Lawmakers release compromise climate change bill
Sets more aggressive emissions target for 2030 than Baker
HOUSE AND SENATE negotiators released a compromise climate change bill on Sunday afternoon that lays out a fairly detailed roadmap for reaching the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and sets an interim target for 2030 that is more aggressive than what the Baker administration called for last week.
The Baker administration last Wednesday called for reducing emissions in 2030 to 45 percent below 1990 levels, but the Legislature’s climate change bill sets the target at 50 percent in 2030 and 75 percent for 2040. Both the House and Senate had included the 50 percent target for 2030 in their original bills, which were unveiled in July (House) and last January (Senate).
The difference of 5 percentage points doesn’t sound like much in what in total is a 30-year process, but it could be a sticking point with the Baker administration as the clock ticks down on the legislative session, which expires Tuesday night.
In remarks last week, Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, announced the 45 percent target for the first time and insisted it was the correct approach.
The Legislature’s House and Senate climate bills went into conference on August 6 and took five months to emerge. Two other major pieces of legislation, dealing with transportation and economic development, went into conference in July and have yet to surface. It’s unclear whether the Legislature has the bandwidth to churn out the other bills in the short time it has left.
The climate change bill includes a host of provisions that spell out how the state should move forward and on what terms, but perhaps its biggest impact is that it gives those terms the force and durability of law.
“Without the force of law, it can all evaporate with the next governor,” said Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the lead Senate negotiator on the bill, in a phone interview.
Barrett and the House’s lead negotiator, Rep. Thomas Golden Jr. of Lowell, who are the chairs of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilitie, and Energy Committee, issued a joint statement calling the legislation a climate toolkit.
“It is not abstract or general,” they said. “It is detailed. It is concerned with the practical. It focuses relentlessly on the work of reducing greenhouse gases, creating jobs, and protecting the vulnerable. It’s about the ‘how’ of it, as in ‘Here’s how we get this done, one step at a time, starting now.’”
The bill would require the executive branch to set emission goals in five-year instead of 10-year increments. It also requires the setting of specific targets in six industrial sectors – electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service – and establishes numerical benchmarks for the adoption of electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, and heat pumps. The Baker administration last week set a goal of having 750,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030.
The bill also authorizes a major ramp-up in offshore wind production. The state’s utilities, at the direction of the Legislature, have already procured 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, although none of those megawatts have been permitted yet or built. The Legislature has also authorized but not required the executive branch to add another 1,600 megawatts. The climate change bill would require the procurement of an additional 2,400 megawatts and leave in place the existing authority to add 1,600 more.
Under the legislation, municipalities would be allowed to adopt net zero energy regulations, as Brookline tried to do in November 2019 when it passed a bylaw barring any new fossil fuel infrastructure in the construction of new buildings or major rehabs. Earlier this year Attorney General Maura Healey ruled Brookline’s bylaw could not be implemented because it was preempted by state building and gas codes.
The bill also takes responsibility for writing a new statewide net zero stretch energy code away from the all-volunteer Board of Building Regulations and Standards and gives it to the Department of Energy Resources.
An initiative pushed by the House would enshrine the term “environmental justice” into state law and define environmental justice populations and providing new protections for them. “Environmental justice is the No. 1 thing I heard about throughout the state,” said Golden.Other provisions would:
- Require the state’s utilities to provide $12 million in additional funding to the cash-strapped Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
- Require the MassSave program, which uses ratepayer assessments to promote energy efficiency, to set specific emission reduction goals for each three-year plan.
- Loosen restrictions on the development of solar power, particularly net metering and other programs. The bill also makes a number of changes to promote access to solar power in low-income communities and gives preference to utilities in building solar projects on utility-owned land in municipalities with environmental justice populations.
- Impose, according to a bill summary, “a moratorium on wood-to-energy facilities of the kind contemplated in Springfield, preventing them from qualifying as ‘non-carbon emitting’ resources for five years.”
- Align Massachusetts with California on appliance efficiency standards covering what advocates said were 17 residential and commercial products, including computers, water coolers, and commercial cooking equipment.
- Require the Department of Public Utilities to more closely regulate the training and certifying of utility contractors and more closely supervise gas transmission work.
A number of provisions pushed by the Senate did not make it into the final bill, including an independent climate policy commission to monitor the state’s progress toward its climate goals, requirements that the MBTA adopt a clean bus fleet by 2030, and carbon pricing.