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Road to Recovery, Tuesday 3/7/2022

Posted on March 8, 2022

Baker Grants $75 million in Aid for Small Businesses

Daily Free Press – On Feb. 23, Governor Charlie Baker announced the allocation of $75 million to support small businesses, following the successful implementation of the Small Business Relief Fund program in 2020.

The $75 million in aid will be distributed by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation through two programs, the New Applicant Grant Program and the Inclusive Grant Program, Yuna Oh, a digital communications manager at MGCC, wrote in an email.

The New Applicant Grant Program will direct $50 million of the $75 million toward businesses predominantly made up of disadvantaged groups, such minorities, women and veterans.

The Inclusive Grant Program will allocate the remaining $25 million to businesses that did not qualify for previous MGCC aid.

Katherine Martinez, director of economic development at the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, said the distribution of the new grant program strikes a “great balance” between sustaining businesses that received support previously and expanding reach to businesses that don’t qualify for assistance.

“We really are looking to spread the pies, if we can, in terms of capturing every single business and inspector out there that is really in need of support during this time,” Martinez said.

The grant program is part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by Baker in December 2021.

COVID Therapies Important Step Out of Pandemic

Commonwealth Magazine – Massachusetts is thankfully seeing sustained decreases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was limited testing capability, no specific therapies, and no vaccines. Today, we have a plethora of tools at our disposal to manage COVID-19 and, because of this, students are learning in person and businesses are welcoming workers back to offices. While all of this is great progress, it is important to remember that we will be living with COVID-19 for some time.

But there are many reasons to be hopeful and we are optimistic that an array of effective and accessible therapies will help us transition to an endemic phase of COVID-19.

With an overwhelming majority of residents vaccinated, others with immunity from infection, readily available effective oral treatments for early disease and potent treatments for severe disease, we are entering a period of less severe disease, decreased transmission, and likely decreased symptoms.  A continued multipronged approach using all of the tools in our toolbox is critical to ensuring that spread will be limited, vulnerable persons will be protected, and the healthcare system will not be overwhelmed.

As we look forward, we are well-positioned to manage COVID-19, with vaccines and boosters critically important and the single most impactful tools in that toolbox.

The wide availability of convenient at-home testing kits provides help in detecting individual cases and decreasing community spread by providing real time results of infectious periods of COVID-19.  Making these kits available at low or no-cost has been a game changer; it is vital that our federal government and private industry work together to ensure an ongoing supply of tests.  Mitigation measures including good general hygiene, masking for individuals at higher risk of severe COVID-19, and proper isolation and quarantine protocols provide additional protection.

Massachusetts Closing Some COVID Testing Sites

MassLive – As COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts continue to drop, the Baker administration on Friday announced the state will soon operate just 11 state-sponsored coronavirus testing sites.

The downsizing of the Stop the Spread testing sites will take effect on April 1, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said in a news release.

Testing demand at state sites has plummeted by 80% since the beginning of January, when the highly contagious omicron variant ripped through Massachusetts as loved ones and friends gathered for winter holidays. Yet in recent weeks, rapid antigen COVID tests have become increasingly more available, including with the Baker administration securing 26 million tests targeted for public schools and child care centers.

As of March 1, the seven-day average caseload has dropped by 96% compared to the January peak, EOHHS said. And the rate of positive COVID-19 tests is now under 2%.

The 11 sites that will remain open — based on “demonstrated need,” daily testing volume and geographic equity — accounted for just over 70% of all Stop the Spread testing volume from Jan. 20 through Feb. 16, EOHHS said.

As of March 1, the seven-day average caseload has dropped by 96% compared to the January peak, EOHHS said. And the rate of positive COVID-19 tests is now under 2%.

The 11 sites that will remain open — based on “demonstrated need,” daily testing volume and geographic equity — accounted for just over 70% of all Stop the Spread testing volume from Jan. 20 through Feb. 16, EOHHS said.

Big MassHealth Calculations, Fed Decision Likely to Boost State Budget’s Bottom Line

State House News – No longer expecting the federal COVID-19 health emergency to end in April, state Medicaid officials told lawmakers Monday that the $17.8 billion budget for MassHealth proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker will likely need to increase by $645 million for next year, but the state’s share of the cost will actually decline.

