Some “Big Lifts” For Boston to Achieve Its Climate Goals

Earlier this Month, The Boston Foundation released its “Inaugural Boston Climate Progress Report.”  Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to do.  The Report identifies four “Big Lifts” necessary to attaining our climate goals.  It defines a Big Lift as:

a multidecade mega-project that seeks to improve the city to align with its climate and equity goals.

The four Big Lifts are:

  • Retrofitting the small building stock
  • Local energy planning for an electrified city
  • Building a resilient coastline through improved governance
  • Prioritizing reparative planning for Boston’s frontline neighborhoods

All of these are important and each is worth its own post.  Perhaps because it gets less attention than the others, I’m going to look at the governance issue briefly here.  The Report identifies three “options” and “challenges” associated with governance.  The following list is my shorthand summary of the issues identified in the Report.

  • The lack of a coordinating agency to resolve conflicts among competing interests
  • Existing regulations that are not hospitable to resiliency projects
  • Money, money, money
  • A lack of transparency in City government, which leads to confusion about who is doing what and what we are trying to accomplish

I don’t disagree with any of this.  I will say that, though this report is focused on Boston, Governor-elect Healey has proposed a cabinet-level climate position.  Since many of the governance issues derive from current state statutes and regulations, having a climate secretary may help address the coordination issue, assuming municipalities and the state government are generally on the same page.

I think that the biggest issue is the problem with our existing regulatory structure.  Based on a paradigm that developed prior to climate change, in-water resiliency solutions are at best difficult to permit and, at worst, simply impossible.  That makes sense if the “fill” is for some purpose unrelated to the environment and comes with associated environmental costs.  If the very purpose of the project is to address the most pressing environmental issue of our time, a different paradigm is warranted.

The biggest problem here is that this issue isn’t just bigger than Boston; it’s bigger than Massachusetts.  Even if we have all the coordination in the world and Governor Healey’s climate czar succeeds in reforming our state regulations to facilitate beneficial resiliency projects, the federal permitting regime will remain a significant problem, one that cannot be solved in Massachusetts.

I guess that’s why they are called Big Lifts.

(And if you need a reminder why this matters, watch this, which includes video of the street where I live!)

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