Climate-Change Activists Like Baker’s Net-Zero Emissions Goal, But Skeptics Are Counting the Cost

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During his State of the Commonwealth address on Tuesday night, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker set a lofty goal for net-zero carbon emissions in 30 years without a plan to do it. Reactions are mixed.

Baker’s pledge is more ambitious than the one then-Governor Deval Patrick made in 2008. Patrick called for an 80 percent reduction by 2050, a goal set forth in the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.

During his speech, Baker did not lay out a specific plan to meet this goal and the governor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment via email on Wednesday or Thursday when asked what Baker wants to do to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Baker on Tuesday emphasized a proposed state government fee on fuel providers that could increase the cost of gasoline to drivers by up to 17 cents a gallon. Known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, it’s supposed to be a regional approach from Maine to Virginia, though several states have been bailing on the idea since cost estimates came out in December.

A spokesman for the Baker administration’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs also emphasized the proposed gas fee when contacted by New Boston Post.

“Continuing the Baker-Polito Administration’s national leadership on climate change, Governor Baker is taking bold action by committing the Commonwealth to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” agency spokesman Katie Gronedyke said in an email message. “As the transportation sector accounts for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a bipartisan, regional effort to develop a market-based program to reduce the emissions that cause climate change and invest in clean transportation options, will be critical to achieving this ambitious goal.”

Baker drew praised from anti-climate-change environmentalist organizations, including the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

“ELM has been a strong advocate to update our climate targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. We applaud Governor Baker for committing Massachusetts to emissions reductions that the latest science demands,” said Ellen Tomlinson, communications manager for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Climate change is affecting our health, our economy, and our way of life. This commitment is the kind of action we need from our elected officials to protect ourselves from the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”

Skeptics wonder how far Baker is willing to go to pursue his new goal, and how much damage it might do to the state’s economy.

“Massachusetts leaders should focus on problems the state is facing in 2020 instead of imposing unfunded mandates and unrealistic targets for 2050,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in an email message to New Boston Post.

Christopher Carlozzi, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Massachusetts, worries that Baker’s goal will open the door for anti-business policies.

“Massachusetts small businesses already face some of the highest energy costs in the nation,” Carlozzi wrote in an email message to New Boston Post. “The legislature should examine ways to lower energy costs to provide opportunities for Main Street businesses to grow and create new jobs. If net-zero emissions mean enacting new fees and carbon taxes like the Transportation and Climate Initiative, it will increase operating costs for Massachusetts small businesses struggling to compete with other parts of the nation where costs are lower.”

Some Democratic state legislators are filling in the blanks of what anti-climate-change legislation could look like.

As of Thursday afternoon, four bills had been filed in the Massachusetts Legislature with the intent of lowering Massachusetts’s carbon emissions.

One measure would set energy-efficient standards for certain new household and commercial appliances. (It’s called An Act Relative to Energy Savings Efficiency (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2478).)

Another amounts to a bill to set goals – it would set five-year goals for what the state must do to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 without mandating any. Ideas mentioned in the proposal include “electric vehicles, electric vehicle charging stations, solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies, energy storage capacity and air-source and ground-source heat pumps. (It’s called An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2477).)

One bill would whack medium-size and major employers with an excise tax based on the number of people they employ, apparently on the theory that employers cause traffic by requiring that employees go to a workplace. The head tax would be $100 per employee for companies with 100 to 499 employees, $225 per employee on companies with 500 to 999 employees, and $350 per employee for ones employing over 1,000 people. (It’s called An Act for Providing A Transportation Excise Tax (HD.4821).)

Another bill would require all public transit in Massachusetts to be provided via electric buses by 2040 and for all new buses purchased after 2030 to be electricity-powered. It would also would provide a $1,500 rebate to people buying a zero-emissions vehicle if the final price is below $50,000. (It’s called An Act To Accelerate the Transition of Cars, Trucks, and Buses To Carbon-Free Power (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2476).