By Grey Lee
On Tuesday November 4, 2014, Massachusetts voters will elect a governor and legislators for local, state, and national offices. Additionally, voters will be asked to vote on four laws proposed by ballot initiative petitions. This guide discusses two ballot questions that are of particular interest to the green building community and also provides summary information of potential legislative initiatives for the upcoming session. We recommend these issues be brought to the attention of the candidates for public office and that you exercise your right to vote on November 4th.
Ballot Question 1: Eliminating Gas Tax Indexing
This proposed law would repeal House Bill 3847, enacted in 2013 which raised the fuel tax from 21.5 cents per gallon to 24 cents per gallon with an automatic adjustment every year based on changes in the Consumer Price Index. Prior to 2013, the last adjustment to the tax was in 1991 and had reduced this revenue by 18% between 1991 and 2013 after inflation while nationwide fuel tax revenue has risen by 15%.
We recommend a NO vote on Ballot question 1. The current law provides stability to a revenue source that funds state transportation projects including repairs to roads and bridges as well as finances mass transit projects such as intra-city rail and the Green Line extension.
Ballot Question 2: Expanding the Beverage Container Deposit Law
The proposed law would expand the state’s beverage container deposit law (the Bottle Bill) to require deposits for all non-alcoholic/non-carbonated drinks, except dairy products, infant formula and FDA approved medicines. The law also required the container deposit amount to be adjusted for inflation every five years to the nearest whole cent, but not less than five cents per bottle. Other provisions of the proposed law provide increases to minimum handling fees, allows exemptions from accepting empty bottles for small retailers, and sets up a Clean Environment Fund to receive certain unclaimed container deposits.
We recommend a YES vote on Ballot question 2. The current law is outdated with inadequate handling fees and with no deposits required for water and sport drinks that have proliferated in recent years. The proposed legislation will increase recycling rates and provide dedicated revenue for proper management of solid waste, water resource protection, parkland, air quality and climate protection.
2014 Voters Guide: Talking with the Candidates
Where do the candidates stand on legislative issues related to the green building community? Ask candidates if they support the following:
Updating the Stretch Energy Code
As of July 2014, IECC 2012 went into effect in Massachusetts, with the result that the current Stretch Code is now essentially equivalent to the new base energy code in terms of energy efficiency. The Green Communities Act requires that “Green Communities” set requirements to minimize life-cycle costs for new construction, which largely have been accomplished through the adoption of the Stretch Code (generally 20% better than the base code) by these municipalities. We support legislative or regulatory changes to adopt an updated stretch code.
Building Energy Benchmarking
This is a regulatory process where owners & property managers report their buildings' energy & resource use into public databases. These will be used to help improve energy efficiency and target outreach efforts and incentives. Currently, Boston and Cambridge have adopted regulations to establish BEB for large buildings. Across the United States, 8 other major cities and two states have enacted BEB requirements. Research has shown that building owners who benchmark their buildings are more likely to make energy efficiency improvements. A 2012 analysis of 35,000 benchmarked buildings, conducted by the EPA, found that the buildings reduced consumption by an average of 7 percent over three years.
PACE – Property Assessed Clean Energy
We support a comprehensive PACE program in Massachusetts. 2014 legislation died in committee and we want our legislators to support it going forward. PACE is a term used to describe a novel approach for funding energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
• Projects are 100% financed by an outside entity.
• Terms are generally longer than the useful life of the improvement, up to 20yrs, resulting in high ROI.
• Similar to a tax assessment, PACE repayments are an expense rather than part of the balance sheet.
• The assessment remains part of the property regardless of the changing of ownership.
Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax
A carbon tax is a tax on the carbon content of fuels — effectively a tax on the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. We anticipate that a proposal will be reintroduced in the next legislative session. Other states, including Washington and California, are also considering this issue. To learn more about carbon tax, we suggest the following web links:
Net Zero Standard for Buildings
We support Senator Jamie Eldridge's S. 1587, a Net Zero Standard for building in Massachusetts. The bill was based on the recommendations of Governor Patrick’s Zero Net Energy Buildings Task Force and would establish definitions of residential zero net-energy buildings and commercial zero net energy buildings. In consultation with the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), creating regulations establishing a residential zero net energy building standard will take effect January 1st, 2020 and a commercial zero net energy building standard to take effect January 1st, 2030.
More on this bill is at the Senator's website.