Baker Returns Climate Change Bill, Citing Costs and Potential Restrictions on New Buildings

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Governor Charlie Baker wants to sign a climate change bill passed by the Massachusetts Legislature but can’t abide the projected costs and a provision that critics fear might lead to towns and cities banning natural gas hookups for new commercial buildings.

The governor on Sunday returned a climate change bill passed by the Legislature with proposed amendments, which continues the conversation between state legislators and the governor’s aides.

The bill, according to State House News Service, “is designed to push Massachusetts toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establish interim emissions goals, adopt appliance energy efficiency standards, and address needs in environmental justice communities.”

A Baker administration official said the governor’s amendments are designed to get the bill across the finish line without damaging the economy more than necessary

Kathleen Theoharides, the secretary of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, told State House News Service on Sunday, February 7 that the governor’s proposed changes would provide clarity about how to require building standards that limit carbon emissions “without necessarily doing some of the things folks were worried about with a net zero code, which might include prescribing solar panels on all buildings or requiring buildings not be connected to gas.”

Baker says his administration’s actions to date address the goal of reducing emissions.

“The Interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030 (CECP) calls for a high-performance stretch energy code to be available for municipal opt-in by 2022, and allows six years for full adoption statewide by 2028. The amendments I am proposing align with our CECP, provide clarity to industry and municipalities as to how this code will be developed and adopted, and limit cost pressures on new affordable housing,” the governor wrote in a letter to the state Legislature accompanying the amendments, according to State House News Service.

The governor shares the goals of state legislators pushing the climate change bill.

“The science is clear — the Commonwealth, the nation and the world must achieve net zero emissions by 2050 if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Baker wrote to the Legislature. “In 2020, my Administration adopted net zero as a legally binding limit for 2050 emissions … This legislation enshrines net zero emissions in statute, further binding the Commonwealth to this important goal.”

The governor wants more flexibility on state standards when it comes to the state’s target for reducing emissions by 2030. Baker, according to State House News Service, wants a 45 percent reduction from 1990 emissions levels, instead of 50 percent as called for in the state legislators’ bill.

Baker administration officials have said the difference in cost between the two targets could be as much as $6 billion. Lowering the standard, according to the governor’s letter, “will also help the Commonwealth avoid the costs that are expected to result from imposing a higher limit, particularly on those who can least afford it.”

Democratic state legislators have indicated a willingness to work with the governor on the details of the bill. But if the two sides can’t agree, they hold the upper hand – with supermajorities in both chambers, Democrats can override a veto of the bill if the governor goes in that direction.