House Passes 2050 Climate Roadmap Bill at the 11th Hour
by Jacob Stern, Deputy Director, Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter
On Friday, July 31st, the traditional last day of the legislative session, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at reducing our state’s carbon emissions. The bill would create carbon emissions targets for 2030 and 2040, requiring the state to reduce emissions by 50% and 75% below 1990 levels respectively. The bill also would establish a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and create a clean energy equity workforce. Mass Power Forward members worked with the bill’s authors to also include a section about funding energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades for public housing. The legislation was amended to include essential protections for environmental justice communities that are already suffering from environmental pollution and climate impacts, increase the state’s offshore wind procurement, update appliance energy efficiency standards, identify high priority locations for public electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and develop programs that allow residents to install curbside chargers.
Unfortunately, the bill would also push back the implementation for many of these policies until 2024 and fails to include a commitment to reach 100% renewable energy in a reasonable timeline.
How the Vote Went Down
The Massachusetts State House is notorious for its lack of transparency and opaque process. The House vote was no different. While we suspected that a climate bill would come up for a vote the last week of July, we had no assurance beforehand and little idea of what it would entail. In fact, most State Representatives had little or no foreknowledge of the legislation until less than 24 hours before the bill was introduced. A little after 12:00 pm on Wednesday, legislators received an initial copy of the bill and were told that they had less than five hours to review, analyze, and file amendments. In the end, over 100 amendments were filed, although more than two thirds were withdrawn without a vote. It’s common practice for legislators to negotiate their amendments behind the scenes. Amendments are frequently withdrawn or further amended if they receive insufficient support for House leadership. Very little dissent was seen by the public during the two day proceedings that followed. Voting on the many amendments took two full days and were accompanied by occasional speeches either in support of amendments or in protest of their failure to be adopted. The final bill was eventually passed at roughly 9:30 pm on Friday evening with a vote of 142-17.
Environmental Justice for Massachusetts
Mass Power Forward celebrated the inclusion of environmental justice protections in the final bill. In summary, the amendment, filed by Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston would:
Define environmental justice populations, environmental burdens, and environmental justice principles in state law
Require any environmental impact report to take into account the impact on nearby environmental justice populations and require additional public participation for these projects
Create an environmental justice council to provide recommendations and advise the Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EEA)
The inclusion of this language was the result of a long hard-fought campaign led by Mass Power Forward’s members Neighbor to Neighbor and GreenRoots, among others. Similar bills have been filed for the last six years by Rep. Michelle DuBois, Rep. Liz Miranda, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, and Sen. Sal DiDomineco, but historically they have never made it this far in the legislative process. This was the first year that any environmental justice legislation has received a vote on the House floor.
Never has it been clearer that in times of crisis, low income and communities of color will always bear a disproportionate share of the impact. Without change, we can expect that many of the same communities with high COVID infection rates per capita, like Chelsea, Brockton, and Springfield, will continue to be overburdened with pollution and subject to further dangerous climate impacts in future years. It is critical that this unequal impact be addressed now, as we are beginning to consider the realities of a someday post-COVID world.
100% Renewable Energy
Another of Mass Power Forward's priorities this session was getting the Commonwealth to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy (including for transportation and buildings) by 2045. Unfortunately, these benchmarks did not make it into the final bill. However, an amendment filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker, the lead House sponsor of the 100% renewable energy bill, was included. Decker’s amendment included a small increase to the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Even with this increase, Massachusetts will only source 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
In January the Senate passed a package of legislation that also included some positive measures to reduce the use of fossil fuels, such as setting a timeline for the MBTA to switch to electric buses and updating energy efficiency standards for household appliances. Neither chamber has come close to what is needed to encourage the rapid expansion of renewable energy.
We Need Climate Action Now!
One of our biggest criticisms of the House’s climate bill is that, although it will serve to lower the Commonwealth’s emissions, it does too little, too slowly. Many provisions in the bill don’t come into effect until 2024 or later. Even a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is insufficient to meet the targets set out in the 2018 UN IPCC report. Mass Power Forward worked with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Rep. Jon Hecht to accelerate the timeline included in the bill, but House leadership refused to budge and forced the Reps to withdraw their amendments.
What Happens Now
The legislation will now go to a conference committee for a compromise with the Senate version of the bill that passed in January. In a conference process, three Senators and three Representatives will produce a final version of the bill that needs to be passed through both chambers again, and then signed by the governor. We will continue to work with our allies to make this bill the best possible version and get it signed into law later this year.
We are also looking ahead towards the next legislative session and supporting a green COVID recovery -- one that focuses on public health and bringing safe, good-paying jobs to the Commonwealth. In fact, there is growing evidence that much of the climate-friendly legislation, such as a proposed net zero energy code for new buildings, can create significant health and financial opportunities for communities. By reducing pollution these policies will also make resident's homes (places people have been spending a lot of time recently) more comfortable and affordable. Studies show that having just a gas stove in the home increases indoor air pollution up to 100 times more than the pollution we see outside and increases childhood asthma rates up to 42 percent. Electrifying homes and buildings with clean electricity by upgrading heating and cooling systems with heat pumps can eliminate climate pollution and make homes healthier, safer and more comfortable. According to the recent Carbon Free Boston study, Boston needs to weatherize and electrify 86,000 buildings by 2050 in order to reach the city’s goal of net zero emissions that year. This means three percent of Boston’s buildings will need to undergo electrification every year.
Mass Power Forward members are already beginning to coordinate with Renew New England, a growing coalition of leading grassroots organizers, labor unions, racial justice groups, frontline communities, and environmental advocates. Renew is coming together to address our region’s overlapping crises: mass unemployment, racial injustice, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change. We’re fighting for a region wide Jobs Guarantee, universal healthcare, affordable housing, racial justice, and bold climate action. Looking forward to even bigger thinking next year!
image credit: Cabell Eames