GOV. CHARLIE BAKER sent the Legislature’s twice-passed climate change bill back on Sunday with new, compromise language that strikes a more conciliatory tone and dials back some of his earlier objections.
When the Legislature first passed the bill in early January at the end of the last legislative session, the governor could only approve or reject it. He rejected it, raising concerns about its costly emissions target for 2030, its separate emission targets for six industry subsectors, its offshore wind procurements, its support for community energy codes that could deter the production of affordable housing, and the narrowness of its environmental justice provisions.
Lawmakers, irked by the administration’s attitude, responded by passing the same bill again and sending it back to Baker. But administration officials and legislative leaders over the last three weeks also began talking, trying to sort out their differences. “We did try to find areas of common ground,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
Baker on Sunday returned the bill to the Legislature with an accompanying letter that was much less strident in tone than his earlier veto message. In the letter, Baker withdrew some of his earlier objections and proposed amendments that compromised on others.
The initial reception from legislative leaders was cautious optimism. They indicated they would likely not agree with the governor on everything, but would accept some of his amendments.
Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell, the House’s point person on the legislation, said the governor’s amendments will get a fair shot. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on the legislation, seemed receptive. He said a number of Baker’s technical amendments improved the bill and welcomed the fact that the critical tone of last session’s veto letter was missing from Sunday’s letter outlining proposed amendments.
“There will be disagreements there, but I liked the new theme,” Barrett said.
The Legislature has now passed its climate change bill twice by veto-proof majorities. It can approve the governor’s amendments or reject them and the governor could then attempt to veto those provisions the Legislature refuses to endorse. Again, the Legislature could override his veto by a two-thirds vote.
Here is a breakdown of the bill in some key areas:
2030 emissions goal – Baker took strong exception in his earlier veto message to the Legislature’s proposal to set an emissions target of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 rather than the administration’s target of 45 percent. The governor claimed the 50 percent goal would cost Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion in higher costs for such things as electric vehicles and other replacement fuels.
In the amendment letter on Sunday, Baker proposed a compromise goal of 45 to 50 percent for 2030 with the final decision left to the administration. “This new climate bill should give the Commonwealth the ability to make responsive, data-based decisions and pivot when new information becomes available,” the governor said in his letter. “This flexibility will also help the Commonwealth avoid the costs that are expected to result from imposing a higher limit, particularly on those who can least afford it.”
Golden said the governor’s suggested change would have to be studied carefully. Barrett said the administration’s own climate plan indicates it would yield a reduction between 45 and 48 percent, yet the administration is proposing a range of 45 to 50 percent. Barrett said he worried that the temptation will be strong to go with the lowest, most easily attainable number. “That’s not where the Legislature is today,” he said.
Industry emissions targets – In addition to statewide emissions targets, the Legislature’s bill also sets binding targets for emissions in six key subsectors, including transportation, electric power, and commercial and industrial heating and cooling. Baker’s amendment would make the targets “planning tools rather than independent legal requirements, providing we achieve our overall statewide emissions reductions.”
Offshore wind — Baker’s initial veto letter dismissed the Legislature’s call for significant new procurements of offshore wind, saying the state should not be selecting “clean energy winners and losers” by signing contracts through utilities directly with offshore wind developers. Instead, Baker favored a regional approach to clean energy procurements that would put them on more equal footing in regional wholesale energy markets and make suppliers compete for contracts by supplying energy at the lowest possible price.
In his amendment letter, Baker dropped his earlier objection entirely and said he now supports the procurement of an additional 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind by the state. He put off until later the regional clean energy procurement effort. Golden said the House, a big promoter of offshore wind, appreciated the governor’s change of heart. Regarding the regional procurement effort, Golden said: “That’s something that needs a little more time.”
Housing – Baker initially balked at the Legislature’s proposal on the development of stretch energy codes that could be used by municipalities to force developers to change the way they construct buildings to reduce energy consumption. Even though Baker favored a similar approach, he quoted business and union leaders in his letter as saying the Legislature’s language was too vague and could result in a housing construction slowdown or a halt in many municipalities.
In his amendment letter, Baker filed amendments seeking to clarify how the process would work. Theoharides said the Department of Energy Resources would draft a stretch energy code that could be adopted voluntarily by municipalities starting in 2022 and become mandatory in 2028. Barrett said he wanted more time to study the governor’s proposal, but pointed out that the Legislature purposefully gave a lot of discretion to the administration in developing the stretch energy code.
Environmental justice – The House took the lead on the climate change bill’s environmental justice proposals but failed to address the issue of cumulative pollution in an environmental justice community when considering a permit for a development project. Theoharides said the governor’s proposal on Sunday would allow the Department of Environmental Protection, when considering a permit, to consider not only the impact of the specific project before it but the cumulative impact of pollution in the community.
“Environmental justice populations have historically borne more than their fair share of pollution, particularly air pollution,” Baker said in his letter. “Recognition of those facts should not be limited to environmental review and instead should be incorporated into permitting decisions directly.”
Golden said he was encouraged the administration was seeking to strengthen the environmental justice provisions in the bill.