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1st East Coast building gas ban easily passes in Boston suburb

Local lawmakers in Brookline, Mass., threw their support behind a measure to limit the use of natural gas in new buildings and major renovations, making the Boston suburb the first East Coast town to adopt this type of climate change policy.

More than 200 members of the 240-seat Brookline Town Meeting voted Nov. 20 for the amendment to town bylaws. The vote sets in motion a policy that will prohibit the town from issuing permits for buildings and gut renovations that include fossil fuel piping for certain applications.

The co-petitioners projected that the measure will reduce carbon emissions from Brookline buildings by 15% over the next 30 years, helping to move the town toward its goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2050.

"We cannot install new gas infrastructure that will last 30 years, past the time that we have committed to achieving zero emissions," said Kathleen Scanlon, an architect and co-petitioner for the amendment. "This decision will move us away from new oil and gas infrastructure when it's convenient and possible to do so. It's a step in the right direction for Brookline and for our climate."

The amendment's developers modeled it after a pioneering ordinance passed this summer in Berkeley, Calif., which several Golden State cities have adopted. The ordinance is also a template for measures advancing in Seattle and Cambridge and Newton, Mass.

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However, the final Brookline measure included a number of exemptions that were not part of the original version, including an allowance for gas piping for cooking purposes. This means new homes and businesses will largely have to use electric heat and hot water systems, but occupants will not be forced to use electric stoves. The amendment also will allow gas piping for backup generators and will not apply to propane appliances like grills and outdoor heaters.

The amendment will exempt labs that conduct scientific or medical research, as well as medical offices regulated as healthcare facilities by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The co-petitioners also included a potential exemption for large buildings. It will allow gas piping in a building that is 10,000 square feet or larger if engineers certify that there is no electric hot water heater system available on the market that can meet the building's demand for less than 150% of the cost of a fossil fuel-powered system.

National Grid USA, which provides natural gas service in the area, opposed the amendment.

"As we have seen from our experience, there are thousands of customers who want to select the option of natural gas and the benefits it provides," Danielle Williamson, corporate affairs director for National Grid in Massachusetts, said in an email. "The voice of any group that does not want natural gas must be considered along with these customers who continue to request our service to heat their homes and businesses."

The amendment is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, six months later than the effective date in an earlier version of the amendment. The Massachusetts attorney general's office will review the bylaw, and the completion of that review could push back the start date. The effective date is also contingent on the formation of a board of experts that will review waivers and appeals to the measure.

The co-petitioners also anticipated that the measure could draw a legal challenge.