The Baker administration had been preparing for the first time in two years to begin the process in May of redetermining Medicaid eligibility for the 2.2 million residents in the program. The rolls of MassHealth grew by about 400,000 people over the past two years of the pandemic.Assistant Secretary of MassHealth Amanda Cassel Kraft told House and Senate lawmakers that with the federal health emergency now expected to be extended into July, the budget for the state’s largest program will have to be adjusted for the continued freeze on redetermination and the continuation of enhanced federal reimbursements tied to the pandemic.

Baker’s budget filed in January recommended a $1.8 billion decrease in MassHealth funding in fiscal 2023, or about 9.4 percent, to account for declines in enrollment. The resulting cost impact for the state was $293 million, or 4 percent growth, due to the loss of enhanced federal cost-sharing.

Cassel Kraft said the extension of the emergency means the net cost to the state will be “a wash,” costing about $21 million less. Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan had previously testified to the Joint Committees on Ways and Means that the administration expected MassHealth enrollment to fall to about 1.9 million, which is still above the 1.75 million pre-pandemic total.

Cassel Kraft said MassHealth estimates that about 700,000 who would have otherwise seen their benefits “downgraded or terminated” due to income eligibility or other factors have had their MassHealth benefits protected by federal rules. She still expects enrollment to remain above pre-pandemic levels once redetermination is complete, and the agency now hopes to begin that process in August.

The federal government has said it will give states at least 60 days’ notice before the federal public health emergency ends. Baker’s budget also includes an expansion of the Medicare Saving Program that Cassel Kraft and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said will make 35,000 low-income senior newly eligible for more than $200 million in federal subsidies to lower costs for things like prescription drugs. This will be achieved by increasing eligibility from 165 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level at a cost to the state of $41 million.

“I’m so, so happy about the Medicare Saving Program,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.


Rising Inflation Puts Squeeze on Low-Income Families

Eagle Tribune – Arielys Morales is careful with every dollar she spends and keeps a tight hold on the purse strings of her family’s modest budget.

But the 31-year-old mother, who works part-time and receives cash assistance from the state, said the rising cost of everything from meat and fresh vegetables to gasoline leaves little money to buy things for her three, school-age children.

“Everything is more expensive,” said Morales, of Mattapan. “It’s hard to do more than buy food and put gas in the car. You have to hold back on a lot of things.”

The state and federal governments have increased monthly cash assistance during the pandemic to help families struggling from the economic impact of the pandemic. They’ve boosted energy assistance to help low-income folks struggling to pay their utility bills.

But the help those social safety net programs provide is being eroded by the highest inflation in 40 years, and Morales’ pay and benefits don’t go as far as they used to.

Advocates say while inflation is being felt by everyone, price hikes are particularly devastating to lower-income households that were already living on the margins.

“Nearly all their expenses go to necessities — food, energy, housing — which have seen some of the largest increases at different points over the past year,” said Lew Finfer, co-director of the Massachusetts Community Action Network. “People are really struggling.”

State House to Drop COVID-19 Mask, Vaccine Requirements for Visitors

MSN – Visitors will no longer have to wear masks or show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter the Massachusetts State House on Monday, legislative leaders said, reversing policies they imposed less than two weeks earlier when they reopened the building.

The announcement late Friday by Senate President Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano puts the State House in line with other public spaces in Boston and other communities, where officials have relaxed various rules amid a decline in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

“While some individuals may choose to continue to wear masks, this will no longer be a requirement but rather an individual’s choice based on their preference and level of risk,” Spilka and Mariano said in a joint statement.

They also thanked State House staff, park rangers, and State Police who have provided security for the State House “for ensuring the safety of visitors and staff as we look forward to entering this new phase in our reopening to the public.”

Legislative leaders reopened the State House to the public on Feb. 22, ending the longest-running closure of a state capitol in the continental United States since the virus first gripped the country in March 2020.

Massachusetts Gas Prices Hit $4.16 A Gallon, New State Record, According To AAA

CBS – The average price for a gallon of gasoline in Massachusetts has set a new record, according to AAA.

It’s now $4.16 a gallon, the highest recorded average price in the state’s history, the agency reported Monday.

