Committee approves bill to cut emissions from offices, apartment buildings

Media Contacts
Ben Hellerstein

Former State Director, Environment Massachusetts

Environment Massachusetts

BOSTON – Large residential and commercial buildings would become more energy-efficient over time, reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses and other harmful pollutants, under a bill approved by the Legislature’s energy committee this week.

The Better Buildings Act (S.2232, H.3366), filed by state Sen. Becca Rausch (Needham) and state Rep. Maria Robinson (Framingham), would require the owners of large buildings — such as offices, apartment buildings, labs, hospitals, and university campuses — to report their energy use to the state and take steps to make energy-wasting buildings more efficient.

“Energy-efficient buildings are better buildings — and better buildings are a crucial component of our Commonwealth’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions,” said Sen. Rausch. “Time is running out for meaningful action against climate change, and I am committed to shepherding this critically needed bill to the governor’s desk this session.”

“In a time when the Commonwealth is looking to up its competitive edge in the workplace, the Better Buildings Act will lead to cleaner, more energy- and cost-efficient buildings that will attract and retain workers here in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Robinson. “In addition to reducing emissions, Massachusetts will be putting public health concerns front and center at a moment when those issues are front and center in our discussions of the future of work.”

Members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy voted to report favorably on the Better Buildings Act on Wednesday. The bill will now head to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which must approve it before it can go to a vote of the full Senate.

Buildings are responsible for a large share of Massachusetts’ global warming pollution. Burning oil and gas in residential and commercial buildings — primarily for heating and hot water — produces 27 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, and electricity is responsible for an additional 17 percent of emissions. Pollution from fossil fuels also harms public health, contributing to asthma, heart attack, and premature birth.

“Reducing the use of fossil fuels in our buildings will mean cleaner air, healthier communities, and a safer climate for all of us,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “The Legislature can take a big step toward cleaning up Massachusetts’ big buildings by adopting the Better Buildings Act. We’re grateful to the energy committee for moving this critical bill forward.”

“The Better Buildings Act is a win-win,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG. “Not only will the law save tenants — including residents and businesses — money in utility bills for inefficient buildings, it will also protect our health and environment by tackling climate change.”

The Better Buildings Act would apply only to large buildings, with a threshold starting at 25,000 square feet and decreasing to 15,000 square feet over time.

Under this bill, owners of large buildings would report energy use in their buildings to the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) every year. The least efficient buildings would be required to reduce their energy use or greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent over five years. By 2040, this policy would aim to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions from large buildings.

“A quarter of the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions result from burning fossil fuels in our buildings. We need better, more efficient ways to heat our homes and places of work,” said John Carlson, manager for state policy at Ceres. “The Better Buildings Act will lead to cleaner, more energy- and cost-efficient buildings and help our companies and Massachusetts reach our climate goals.”

“The Better Buildings Act is an important step towards reducing one of our state’s largest sources of carbon emissions.” said Winston Vaughan, Massachusetts director of climate solutions at Health Care Without Harm. “But it means much more than that. Less polluting, more efficient buildings result in cleaner air, healthier communities, lower health care costs, and lower energy bills for our businesses and residents.”

“Reducing emissions from large buildings is the logical next step forward on the road to reducing the climate impact of the building sector,” said Laura Spark, senior policy advocate for Clean Water Action. “A relatively small number of large buildings account for a disproportionate share of the sector’s emissions. A smart policy to bring these emissions down is exactly what Massachusetts needs to put in place right now.”

The Boston City Council passed a municipal policy similar to the Better Buildings Act this fall. Other jurisdictions have adopted or are considering similar requirements for large buildings, including Washington State; Montgomery County, Maryland; and cities from St. Louis, Missouri, to Reno, Nevada.