In January of this year, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy, now pending before the House of Representatives. The Senate's approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is radical not in its ideology but in its seriousness; we're determined to get emissions down across the Massachusetts economy, transportation and buildings included.
Senate authors of the legislation sat down with all interested parties, commercial enterprises included. We listened to what they had to say and made appropriate changes. At the time of final passage -- with the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, and with only two dissents in the 40-member Senate -- the bill's seriousness of purpose seemed to impress the business community without unsettling it.
But that was then. Now, in the midst of COVID-19, conservative elements are trying to exploit an opening. Two years ago, an investigative report in the Huffington Post blasted the then-new Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy as a "front for gas interests," identifying, as major funders of the group, Eversource, National Grid, and Enbridge, the pipeline conglomerate behind the natural gas compressor station project in Weymouth.
Last week the Coalition surfaced anew, patching together a limp critique of Next Gen that seems less about the bill and more about the Coalition's long-range objective, which is to keep fossil fuels at the heart of Massachusetts energy policy. In a letter dated June 25th, addressed to leaders of the House, the fossil fuel interests and real estate developers led off with long-winded assurances of their objectivity. Then they got down to brass tacks, telling readers that "sources of energy like natural gas have important and positive roles" to play, since "renewable sources cannot fill the void."
Interesting. Especially since the Senate bill hardly mentions natural gas per se, focusing instead on a widely-accepted bottom line -- the need for truly dramatic reductions in Massachusetts emissions. If this means relegating natural gas and its various hybrids to a much-reduced backup role, so be it. As for any voids that may be left by today's renewable resources, we certainly intend to see them filled -- by tomorrow's renewable resources. Clean-energy solutions like heat pumps are already better than fossil fuel lobbyists care to admit, and the Senate wants them to be better still, which is why we included a provision expanding the mission of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
The Senate's basic insight is this: Its considerable contributions to first-generation policy notwithstanding, the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act has generated significant emissions reductions in the electric power sector only. Today, transportation, buildings, and industrial processes account for 79% of Massachusetts greenhouse gases. After 12 long years, it's clear that a law written in 2008 cannot drive reductions in these sectors, nor keep us on the emissions track we need to travel.
To get climate policy moving again, the Senate bill sets "net zero" emissions as Massachusetts' overall greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050. This is already policy in California and New York; in fact, it's already policy in the Baker Administration. The Senate takes the logical next step, baking net zero into law so that future governors will keep a steady course.
A 2050 objective set, the Senate then addresses the demanding and multi-faceted challenge of actually achieving it. For one thing, we appreciate that this far-off goal, however imperative, will not motivate near-term change, so we direct the Executive to set interim limits at five-year intervals starting in 2025. We insist on sector sublimits, too, so that transportation, buildings et al are asked to hit custom-fit benchmarks, and progress can be readily checked.
And, yes, among many other provisions, the Senate proposes a Climate Policy Commission, not to make policy (the prerogative of the Legislature) nor to carry it out (the province of the Executive), but to serve as a guardian of the future for younger generations. Job One for the Commission is to tell us if we're on track in bringing down emissions. Job Two is to give us objective advice on what to do next. (Omitted altogether from its mission is any power to make rules or regulations -- for instance, to change the state building code, a crucial reform we assign to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.)
We want the Commission to consist not of special interests (in its June 25th letter, the fossil fuel lobby demands a seat!) but of engineers, data analysts, and scientists. We want it insulated from political pressure and made up of the most authoritative and credible Massachusetts voices we can find.
And, of course, the Commission should listen. Which is why the Senate gives it an advisory council broadly representative of the public and specifically including the voices of low-income and moderate-income communities, displaced workers, industry and manufacturing interests, young people, the green economy, transportation, agriculture, housing, and local government.
Across the country, fossil fuel interests are mounting counter-attacks on common-sense climate initiatives that once seemed certain to become law. And, yes, it can happen here, in Massachusetts, unless we fight back and demand strong legislation now.
Stay safe. Be well.