Columnist Johanna Neumann: The unsticking of climate action

  • A Chevy Bolt EV uses the charging station on Crafts Avenue Monday afternoon in Northampton. A major climate bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday will include increased rebates for electric vehicles and the deployment of charging stations for those vehicles. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 8/17/2022 7:29:43 PM
Modified: 8/17/2022 7:26:17 PM

On July 20, President Joe Biden visited the site of the former Brayton Point coal plant on the south shore of Massachusetts to call for action on climate change. Less than a month later, the commonwealth of Massachusetts and Congress have answered that call, in what I hope is the beginning of a cascade of climate action.

When you think about global warming, you might feel concerned — and for good reason. We’re seeing the impacts of a warming climate all around us, as anyone who’s lived through this summer’s heat wave can attest to.

Heeding the call to action, last week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a far-reaching climate bill that will help make our homes and businesses more energy-efficient, put more electric vehicles on the road, and ramp up the amount of clean electricity we get from the sun and wind. Then, over the weekend, Congress put on President Joe Biden’s desk the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes roughly $369 billion in climate spending. Estimates expect the suite of policies in the Inflation Reduction Act to reduce global warming pollution 40% compared to 2005 levels by 2030, putting the United States’ Paris Climate Accord goals within striking distance.

Policy wins like this don’t just happen. Both bills are the product of years of work by legislators, environmental groups, industry leaders and grassroots activists. Thousands of people raised their voices urging leaders to act on climate. I am grateful to everyone who carried a vision for a greener, healthier world in their heart and worked together to find common ground. Today, as ever, this is how we make tangible progress that moves our state and our nation forward.

What does the Massachusetts climate bill do?

■Creates a new pilot program that will retrofit low- to moderate-income housing to be energy efficient and use clean, all-electric heating and appliances.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Removes arbitrary obstacles that stand in the way of solar and offshore wind projects, making it easier for more of our electricity to come from renewable sources.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Requires owners of large buildings — such as offices, apartment buildings, hospitals and universities — to disclose their energy use each year, a critical first step toward making these buildings more energy-efficient.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Allows up to 10 cities and towns to adopt local policies requiring new buildings to use fossil fuel-free heating and appliances, laying the groundwork for healthier, cleaner homes and offices for all of us.

■Requires that 100% of new cars sold in Massachusetts will be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Require the MBTA to transition to an all-electric bus fleet, and state agencies will help regional transit authorities like PVTA adopt electric buses.

What are the climate provisions in the federal Inflation Reduction Act?

■Funds $9 billion in consumer rebates to electrify home appliances and make homes more energy efficient.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Extends consumer tax credits for 10 years to make heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric HVAC and water heaters more affordable so homes can be more energy efficient and run on clean energy.

■Establishes a $4,000 tax credit for consumers to buy used electric vehicles and up to a $7,500 tax credit for consumers to buy new EVs;

■$3 billion for electric U.S. Postal Service trucks;

■$1 billion for electric heavy duty vehicles, such as school buses and garbage trucks;

■$3 billion for zero-emission technology at U.S. ports.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>A methane emissions reduction program.

■$50 million to inventory and protect old-growth forests, which absorb global-warming carbon emissions, on National Forest System land.

Both bills represent a compromise. For example, some of the provisions in the federal bill will benefit fossil fuel development, including requiring lease sales for offshore drilling and providing tax incentives that would help coal and gas plants.

But we can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Modeling by Energy Innovation found emissions increases from these provisions are offset 24 to 1 by the bill’s climate-friendly provisions. The group also found that the bill could prevent 3,700 to 3,900 deaths in 2030, in addition to 99,000 to 100,000 avoided asthma attacks. With numbers like that, you take what you can get, come back to the vision in your heart, and figure out the next steps to getting closer to that vision.

Today I’m hopeful. These two bills will move climate action forward in a big way. While there’s more work to do, it’s easier than ever to see how Massachusetts and our nation can transition to 100% clean renewable energy in the coming decades.

Johanna Neumann, of Amherst, has spent the past two decades working to protect our air, water and open spaces, defend consumers in the marketplace and advance a more sustainable economy and democratic society. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.
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