Baker clean heat commission faces time squeeze

A little over a month ago, the Boston Globe reported that the Baker administration was woefully behind in one phase of its overall plan for addressing climate change. The plan called for converting 100,000 homes a year to heating and cooling with electricity instead of fossil fuels. In fact, the Globe reported, just 461 homes made the switch last year.

The story was a direct hit to the administration’s climate credibility, and raised questions about whether it was up to the challenge of reorienting the energy underpinnings of the state’s economy. Equally concerning, there was no one from the administration quoted in the story explaining why the program was lagging and what’s being done about it.

Then earlier this week, the administration leaked to the Globe information on an executive order the governor was signing creating a first-in-the-nation Commission on Clean Heat, whose job it will be to ramp up home conversions using emission caps and financial incentives – tools already deployed in the electricity sector and possibly soon in transportation.

 “Recognizing the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the need to reduce emissions, our administration is convening this first-of-its-kind commission to help the Commonwealth meet our emissions reduction goals,” said Gov. Charlie Baker in the press release announcing the commission. “By soliciting the expertise of leaders with a variety of perspectives, including the affordable housing community, we can ensure that the strategies and policies we pursue to reduce emissions from heating fuels will be innovative, affordable, and equitable.”

The order indicated the commission would consist of up to 22 people from diverse backgrounds and have until November 30, 2022, to come up with a set of policy recommendations.

But that date doesn’t square with the requirements of the climate change law that took effect in June. The law sets statewide emissions targets at five-year intervals through 2050 and also calls for binding targets in six key industry subsectors along the way, including two that would be the focus of the new commission – commercial and industrial heating and cooling and residential heating and cooling.

The initial targets in the industry subsectors are supposed to be set by July 1, 2022, months before Baker’s new commission will even report.

Craig Gilvarg, the director of communications for the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, said the late reporting date won’t matter. “While the commission’s tenure will extend through the end of 2022, its work will play a critical role in informing the administration’s work to finalize the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, which is due July 1, 2022.” 

Gilvarg said the Baker administration “is a national leader on climate change.”

The governor was never a fan of the binding targets for the industry categories. In the back and forth maneuvering over the bill on Beacon Hill, he first tried to eliminate them and then tried to designate them for planning purposes only. Each time the Legislature insisted on binding limits. 

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee and one of the architects of the climate change law, said he is troubled by the administration’s slow pace of action and apparent disdain for the deadlines set in the law.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “The time here is urgent and they need to get moving.”

 BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

New ferry launching: With ferry service expansions struggling to gain traction because of their high cost, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority is stepping into the breach, launching a new service starting Monday between East Boston and the Seaport.

— The service will operate only during the morning and evening peak and cater primarily to people commuting to work in the Seaport, although anyone can ride it. The takeoff point at Lewis Wharf Mall is near the MBTA’s Maverick Station on the Blue Line.

— The Convention Center Authority already runs ferry service between North Station and the Seaport. That service is underwritten by employers in the Seaport; the new service from East Boston is being tested on a pilot basis by the authority with the hope that employers will also subsidize it once its ridership potential is proven. The cost per ride is $5. Read more.

OPINION

Listen to the experts: Three infectious disease specialists — Shira Doron, Elissa Perkins, and Westyn Branch-Elliman — offer a roadmap for mask rules in Massachusetts schools. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton, who is running for lieutenant governor, filed legislation that would require the state auditor to review commissions created by the Legislature to see if they are being used to delay action on issues. She is calling it the PUNT Act. (GBH)

President Biden plans to nominate Framingham state Rep. Maria Robinson to be assistant secretary in the office of electricity in the Department of Energy. (Boston Globe

Lawmakers hear testimony on bills aimed at fortifying coastal communities. (Gloucester Daily Times)

The Senate will consider a bill Thursday that would require schools in high-poverty districts to enroll in a federal program that provides free lunches to all students. (Gloucester Daily Times)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Brookline gas stations and convenience stores file a lawsuit challenging a new law in the community that bars the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2000. They say the law is an attempt to gradually phase out the sale of tobacco products that are legal for anyone over 21. (WBUR)

A bitter feud over housing those from the Mass and Cass area of Boston suffering addiction and homelessness problems continues between Acting Mayor Kim Janey and Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, who objects to Boston plans to set up housing for some of those people in a Revere hotel. (Boston Herald

Gov. Charlie Baker visits the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal as two local colleges announce the expansion of a program to train an offshore wind workforce. (Standard-Times

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Sen. Tom Cotton has put a one-week hold on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins’s nomination to be US attorney for Massachusetts. The Arkansas Republican has said he’s out to block her appointment. (Boston Globe

The US special envoy for Haiti has quit and issued a blistering critique of the Biden administration’s decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees. (Washington Post

First California and now Virginia. Vaccine mandates take center stage in political campaigns as Democrats press for vaccine requirements. (Politico)

Kerry Doyle, a Boston immigration attorney who has filed many lawsuits against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been appointed the top prosecutor at the federal agency. (GBH)

ELECTIONS

Joe Battenfeld says Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George should stop hugging and start debating as they vie to be Boston’s next mayor. (Boston Herald) Essaibi George said she wants a super PAC that received funding from Trump-backing New Balance chairman Jim Davis to stay out of the race, while Wu said only that she’s against super PACs going negative. (Boston Globe

In Beverly, a local preliminary election drew voter turnout of just 7 percent – a historic low for the community. (Salem News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A developer begins to roll out plans for a major remake of the Sullivan Square area of Boston. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

The Boston Public Schools bus performance is a nightmare for some families, with one boy on a bus home for more than five hours without food or access to a bathroom. (Boston Globe

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School is suing the state education department, saying it’s being targeted by new curriculum standards that “censor” its curriculum by mandating new culturally proficient standards. (Boston Herald)

About 75 students gathered at the student union to discuss sexual assaults on the UMass Amherst campus in the wake of reports of an assault at a fraternity there. (Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

ARTS/CULTURE

A possible strike by a national film production union could bring movie-making in Massachusetts to a standstill. (Boston Herald

TRANSPORTATION

FedEx has started making deliveries in Texas with a self-driving truck. (Mashable)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The State Ethics Commission will consider whether to dismiss charges against a former state police major accused of involvement in a plan to change the arrest report of a judge’s daughter. (Telegram & Gazette)

In a filing on Wednesday, federal prosecutors say they want former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia, who was sentenced to six years in prison this week on various corruption charges, to repay $310,000 to investors who were victims of a failed business scheme he operated. (Herald News)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe is launching a radio show called the Black News Hour. The first guests are Boston mayoral candidates Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu. (Boston Globe)