Seventy-five days ago Wednesday, senators, representatives and administration officials gathered in the State Library to watch Gov. Charlie Baker sign a wide-reaching climate policy law. That means there are just 15 days left before it takes effect, and the lead Senate architect of the law made clear Wednesday he will be watching its implementation closely.
Sen. Michael Barrett spoke as part of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and Alliance for Business Leadership’s annual Massachusetts Clean Energy Day, an event featuring his House counterpart Rep. Jeff Roy and Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock, and that illustrated the bifurcated state of climate policy right now: one eye on making the ambitious new law a reality and the other looking for a solution to the next challenge.
“I want to emphasize the Senate’s interest in following through with implementation of the 2021 climate act. The Senate as a body has a lot invested here,” Barrett said, adding that even though the law was a result of legislative and executive branch collaboration, “small gaps” remain between how the Senate would like to see the law implemented and the Baker administration’s perspective.
The law Baker signed in March after months of stops and starts commits Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establishes interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopts energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorizes another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and addresses needs in environmental justice communities.
Of local interest, Mike Barrett, Bedford’s State Senator, secured funding to mitigate the costs Bedford incurs for educating children of families living on Hanscom Air Force Base. More than one hundred Hanscom Air Force Base students attend high school at local expense. The town has opened its doors to these children for more than fifty years through an agreement with the Department of Defense.
“Town officials have stressed the importance of the funding,” said Barrett. “I’m pleased we were able to come through.”
Massachusetts has had a generous film tax credit in place since 2006 to lure film and television productions — and the jobs they generate — to the state, but some elected leaders have long questioned the wisdom of the policy, which also provides generous benefits to wealthy people tied to such projects who don’t always live in Massachusetts. State Senator Michael Barrett and Chris O’Donnell, a business manager from the union representing New England film and TV workers joined Jim Braude to debate the tax credit, which is also being debate on Beacon Hill.
The Massachusetts Senate has voted to approve its version of the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and state Sen. Mike Barrett authored successful amendments for initiatives aimed at supporting young people and low-income residents of Waltham.
The Senate plan preserves and expands access to essential funding, including public health initiatives, at a time when the state continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The state of Massachusetts has just put into place one of the strongest climate laws in the country. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, contains a number of new ideas as the state looks to lead on this important issue. Massachusetts State Senator and author of this bill, Michael Barrett, joined Cheddar to discuss.
The administration needs to get with the program quickly. “Next-Gen” sets a number of deadlines:
• On July 1, Gov. Baker will have three new vacancies to fill — green building experts, all — on a reconstituted Board of Building Regulation and Standards, a low-profile entity with enormous sway over energy use in new construction.
• By July 15, 2021, the administration must set a first-ever greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for Mass Save, the popular home energy efficiency program.
• No later than July 1, 2022, the administration must adopt emissions limits and sublimits for the year 2025, together with a “comprehensive, clear and specific” plan for operating within them.
• By 21 months from now, the administration must develop and promulgate a new “municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code” that includes “net zero building performance standards” and a definition of “net zero building.”
It’s no secret the governor vetoed an earlier version of the climate bill on the prodding of builders and developers. Taking note of the increasing urgency of global warming, we responded to the pushback by doubling down on net zero in the version of the bill that became law.
My constituents have been instrumental in seeing to it that Massachusetts passed the most ambitious climate bill in the country, which is cause for celebration. Now we need to make sure it gets implemented well.
Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, a co-chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, who co-authored the bill, says up-to-date data is crucial for the plan to succeed.
“We’re taking note of the incredible lag time that has been involved in reporting back to the Legislature on whether we are curbing emissions,” Barrett said during a recent Joint Way and Means Committee hearing. “We need to provide that data in a much more time-relevant way than has been the case.”
Barrett said the new climate law requires the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to provide lawmakers with an update on emissions levels every 18 months “so that we’re not looking at 2017 numbers in 2021.”
The presentation suggested natural gas was in for the “fight of its life.” Slides urged that “everyone needs to contact legislators in favor of” the fossil fuel and warned “Anti-Gas Pressure Continues to Grow.” Another slide suggested the industry should “take advantage of power outage fear.”
The slide that most concerned them was one that said Eversource supported a “consortium to combat electrification,” suggesting the company and others in the industry sought to blunt the move toward renewable energy.
“This is a smoking gun for someone like me,” said state Senator Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and one of the climate bill’s lead negotiators. “This is distressing, explosive stuff. I worry this represents the real sentiments of Eversource.”
The bill signing for the Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy took place in the Library of the State House, otherwise empty due to the pandemic.
“I have heard words used to describe this piece of legislation, words such as sweeping, landmark, far-reaching, ambitious, bold and nation-leading,” Senate President Karen Spilka said. “I believe it is all of these things.”
Well put. We’re the first state to keep attention riveted on climate by setting emissions limits every five years instead of every ten. The first state to mandate emissions sublimits on the most important sources of greenhouse gases — transportation, buildings, and electric power. The first state to overhaul the charter of its electric power and natural gas regulator to include, alongside price and system reliability, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Sen. Michael Barrett, who led the negotiations for the Senate and said he is concerned that the Baker administration has tried to “evade legislative intent” of the new law, said Friday that everyone in state government now must start “pulling in the same direction” now that the work turns to implementation.
“The order of the day beginning tomorrow is ensuring interpretations of the law that are true to legislative intent and then overseeing implementation in a way that is true to legislative intent,” he said. “One reason I’ve been so concerned about the administration’s insistence on idiosyncratic readings of the new statute is because today’s abstract discussion segues over in tomorrow’s implementation. If the administration pushes back against the plain language of the law today, how are they going to implement it tomorrow?”
After vetoing the initial bill and sending a second one back to lawmakers with a host of proposed amendments, Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed a revised climate bill, establishing one of the nation’s most far-reaching efforts to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions.
The new law requires Massachusetts to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050. Given that it’s unlikely the state will eliminate all of its emissions, officials will have to plant trees or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to offset any lingering use of fossil fuels or other sources of greenhouse gases.