Bill signing for the Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy took place last week in the State House, otherwise empty due to the pandemic. In attendance were a handful of legislators, a gaggle of press people, and several Baker Administration officials.
I was there, I was pleased, and I was in the company of colleagues to whom I am grateful, beginning with Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano and including Rep. Tom Golden and Rep. Jeff Roy, my counterparts from the House with whom I co-chair the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
“I have heard words used to describe this piece of legislation, words such as sweeping, landmark, far-reaching, ambitious, bold and nation-leading," said President Spilka. “I believe it is all of these things.”
I am happy to say I agree. We're the first state to keep attention riveted on climate by setting emissions limits every five years instead of every ten.
The first state to mandate emissions sublimits on the most important sources of greenhouse gases -- transportation, industrial and commercial buildings, residential buildings, and electric power.
The first state to make a careful measure of the "carbon sequestration" capacity of our open space and factor it directly into emissions reduction planning.
The first state to overhaul the charter of its Public Utilities Commission -- the Mass. Department of Public Utilities -- so as to include, alongside price and infrastructure reliability, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
At the signing, the atmosphere was cordial. Still, peculiar. Why schedule this important ritual -- putting the official touch on the most important climate legislation in Massachusetts in over a decade -- on a Friday, at 2:30 in the afternoon? Why situate it in the lovely but bounded quarters of the State House Library, when several gorgeous and larger ceremonial spaces, big enough to accommodate social distancing, beckon just down the hall? Why issue no invitations at all to the advocacy organizations for climate policy, clean energy, and environmental justice, despite the pivotal roles they played?
And why, in his prepared remarks, did Gov. Baker spend so much time reprising and saluting the valuable yet more modest energy bills of years past, and so little time celebrating the content contained in the 114 sections of the legislation he had just signed?
I sense a problem, and I'm uneasy. I hope the Governor is not toying with the idea of slow-walking implementation of the bill. That would not do. Legislators like me will be watching too closely. I know many of you will, too.
Most people in Massachusetts could not give a hoot about keeping a scorecard on the Legislature and the Executive -- who's winning and who's losing -- but they do care about people in power following the law.
Gov. Baker and his staff need to get with the program pretty quick, because Next-Gen sets a number of deadlines:
- The act takes effect 90 days after bill signing. So in late June 2021 the Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts' immensely powerful regulator of the natural gas and electric power industries, must begin to give equal weight to emissions reductions, alongside its traditional emphasis on reliability and prices.
- Also on or about July 1, Gov. Baker will have three new vacancies to fill -- green building experts, all -- on a reconstituted Board of Building Regulation and Standards, a high-impact-low-profile entity with enormous sway over energy use in new construction.
- By July 15, 2021, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs must set a first-ever greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for Mass Save, the popular home energy efficiency program.
- No later than December 31, 2021, and continuing for every year thereafter, the DPU must transfer $12 million in new funds to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, for a workforce training program focused on clean energy.
- No later than July 1, 2022, the Secretary must adopt emissions limits and sublimits for the fast-approaching year 2025, together with a "comprehensive, clear and specific" plan to realize the limit and the sublimits. As a practical matter, this means the work will need to be done during the fiscal year starting July 1, just about three months from now.
- By 21 months from now -- sometime in December 2022 -- the Department of Energy Resources must develop and promulgate a new "municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code" that includes "net zero building performance standards" and a definition of "net zero building."
This last one promises an ongoing battle. It's no secret the Governor vetoed an earlier version of the climate bill on the prodding of builders and developers. Taking note of the increasing urgency of global warming, we responded to the pushback by doubling down on our commitment to net zero in the version of the bill that actually became law.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Governor's people drag their feet on the regulation-writing process that must come next.
Readers of this newsletter have been instrumental in seeing to it that Massachusetts passed the most ambitious climate bill in the country, which is cause for celebration.
Now we need to make sure it gets implemented well.
We can do this.
Enjoy the weather. Keep your spirits high. Stay safe.
Senator Mike Barrett