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How to Protect our Economic Growth and Fight for our Climate Future

Collaboration and Coordination a Must to Keep on Path to Success

By Tamara Small | This column originally appeared in Banker & Tradesman on March 26, 2023

Climate change is an economic development, public health and environmental issue that affects every resident and business in the commonwealth. Bold action must be taken, along with critical short-term strategies that effectively balance our continued economic growth with our long-term decarbonization and environmental goals. Only this approach will ensure that Massachusetts is put on a responsible, achievable path to mitigate and manage the devastating effects of climate change.

NAIOP applauded the creation of a cabinet-level climate chief in the Healey-Driscoll administration and believes the job is critical to ensuring climate change considerations are incorporated into decision making.

Inter-Governmental Coordination Paramount

As Melissa Hoffer settles into the role, there are small steps that can be taken to ensure all cabinets and departments are unified in their efforts to put forward climate-responsible policies and regulations.

The first step is simply identifying and regularly convening the state agency personnel responsible for the review of policies, procedures and regulations regarding climate change and sea level rise. This convening will allow the careful and purposeful coordination of the state agencies responsible for a wide range of climate-related topics, including establishing a target range for sea level rise; adopting reliable climate change projections; establishing guidelines and regulations to incorporate climate change into future planning decisions and outreach programs; and ensuring that the goals of various agencies are aligned.

By bringing together all relevant state agency personnel, Chief Hoffer will also be able to ensure that cost-benefit analysis is factored into policymaking. A balanced approach is critical – and policymakers should look at programs in terms of maximizing preparedness and resiliency benefits while minimizing burdens on fiscal and other resources.

And we cannot forget about municipalities across the commonwealth who are tackling their own climate considerations. From municipal harbor plans to dam removal, forestry to stormwater mitigation, communities are working to address their unique climate challenges. Chief Hoffer is uniquely positioned to encourage consistent local and statewide efforts to address climate change preparedness including identifying susceptible infrastructure (e.g., mass transit, highways, stormwater systems, energy, fuel, communications, etc.); clarifying how municipal processes interact with state-level reviews to ensure consistency; providing reliable data to inform policymaking, and more.

All of this together will align the commonwealth’s communities under a common goal and ensure that regulatory schemes, policies, and local actions are not defeating the larger strategic vision for addressing the climate crisis.

Policy Actions Required

During the past three years, Massachusetts has seen a historic number of decarbonization policies affecting the building sector. While the goals are laudable, there are critical public sector actions that must be taken to secure the commonwealth’s future and continue its role as a trailblazer in fighting climate change.

The new, opt-in net-zero specialized stretch energy code is in effect, with at least five municipalities having already adopted it. This third optional code prioritizes the electrification of new buildings. However, developers across the state are facing significant challenges in accessing the needed electric capacity for current projects.

Unless electric capacity is drastically expanded, this shortfall will continue to threaten both our economic development and our future electrification goals. According to ISO New England President and CEO Gordon Van Welie, to achieve the commonwealth’s stated long-term goals of building decarbonization by 2050, more renewable energy is needed, transmission must be improved, technological advances in building systems are required, and challenges facing the grid must be addressed. Lessening the energy load of the buildings and increasing efficiency, while good policy, do not address these issues.

In short, the private sector cannot do it alone. The industry needs help from the Healey-Driscoll administration, municipalities, and others to push the utilities to dramatically expand their capacity to support an all-electric built environment. As a regional leader on a shared grid, the commonwealth has a responsibility to its surrounding states and must not take actions that negatively impact desperately needed housing at all income levels or halt economic competitiveness.

The Healey-Driscoll administration must direct the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to address these significant challenges to protect our residents and businesses. It is also critical that the DPU evaluate state and local impediments to the permitting process for expanding electric grid infrastructure to streamline the implementation of actions designed to expand capacity and green the grid.

Throughout past administrations, NAIOP has worked closely with secretaries of energy and environmental affairs as an engaged stakeholder, a member of multiple advisory groups and as a technical expert to provide targeted feedback on multiple regulatory schemes and policies to advocate for predictable, clear and consistent regulations throughout offices and departments. NAIOP looks forward to continuing to work with the Healey-Driscoll administration and Chief Hoffer to ensure that our climate fight is guided by collaboration and coordination between the public and private sectors. Together we can take on the greatest challenge facing this generation and secure a bright future for our commonwealth.

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