Baker says climate change bill is giving him agita

Insiders are giving the legislation a 50-50 chance of passing

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER indicated on Tuesday he is having difficulty reaching a decision on whether to sign the climate change/energy bill the Legislature sent him.

At a press availability, Baker said he has major concerns about a provision in the bill that would allow 10 communities to experiment with banning fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction projects.

“That part of the bill gives me agita,” the governor said. “One of the big decisions we have to make is whether my concerns about that particular piece, which cuts at something I think anybody would agree is a very significant problem in Massachusetts, overwhelm the rest of the good the bill does.”

Even before Baker made his comments, several inside players in the Legislature and the advocacy community said they were hearing similar rumblings from within the administration. Two of the inside players gave the bill a 50-50 chance of becoming law.

It’s an amazing turn of events for a bill that the House, Senate, and the governor all wanted to pass. Yet they all had different reasons for wanting it to pass, which may explain the unease with the final product.

Baker wanted a major investment in clean energy along the lines of what the state did with life sciences. The House wanted to bolster the development of offshore wind. And the Senate wanted to address many of the loose ends left dangling by last year’s climate legislation. In the end, the bill became a mixture of all three perspectives. Most called it a climate change bill, but it could just have easily been called an energy bill.

Baker sent the bill originally passed by the Legislature back with 19 pages of amendments, including a $750 million appropriation of federal and state funds for clean energy development, the neutering of the proposal allowing 10 communities to ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction, and the elimination of a price cap on offshore wind procurements.

The Legislature responded by amending the governor’s amendment, rejecting the proposed $750 million appropriation and the neutering of the 10-community experiment but going along with the elimination of the price cap.

Baker said the 10-community experiment troubles him. “I’ve expressed deep concerns about what I view as the exclusionary zoning provisions with those 10 towns,” he said.

The governor said he was also troubled by the bill’s lack of funding, despite assurances from lawmakers that the needed resources would come from pots of money in other pieces of legislation. (The Legislature kept funding separate so the bill wouldn’t be considered a spending bill and subject to line-item vetoes by the governor.)

Baker noted a chunk of funds for the climate bill were contained in the economic development bill that the Legislature failed to pass at the end of the legislative session.

Sources say there is also concern about bureaucratic interference from a newly created working group dealing with regional transmission issues and an advisory council on grid modernization.

Despite those concerns, Baker may eventually decide to sign the legislation. If his administration decides to launch a fourth procurement for offshore wind later this year, the governor would probably like to do it with the price cap eliminated, which wouldn’t happen if the bill isn’t signed into law.

The price cap requires that each successive procurement come in at a price lower than the previous one. Baker believes the price cap is reducing the number of bidders on offshore wind procurements and limiting the ability of those who do bid to invest in onshore supply chain operations.