Legislature considers emissions cuts in large 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 gases and other harmful pollutants, under a bill discussed at a committee hearing today.

The hearing comes a week after the Boston City Council adopted a similar policy at the municipal level requiring emissions reductions in large buildings.

“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 state Rep. Maria Robinson (D-Framingham). “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.”

“Energy-efficient buildings are better buildings — and better buildings are a crucial component of our Commonwealth’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change,” said state Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham). “I am incredibly proud to partner with Rep. Robinson and Environment Massachusetts to advance this critical legislation moving us even closer towards a carbon-free Commonwealth.”

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

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy held a hearing today on the Better Buildings Act along with other bills related to energy efficiency.

“Reducing the fossil fuels we use 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.”

“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.”

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 our health, contributing to asthma, heart attack, and premature birth.

“To meet Natick’s commitments to climate action, we must reduce the use of fossil fuels in our buildings,” said Jillian Wilson Martin, sustainability coordinator for the town of Natick. “Statewide energy disclosure requirements and performance standards for large buildings will help Natick achieve our goals and ensure a safer, healthier future for everyone.”

The Better Buildings Act will 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 will report energy use in their buildings to the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) every year. The least energy-efficient buildings will be required to reduce their energy use or greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent over five years, achieving an 80 percent emissions reduction from large buildings by 2040.

Similar policies have been adopted or are under consideration in many jurisdictions, including Washington State; Montgomery County, Maryland; and cities from St. Louis, Missouri, to Reno, Nevada.

Speakers at the hearing discussed many of the steps owners can take to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in their buildings, including installing more efficient appliances and lighting, reducing heat loss through walls and windows, replacing heating and cooling systems with efficient electric technologies like heat pumps, and installing rooftop solar panels.

“Curbing emissions in our state’s residential and commercial buildings is critical to meeting our climate goals and building a net zero emissions economy,” said Alli Gold Roberts, director of state policy for Ceres. “Massachusetts’ businesses are already taking steps to invest in new technologies that will reduce emissions at their facilities and transition away from fossil fuels. We need policies that build off the ambition of the Next Generation Roadmap to spur this kind of innovation.”

The building code requires new buildings to be built to a minimum energy efficiency standard, but there are currently no statewide requirements for existing buildings to become more efficient. A study projected that 85 percent of the square footage that will exist in Boston in 2050 has already been built.

Click here to read Environment Massachusetts’ testimony.