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State Senate Passes Comprehensive Climate Change Package

by Bob Katzen, Beacon Hill Roll Call
With Groton’s state Senator Edward Kennedy voting ‘yes,’ the State Senate voted 36-2, 36-2 and 36-2 on three separate roll calls (S 2476, S 2477 and S 2478) to approve three bills known as the “Next Generation Climate Package.”
     Under the bills, the Baker administration would be free to choose among various market- based forms of pricing carbon, including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system similar to the Transportation Climate Initiative. It would
have to do so by Jan. 1, 2022, for transportation; Jan. 1, 2025, for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings; and Jan. 1, 2030, for residential buildings. Any mechanism would be implemented so as to minimize the impact on low-income households, disadvantaged communities, and vulnerable manufacturing sectors.
     The package includes setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of “net zero” emissions; requiring the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2030, and to aim for an all-zero-emissions fleet by 2040; directing state government to limit purchases and leases of vehicles to zero-emissions vehicles only, beginning in 2024; and updating Massachusetts appliance standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for common household and commercial appliances.
     Other provisions establish the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission as an independent public watchdog to oversee government’s handling of the climate change crisis; jumpstart efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income
communities; and require the Department of Public Utilities to balance six priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical and cyber security,equity,and,significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
     Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Senate Chair of the Utilities and Energy Committee and author of the legislation said, “We’ve written the strongest climate statute in the nation.” The bills specify protection for low-and-moderate-income families with special sensitivity to the climate challenges facing small towns and rural areas. Retraining for people who may need to change jobs is also included.
     Jacob Stern, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter said, “By setting a much-needed 2030 emissions target, rolling out zero-emission building standard and creating new opportunities for low- income residents to access solar, this legislation will help reduce the state’s carbon pollution. However, we are disappointed that despite broad support from the advocacy community, there wasn’t a commitment to transition the state to 100 percent clean, renewable electricity in the final legislation. The responsibility to act now falls to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. We look forward to working with House leadership to pass critical climate policies into law before the end of the 2019-2020 legislative session in July.”
     An opponent of the legislation, Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), said, “Residents of the Commonwealth can’t afford this legislation. Massachusetts continually ranks as one of the most expensive states in which to live where the median price for a single-family home is almost double the national average.” He added, “This bill will only make housing prices more expensive by requiring solar panels on all new construction, increasing costs for new homes by $30,000 to $70,000.
     Nearly all new homes will also require electric based heating systems and appliances, placing upward pressure on utility rates across the state because wood, natural gas and oil-based appliances would be out of compliance with a net-zero stretch energy code.
     Fattman continued, “Another major concern is that there is no price tag on the total costs of the mandates, taxes, and fees associated with this legislation. We are currently facing an unprecedented affordable housing and transportation crisis and this legislation will only make it more unaffordable to live and work in Massachusetts.”
     Echoing Fattman’s comments, Groton Electric Light Manager Kevin Kelly said, “I understand the emotion on this issue, but since the technology does not yet exist to reach these targets, in effect this becomes a very expensive accounting scheme. A group of politicians will pick the winners and losers as they define their cap and trade system. Under the current rules, New England now has the highest priced natural gas in the world during the winter. There are certain politicians who want to drive up the costs in New England to a point where all commercial users of electricity and natural gas leave the region.”
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