In The People's Blog, Updates from Jo

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass a trio of energy and climate bills under the banner: Next Generation Climate Policy.

Together, the bills aim to bring the Commonwealth to Net Zero emissions by 2050. This means the Commonwealth needs to either have zero emissions in 2050, or needs to balance out any emissions we do have by removing the same amount of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

One of the centerpieces of the legislation, is a Net Zero building provision which I filed as legislation at the start of this session after learning about the efforts of Amherst municipal leaders and advocates to curb the 40% of emissions that come from the building sector by developing and mandating a Net Zero stretch code. I’m grateful to the advocates and to my staff for helping move this bill through the Legislature with such speed.

I speak about the Net Zero building code amendment, here.

Carbon sequestration amendment, here.

We heard from a number of you who were frustrated with the tight timeline to engage with these bills. And we hear you. With stakes as high as they are, we know how important it is for constituents and advocates to make their voices heard — as strongly and as passionately as possible. Thank you to the more than 100 of you who broke through to let us know your priorities and urge me forward to be as bold and as strategic as possible in increasing the impact of these bills.

With you in mind, I introduced 12 amendments focused on income and regional equity, carbon sequestration, centering youth voices, interconnection, banning hydrofluorocarbons in appliances, and more. I also proudly supported roughly 40 of the additional 150 amendments filed by my colleagues, including one by Senator Pacheco which added the phrase “climate emergency” to the preamble as I think it’s a moral imperative that our State Senate lay bare the stakes we’re facing.

While, all of my amendments didn’t make it through, I was able to win five, including those to:

  • Promote carbon sequestration: I amended the section that describes what the Secretary of Energy and the Environment must include in their five-year plans that demonstrate how we’re going to meet the emissions limits established in the bill. The Secretary must: “set numerical benchmarks and track adoption within the commonwealth of emissions reduction products, solutions and improvements” used to meet emissions limits, and I added the words “carbon sequestration from natural and working lands. I spoke about this amendment on the floor and you can watch my remarks here. The science is very clear that we cannot fight climate change without promoting carbon sequestration, and I’m pleased this amendment was adopted.
  • Net Zero Stretch Code: I was thrilled that my bill to create a net zero stretch code was included in this package of bills. A net zero stretch code would update our building code for energy efficient buildings to require that they be net zero emissions buildings: either get all of their energy from renewables or produce all the energy they use on-sight. My amendment strengthened this proposal even further by requiring the net zero stretch code to be fully written and ready for adoption one year from when the bill passes.
  • Benefit Low Income Communities:  Under this bill, the Commonwealth must make 5-year plans for complying with emissions limits, and those plans must  “consider whether activities undertaken to comply with statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits and sublimits disproportionately impact moderate-income and low-income communities.” My amendment strengthened that language to ensure that our green revolution benefits everybody, like we know it can. The amendment would require that these plans “recommend actions that may be taken to provide benefits or cost savings to such communities or otherwise”
  • Rural and Regional Equity: I filed two amendments to ensure that any carbon pricing mechanism adopted in the Commonwealth does not place a burden on rural residents. One of my amendments, which was adopted, requires that when the Secretary of Energy and the Environment submits their five year plan for how we’ll comply with emissions limits, the plans must “address the distinguishing characteristics and vulnerabilities of rural, suburban and urban households.”
  • Giving Youth a Voice: Our young people are calling us forward to address climate change with the urgency that the climate crisis demands. As they will inherit this earth from us, our youth deserve a seat at the table where decisions about the health of this planet are being made. This bill establishes the Climate Policy Commission, and my amendment mandates that the Climate Policy Commission’s advisory council include representation from “persons of less than 18 years of age, persons from communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, employees of small business in the green energy sector.”

Here’s a brief summary of the overall bill:

  • Setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of “net zero” emissions. To achieve this, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy requires the state to hit near-term limits in 2025, 2030, and every five years thereafter; set sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution, and other major sectors; and make implementation plans that are “clear, comprehensive, and specific.”
  • Establishing the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission. The commission would be a new, independent public watchdog to oversee government’s handling of the unfolding crisis of climate change.  Commissioners will be charged with offering a nonpartisan, science-based view of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts with its attendant natural, economic, and demographic impacts and risks.
  • Reflecting the price of carbon. Under the bill, the Administration must choose among various market based forms of pricing carbon, and 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.
  • Jumpstarting efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities. To reverse the failure of state programs to incentivize solar energy projects in low-income neighborhoods, as well as spur job creation, the bill requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to set aside future solar allocations for low-income neighborhoods.
  • Nudging natural gas utilities to adapt. The bill authorizes utilities to test technology and pipelines that generate and transport “renewable thermal energy,” an emissions-free way to heat buildings that draws on the relative warmth of temperatures below ground.
  • Strengthening executive branch oversight of MassSave. The bill directs the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to set emissions reduction goals for each three-year plan the utilities formulate for MassSave.  It requires the DPU to certify how much the plan actually contributed to meeting the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emission limits.
  • Offsetting the Trump Administration’s efforts to slow progress on efficient appliances. An Act Relative to Energy Savings Efficiency updates Massachusetts appliance standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for common household and commercial appliances, helping to conserve energy and save consumers and businesses money.
  • An Act to accelerate the transition of cars, trucks and buses to carbon-free power  directs state government to limit purchases and leases of vehicles to zero emissions vehicles only, beginning in 2024, if affordable replacements are available, and conducting a study of the opportunities to electrify vehicles owned or leased by municipalities, regional school districts, and regional transit authorities, taking into account costs and possible sources of financial help from state and federal government.

This legislation is a downpayment on the green new deal revolution that we know we need and our children deserve. There is much more that still needs to be addressed, like interconnection of renewable resources to the grid, how we manage our forests, whether biomass can be included in the renewable portfolio standard, and on and on.

So today I’m rubbing the sleep out of my eyes after a late night, and I’m off to continue fighting on your behalf.

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