State Sen. Michael Barrett is expressing cautious gratification following the Legislature’s approval this week of what he called “a dramatic revision of our state climate laws… the strongest effort of its kind in the country.”
And he added that “Bedford’s fingerprints are on this bill – and in a very good way.” Barrett’s district includes Bedford; he is a Lexington resident.
Mitigating the satisfaction—on the eve of adjournment—are “disturbing hints that the governor’s people have developed, at the very last-minute, serious reservations. The governor has a full 10 days beginning last night when he received the final word. He could sign, or veto it outright, or let it sit on his desk deprived of a signature.”
If the bill is not signed, the next legislative session will approve a new version with a veto-proof majority, Barrett predicted. And the timing will preclude the possibility of the end-of-session veto.
Barrett was an original co-sponsor of the Senate bill and leader of the Senate team that negotiated with counterparts in the House of Representatives to produce a final version, called “An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy.”
He noted that the Senate version passed in January 2020 and the House bill in July, so “the Executive Branch has known what this is about for months. Both branches want far-reaching changes. The governor has had plenty of notice. None of his people has expressed any reservations, and I have afforded them many opportunities to express any. So, we should have clear sailing in these crucial last hours.”
Barrett describes the bill as “a climate toolkit,” updating the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. The approach “is not a vision statement. It is detailed. It focuses relentlessly on the work of reducing greenhouse gases, creating jobs, and protecting the vulnerable.”
“Some tools go to the state, some to the private sector, and some to cities and towns,” he explained. “The projects and buildings municipalities approve for construction this year will still be up and going strong in 2050, when the entire economy of Massachusetts, in all its aspects, must put out net-zero emissions. So we give the force of law to the creation of a net-zero stretch energy code, with flexibility for communities to opt-in when they’re ready.”
“One of the underlying themes of this bill is creating additional conversations at the local level,” he continued. “So there’s a local option for the net-zero stretch energy code. The state would not take away towns’ flexibility or dictate terms.”
Barrett said that legislation to combat the impact of climate change has been a personal priority since he first sought his current seat in 2012. At that time, “People made it very clear to me that climate was on their mind.” He added, “What I heard during that race was there was a need for risk-taking in these legislative jobs. People are hungry for change.”
“Since then, the climate crisis has accelerated in an amazing way,” he continued. “Everything that was abstract is right in your face today. The pace of impact has accelerated, too. So this has been on my mind. And I did know that pushing for really dramatic climate legislation, the people in the district would have my back.”
“I heard from a lot of people in Bedford from the outset,” he added. “You guys have had a major impact.” He mentioned a few advocates – Sue Swanson, Lois and Brown Pulliam, Rick Rosen, First Parish Church Pastor Rev. John Gibbons and his parishioners, and State Rep. Kenneth Gordon.
“Climate is a special issue,” Barrett declared. “There are some issues where, for good reason, you need to strike while the issue is hot. But climate is an issue that never will get cold. It’s always going to be stage center. You don’t get to outwait climate. There’s no percentage in putting this off.”
Barrett acknowledged that the limitations imposed in response to the pandemic, and the post-election national scene, have changed the usual landscape for a bill of the magnitude of the climate roadmap. President Trump’s “hunger to dominate the news has squeezed out overdue debates on other things,” he asserted.
“Ordinarily the halls of the State House would have been crowded with people” during discussion leading up to the vote on the climate change legislation, Barrett observed. “There would have been a drumbeat demand, with demonstrations outside the State House.” People are communicating via email and videoconferencing, he said, “but “the pressure diminishes when people are sequestered. So this bill had to make its way when the political landscape is eerily quiet.”
The senator enumerated other highlights of the legislation. He said the roadmap:
- Gives “the force and durability of law to a greenhouse gas limit for 2050 of net-zero emissions. It also sets statewide emissions limits every five years instead of every 10, requires a specific plan for reaching each limit, and commissions regular reports on what each plan is actually accomplishing.”
- “Accelerates the switch to green electricity by doubling down on offshore wind, removing roadblocks standing in the way of solar for low-income populations and businesses, ratcheting up the renewable portfolio standard, reviving the commonwealth’s foundering effort to lead the nation in clean and innovative research and development; promoting equity in developing the clean energy workforce.”
- “Directs the Department of Public Utilities to give equal weight to greenhouse gas reductions and system safety alongside the traditional — and imperative — attention to affordability and stability of supply.”
- “Codifies environmental justice, to provide new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods.”
- “Refocuses the MassSave energy efficiency program, to ensure that the improvements made are ones that contribute more measurably to curbing greenhouse gases.”
- “Strengthens gas safety laws and increases fines for violations. We also set Massachusetts appliance efficiency standards according to California precedents and future federal standards.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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