Against a backdrop of devastation that rages from the Amazon to Australia to California, the Massachusetts State Senate has proposed major new steps in advancing the state’s approach to combating global warming.
Local Senator Mike Barrett is the lead author of the Senate’s next-generation climate policy legislation, which just received a favorable report by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, teeing it up for consideration on the Senate floor next week.
According to Barrett — who announced the legislation alongside Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues — says the package of climate bills breaks ground on multiple fronts. “The goal,” Barrett says, “is to be comprehensive, clear, and specific.”
Key provisions of the climate policy package include:
- Keep Massachusetts in line with the science, by setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of net-zero emissions. The goal is to have the state do its part to keep global temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
- Chart a steady course to net-zero by setting, every five years, both overall state limits and specific sub-limits for transportation, buildings, and natural gas systems.
“Getting to net-zero is absolutely necessary but it’s also a big lift,” says Barrett. “This bill is all about the how of it, as in ‘Here’s how we are going to get there.’”
- Establish the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission. The commission would be a new, independent public watchdog to oversee the government’s handling of the unfolding crisis of climate change. Commissioners will be charged with offering a nonpartisan, science-based view of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts with its attendant natural, economic, and demographic impacts and risks.
- “We want this commission to be an independent guardian of the future, notably the future of younger generations, insulated from political pressure and consisting of the most authoritative and credible Massachusetts voices we can find,” says Barrett. “Job one for the Commission is to tell us if we’re on track in bringing down emissions. Job two is to advise us on what to do next. The commission will give us objective information about the performance of both government and the private sector and will pay special attention to the impact on low-income and other disadvantaged communities. If the commission works as intended, it will be a new voice, standing apart from politics as usual and committed to shedding light on a very hard problem.”
- Put a price on carbon. Massachusetts’ governor would be free to choose among various forms of carbon pricing — a revenue-neutral fee, a revenue-positive tax, or a “cap and trade” system similar to Governor Baker’s TCI initiative — but he or she would have to do so by Jan. 1, 2022, for transportation; Jan. 1, 2025, for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings; and Jan. 1, 2030, for residential buildings. Throughout, carbon pricing would be implemented so as to minimize the impact on low-income households, disadvantaged communities, and vulnerable manufacturing sectors.
- Provide first-time legislative direction to the DPU, the state’s most important energy agency. It requires the agency to balance five priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical and cybersecurity, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Jumpstart efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to poor communities. To reverse the failure in low-income neighborhoods of state programs meant to incentivize solar energy projects — and to spur job creation — the bill requires the Department of Energy Resources to set aside future solar allocations for such neighborhoods.
- Set a deadline for converting T buses to all-electric. To reduce transportation-related emissions in city neighborhoods, the legislation directs the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2030 and to aim for an all-zero-emissions fleet by 2040.
- Let forward-looking cities and towns adopt a net-zero stretch energy code. The bill positions the state to support communities that choose on their own to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings. To get the code done, the bill shifts responsibility for its development from the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, a body beset by internal division, to the Department of Energy Resources.
- Nudge natural gas utilities to get into a new line of work. The bill authorizes utilities to test technology and pipelines that generate and transport “renewable thermal energy,” an emissions-free way to heat buildings that draws on the relative warmth of temperatures below ground.