Valley legislators hail state climate bill for raising bar

  • Students from across Hampshire County staged a climate change protest at Northampton City Hall on May 3, 2019, part of a series of worldwide student-led demonstrations. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/4/2021 6:15:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — State lawmakers have passed an ambitious climate bill that codifies the statewide greenhouse gas limit for 2050 at “net zero” emissions, enacts a schedule for raising the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, and puts environmental justice into state law, among many other provisions.

“It makes solid advances in the fight against climate change,” said state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

The bill mandates that the state establish statewide emissions limits every five years from 2025 to 2050, with the net-zero goal being paired with a requirement that emissions be no higher than 85% below the 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels for the commonwealth.

The bill also recognizes the existence of environmental justice communities, which are defined by factors that can include income, race and English language proficiency, and mandates additional scrutiny for projects that might harm the environment around these communities, including public input from these communities.

“For the first time environmental justice has also been written into Massachusetts law,” said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. “It’s long overdue that it’s getting recognition in law.”

Both Hinds and Comerford also praised the legislation acknowledging the value of carbon sequestration — which occurs in forests, farmland and swamps among other locations — with Comerford saying that this acknowledges that open land means something from a climate justice perspective.

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said the bill “was one of the top items I heard about from my constituents.”

“I want to thank them for their advocacy,” she said.

Blais also praised the Sunrise Movement, a youth group dedicated to pushing for action on climate change.

The bill increases the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard by 3% every year from 2025 to 2029 to ensure that at least 40% of the state’s electricity will be renewable by 2030. The standard requires that Massachusetts electric utility companies purchase an increasing amount of renewable energy.

“I hope this is a boon for renewable energy providers,” Comerford said.

The bill also puts a five-year moratorium in place for biomass electricity facilities being considered non-carbon-emitting for municipal light plant standards and requires a study within two years of the health and greenhouse gas effects of biomass energy.

“That’s really a people-powered victory,” Comerford said of the biomass provision.

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, said reconciling the House and Senate versions of the climate bill required an enormous amount of work. And she noted the possibility of a pocket veto from the governor, which would occur if the governor doesn’t sign it.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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