A week ago it was just $3.62 a gallon. That’s a 54 cent a gallon increase in just seven days.

“We’re almost $1.50 higher than we were at this time last year. So, the numbers don’t lie, we’re talking major pain at the pump,” AAA Northeast spokesperson Mary Maguire told WBZ-TV.

Massachusetts Gas Prices

The highest gas prices in the state are on the Cape and the Islands. It’s $4.96 a gallon on Nantucket.

The national average now stands at $4.06 a gallon. California has the highest average in the nation at $5.34 a gallon.

Prices have been rising rapidly since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. Russia is one of the top three oil producers in the world.

Boston May Not Require Masks Anymore, but Many Say They’ll Keep Them On for Now

WBUR – Ken Gloss is hopeful for the future.

“It’s sort of the light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully that tunnel is getting very short,” said Gloss.

Gloss is the proprietor of Boston’s Brattle Book Shop, a used and antique bookstore that’s been in his family since 1949. But in recent times, he and his staff have also taken on the role of the “mask police,” stopping any uncovered face that walked through their doors. Some people had simply forgot to put it on and did so when asked. Others, not so much.

“The mental stress just on the staff asking people to put on masks was a lot harder than the worry [of the virus],” said Gloss.

But Gloss says those days are done — for now. That’s because the Brattle Book Shop is among the thousands of businesses in the city who, starting Saturday, were no longer required to mandate customers wear masks to shop, eat, or play in their establishments.

This after Mayor Michelle Wu and the city’s Public Health Commission lifted the mask requirement this week. The mandate had been in place since August 27, 2021 – when then Acting Mayor Kim Janey implemented it.

Wu cited improving public health — the same data that she used to lift the city’s vaccine mandate for businesses late last month.

State to Get Reimbursement for Money Used To Build Temporary Hospitals – The Federal Emergency Management Agency is awarding more than $4.2 million to the state to cover the costs associated with setting up Alternative Care Sites to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic from November 2020 to January 2021.

The $4,427,541 reimbursement through FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program will be delivered to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, which provided shelter materials, staff, and utilities at both sites, as well as emergency transportation for patients and delivery of medical equipment.

“FEMA is pleased to be able to assist Massachusetts with these costs,” said Lori Ehrlich, FEMA Region 1 Regional Administrator.

“Providing resources for our partners on the front lines of the pandemic fight is critical to their success, and our success as a nation.”

Nearly $867 million in Public Assistance grants has been given to Massachusetts by /FEMA since the beginning of the pandemic to cover related expenses.

To learn more, click here.

Low-Income Seniors could Benefit from Wu’s Real Estate Tax bill

WBUR – Mayor Michelle Wu hopes to extend property tax relief to more seniors.

The mayor signed a bill that included a measure that would increase the threshold of eligibility for low-income seniors who own and live in their homes seeking tax relief through the city’s 41C program.

Currently, seniors who wish to take advantage of the program need a gross income at or below $24,911 if they’re single and $37,367 if they’re married. The estate, excluding the property value, can be no more than $40,000 for single people or $55,000 for married couples.

Those who qualify can receive $1,000 in tax relief for the current fiscal year. Applicants may also be eligible to receive an additional amount up to $1,000 under certain conditions.

Wu’s bill seeks to increase the income eligibility to $47,000 for single people and $53,700 for couples. Estate eligibility requirements would double. The minimum tax exemption would also increase to $1,500 and max out at $3,000.

City officials estimate the number of senior homeowners with eligible income would increase from about 4,600 to about 8,700.

Goldberg: State Pension Fund has $140M Tied to Russia

Gloucester Times – Massachusetts’ state retirement system has roughly $140 million in investments tied to Russian companies, and lawmakers are calling to divest those holdings in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of 58 lawmakers asked Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who oversees the pension fund, to “take immediate action” to fully divest any retirement funds that are currently invested in Russian-owned companies. Among the group were Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, and Rep. Jamie Belsito, who represents Manchester and other North Shore towns.

On Tuesday, Goldberg responded that the fund had about $140 million in Russian investments, or roughly 0.20% of the nearly $87 billion state pension fund.

Goldberg said she doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally divest holdings in the Pension Reserves Investment Trust Fund, a move that requires legislative action.

