Climate bill needed for environmental, equity reasons

The legislation would be game-changer for Black, Brown communities

THE CLEAN ENERGY legislation on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk opens the door for marginalized communities across the Commonwealth to share in the many benefits of the fight against climate change. The governor should sign this bill, which builds on the foundation of environmental justice already underway in the Commonwealth, to further codify equity and inclusion in our green economy for years to come.

Last year, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Roadmap to Net Zero law, which created the boldest emissions-reduction targets in the country, bringing into focus the concrete steps needed to meet our climate goals. The new clean energy transition mandates also present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place historically-disenfranchised communities at the forefront of a rapidly-growing industry, one that will create tens of thousands of new jobs.

The bill passed by the Legislature in the waning hours of the legislative session on July 31 moves the Commonwealth farther down the path toward meeting our ambitious emissions-reduction goals. Most people understand that we urgently need this bill to address the climate crisis. But we also need to address the crisis of persistent inequality in the Commonwealth. This pending legislation includes key policies that would increase economic equity in the offshore wind industry, makes purchasing electric and zero-emissions vehicles easier, and prioritizes electrification of transportation infrastructure in communities that need it most.

Large-scale wind investments are critical to achieving a net-zero future in New England. The state projects that offshore wind will power half of our region’s electric grid by 2050. With strong, consistent winds off our coast, Massachusetts has enough potential offshore wind energy to power our economy several times over – more than any other state in the nation. A$100 billion industry will emerge to create tens of thousands of new, high-quality, local jobs across New England over the next 30 years. The workers and businesses that enter the offshore wind industry today will have a foothold in a sector that is set to be a key driver of the Massachusetts economy for decades to come.

But the critical question that remains is who will enjoy the benefits of a rapidly expanding clean energy economy. The legislation on the governor’s desk centers economic inclusion in offshore wind by requiring offshore wind developers to submit workforce and supplier diversity and inclusion plans with their bids. It would also drive accountability by creating a position at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center  to track and report on progress toward those goals. The Clean Energy Center will also become a leader in equitable workforce development through a new program to provide training, professional development, and grants to minority workers and business owners. This program could be a game-changer for Black and Brown communities by increasing access to economic opportunities in the offshore wind industry and other renewable sectors.

The bill also takes significant steps toward making zero-emissions transportation accessible to low-income and environmental justice communities. The legislation would increase rebates for the purchase of electric vehicles, create a new $1,500 bonus for low-income customers, and extend rebates to used vehicles. It also requires significant progress from the MBTA toward electrification and prioritizes transit corridors in vulnerable communities for electrification. Investments in charging infrastructure at transit hubs will also help lower barriers to electric vehicle adoption in dense communities with a high renter population. Not only does electrification cut emissions in the dirtiest sector of our economy, but it offers significant reliability and public health benefits in communities that have historically borne disproportionate costs of fossil-fuel-powered transportation.

Massachusetts is at a watershed moment in its economic and environmental future, and the decisions we make today will shape our green economy for decades to come. We urge Governor Baker to secure his climate legacy and sign this bill. Doing so would help drive a diverse and inclusive clean energy transition and create significant economic opportunities for black and brown communities of the Commonwealth for years to come.

Susannah Hatch is the director of clean energy policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts, which founded the New England for Offshore Wind CoalitionDarien Johnson is the policy and advocacy lead at the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and a member of the New England for Offshore Wind Coalition.