Salem Takes Steps to Join State Pilot Program that Could Limit Use of Fossil Fuels in New Buildings

Council Passes Home Rule Petition

by Jeff Cohen

The built environment is now the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. That’s why the state’s recently passed and signed climate bill, An Act Driving Clean Energy & Offshore Wind, includes a provision that 10 communities can pass ordinances to ensure future commercial and residential developments–and retrofits–are fossil fuel free. That means these buildings would not be able to use natural gas or oil for heating, cooling, cooking or powering other appliances.

The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) will choose the 10 communities to participate in this pilot project from those who meet certain criteria and have filed “home rule petitions (HRP)” with the legislature. I submitted a motion to petition the General Court (HRP) at the September 14 Salem City Council meeting; it passed 11-0.

If many communities submit home rule petitions, some believe the legislature may be inclined to amend the climate law to allow all communities to pass similar ordinances. With a new, more environmentally friendly governor in Maura Healey, this is a real possibility. Salem’s home rule petition, thus, could allow our community to participate in the pilot program—but also might push the state to move more aggressively to address the climate crisis.

That’s important. Salem is one of the most vulnerable communities on the North Shore. We’ve already experienced the adverse effects of the crisis.

That’s why the City Council has been taking steps to make Salem a more sustainable city. In January 2022, we passed a green building ordinance for municipal properties that is as good as any in the state. Additionally, I’m in the process of writing a revised green building ordinance for non-municipal buildings to be submitted 1st quarter 2023.

We’re long past the time to debate the climate crisis.  It’s now important for us to be mindful of the youngest members of our society and generations to come as they’re doomed to an unsafe world.  As stewards of this planet, humans have failed and seemingly don’t value our fellow creatures and the land enough. Too many of us don’t understand the urgency or magnitude of what’s before us. We can, however, make a difference . . . all of us. The actions being taken at the City Council are a path forward, and we’re grateful for the support and public testimony of representatives of SAFE, CCL North Shore, 350 and others.

We can, working together, make our community and planet more resilient and safe.