After six months of private talks, legislative negotiators on Sunday afternoon reached an agreement on a major bill to accelerate the state's pace toward addressing the global problem of climate change.
The bill would establish in state law a "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions limit for 2050 and establish statewide emissions limits every five years over the next three decades. Within that plan, the bill creates mandatory emissions sublimits for six sectors of the economy: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.
And within the 2050 "net zero" target, the bill says gross emissions by 2050 must fall at least 85% below 1990 levels. The statewide emissions limit for 2030 shall be at least 50% below the 1990 level, according to the bill, and the limit for 2040 must be at least 75% below the 1990 level.
The six-member conference committee's report will be put before the House and Senate for up-or-down votes during the final two days of sessions for the current sitting of the General Court. All six conferees — four Democrats and two Republicans — signed off on the deal, which arrives just days before a new Legislature will be sworn in and all bills start from scratch.
The bill's chief negotiators — Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell and Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington — called the proposal "the strongest effort of its kind in the country" and the first major update to the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
"This bill is a climate toolkit, assembled over the course of months, to protect our residents, and the beautiful place we call home, from the worsening of an existential crisis," they said. "Its particulars owe much to the advocacy of thousands of citizen activists in Massachusetts. To these activists, we say thank you. We heard you."
The bill calls for utilities to purchase an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind generation, raising the total state authorization to 5,600 megawatts. The state this year expects to hear from the new Biden administration about the prospects of two offshore projects already in the works.
The Department of Public Utilities would also need to alter its approach to regulating the electric and natural gas utilities under the bill, which orders the DPU to balance the following priorities: system safety, system security, reliability, affordability, equity and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The legislation is also designed to ensure that at least 40% of the state's electric power will be renewable by 2030, by making incremental changes in the state's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard each year from 2025 through 2029.
The bill, dubbed An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, addresses a range of other areas, from environmental justice to hydrogen power, natural gas safety, energy efficiency in appliances, and the creation of a greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants.
Massachusetts lost ground in its latest report on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The state faces a 2020 requirement of a 25% reduction from 1990 emissions levels. The Baker administration in October released its latest update to the Massachusetts Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory which showed emissions in 2018 were 22.2% below emissions in 1990, compared to 2017 emissions that were 22.7% below 1990 levels.