Mass. natural gas laws could see updates in Senate climate bill

A climate bill the state Senate is scheduled to release in the coming days could target Massachusetts residents’ legal right to natural gas and a program to replace old pipes for the service, according to its chief author.

Sen. Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, said the legislation will require that petitions to extend natural gas service into new areas must first consider the climate impacts of such a move and whether there are “less costly or less polluting alternatives.”

If there are no alternatives, a resident would be allowed to obtain new natural gas service, according to Barrett. But state law would “consider for the first time … whether people might have something like a heat pump that they can afford that would be better for the planet,” he said.

“Why is there even a right to gas as opposed to a right to be warm? Why is there a right specifically to gas in state law at all? That’s kind of inadvisable by current standards,” Barrett told the Herald as he walked out of the State House late Thursday afternoon.

A spokesperson for Senate President Karen Spilka confirmed the climate bill is scheduled for a Monday release but declined to outline the contents of the proposal until it is public.

Details of a late-session climate bill have been slowly emerging ever since Spilka pledged to tackle a “comprehensive” proposal during an address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in April.

But the scope of what lawmakers will eventually be asked to debate and vote on appears to be shrinking as the Legislature is quickly running out of time for formal lawmaking this session.

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