An attempt to bring a ban on natural gas connections in new construction from California to Massachusetts has collided head-on with state law.
Last November, the Boston-area town of Brookline adopted a bylaw that would prohibit most new gas connections in an effort to lower carbon emissions. The town meeting vote—to which only three town residents objected—aligned Brookline with dozens of California communities that have adopted similar regulations since the summer of 2019.
At the time, gas and oil interests objected, calling the ban on natural gas heating equipment “outrageously unfair.” Now, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says the ban runs counter to three state laws and cannot take effect, despite her support for the policy’s goals.
“If we were permitted to base our determination on policy considerations, we would approve the by-law,” Healey said in a July 21 letter to Brookline’s town clerk. “Much of the work of this office reflects the attorney general’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other dangerous pollution from fossil fuels in the Commonwealth and beyond.”
However, Healey’s office found that the bylaw is in conflict with a statewide building code passed in 1975 that prohibits Massachusetts towns and cities from creating their own requirements and permitting processes. In addition, Healey’s office found that the bylaw is preempted by the state’s gas code as well as the state’s Department of Public Utilities, which regulates the sale and distribution of natural gas in the state.
“It’s a bummer,” said State Rep. Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat and supporter of the bylaw. He told Boston.com that Healey’s decision was “purely a determination that the way it was written is inconsistent with state law.”
Healey said she remains committed to clean energy.
“While we are legally obligated to disapprove bylaws that are inconsistent with state law, we will continue to lead efforts in Massachusetts and nationally to protect ratepayers and the environment, make our buildings more efficient, and work alongside our communities to reduce the threat of climate change,” she said in a statement.
Jesse Gray, a Brookline official who was a lead sponsor of the effort, said the town had no plans to appeal the ruling, according to a report at EnergyWire.
Brookline was the first community outside California to restrict gas connections in new construction, although communities in Maryland and Michigan also were said to be looking into it.
Scott Gibson is a contributing writer at Green Building Advisor and Fine Homebuilding magazine.