What we need in climate change legislation

Six key elements for a clean energy future

THE COLLISION of an escalating climate crisis with a brutal COVID-19 pandemic that continues to rage across the country, taking lives, and livelihoods with it, has been devastating. In the same month, we saw over 1,000 dead per day from the pandemic, all amid a backdrop of raging fires, eerily orange skies, and charred buildings. But we have a choice in front of us now – whether to give in to the despair of the moment and give up on our ability to do something about it – or to take decisive action to start to unwind these problems.

Today, the Massachusetts Legislature has an opportunity to take an important step in the right direction. In a session unlike any other, both the House and the Senate have each passed strong bills that would bring a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions standard to the Commonwealth and help us build healthier, more resilient communities.  The fate of these bills is now up to a six-member committee tasked with hashing out the differences and presenting a final bill to both chambers and, ultimately, to Gov. Charlie Baker.

As co-chairs of the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions (ACES), a coalition comprised of business groups, clean energy companies, environmental organizations, and labor, health, and consumer advocates, we believe that sending a forward-looking bill with the best elements of the House and Senate versions will move Massachusetts forward along the path to a decarbonized economy.

What should the final bill accomplish to make meaningful change?  Below are the six key elements that will move Massachusetts closer to a clean energy future and will position us for further policy advances in the years to come.

First, it must lock in a clear net-zero emissions standard, requiring Massachusetts to become carbon neutral no later than 2050, as a firm recognition that time is of the essence and that Massachusetts can grow its economy and be a national and global leader blazing the path for others.

Second, as our society continues to grapple with the dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism, we must address the disproportionate pollution and climate change burdens experienced by environmental justice communities. The final bill must contain a set of environmental justice provisions, as passed by the House, to ensure that the benefits of the Commonwealth’s transition to a low-carbon economy accrue to frontline communities and low-wage workers.

Third, the bill should include updated appliance standards for a host of products from computer monitors to plumbing fixtures, allowing customers to have truly efficient options. These energy efficiency and water conservation standards bring long-term benefits to customers and society.

Fourth, the compromise bill must strengthen our solar industry. Policy makers should drop the artificial so-called “net metering caps” that have stifled development, deliver a solar tax policy that is fair to towns and developers, stop utilities from getting back into the solar generating business at the expense of ratepayers, and improve the ways low-income communities benefit from the solar revolution.  Solar provides well-paying jobs at a time when job growth is sorely needed and delivers cost savings to customers who deploy solar at a time when many are struggling with electricity bills.

Fifth, we must acknowledge the value of our existing lands as carbon sinks by requiring the Commonwealth to reduce carbon emissions from and increase sequestration on our lands, setting a baseline and goal, creating a plan, and integrating it into policy.

And finally, the bill should create a pathway for future offshore wind development, which is key to Massachusetts seizing the economic and clean energy benefits of this nascent industry.  By providing certainty to this industry, the Commonwealth can reap significant economic development benefits.

Meet the Author

Jeremy McDiarmid

Vice president for policy and government affairs, Northeast Clean Energy Council
Meet the Author

Deborah Donovan

Massachusetts director and senior policy advocate, Acadia Center
Our political leaders must continue to keep pace with the scientific consensus on climate and the equitable economic opportunities associated with the rapid shift to an environmentally just and decarbonized world.  Once the bills currently before the Massachusetts Legislature are reconciled and expeditiously sent to Baker’s desk, Massachusetts will be further down this path.

Jeremy McDiarmid is vice president for policy & government Affairs at the Northeast Clean Energy Council. Deborah Donovan is a senior policy advocate and the Massachusetts director at the Acadia Center.