The Boston City Council Wednesday voted to sign up for the state’s new pilot program banning fossil fuels from most new construction except labs and hospitals.
The move is the first step in a process that could ultimately make New England’s largest city part of an innovative experiment — that is controversial in some quarters — designed to help mitigate climate change.
The measure passed the council on a 9-3 vote.
Opponents, like Councilor Frank Baker of Dorchester, said the measure needs input from union workers whose livelihoods would be impacted by the sudden, major shift towards clean energy.
“I don’t disagree about de-carbonizing our buildings, but ... it needs to be done gradual,” he said, pointing to the measure’s single hearing that featured no representatives from National Grid or the unions representing gas workers. plumbers and pipefitters.
Baker also argued the measure, if approved, would drive up development costs, steering developers away from Boston and exacerbating its current housing crisis.
At-Large Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune pointed to the text of the home rule petition, which calls for hammering out more details of the program if state lawmakers approve it.
“Filing the home rule petition just tells the state that Boston would like to create an ordinance,” she said. “The language and scope of the ordinance may be deliberated upon in collaboration with the council and with [the] community.”
Louijeune inherited oversight of the council’s Government Operations Committee by default after Council President Ed Flynn temporarily suspended Councilor Ricardo Arroyo from his chairmanships, following the news that Arroyo was the subject of two sexual assault investigations as a teenager. Some councilors spoke at the meeting in favor of restoring Arroyo’s commitee chairmanships as a way for the divided body to move forward in the wake of a rancorous council debate over the suspension at the end of August.
Wednesday’s home rule petition on joining the fossil fuel ban pilot originated from Mayor Michelle Wu, who unveiled the legislation last month.
In a statement, Wu said Boston’s participation in the pilot would “maximize” the city’s effort to advance climate action.
“I’m grateful to the Boston City Council for passing our Home Rule Petition and we look forward to working with our community members and stakeholders to inform this process,” she said.
Outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed concerns about how the program could impact housing availability and prices.
Even though Boston is not one of the 10 cities originally in line to take part in the pilot, those familiar with the program’s legislation say Boston could participate if one of the municipalities involved withdraws itself from consideration. The legislation instructs the Department of Energy Resources to grant entry based on the order in which communities submitted their home rule petitions and whether they meet the law's housing eligibility requirement.
The Town of West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard is considering withdrawing from the pilot program because it does not meet the law’s requirement that 10% of its housing stock be considered affordable to take part.
The pilot program is a piece of the state’s plan to meet clean energy goals, including reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
A handful of other cities across the nation have taken similar steps to ban fossil fuels in new buildings within the next several years. New York City, the largest city the nation, is on track to ban fossil fuels from new construction beginning in 2024.
The City of Boston, under former Mayor Marty Walsh, committed to becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2050. A Walsh executive order from 2019 also pledged the city to build carbon neutral public buildings moving forward.
Buildings accounted for 70 percent of Boston’s carbon emissions in 2017. According to the city’s latest Climate Action Report from Boston’s Environment, Energy and Open Space Chief Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, “Almost all of Boston’s carbon emissions stem from the building and transportation sectors.”
Buildings, the report says, account for 69 percent of overall emissions in the city. Transportation accounts for 30 percent.
Arroyo led the council’s government operations and redistricting committees before his suspension at the end of August, which became a focused discussion topic later on in the council’s weekly meeting.
Six councilors, including Arroyo, spoke in favor of his reinstatement as a gesture for resolving the council’s recently deepened racial divide.
“I am requesting my committees back because I never should have been stripped of them,” Arroyo said. “To date, I’ve broken no City Council rules, I’ve broken no laws.”
Flynn, who suspended Arroyo according to a council rule that gives the president exclusive control over who chairs committees, said he looked forward to discussing the matter at an upcoming hearing to review the council rules. The rules do not currently spell out a specific process for removing a committee chair once they’re appointed.
“I think there’s a real concern for me, moving forward as a body, if we don’t add some kind of defined process for other councilors in the future,” Arroyo added. “Because nobody, frankly, should have to go through the sort of circus atmosphere that existed” at the last, raucous council meeting.