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A Major Climate Bill Is Sitting On Governor Baker's Desk. What Will It Mean For Massachusetts?

New England for Offshore Wind

Time is ticking toward a deadline for Governor Charlie Baker to sign a broad ranging climate bill that's now sitting on his desk. CAI's Kathryn Eident speaks with CAI's climate change environment reporter, Eve Zuckoff about what's in the bill and how it could affect all of us here in Massachusetts.


Kathryn Eident: Good morning, Eve. 


Eve Zuckoff: Hi there, Kathryn.   

Kathryn Eident: This bill is being called, as I said, a climate roadmap and it's got a lot of pieces. That includes a goal of reducing emissions to zero by 2050. It's the first big update since the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. So tell us about this roadmap. 


Eve Zuckoff: Yes. So it is incredibly wide ranging and at its core, it would write into law, as you say, the ambitious goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. So, for example, to get there, it would boost the amount of energy coming from renewable sources so that by the end of this decade, at least 40 percent of the state's electric power will come from renewables. It would also allow towns to mandate that all of their new buildings are carbon neutral, which would deeply decarbonize the building sector. I think that there is a lot more that we can and should get into here, but basically climate activists all over the country are looking at this bill as a pretty shining piece of climate legislation. 


Kathryn Eident:  We've always kept an eye on things like offshore wind developments in our region because the industry is poised to grow and expand right in our own backyard, right here on the Cape, the Coast and the Islands, and this bill tackles offshore wind. It increases it by how much? 


Eve Zuckoff: Yes. This bill calls for utilities to purchase thousands more megawatts of offshore wind. So we're talking about an increase of more than 40 percent. And it also quickens the time frame for procuring new offshore wind by six months. Now, two offshore wind projects are already in the works this year. And under Joe Biden's federal leadership, the state is feeling -- I think it's safe to say -- a lot more optimistic. 


Kathryn Eident: Talk about how this is going to affect people in their homes because we're talking about some big picture things, but there's also some things targeted for residents as well. 


Eve Zuckoff: Yeah, that's right. So I think appliances is a big place to look on this. You won't have to get rid of your fridge or washing machine or dishwasher, but when the time comes to buy new ones, you will likely have to work with Mass SAVE to purchase higher efficiency models. They might cost more upfront, but will lower people's energy bills in the long run. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of savings by 2035. We're also likely to see an increase in electric vehicles on the road and, in turn, more charging stations. So you can probably expect to see new rebates and other incentive programs for the cars. 


Kathryn Eident: Hmm. A world with electric cars rather than gas powered cars or petroleum powered cars. It's a kind of an interesting thought. This bill does something that's also cerebral in a way. It enshrines the phrase "environmental justice" into law. So how do lawmakers define that phrase and why did they decide to include it in a bill like this one? 


Eve Zuckoff: Yeah, it's a good question. So this bill defines environmental justice communities based on race, income and language proficiency criteria. So, for example, a neighborhood where minorities make up 40 percent or more of the population might be considered an "EJ community," an environmental justice community. And this is important because by establishing a definition, this opens up tools, and protections, and public input to the these front line communities. Plus, the bill prioritizes low income communities in SMART, the state's primary solar incentive program. And it would put $12 million per year towards energy work force development for minority and women-owned small businesses, environmental justice communities and fossil fuel workers. 


Kathryn Eident: So it's really prioritizing, as you said, communities where there are a majority of minority people, trying to put them at the front of the line with this bill. 


Eve Zuckoff: That’s right. 


Kathryn Eident: Last month, Baker actually released his own climate plan. It had some similar pieces in it. Of course, you know, the legislature always has its own version of things. So what happens if he declines to sign this particular bill? 


Eve Zuckoff: Well, Baker doesn't really have a problem with the details that we've just talked about in this climate bill. It's just kind of some of the target numbers and the timing. Like, this bill calls for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Baker's administration has said, you know, that 50 percent reduction is too high; we're worried about it hurting businesses and the economy. So with that in mind, his options now are don't sign it or sign it. And if he doesn't sign it, the legislature would be forced to go through this process all over again. And whether that's a fight politically [Baker] wants to have.. is really something we're waiting to hear. 


Kathryn Eident: And, of course, there are always things, I think, that get left on the table. That's part of the negotiating process, [but] environmentalists... what do they think about the bill? They're happy about it, but I'm sure there's some things they would have wished were in it. 


Eve Zuckoff: Yeah, definitely. I mean, this bill, again, it really would solidify Massachusetts' place as one of the country's leaders in climate policy, but climate activists would have liked to see the state eliminate what's called the "carbon pricing gap." So basically, emissions from electricity and soon transportation are covered by a price on carbon in Massachusetts. But emissions from buildings, which represent 35 percent of overall state emissions, don't fall into that category of being priced. So environmentalists do want to tackle that in the future. But really, beyond that, I mean, the question is how well the state will enforce these really ambitious goals and we will be following its progress. 


Kathryn Eident: That’s right. And we'll be following whether or not Baker does indeed sign the bill or if he leaves it on his desk. That is CAI climate and environment reporter Eve Zuckoff. Thanks so much for taking a look at this bill and figuring out what it means for us regular old residents. 


Eve Zuckoff: Thank you, Kathryn.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.