Massachusetts would adopt some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in the country, dial up thousands of more megawatts of cleaner offshore wind power, encourage natural gas utilities to explore other services they could provide in the future, and put an explicit emphasis on helping the most overburdened communities cope with the effects of climate change under a compromise climate policy bill shipped by lawmakers to the governor's desk Monday.
At the heart of the bill is the state's greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2050 and the legislation trains the state's attention on the work of getting there. Sen. Michael Barrett, who led negotiations for that chamber, said the 2050 target is the "anchor for everything we do." The six lawmakers who have been hammering out a compromise climate bill since early August filed their final product late Sunday afternoon and passed it with ease through both chambers Monday with no debate and just 11 lawmakers voting in opposition.
"The Next Generation Roadmap bill will put our Commonwealth on a path toward a cleaner, healthier, more equitable, and prosperous future," Environmental League of Massachusetts President Elizabeth Turnbull Henry said. "The legislation will shape how the Commonwealth achieves its mandated target of net-zero emissions by 2050. It equips our state to build a 21st Century economy by promoting emissions reductions, energy efficiency, workforce development, environmental justice, health, and safety."
Though he is fond of saying the devil is often in the details of legislation, Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed support for — and in some cases already begun the work on — some of the provisions in the bill, like the net-zero by 2050 goal. Last week, Baker's administration released its 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap and draft 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan, which together lay out strategies to get to net-zero by making sweeping changes in the ways that people in Massachusetts heat their homes, get to work and around town, and generate electricity.
The compromise bill (S 2995) enshrines in law the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and effectively rewrites the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act to newly require that statewide emissions limits be set and met for 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2045 with specific roadmap plans required to lay out the strategies employed to meet each interim target.
Within each five-year statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit, the bill calls for mandatory emissions sublimits for six sectors of the economy that negotiators described as high-priority: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.
The House and Senate negotiators decided to require that 2030 emissions be at least 50% less than 1990 emissions levels and that 2040 emissions be at least 75% less than 1990 levels, setting up a potential point of disagreement with the executive branch that is tasked with achieving the reduction requirements.
The Baker administration last week set a 2030 target at a 45% reduction from 1990 emissions levels, which lead Senate negotiator Sen. Michael Barrett said was "too pessimistic." He argued that a 50% reduction by 2030 was "an aspiration, is a stretch goal, but an attainable goal."
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides told reporters when she unveiled the administration's 2030 limit that her office examined what it would cost to get to reductions of 40-, 45- and 50% by 2030 and "what we found is that anything above 40% is on pace for achieving net-zero in 2050 ... and there is a real risk with going beyond 45%, that it would be unnecessarily disruptive to the economy and likely extremely costly, particularly for people who can least afford it."
Barrett said last week that the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions limit would be "up for further discussion in 2021 and subject to compromise" if there is disagreement between the Legislature and administration.
The requirements set in the conference bill would give Massachusetts a more aggressive timeline for emissions reductions than larger states like California and New York, both of which require emissions to be at least 40% lower than 1990 levels by 2030, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The bill also attempts to focus the gaze of the Department of Public Utilities on the 2050 target by directing the agency to add "reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to meet statewide greenhouse gas emission limits and sublimits" to its priorities.
For the first time in state law, the bill would define environmental justice populations and provide new tools for those communities. The conference bill would define as an environmental justice population any neighborhood that fits certain criteria, including having an annual median household income that is 65% or less of the statewide annual median household income, having a population that is at least 40% minorities, or having a quarter or more households lacking in English language proficiency.
Any project that is "likely to cause damage to the environment that is not insignificant" and is within one mile of an environmental justice population (or five miles if the project affects air quality) would be required to file an environmental impact report that specifically looks at equity issues.
"By adding interim carbon pollution reduction targets and enshrining a definition of environmental justice in law, this bill serves as a critical and necessary step forward. Our window for climate action is closing and we must act urgently to embrace a fossil fuel-free future," Jacob Stern, Massachusetts chapter deputy director for the Sierra Club, said. "We call upon Governor Baker to sign this bill into law."
The conference committee bill seeks to crank up the amount of clean energy utilities must purchase by increasing the state's renewable portfolio standard by three percentage points each year from 2025 through 2029, which would effectively require that at least 40% of the electricity used in Massachusetts come from renewable sources by 2030.
Offshore wind appears poised to play a big part in the state's efforts to increase the amount of power it gets from cleaner sources. The compromise bill increases the state's offshore wind procurement authorization to 5,600 megawatts from 3,200 MW. So far, Massachusetts utilities have agreed to purchase roughly 1,600 MW of offshore wind power from the Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind projects.
Another offshore wind procurement round could be coming "in the near future," Theoharides said last week.
"The inclusion of additional procurement capacity for offshore wind power, combined with the release of the 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, sends a clear message that Massachusetts will continue to be a leader in the development of this important industry," Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said. "We look forward to playing a central role in bringing these goals to fruition."
The negotiators also adopted a provision of the House's climate bill that requires each of the 41 municipal lighting plants in the state to establish a greenhouse gas emissions standard and requires that half of the power sold to retail end-user customers by 2030 be "non-carbon emitting energy," that 75% be "non-carbon emitting energy" by 2040 and that municipal lighting plant energy sales achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The negotiators did not appear to embrace the Senate's push to force the executive branch to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms for transportation, commercial buildings and homes.
Natural gas utilities would be allowed under the bill to pilot "utility-scale renewable thermal energy" projects and could recover the costs of those projects if they can demonstrate that they are "capable of substituting for fossil-based natural gas," essentially if the utilities can make neighborhood-wide geothermal heating and cooling possible as an alternative to natural gas distribution.
In late October, with the future of the natural gas industry here in mind, regulators at the DPU issued an order that requires gas companies operating in Massachusetts to hire an independent consultant who will look into various ways that the companies might be able to help the state meet its goal of getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 while still protecting ratepayers and ensuring energy reliability.
The bill also makes key updates to state solar policy by loosening solar net metering caps, requiring the executive branch to prioritize low-income communities in the SMART solar program, making it easier for low-income individuals to participate in the SMART program, and ironing out a discrepancy between tax assessors and developers on the tax status of clean energy installations.
Ben Hellerstein, director of Environment Massachusetts, said the compromise bill takes meaningful steps towards a cleaner and healthier future, and he also urged the governor to sign the bill as soon as it hits his desk. Still, his organization is turning its attention to how it can build upon the bill in the new legislative session that starts Wednesday.
"That being said, we can't be satisfied with a few steps in the right direction. It's time to break into a sprint. In key ways, Massachusetts is lagging behind. Other states, including California, New York, and Virginia, are moving toward 100% clean sources of energy. That's exactly where Massachusetts needs to go," Hellerstein said. "This bill isn't the finish line — it's the first few steps out of the starting blocks. Let's make 2021 the year Massachusetts takes the lead in the race to 100% renewable energy."
The bill arrives on Baker's desk with the session about to end sometime on Tuesday. That means the governor has a very short window to offer any amendments. After Tuesday, Baker can either sign the bill or veto it.