Comerford’s bill, amendments in Senate climate package

  • COMERFORD

Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2020 6:02:00 PM

The state Senate included several amendments and a bill by Sen. Jo Comerford in its climate package that’s designed to accelerate the transition of vehicles to carbon-free power, set a “next-generation” climate policy and curb the nearly 40 percent of total carbon emissions that come from the building sector.

The Senate voted to send three bills that make up the package to the House last week: S.2476, S.2477, which is Comerford’s, and S.2478. Comerford’s bill would add a net-zero energy requirement to the second tier of the state building code, known as the “stretch code.” Municipalities are not required to adhere to the stretch code, which requires greater energy efficiency for new buildings, but 262 of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts have adopted it over the standard state building code, according to Green Building Advisor.

As the climate package moves forward, Comerford said the Senate will discuss measures that would ensure the net-zero provision in the stretch building code would be sustainable financially for owners and builders. After the House comes up with its own version of the climate package, a conference committee would reconcile the two. Once both the Senate and House pass a final package, it will go to Gov. Charlie Baker.

“Though climate change is a critical issue, we’ll work on this until we have something everyone is happy about,” Comerford said. “This is a priority of mine because I believe in it, and because it’s what my constituents want, as well.”

Comerford introduced 14 amendments to the package, focusing on income and regional equity, carbon sequestration, interconnection, banning hydrofluorocarbons in appliances and more. Five of the 14 were included in the package.

“I’m very happy that those five were included,” she said.

Her amendment promoting carbon sequestration describes what the secretary of energy and the environment must include in five-year plans to demonstrate how the state will meet emissions limits established in the bill.

Comerford’s net-zero energy provision requires new buildings to either get all of their energy from renewable sources or produce all the energy they use on site.

The senator also filed two amendments ensuring any carbon pricing mechanisms adopted by the state do not place a burden on rural residents. One amendment requires that when the secretary of energy and the environment submits a five-year plan for how the state will comply with emissions limits, the plans must “address the distinguishing characteristics and vulnerabilities of rural, suburban and urban households.”

Additionally, Comerford proposed mandating that the Climate Policy Commission’s Advisory Council include representation from “persons of less than 18 years of age, persons from communities disproportionately impacted by climate change (and) employees of small business in the green energy sector.”

“It was very important to me that they have a voice,” she said. “I also wanted to make sure that the package keeps an eye on rural populations, and makes decisions based on low-income populations.”

Some of the key provisions of the climate policy package include setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of net-zero emissions. To achieve that, it requires the state to hit near-term limits in 2025, 2030 and every five years after. There would be limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution and other major sectors.

The package would also establish the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission, an independent public watchdog overseeing government’s handling of the unfolding crisis of climate change.

Compensating for a decades-long omission, the bill assigns the state Department of Public Utilities a mission statement requiring it to balance five priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical security and cyber security. It would also be mandated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To reverse the failure of state programs to incentivize solar energy projects in low-income neighborhoods, as well as spur job creation, the bill requires the state Department of Energy Resources to set aside future solar allocations for such neighborhoods.

The bill requires electric utilities to include an explicit value for emission reductions whenever they calculate the cost-effectiveness of MassSave offerings, and would offset the Trump administration’s efforts to slow progress on efficient appliances.

It also directs the Department of Public Utilities to consider the impact on emissions when it reviews electric and natural gas rates, prices, charges and contracts, and it directs state government to limit purchases and leases of vehicles to zero-emissions vehicles only beginning in 2024, if affordable replacements are available.

A study would be conducted concerning the opportunities to electrify vehicles owned or leased by municipalities, regional school districts and regional transit authorities, taking into account costs and possible sources of financial help from the state and federal governments.

“This is a big bill and statement,” Comerford said. “We want to address climate change in concrete terms. We’ve got a good start.”

Anita Fritz can be reached at 413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@recorder.com.

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