She noted that the Legislature has responded to other wars and international crises by directing the pension fund to divest from regimes in countries such as Iran, Sudan, South Africa, and Northern Ireland for humanitarian reasons.

“Like you, I am horrified by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” Goldberg wrote. “I stand firmly with the brave people of Ukraine, who have chosen to defiantly defend democracy.”

Report Knocks Senate Staff Pay Scale as Unclear, Lacking Transparency 

Commonwealth Magazine – Leaders in the Massachusetts Senate are vowing to overhaul the pay structure for Senate staff after a confidential report found that the Senate lacks transparency in how salaries are set and has no consistency in job titles and roles.

The Senate’s struggles to ensure fair pay for its own staff come despite Senate leadership in passing legislation to reduce the gender pay gap in Massachusetts.

“Unlike some state legislative offices, the Senate does not have a formal employee pay plan with market-based ranges designed to promote internal pay equity and external competitiveness,” said the 114-page report, which was conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures and released to Senate leadership in November 2021. It had been confidential since then but was reported on by the Boston Globe Thursday. CommonWealth independently obtained a copy.

A lack of consistent job titles “breaks with best practice in crafting classification and compensation systems and potentially undermines the Senate’s goal of having a more equitable and consistent pay system,” the report found. “It also can lead to employee frustrations, as a system that lacks consistency can be perceived as lacking fairness.”

Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat and former State House staffer who is vice chair of the Senate Committee on Personnel and Administration, said in response to the report that the Senate is working on establishing a new employee classification system, which it will roll out by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

He said the Senate has hired a consultant to develop the new system. Each staffer is being asked to provide information about their education and experience so they can be put in the proper place within the salary scale. Crighton said any staffer who would get a pay raise under the new classification system will receive it, but no staffers will see their pay adjusted downward.

Proposed Ban on Russian Fuel Could Hurt Massachusetts Gas Imports

Boston Herald – United States legislators are looking to hit Russia where it really hurts: its energy sector, which makes up nearly 30% of its economy.

The Severing Putin’s Immense Gains from Oil Transfers — or SPIGOT — Act, a bill introduced Tuesday by Bay State U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, calls for a ban on all Russian crude oil and petroleum products and to “conclusively lift the veil” on the Russian fuel industry.

The Ban Russian Energy Imports Act, introduced Thursday by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would go even further than Markey’s bill by banning all Russian energy imports — a move that could put eyes on Massachusetts, home to the Everett Marine Terminal on Boston Harbor, where 60% of the nation’s liquified natural gas was imported in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That agency also shows no LNG imports from Russia since at least 2016 — the largest world exporter of natural gas at 210 billion cubic meters exported in 2017, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook — despite the fact that at the end of January 2018 a tanker delivered Russian natural gas to the Everett terminal, according to multiple reports at that time.

The reason for that, said Charles Crews, the president and chief executive of the regional trade group Northeast Gas Association, is because the cargo was berthed first in the United Kingdom before arriving in the United States, and therefore it was logged as being from the U.K. EIA data shows more than 3 billion cubic feet of gas arriving on U.S. shores from the U.K. in that year, the only year since 2016 and until now to show any gas imports from there.

‘Net Zero’ by 2035? Cambridge Debates How Soon to Mandate Building Emissions

Boston Business Journal – In November, Cambridge officials proposed a requirement that all larger buildings in the city reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by the year 2050, a mandate that Boston and a handful of other U.S. cities have taken in fighting climate change.

But a pair of city councilors now wants the city to achieve that goal much faster, sponsoring legislation to set the deadline for just over a decade from now, in 2035.

The ensuing debate pits the lawmakers and like-minded advocates against some of the city’s largest landowners, including Harvard University and MIT — even though the colleges have imposed even tougher deadlines on themselves to reach net-zero emissions or carbon neutrality.

Both the city manager’s office and the two councilors, Patricia Nolan and Quinton Zondervan, want to change the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance, or BEUDO. Since 2014, the law has required commercial buildings of at least 25,000 square feet and residential buildings with at least 50 units to annually report energy usage. The competing proposals both seek to begin requiring those buildings to cut their emissions, as Boston moved to do last year with its own BERDO law.

