Dear Jo: Breaking down the ‘Next Generation’ climate package

Published: 2/6/2020 7:00:25 PM
Modified: 2/6/2020 7:00:15 PM

Editor’s note: If you have a question for the senator’s monthly Dear Jo column, in which she answers constituent questions, please submit to opinion@gazettenet.com and senatorjocomerford.org/contact/dear-jo.

DEAR JO: We raised our voices about the Next Generation Climate Policy that passed the Senate last week. What does it mean for our commonwealth?

— Constituents from
across the district

DEAR ALL: I’m departing from my usual response to one person. That’s because I received well over 100 calls, emails and office visits focused on the trio of climate and energy bills that the Senate voted on last week: S.2477, S.2476, S.2478.

Amid a mounting climate emergency, energy and conservation policy are top priorities for me and my team. Over the last year, bolstered by stellar advocacy, we weighed in heavily with Senate colleagues to champion our region’s climate priorities — taking this work all the way to the Senate floor by filing 12 amendments to this legislation.

My amendments focused on income and regional equity, carbon sequestration, putting youth in the center of conversation, electric grid interconnection, banning hydrofluorocarbons in appliances, and more. Five of my amendments were adopted, and the Senate passed each of the amended bills overwhelmingly.

What do these three bills do?

Taken together, these bills aim to drive Massachusetts to “net-zero” by 2050. This means the commonwealth will need to zero out any remaining carbon emissions by removing the same amount of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. To get there, we must drive down pollution, build up renewable energy, and foreground actions that boost carbon sequestration.

S.2477 (An act setting next-generation climate policy) sets specific steps for taking Massachusetts to net-zero emissions by 2050, requiring the administration to implement a market-based carbon pricing system (putting a price on carbon emissions) by Jan. 1, 2022. From there, strict emissions limits would be adopted and verified by a new state agency called the Climate Policy Commission, which the bill charges with watchdogging the state’s progress toward net-zero.

S.2476 (An act to accelerate the transition of cars, trucks and buses to carbon-free power) provides rebates for electric vehicle purchases and begins transitioning state vehicle fleets and transit systems to electric power as well. S.2478 (An act relative to energy savings efficiency) mandates comprehensive energy efficiency increases in buildings, homes and appliances.

Do these bills go far enough?

The federal government is leaping backward on climate, so the commonwealth can and should leap boldly forward, taking responsibility for our own emissions and — equally as important — demonstrating what’s possible by creating innovative, replicable models that stimulate the green energy sector.

The Senate bills offer a carbon pricing mechanism framework that would benefit all sectors — laying the groundwork for driving down net emissions while creating good jobs and signaling that the green revolution can boost state and local economies.

I’m proud that a bill I filed to create a building code for net-zero emissions buildings was included in this climate package. If the bill passes the House and becomes law, Massachusetts would be one of the first states in the country to have this code. Amherst has led the state in net-zero construction advocacy and is the reason I filed this bill.

I’m also happy to tell you that one of my amendments was included to ensure this bill focuses on carbon sequestration and the benefits our forests provide. The science is clear that we must foreground carbon sequestration and focus on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if we are going to have any chance of meeting the Paris climate accord goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees celsius by 2100. Here I have been grateful for the legislative leadership and strong partnership of Sens. Adam Hinds, Anne Gobi and Eric Lesser.

Will these bills raise the cost of living?

Many of you weighed in with these concerns. When S.2477 came to the floor, it instructed the administration to comply with emissions limits in a way that does not disproportionately burden low- or moderate-income communities.

I was on the lookout for low-income and regional equity protections in the bill, and decided that this language could be strengthened, so I filed an amendment directing the administration to recommend ways to “provide benefits or cost savings to such communities” — pivoting to more proactively benefiting vulnerable communities. That amendment passed unanimously, as did another one of my amendments to ensure that any so-called market-based compliance mechanism (or carbon pricing) address the “distinguishing characteristics and vulnerabilities of rural” communities.

What’s next on climate?

With regard to these newly-passed Senate bills, it’s important to note that they still have a long way to go. The House must take up these ideas and the Senate must grapple with the House’s climate legislation. Together, we must find some resolve and send the boldest possible legislation to Gov. Baker as soon as possible. Time is not on our side. We must embody the urgency of our commonwealth’s youth who have powerfully demanded our attention and action.

And there’s more. There are climate-related battles being waged by my team and me every day in the Legislature, including those focused on the rocketing cost of recycling, interconnection and reigning in utility companies, solar siting, and something called “single tax parcel” restrictions that prevent more people from accessing the financial benefits of solar.

I’d go on, but I’m out of room! Heartfelt thanks to all of you who are leading this work and urging us all forward. Remember: Our Senate team works for you and our district. We’re strengthened every single time you reach out to share your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.


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