In passing a major clean energy bill today, the Massachusetts State Senate voted to authorize the most comprehensive carbon pricing program in the country. Its author, State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), told his colleagues, “In taking a fresh run at combating climate change, you’re putting Massachusetts state government at the forefront — right where our constituents want it to be.”
The action made history, in that the Senate became the first legislative body in the U.S., either federal or state, to approve revenue-neutral fees as a carbon pricing option. If the policy survives intact after debate in the Massachusetts House and is signed into law, the Commonwealth will also become only the second state, after California, to extend the concept of carbon pricing to transportation.
“Climate change is relentless, and ‘putting a price on carbon’ is the single most effective thing a state government can do to fight it,” Barrett said. “But this isn’t about the Legislature forcing one design, and one design only, upon a governor. We’re firm on timing because the problem is urgent, but we don’t mandate the method.”
The Senate language does not impose a specific blueprint. A chief executive and his administration are held instead to specific deadlines — carbon pricing of some kind for the transportation sector by the end of 2020, for commercial and industrial buildings and processes by the end of 2021, and for residential buildings by the end of 2022.
“Program flexibility on a no-excuses schedule was a winning combination for us,” Barrett said. Over the course of a nine-hour debate, most of which centered on other provisions of the comprehensive legislation, no one in the 40-member Senate moved an amendment to weaken the carbon pricing provisions.
In 2013, Barrett filed the first state-level carbon pricing bill in the nation to go beyond “cap and trade” in favor of other forms of carbon pricing. “For some time I’ve pushed for a ‘revenue-neutral’ carbon fee,” he said. “It’s drawn a good deal of support, but with this new approach we’re bridging differences and building consensus among climate change activists. Global warming is scary. Inside the Legislature and outside, with all kinds of activists across the region, we’re getting stronger and giving people hope.”
So far in its 2017-2018 legislative session, the Massachusetts House has not produced an energy bill. Amid indications the situation might be about to change, an array of organizations are gearing up to preserve the groundbreaking elements of today’s legislation.