Earlier this month, the State Senate adopted a pathbreaking program to address global warming. As the program's author, I told my colleagues, "In taking a fresh run at combating climate change, you're putting Massachusetts state government at the forefront -- right where our constituents want it to be."
The action made history, in that the Senate became the first legislative body in the U.S., either federal or state, to approve revenue-neutral fees as a way to "put a price on carbon." We still have the House to deal with, not to mention the Governor, so the fight is hardly over, but the Senate has shifted the spotlight onto Massachusetts' biggest environmental challenge. That would be curbing pollution in the transportation sector, the state's biggest source of greenhouse gases.
"Climate change is relentless, and putting a price on carbon is the single most effective thing a state government can do to fight it," I said. "But this isn't about the Legislature forcing one design, and one design only, upon a governor. The Senate is firm on timing because the problem is urgent, but we don't mandate the method."
Regulations issued by the governor would have to impose carbon pricing of some kind on the transportation sector by the end of 2020, on commercial and industrial buildings and processes by the end of 2021, and on residential buildings by the end of 2022.
"We may have stumbled upon a winning formula for state-level carbon pricing across the country," I said. "Flexibility on the choice of tool; no excuses on the choice of timing
The result is promising. Over the course of a nine-hour debate, most of which centered on other aspects of
policy, not a single member of the 40-member Senate moved an amendment to weaken the carbon pricing provisions.
The corresponding energy bills enacted by the Massachusetts House are much more modest, and, as of this writing, the two branches haven't reached consensus. But the marker put down by the Senate will guide debate from this point forward. Inside the Massachusetts Legislature and outside it, the movement to address climate change is getting stronger, and giving people hope.