Dear Friend,

If you're reading this, it means you've probably been following the fortunes of Massachusetts' landmark climate bill for months, for which I thank you.  

Where are we now?  While things can always go off the rails, the odds are that we're deep in the end game.

In early February, after a flurry of political moves and counter-moves, Gov. Baker found himself looking at the same legislative language he had vetoed only weeks before. He did not issue a second veto.  He proposed 50-odd amendments instead.

So far, Senators and Reps have given themselves three weeks to study up on the Governor's ideas.  I expect we will need another couple of weeks to complete the work. But then we're likely to act.

One at a time, legislators will bring up the amendments for consideration. We're free to be choosy. We can accept each idea as it is, change it, or reject it. Pretty straightforward.

Most of the proposals are acceptable minor clarifications.

But several are substantive, and devastating.

Gov. Baker and the business interests behind him are going after three provisions. The Governor opposes --

* inserting into the state energy code a uniform local option for constructing "net zero" buildings;

* requiring steps to bring down greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 1990 levels by the year 2030; and

* setting emissions sublimits for major problem areas such as transportation, buildings, and electric power.

The sublimits are drawing a lot of the Governor's fire. 

Sublimits make Massachusetts climate policy pathbreaking; I suspect other states will follow.  In tandem with setting overall emissions limits every 5 years, another innovation, setting sublimits maintains an intensity of focus on the existential crisis of our times.  

Like the frame of a house, sublimits also supply the climate bill its essential structure. They give material shape to the Legislature's intent, which is to require governors to produce "comprehensive, clear and specific" reduction plans that nevertheless "minimize costs" and advance "overall societal benefits," including benefits to the economy.

Basically, by calling on governors to map the way forward in transportation, buildings, and electric power, the Legislature is telling the executive branch to deal with a big job -- "reduce Massachusetts' contribution to climate change" -- by dividing it into smaller, more manageable parts.

Breaking down a problem into components happens all the time, of course. Budgets for an entire organization and budgets for individual departments get set in a kind of dialogue with each other. Targets for the smaller units are the building blocks of the target for the overall enterprise.

None of this is radical. So what, then, is the problem?

Well, if you're the governor, you may not want the buck stopping on your desk.

You may not like the accountability. You may not want to commit the resources. You may see a political downside to tackling a difficult issue. You may be ready to let the next governor do the heavy lifting.

Without a doubt, the questions will get pointed.  Once we're shopping for a new car, how do we afford an electric vehicle? What concrete steps are you taking to reassure us about "range anxiety"? When the oil furnace goes, how do we pay for a heat pump? What are heat pumps, anyway, and why should we feel OK about having them in the house?

Issues of consumer finance here, and issues of communication. Still, problem-solving is what we elect a chief executive to do.

By putting sublimits and sublimit planning in place, the Legislature gives the governor responsibility for coming up with practical answers.

So, to summarize, we need to save the net zero building option.  We need to save "50% by 2030."  And we need to save sublimits, the structural underpinning of the climate bill.

Write your friends to write their legislators. Let's get this done.

In the meantime, please stay safe and stay well. 

With deep appreciation,

Senator Mike Barrett