Governor’s Climate Change Bill Amendments Make Passage Uncertain

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Wind-generated electricity won’t provide nearly enough power for Massachusetts in the future and must be augmented by other sources, Governor Charlie Baker said in a message proposing amendments to the state legislature’s climate change bill.

The governor’s amendments — described in 19 pages – throw doubt on whether legislators will hammer out an agreement acceptable to all sides before the current legislative session ends Sunday, July 31.

“This looks to be a major rewrite. Hard to know what the two legislative branches will manage to agree on, in the time we have left,” state Senator Michael Barrett (D-Andover), a lead climate change negotiator, said in a text message to State House News Service. “This has already been a tough negotiation.”

Baker noted in his letter to state legislators that he supports offshore wind turbines, but added:  “… we know that the Commonwealth will have to look beyond offshore wind generation to meet its statutory emissions targets.”  State policy should encourage zero-emissions sources of power “such as hydrogen and other disruptive technologies,” he said in the letter.

Current state law calls for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 2050, following the theory that emissions from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal are leading to rising temperatures that are hurting the environment. State law also calls for new cars sold in Massachusetts in 2035 and afterward to have zero emissions – meaning plug-in electricity-powered cars and hybrids.

The legislature’s version of the climate change bill would allow up to 10 cities and towns to prohibit or restrict new buildings and major renovations that are not “fossil-fuel-free” – meaning that they don’t use oil, natural gas, or coal. But Baker wants to carve out exceptions for multi-family housing projects to try to increase the state’s housing supply. In addition, cities and towns could implement such restrictions on new buildings and major renovations “only when the electrical grid has enough clean energy capacity to ensure the electrification has the intended emission reduction benefit” and only “if they have taken appropriate action to encourage housing production.”

Baker also wants to use $750 million in federal coronavirus-stimulus funds for climate-change policy.

That figure includes $300 million for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for grants and incentives for the building sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; $200 million for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center “to make investments in clean energy technologies and innovations”; $55 million at the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal for offshore wind turbines; $11 million for infrastructure improvements in New Bedford for offshore wind turbines; $18,750,000 for port improvements to help offshore wind turbines; $10 million for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, $10 million for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and $10 million for the Massachusetts Building Trades Council for offshore wind worker training programs.

An administration official told State House News Service that the federal coronavirus-stimulus funds appropriated by Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are use-it-or-lose-it.

Baker’s amendments letter also calls for several other changes.

Baker said he wants to sign a bill, but finds serious problems with the bill the state legislature passed.

“This bill contains a number of commendable ideas that, if implemented well, would be of significant benefit to the Commonwealth. However, as drafted, certain sections of the bill would be difficult or impossible to implement. Further, there are a smaller number of proposals that do not reflect the best policy choices for the Commonwealth as we strive to meet our shared, ambitious goals for decarbonization of the economy and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050,” Baker’s letter states.

As of midday Saturday, July 30, state legislators and administration officials have about a day and a half to come to an agreement on the bill.


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