SJC to Weigh Local Zoning of Solar Energy Facilities

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is set to consider just how short a leash municipalities have in regulating solar energy facilities pursuant to the restrictions placed on local zoning efforts under the state’s Dover Amendment.

On March 7, the SJC hears oral arguments in Tracer Lane II Realty, LLC v. City of Waltham. At issue is whether a Land Court judge correctly decided that Waltham’s prohibition of an access road through a residential subdivision to the site of a planned solar energy facility in neighboring Lexington ran afoul of G.L.c. 40A, §3, which was added by the Legislature in 1985.

In addition to protections previously in place for educational, religious and certain other land uses, §3 provides that “[n]o zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.”

As evidenced by the 22 amicus parties that submitted briefs in Tracer Lane II Realty, questions over the reach of the statute have been hotly contested in Land Court, creating divisions among both property owners and environmentalists, while pitting the state against local authorities.

“This is a very significant case and could upend municipal zoning for solar energy facilities across the commonwealth, particularly for large commercial solar facilities,” says Worcester attorney David K. McCay, who filed an amicus brief supporting the defendant on behalf of the towns of Charlton and Warren.

Urging the SJC to establish a “bright line” rule, Boston attorney Kate Moran Carter argues that if solar energy is truly a protected use, it should be allowed anywhere.

“A strict interpretation of the statutory language and a review of the case law in its treatment of the other types of Dover Amendment uses support our advocacy of a bright line approach here,” says Carter, who filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff on behalf of the Real Estate Bar Association and The Abstract Club.

But attorney Margaret E. Sheehan says the SJC should rule that the amendment’s solar provision should not be applied to essentially remove from local regulation large-scale solar projects. Sheehan, coordinator of the conservation organization Save the Pine Barrens, co-authored an amicus brief in support of Waltham on behalf of her organization and 12 municipal planning boards and conservation groups.

“These [solar project owners] act in a Putin-like style, thinking they can do whatever they want by weaponizing the statute,” Sheehan says. “It’s become a ruse for evading citizen rights to zoning protections.”

Plaintiff Tracer Lane plans to build a solar energy facility on a 30-acre site in Lexington, with nearly 4,000 solar panels arranged in rows across 9.5 acres.

The plaintiff’s construction site borders Waltham. On the other side of the border, the plaintiff owns a parcel at the end of a residential cul de sac. The plaintiff’s Waltham parcel is zoned residential.

Finding no other route feasible, the plaintiff proposed to construct an access road over its Waltham property to the facility in Lexington. The proposed road was to be used to provide access for construction vehicles for the eight months it would take to complete the project and later on for periodic access by maintenance staff.

In early 2019, Waltham advised the plaintiff that the city’s zoning code prohibited the construction of the access road as it would constitute a commercial use in a residential zone.

How the city went about issuing the denial is where it went astray, according to Benjamin G. Robbins of the New England Legal Foundation.

“The city of Waltham violated the solar energy provision because it summarily rejected Tracer Lane’s request to build the access road,” says Robbins, who filed an amicus brief for NELF in support of the plaintiff. “This constituted an unlawful prohibition of the protected use because the city did not even attempt to show how the prohibition was necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare, as required by the express language of [§3].”

The plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action in Land Court, contesting the city’s decision. In a ruling last March, Judge Howard P. Speicher granted Tracer Lane’s motion for summary judgment.

“If one accepts Waltham’s premise that solar energy systems are allowed as a matter of right in Waltham’s four industrial zoning districts while they are prohibited in the rest of the city, then solar energy facilities are allowed as a matter of right in less than 2 [percent] of Waltham’s approximately 13.6 square miles of land, and are prohibited in more than 98 [percent] of the city’s land area,” Speicher wrote.

“This categorical exclusion of the vast majority of the city’s area from even consideration of solar energy facilities, regardless of the surrounding built environment, the topography and other considerations typically considered in site plan review or special permit review, unquestionably violates the requirement that municipalities not ‘prohibit or unreasonably regulate’ such facilities,” the judge wrote.

According to Speicher, an “outright prohibition” in “any large segment of the municipality, without a showing that the prohibition is ‘necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare,’ runs afoul of this statutory injunction, and it is irrelevant that such solar energy facilities may be permitted in four small pockets of the city.”

