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Western Mass. could be left out of experiment to block oil and gas for new, renovated buildings

Cranes tower over Cambridge Crossing.
Creative Commons / Share Alike 4.0 International license
Cranes tower over Cambridge Crossing.

Buildings are responsible for about 35% of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, according to Gov. Maura Healey's climate report card.

The state is trying to decarbonizing the "built" environment, kicking off a groundbreaking experiment requiring new construction and major renovation in certain communities to embrace fossil fuel free infrastructure.

Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service explained the significance of this initiative, despite no western Massachusetts communities participating.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: This program is absolutely a milestone. There's no way around that, even if its scope is really narrow. To start for the first time, these communities have the state's permission to require that major new construction or significant renovations just don't use fossil fuels at all. That means things like stoves will all need to be electric, heating will all need to be electric instead of using oil or natural gas. Of course, this is only seven communities, so it's just a fraction of the state population. And right now, it's just limited to new construction and major renovations. So, it's not capturing everything right now.

As you mentioned, it's limited basically to seven communities that are all in eastern Massachusetts, with the exception of Aquinnah. There is one remaining spot open in this program that could go to western Mass. Somerville and Northampton are duking it out for that one spot, so it's going to be one of those two applicants who will get to join. The goal here is that if the state starts this in a handful of communities, it will basically set a foundation for rolling this out elsewhere with a longer time goal of transitioning completely away from fossil fuel infrastructure in our buildings all around the state.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Saturday marked three years since the January 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol. There's a new push to bar former President Donald Trump from the Republican presidential primary and general election ballot in Massachusetts. This comes following other states alleging his participation in the riots constituted insurrection or rebellion and therefore disqualified him from appearing on the ballot. Earlier last week, Secretary of State William Galvin did put Trump's name on Massachusetts' March primary ballot. So, what's the latest? And have you heard reaction from the state's Republican Party?

As you mentioned, Trump is already on the ballot, which we should note, with a primary quickly approaching (March 5) we are less than two months away from the point at which voters are going to be casting ballots. So, it's now going to be decided by the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission and potentially judges after that, depending on which way that goes and whether there's an appeal.

The state Republican Party, unsurprisingly, is opposed to the idea of disqualifying Trump from the ballot, described it as an administrative fiat, and said that this kind of inaction sets a “dangerous precedent for democracy.”

We should also note that Secretary of State Galvin said he might understand the rationale for blocking Trump from the ballot as a citizen, but as the overseer of the state's elections feels that it's best at the end of the day to let voters make the decision.

And finally, Chris, prominent business leaders are imploring Massachusetts to pump the brakes on spending following the update last week that the state's year-to-date tax haul is running at $769 million behind projections. What are lawmakers saying and what should we expect in the coming weeks of budget season?

The tone has definitely shifted among top Democrats who, let's be clear about this, in recent years have overseen a massive increase in state spending. I think that the two-year increase in the state budgets' bottom line is something like 16%. That is far more than inflation.

But now, with state tax revenues trailing so much and other major cost-drivers like the shelter crisis emerging, Speaker Ron Mariano has called for fiscal prudence. And counterparts in the Senate have said, "Yeah, we know that we've got financial challenges and we're going to have to do our best to be smart and sound with our budgeting."

You know, this is going to be a big month. Gov. Healey has to file her spending plan for fiscal year 2025 by January 24. So we are certainly expecting belt-tightening to be high on everybody's mind up here. I think the weeks ahead are going to be really revealing.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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