Landmark Climate Bill Signed into Law as National Bipartisan Model

Written by Isabella Gambill, Senior Policy Advisor on Climate, Energy, & Resilience


On Friday, March 26th, 2021, after two years of advocacy across two legislative sessions, debates amongst coalition groups and partner organizations, and hundreds of bill amendments, Governor Baker signed S.9, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, into law. By signing the Next Generation Roadmap bill, Governor Baker enacted: 1) the most comprehensive piece of climate or clean energy legislation signed into law in Massachusetts since the initial passing of our 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA); and 2) one of the most comprehensive climate and clean energy laws in the country that now serves as a national model for bipartisan compromise, innovation, and climate leadership. A Better City congratulates the Commonwealth for this remarkable achievement, and thanks to the Baker Administration, Legislative leadership, and our engaged members for their partnership and collaboration.


Municipal Opt-In High Performance Stretch Energy Code

The bill directs the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to develop a new high-performance stretch energy code for new construction. The new high-performance stretch energy code will provide several compliance pathways that will include, but not be limited to, a net-zero compliance pathway. In alignment with A Better City’s recommendations, the climate bill ensures the updated stretch energy code is structured in a phased manner to account for technical constraints and extends the stretch code development timeline to roughly 18 months to ensure stakeholder input. With this law, there will in effect be three building codes: the existing base building code, the existing stretch energy code, and a new municipal opt-in high-performance stretch energy code. The bill also includes a provision in which the three separate building codes will become one aligned base building code by 2028, thereby providing consistency across the Commonwealth’s municipalities, while allowing time for the building sector to adjust to the requirements of a higher-performing building code.

Environmental Justice Provisions

The bill also provides vital statutory definitions and provisions that will protect environmental justice communities, improve air quality, and prioritize the health and well-being of our most vulnerable communities throughout the Commonwealth. The bill defines key terms like “environmental burden,” “environmental benefit,” and “environmental justice community.” These definitions will position Massachusetts to effectively and efficiently deploy anticipated federal funding, since President Biden has committed to 40% of federal climate investments prioritizing frontline and environmental justice communities. The bill also includes updates to the MEPA review process for all projects subject to MEPA review. Importantly, the new requirement mandates that covered project applicants will need to file an Environmental Impact Report to address environmental justice concerns if they are within one mile of an environmental justice community, and/or within five miles of an environmental justice community if their project will disrupt air quality. Additionally, the bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to lead a stakeholder engagement process that will develop a cumulative impact analysis, which will become a requirement for permitting certain projects through the (DEP).As a result, this change would direct the DEP to evaluate not only individual project impacts, but also the impact of historic environmental pollution as a part of the permitting process.

Equitable Clean Energy Workforce and Market Development

In addition to addressing an increasing demand for a clean energy workforce, A Better City and many of our partner organizations have acknowledged the need to pursue equitable clean energy workforce development, so that the workforce of our decarbonized future is more representative of our communities and more accessible to communities of color, low-income communities, and people who traditionally have been left out of existing workforce development programs. The bill seeks to address existing inequities by establishing a new Clean Energy Equitable Workforce and Market Development Program within the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), that will receive $12 million annually from utilities energy efficiency dollars. Through this provision, the MassCEC will be required to create more job training opportunities for minority groups, residents of environmental justice communities, and fossil fuel workers, and will award more grants to minority and women-owned small businesses.

Emissions Reduction Limits and Sublimits

The bill sets a series of stringent science-based emissions reduction targets, codifying the Commonwealth’s commitment to statewide emissions reduction targets of 50% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, 75% reduction by 2040, and net zero emissions by 2050. S9 also establishes 5-year interim sublimits, which will require the Secretary of Energy and the Environment to establish additional economy-wide emissions sublimits for 2025, 2035, and 2045. While these science-based emissions limits and sublimits are economy-wide, the bill also directs the Secretary to establish sector-specific sublimits, which will have to be at least as stringent as the economy-wide target and will be legally binding. The sector-specific sublimits must be established for six “high-priority” sectors: electricity, transportation, commercial and industrial (C&I) buildings, residential buildings, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution. There is one small exception within these sector-specific sublimits: if one or more sector does not meet its sector-specific target, but the economy-wide targets are still met, then the Commonwealth will be in compliance with its statutory requirements. An example would be if the C&I buildings sector did not meet its 50% by 2030 emissions reduction target but the overall economy-wide 50% by 2030 emissions reduction target was met, then the Commonwealth would be in compliance.

Renewable Energy

S9 also includes an expansion of renewable energy procurement, adding a commitment of 2,400MW of offshore wind to the current 1,600MW, thereby bringing the state’s total procurement portfolio to 4,000MW by 2027. The Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind projects that will soon come online and become the largest offshore wind operations in the country, are each around 800MW, so this is an additional three Vineyard Wind sized projects. The bill also seeks to improve accessibility to low-income solar by including a statutory update that will require DOER to offer solar incentives and to prioritize solar installation on the roofs of low-income households through the SMART program. Additionally, the statutory update to the SMART program requires DOER to make the SMART solar incentive program, and any future solar incentive program, more accessible. Finally, the bill amends the focus of the MassSave incentive program from energy efficiency only to include emissions reductions as well.

Department of Public Utilities and Natural Gas Pipeline Safety

The bill also updates the statutory mandate of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to include the obligation to address safety and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The hope is that through this statutory update, utilities will be more incentivized to transition away from fossil fuels and move towards the provision of a reliable, affordable, safe, and decarbonized energy supply. Additionally, the bill establishes a series of safety requirements for natural gas utility providers and increases fines for safety violations and disruption of service. Within these provisions for natural gas utilities, the bill importantly requires the mapping of existing pipelines and natural gas infrastructure and requires utilities to address gas leaks. Finally, the bill encourages utilities to move toward the provision of clean energy technologies through innovation. The establishment of a pilot program to install networked geothermal heat pumps, is an example of this type of clean energy innovation.

Electric Vehicles

The bill requires the Governor to establish numerical benchmarks for the number of electric vehicles on the road by a given year, and to establish incentive programs to meet those targets. The bill strengthens the provision of rebates through the Commonwealth’s MORE-EV program and requires the Governor to set charging stations targets in order to expand charging stations throughout the state and help to address range anxiety.

Energy Efficiency Standards for Appliances

The bill adopts California’s energy efficiency standards for household appliances, which remain the strongest standards in the country. As a result of these new appliance energy efficiency standards, this bill is anticipated to save Massachusetts residents $282 million in electricity bills each year by 20351.

If you have any questions about the Next Generation Roadmap bill and/or questions regarding A Better City’s climate and clean energy policy work, please contact Isabella Gambill



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