The MA Senate's Next Generation Climate Package: What's in & What's out

Last fall, Senate President Karen Spilka promised that the MA State Senate would take up a climate package by the end of January. And the Senate did, passing a trio of bills this past Thursday:

S.2476: An Act to accelerate the transition of cars, trucks and buses to carbon-free power

S.2477: An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy

S.2478: An Act relative to Energy Savings Efficiency (Energy SAVE)

In the lead-up to the vote, senators filed 155 amendments, the vast majority of them to the Next Generation climate bill. So let's save that one for last.

What did the three bills do?


Decarbonizing Transportation

S.2476 focused on the transportation sector. Here are its key provisions

  • Zero-emissions MBTA fleet: The bill requires the MBTA to purchase only zero-emissions vehicles after 2030 and directs it to start purchasing zero-emission replacement vehicles in the interim. Going further, it requires the MBTA to have a zero-emissions fleet by 2040.
  • Zero-emissions state vehicles: The bill also requires the the state to limit purchases and leases of state vehicles to only zero emissions vehicles starting in 2024, with a priority given to low-income and underserved neighborhoods which are often hit worst by vehicle pollution.
  • Study on how to help municipalities convert to zero-emissions fleets: The bill also requires the Department of Energy Resources to conduct a study on the opportunities to electrify vehicles owned or leased by municipalities, regional school districts, and regional transit authorities.

It passed easily 35 to 2, with Republicans Ryan Fattman and Dean Tran the only dissenting votes.

Of the 23 amendments filed, 9 were withdrawn, 6 were rejected, and 8 were adopted.

Energy & Water Efficiency

S.2478 updates MA's appliance standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for common household and commercial appliances.

Of the 5 amendments filed, 3 were rejected, 1 was withdrawn, and 1 -- a technical amendment -- was adopted.

The only amendment to receive a recorded vote was an amendment by Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr to require the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to issue an annual cost estimate of implementing the bill -- an attempt to fear-monger about cost and to distract from the costly nature of inaction on climate. The amendment failed 7 to 30, with Democrats Diana DiZoglio, Anne Gobi, and Michael Moore joining the 4 Republicans.

The bill itself ultimately passed 37 to 2, with Fattman and Tran again the only dissenting votes.

Next Generation Climate Policy

S.477 was the most comprehensive of the three bills. Here are its key provisions:

  • Statewide net-zero emissions limit for the year 2050: The bill builds on 2008's Global Warming Solutions Act by requiring the state to hit new near-term limits in 2025, 2030, and every five years after that until 2050. It also sets limits for specific sectors including transportation, buildings, solid waste, and natural gas distribution
  • An independent watchdog commission on climate policy: The bill establishes the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission, a new, independent public watchdog charged with providing a nonpartisan, science-based analysis of the impact of state policy on climate change.
  • A price on carbon pollution: The bill requires the implementation of a market-based carbon reduction mechanism, whether a revenue-neutral carbon fee or a regional “cap and trade” (like the Transportation Climate Initiative).
  • Public utility oversight reform: The bill also builds climate mitigation and equity into the mission of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the state’s primary energy oversight agency. The new mission would require the DPU to balance  reliability of supply, affordability, equity, public safety, physical and cyber security, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • New low-income solar requirements: The bill requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to do a better job of expanding solar access to low-income neighborhoods.
  • Empowering cities and towns to adopt climate-friendly stretch codes: The bill codifies the right of cities and towns to enact stricter standards that limit fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings and requires the state to promulgate a "net zero" energy code that municipalities can adopt if they want.

For more about what the bill does, read the analysis here.

Republicans tried to block the bill from the start, pushing to send the bill back to committee--an effort that failed on a party line vote.

Senators filed a total of 127 amendments, 50 of which were withdrawn.

Mass Power Forward, a coalition of environmental groups and allies, advocated for 8 of the 127 amendments.

