In a major development, the Legislature has passed An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy and it has been signed into law. The new law is truly a landmark breakthrough, profoundly impacting our Commonwealth and perhaps serving as a template for the rest of the country. Many of you wrote, called, submitted testimony, or just generally let it be known to me that environmental protection and addressing climate change is highly important to you. Your activism fueled my efforts — it’s your victory too.
We had to clear a number of legislative hurdles to reach our goal. As many of you know, in the waning days of the 191st legislative session last year, the Legislature sent Governor Baker essentially the same bill as what now has become law. The bill reflected months (really years) of diligent organizing and thoughtful work put in by my colleagues in both the House and Senate and many citizens around the state. During the lengthy floor debate last year, two of my amendments were included in the bill. The first amendment ensures that so-called “fugitive emissions” from sources such as landfills are covered. Prior to the adoption of this amendment, the bill as drafted did not account for as much as 6 to 8 percent of total CO2 emissions. Another amendment I field was accepted and it directs the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to conduct a follow-up study of these harder to measure greenhouse gas emissions to ensure the system used by EEA is accurate. Despite overwhelming support from both the general public and members of the General Court, Governor Baker refused to sign the bill and it failed to go into law.
We persisted. Coming off the heels of our inauguration and the start of the 192nd General Court, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano issued a joint statement indicating that they intended to refile the bill – in the exact form it took prior to the Governor’s veto — underlining the overwhelming importance of the legislation. True to their word, on January 28th the bill (S. 9) was reintroduced and again quickly passed both chambers with a veto-proof majority. On February 8th 2021, Governor Baker sent the bill back to the legislature with some suggested changes. The two chambers reviewed the amendments, accepting only a few, then re-enacted the legislation, sent it back to the Governor, and he signed it into law on March 26th.
The new law contains key provisions that will help impose a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions standard by 2050. Importantly, rather than simply specifying a 2050 end date to hit net zero emissions, the law requires enforceable targets at 5-year intervals and requires the Department of Public Resources to use its regulatory powers to help the Commonwealth meet its new emissions targets. It amends the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require that an increasing percentage of theCommonwealth’s electrical power be derived from renewable sources, reaching at least 40% in this decade. Moreover, it requires utilities to purchase substantial additional quantities of offshore wind power, adding to a significant amount of authorized offshore wind already on the books. The new law puts into place enhanced energy and water efficiency standards for a variety of consumer goods and appliances. Furthermore, we included provisions to make sure that what happened in the Merrimack Valley would never happen again by setting out more stringent gas infrastructure safety requirements with increased penalties for violations. To ensure equality in our new green energy sector we established the Clean Energy Equity Workforce and Market Development Program with the goal of maximizing employment opportunities for disadvantaged populations in the clean energy industry. Additionally, this legislation establishes a grant program to support solar adoption by nonprofits and requires new solar incentive programs to address solar access and affordability for low-income communities. Adding to the scope of the new law, we included key provisions creating an environmental justice standard and giving those living in environmental justice communities (as defined in the law) significant rights.
At a time of great challenge, our new climate and clean energy law is something we can all feel good about — for all the good it will do for communities throughout our Commonwealth. We have experienced what happens when a federal administration spends four years dismantling climate protections; thankfully the new administration has us on a path to restore much of the damage done. Despite this breakthrough here in Massachusetts, given the scale of the challenge, there is more work to do. I have filed a number of environmental-related bills this session and will continue to advocate for new, innovative approaches to climate policy, and urge my colleagues to do the same.
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