Strategy also includes . . .

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Massachusetts’ Commission on Clean Energy Infrastructure Permitting & Siting Releases Final Recommendations
April 16, 2024

The Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting (Commission) was established by Governor Healey in Executive Order 620 (EO 620) in September 2023. The Commission was formed to help reduce permitting timelines for clean energy infrastructure, to ensure that community feedback is sufficiently incorporated into siting and permitting decision making, and to ensure that the benefits of the clean energy transition are shared equitably among all Massachusetts communities and residents. As a result of EO 620, the Commission was obligated to provide recommendations to Governor Healey on administrative, regulatory, and legislative changes needed for existing permitting and siting procedures, by March 31, 2024.

The Commission includes 28 members from state agencies, municipalities, environmental justice organizations, climate, environmental, and land-use advocates, electric utilities, agricultural interests, energy siting advisory groups, clean energy industry representatives, housing and real estate, labor, and the state legislature (represented by the Chairs of the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE), Senator Barrett and Representative Roy). Alongside Commission members, the Commission was also supported by an Interagency Task Force across 16 state agencies and a Siting Practitioner Advisory Group of 12 practicing attorneys with expertise in siting and permitting of energy infrastructure in Massachusetts.

Despite a tight timeline for working through extremely complex and technical information, the Commission also offered opportunities for public comment through written public comments and two listening sessions, offered in early 2024.

The Commission’s

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Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Releases Cumulative Impact Analysis Regulations for Air Quality Permitting
April 16, 2024

In the 2021 Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy (Next Generation Roadmap Act), the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) was directed to incorporate cumulative impact analysis into its review of applications for certain types of air permitting. Through public engagement and the proposal of draft regulations for cumulative impact analysis, with a particular focus on impacts to environmental justice communities, MassDEP was obligated to propose and implement new regulations within 18 months of the Act’s effective date in June 2021. MassDEP issued draft regulations in December 2022 and final regulations in March 2024. The cumulative impact analysis (CIA) regulations apply to comprehensive plan applications (CPAs) for facilities located in or near environmental justice (EJ) populations and will be effective for applications submitted to MassDEP on or after July 1, 2024.

The CIA regulations require enhanced public outreach to and involvement of EJ populations, comprehensive assessment of existing community conditions, as well as analyzing the potential for the project to exacerbate disproportionate impacts on EJ populations through a cumulative impact analysis.

Alongside the promulgation of final regulations in March 2024, MassDEP has also developed guidance documents and tools to help permit applicants and EJ populations better understand and comply with the new regulations requiring cumulative impact analysis in air permitting applications. Resources relevant to the cumulative impact analysis regulations include:

DOER Requests Comments on the Stretch Codes
April 12, 2024

DOER held a public listening session on March 27th to hear from users of the updated stretch energy code (that came into effect for commercial buildings in Green Communities in July 2023) and the specialized stretch energy code (that came into effect in Boston in Jan 2024). They are looking for ways to improve the stretch codes based on users’ experience.

A Better City then held a focus group with its members on March 29th to hear their experience of using the stretch codes, and to get feedback on comments to DOER. A Better City’s comments were sent to DOER on April 3rd.  In addition, we received a late comment that was sent to DOER recently recommending: To incentivize developers to pursue a cost-viable and more efficient all-electric lab building design, through an Exhaust Source Heat Pump system, the use of fossil fuel boilers as a back-up heat source should be exempt in complying as an all-electric lab building, as is the case with back-up diesel generators.

We will keep you updated as we hear any updates from DOER about improvements to the stretch codes. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to Yve Torrie with any comments or . . .

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AN UPDATE ON BOSTON’S ZERO NET CARBON ZONING
March 18, 2024

In 2022, A Better City was engaged with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on a Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) Zoning Initiative for new construction. Since the end of 2022, the discussion has been dormant while other building policies have been finalized, including:

  • The updated Stretch Energy Code for all Green Communities that came into effect for commercial buildings in July 2023.
  • The Specialized Stretch Energy Code, which municipalities can opt-in to, has an effective date at the discretion of the municipality adopting it. For Boston, the Specialized Code came into effect in January 2024.
  • BERDO 2.0 regulations and policies for existing buildings over 20,000sf or 15 or more residential units, were finalized in December 2023 with the first compliance period in 2025.

 

In early 2024, the BPDA re-started the ZNC Zoning discussion. A Better City held a meeting with its members and the BPDA on February 21, 2024, to understand what updates had been made to proposed ZNC Zoning since 2022. In this meeting, the BPDA were requesting feedback on 3 key updates under consideration:

  • The implications of requiring net zero emissions once an Article 80 building becomes a BERDO-covered building (buildings ≥ 20,000 SF and/or ≥15 units).
  • The strengthening of embodied carbon reporting within ZNC Zoning regulations.
  • The streamlining of the green building review process to minimize redundancies with citywide environmental policies, zoning, and the MA Stretch Energy Code.

 

As a result of the feedback received at the meeting on February 21st and comments from A Better City members that followed, A Better City submitted preliminary comments to the BPDA for consideration as they draft ZNC Zoning regulations, expected by the end of March . . .

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Celebrating Advancement of the Silver Line Extension
March 15, 2024

On March 8, the MBTA and MassDOT released the final report of the Silver Line Extension Alternatives Analysis, in preparation since 2021, that recommended extending the SL3 bus route from Chelsea through Everett to Sullivan Square in Charlestown. Why is this recommendation significant? Because it advances one more segment of the Urban Ring concept beyond the 2018 opening of the SL3 “Silverline Gateway” route from the Blue Line in East Boston along a dedicated right of way in Chelsea, providing improved access for a community underserved by transit. The proposed SLX route will add even more transit access along dedicated rights of way to a growing Everett community, linking between the Blue Line and Orange Line, with potential future connections to the Green Line at Lechmere and the Red Line at Kendall Square with its major employment center.

These potential links are still under study and operations will require additions to the Silver Line fleet, but all of these segments are part of the Urban Ring concept, most recently labeled the “Northern Tier” in a 2009 Notice of Project Change, which was suspended by EOTC, MassDOT’s predecessor at that time, due to lack of funding.

The Urban Ring concept, which is now being implemented segment by segment, has its origins in the “Circumferential Transit” route first advanced by the Boston Transportation Planning Review study of 1972 (thank you Jack Wofford, Director of BTPR) as a substitute for the Inner Belt highway project.

Circumferential Transit was blessed with a shorter name when it was recast as the New Urban Ring by the Boston Society of Architects in 1993 (thank you David Lee, immediate Past President of the BSA at the time), and the concept was further advanced by the MBTA in 1996 in a Major Investment Study (thank you project manager Peter Calcaterra). The concept was carried forward over the years by a series of Citizens Advisory Committees to . . .

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