AG rejects Brookline anti-fossil fuel regulations for second time

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BROOKLINE, MA — On Friday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey reversed bylaws approved by the city of Brookline that would prevent the use of fossil fuels in new buildings.

It’s the second time Healey has rejected the city’s efforts to stop using fossil fuels in less than two years. Although the AG’s office agrees with what Brookline is trying to do, she said, it’s against state law.

“Our office has prioritized the state’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future,” Healey said in a statement. “Although the law requires us to disapprove of local initiatives inconsistent with our current statutes, we will continue to lead efforts in Massachusetts and nationally to protect ratepayers and the environment, make our buildings more efficient, and work towards alongside our communities to reduce the threat of climate change.”

The AG’s decision not only impacts Brookline, but also many other communities in the state, including Lexington and Concord, which have considered similar climate-friendly policies.

Brookline’s efforts began in November 2019, when the city voted to ban fossil fuels, or oil and gas pipelines, from most new construction or major renovations. However, the regulations included a number of exceptions, such as gas piping for emergency power generators, propane for outdoor heating and cooking, and lines for gas meters for commercial cooking.

However, in June 2020, Healey ruled for the first time that the settlement violated state law in three ways. First, the state building code, which establishes statewide building construction standards, takes precedence over local laws. Second, the state gas code also prohibits any locality from imposing requirements that are inconsistent with the state plumbing board. Third, the Massachusetts Department of Utilities, which regulates the sale and distribution of natural gas, is blocking local law from enacting an ordinance that effectively restricts “one-size-fits-all” utilities to the public.

In response, Brookline residents passed two new bylaws last year, one that would have required those applying for special permits to go fossil-free immediately or by 2030 and another that would have banned combustibles infrastructure. fossils in a specific zoning district.

Healey determined this week that the two new regulations also conflict with state laws, including the zoning law, state building code and Chapter 164, but noted revisions proposed by Governor Charlie Baker to state building codes, including a new specialized expandable zero-code opt-in network.

The code would not allow communities to ban fossil fuel infrastructure, but would allow them to require new buildings using gas to achieve greater energy efficiency by installing rooftop solar panels and pre-wiring for a future electrification.

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