Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) overturned a ban on new residential gas infrastructure for cooking, heating, and hot water in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
Brookline’s natural gas ban, enacted at a town meeting in November 2019, was the first ban on new gas hook-ups imposed outside of California.
Violates State Laws
Healey overturned Brookline’s ordinance, stating it conflicted with multiple state laws.
Even though Healey herself has opposed fossil fuels and is suing ExxonMobil—claiming the company is misleading investors and consumers about the risk of greenhouse gas emissions from the company’s products—she concluded Brookline’s ban was illegal.
“The Attorney General agrees with the policy goals behind the Town’s attempt to reduce the use of fossil fuels within the Town,” Healey wrote in her decision. “However, the Legislature (and the courts) have made plain that the Town cannot utilize the method it selected to achieve those goals.”
The impact of Healey’s ruling extends beyond Brookline to any similar efforts to ban new gas connections being considered by other cities or towns across Massachusetts, Jesse Gray, the Brookline official who was a lead sponsor of town’s ordinance, told E&E News.
“This wasn’t a door being closed gently in one’s face, this was a door being slammed shut,” Gray said. “[Healey’s ruling] kills it for any town in the commonwealth.”
Interests Allied Against Ban Pleased
Various business and consumer interest groups who had opposed Brookline’s ban, including builders, labor unions, oil and gas associations, and utilities, applauded Healey’s ruling for following the law and protecting consumers.
The Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts said Healey’s decision was a “major victory” that “should discourage cities from adopting similar bans as they would likely fall to a court challenge,” reports E&E News.
Healey’s decision benefits consumers, especially those struggling to pay their utility bills, Paul Afonso, a former Massachusetts utilities regulator and senior vice president at the American Petroleum Institute, told E&E News.
“[P]romoting alternatives to natural gas heating ‘could have dire consequences for senior citizens, working families and low-income communities’ across the country,” Afonso told E&E News. “Government should not be in the business of denying citizens access to affordable, reliable and clean fuel sources like natural gas.”
‘Inconsistent Patchwork of Local Rules’
Healey’s determination allows inexpensive, reliable natural gas to continue meeting energy needs in Massachusetts, said Danielle Williamson, director of corporate affairs for Massachusetts National Grid USA, in an e-mail sent to the press.
“In affirming the exclusive authority of the Department of Public Utilities to regulate the distribution and sale of natural gas under state law, the attorney general prevented an inconsistent patchwork of local rules and regulations, many of which would have negatively impacted customer choice, affordability, and progress toward our shared decarbonization goals,” Williamson said.
States Act to Prevent Natural Gas Bans From Spreading
Multiple cities in California have imposed bans on new natural gas connections in the past couple of years. In an effort to preempt the spread of California style restrictions on new natural gas connections, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have each enacted laws since mid-2019 preventing municipalities from imposing restrictions on natural gas connections and use in buildings.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (email@example.com) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
Attorney General Maury Healey (D): https://www.mass.gov/orgs/office-of-attorney-general-maura-healey; firstname.lastname@example.org