The judge proceeded to declare the Waltham zoning code’s prohibition of the plaintiff’s proposed access road invalid under G.L.c. 40A, §3.

Upon the city’s appeal, the SJC sua sponte transferred the case from the Appeals Court, soliciting amicus briefs on the issue of whether, under G.L.c. 40A, §3, “allowing solar energy facilities in certain areas of a municipality but prohibiting them in other areas is permissible or whether it constitutes unreasonable regulation in contravention of the statute.”

Waltham Assistant City Solicitor Bernadette D. Sewell did not respond to a request for comment but argues in the defendant’s brief that where a city’s denial is not “directly related” to the construction of a solar energy facility in its community, “§3 is not implicated and should not be bootstrapped into the discussion because of the incidental effect of code enforcement.”

Plaintiff Tracer Lane is represented by John F. Farraher Jr., who declined to comment. In the plaintiff’s brief, Farraher argues that the protection afforded to solar energy systems under the ninth paragraph of G.L.c. 40A, §3, is “materially similar” to the protection afforded to the use of land for religious and educational purposes under the second paragraph of the statute.

“Neither paragraph limits the protection afforded by the Legislature to certain zoning districts,” Farraher writes. “Instead, both the second and ninth paragraphs allow for the protected use in all zoning districts limited only by reasonable regulation as described in the statute.”

But Worcester’s McCay argues that, under the Dover Amendment, the protections for solar energy uses are more limited than those for religious and educational uses.

“The Dover Amendment specifically allows communities to regulate and in some cases even prohibit large commercial solar energy facilities ‘where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare,’” McCay says. “Our hope is that the court will recognize that and, while certainly protecting solar uses, will allow zoning decisions to take place where they can most thoughtfully be done — which is at the local level.”

In an amicus brief for the state, the Attorney General’s Office claims Waltham was “incorrect” in arguing that, short of imposing an outright ban, municipalities have virtually unconstrained discretion to decide where solar energy systems can be placed.

“Where a zoning regulation undermines state policy promoting the development of large amounts of solar energy across Massachusetts — a policy enshrined in the Solar Act and reinforced by various enactments since — the regulation fails the Solar Provision’s reasonableness test and is invalid,” the commonwealth’s brief says.

According to the state, absent a sufficiently compelling justification, a municipality cannot enforce zoning ordinances that “place large segments of its land off-limits to ground-mounted systems.”

NELF’s Robbins says the statute provides a clear path for courts to assess whether a local government has acted in conformity with G.L.c. 40A, §3, in addressing the concerns of abutting property owners who may be affected by a solar energy project.

“When local government has approved the use but imposes certain requirements, a court would have to determine first whether the local government’s requirements are reasonable under the circumstances, or whether they are unreasonable requirements,” Robbins says. “If the former, then the property owner/developer would have to comply with those reasonable requirements in order to proceed with its solar energy structure. If the latter, then the requirements would be invalid, unless the local government could justify the public necessity of those requirements.”

Northampton attorney Michael Pill filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiff Tracer Lane on behalf of himself as a citizen concerned about climate change.

According to Pill, the “existential threat” of climate change necessitates a broad reading of G.L.c. 40A, §3, in terms of curtailing local zoning authority.

“The four Land Court judges who have ruled on this issue have all come out the same way, which is: ‘Build solar. Throw local discretion out the window,’” Pill says.

But there’s a flip side to the concerns of environmentalists.

Sheehan, of Save the Pine Barrens, says she has been advocating on behalf of communities fighting solar energy projects since 2015. Sheehan says she first represented certain residents of Plymouth who witnessed the complete “obliteration” of 25 acres of pristine pine barrens without any environmental review of a proposed solar project.

“Communities have experienced the devastating impacts of these large projects,” she says. “They are basically unpermitted because of the misinterpretation of the [Dover Amendment’s] solar provision.”

McCay likewise sees a need for allowing local communities some amount of flexibility to address solar energy projects.

“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition,” McCay says. “There are differences between large commercial projects and smaller or accessory solar projects, which in our communities [of Charlton and Warren] are generally allowed anywhere.”