Three of them passed:

  • #11: Regulations to Protect Low Income Households (Friedman), which required that regulations resulting from the bill are designed equitably and in a way that mitigates any added costs to low- and moderate-income households and creates additional employment and economic development opportunities
  • #33: Net Zero Stretch Code Improvements (Comerford), which pushed up the implementation date for the net zero stretch code
  • #105: DPU mandate (Chang-Diaz), which added equity to the DPU mission statement

Four of them were vote down on a voice vote, providing no record of which senators supported or opposed them:

  • #53: 2035 Renewable Portfolio Standard (Eldridge), which would have increased the Renewable Portfolio Standard (a renewable energy mandate on utilities) to 100% by 2035 and preventd wood and trash burning from counting toward this
  • #54: Inclusion of combustion of fuel in emissions count (Eldridge), which would have required that burning any combustible fuel be counted towards the state's emissions
  • #80: Re-investing in greenhouse gas emission reduction, and our communities (Chang-Diaz), which would have required that at least 30% of revenue generated from a market-based mechanism be spent on green infrastructure and at least 40% of that revenue benefit low- and moderate-income people
  • #113: Energy efficiency advisory council (Eldridge), which would have added environmental justice and youth representation to Climate Policy Commission
Senator Paul Feeney's Amendment #89 (Giving Energy Sector Workers a Voice), which added language to protect workers displaced by advancements in the renewable sector, was withdrawn.

Nine amendments received recorded votes, seven of which were unanimous. In addition to the aforementioned amendment adding equity to the DPU's mission statement, the following amendments received unanimous roll call votes:

  • #2: Sustain natural and working lands carbon in communities (Tarr), which promotes natural forms of carbons sequestration, such as reforestation
  • #16: Large energy building performance standards (Rausch), which enables municipalities to access large building emissions data in order to better craft municipal policies
  • #39: Thermal energy pilot projects (Creem), which encourages utilities to shift from fracked gas to geothermal energy
  • #79.1: Removing Barriers to Low-Income Solar (Eldridge), which ensures that solar incentive programs are designed and promoted in ways that ensure that low-income residents can benefit from them
  • #88: Workforce Development and Job Training for Displaced Workers (Feeney), which creates a Clean Energy Workforce Development and Training Program tasked with ensuring  that workers displaced due to emission reductions efforts and advancements in green technology have access to advanced training and employment opportunities. 
  • #111: Rural Equity (Comerford), which ensures that the design of a market-based emissions reduction mechanism is attentive to the needs of and impact on rural communities

Unanimous votes are not particularly helpful as accountability tools. When an important amendment fails, you--the voter--should want to know how your legislator voted. When everyone supports an amendment, a unanimous vote is akin to a collective pat on the back for a job well done.

Two amendments received contested recorded votes. Bruce Tarr pushed for a vote on his Amendment #93 (Climate Policy Commission), which sought to paint the newly created Climate Policy Commission as a shady and secret bureaucracy when it would, in fact, be subject to the same standards as similar agencies. The amendment was voted down 8 to 29, with Diana DiZoglio, Anne Gobi, Michael Moore, and Marc Pacheco joining the Republicans. Tarr also pushed for a vote on his Amendment #55 (Cost of Compliance), which sought to subject all regulations created by the Climate Policy Commission to legislative approval (again, creating a different standard for the agency). The amendment failed 7 to 30, with DiZoglio, Gobi, and Moore joining the Republicans.

All considered, the bill passed 36 to 2, with only Ryan Fattman and Dean Tran voting no.

So What's Next?

The ball is now in the House's court. Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull's) 2050 Roadmap bill is widely viewed as the most likely bill to advance, which would be another opportunity to add important measures to increase equity and ambition before both chambers work out a final compromise.

Both Houses should advance legislation to transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable energy, an essential goal that was left out of the Senate's climate bill. The Legislature should also build environmental justice regulations into statute, and the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture took steps in that direction in December.

Senate President Karen Spilka also promised to take up separate legislation to tackle the state's reliance on fracked gas.

And Governor Baker should make sure not to cave to right-wing pressure and move forward with the Transportation Climate Initiative, a regional collaboration to curb the greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation sector.

If this decade is our last shot at avoiding climate catastrophe, then we better start off right.

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published this page in The Latest 2020-02-01 16:44:52 -0500
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