The Homestretch to the Governor’s Desk: An Update on Massachusetts Climate Policy

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

As you may know from previous blog posts and A Better City conversations with the Energy and Environment Unit, the Massachusetts legislature is currently in the process of reconciling two very different pieces of climate legislation before the end of legislative session in December 2020. With S.2500 An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy released by the Massachusetts Senate in January 2020 and the H.4933 An Act Creating a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth released by the House in July 2020, a climate conference committee has been formed with six members from both branches to reach consensus on a final climate bill to put on the Governor’s desk by the end of the year.

Although there has been considerable momentum in the legislature on clean energy, climate targets, environmental justice, and climate funding bills this session, the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have understandably put climate policy, among other policy initiatives, on hold. After the legislature voted to extend the legislative session from ending on July 31st, 2020, to December 31st, 2020, the climate conference committee has not met, so it is hard to determine if any progress is being made.  Conversations about what the conferees are considering are happening behind closed doors, without the opportunity for further public hearings. However, A Better City, and many of the organizations we collaborate with, have submitted comments to the climate conference committee with suggestions for the anticipated climate bill.

Thanks to the engagement and input of our Energy and Environment Advisory Committee, A Better City submitted substantial comments to the climate conference committee, covering topics relevant to bills S.2500 and H.4933 like greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, environmental justice, workforce development, a net zero stretch energy code, offshore wind procurement, and climate governance. We also submitted suggestions about the need for a climate resilience commission, as well as important feedback we received from members about the implementation of these bills that is not directly relevant to the bills in committee, but is important for the legislature to be aware of nevertheless.

In summary, A Better City is proud to support an update to our Commonwealth’s statutory mandate for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction under the Global Warming Solutions Act. We support the statewide commitment to climate targets of: 50% emissions reduction by 2030, 75% by 2040, and net zero emissions by 2050. It is important to note that these targets would be established economy-wide, and that A Better City continues to advocate for robust stakeholder engagement when sector-specific emissions reduction targets are pursued in the future. We understand, for example, that building sector targets in particular will be a heavy lift for members, which is why ongoing stakeholder engagement will also be so important.

Alongside these climate targets, A Better City also supports the inclusion of vital environmental justice language in the final climate bill as we believe that climate policy must go beyond emissions reduction to include and focus on the impacts of climate change on our communities. Environmental justice language failed to be adopted in the previous legislative session, so we are supporting its adoption in the current climate bill.

Recognizing the substantial impact of the building sector to citywide and statewide GHG emissions, A Better City also supports the initiation of a process that will shape the creation and adoption of a new net zero stretch energy code in Massachusetts. We understand it is a helpful transitional tool toward promoting the construction of low-carbon buildings in municipalities that opt-in to the stretch code, but most importantly, we see an updated net zero stretch energy code as the beginning of conversations about updating the base building code, which would offer a more consistent pathway to promoting low-carbon building construction across all Massachusetts jurisdictions.

Additionally, A Better City supports the expansion of offshore wind procurement in Massachusetts, which will be equally important in helping us to achieve our emissions reduction targets.

Both versions of climate legislation before the climate conference committee contain market-based compliance mechanisms for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, or forms of carbon pricing. To our knowledge, A Better City submitted the only comment letter to suggest the earmarking of these market-based compliance funds for specific types of spending, recommending that a portion of the market-based compliance funds be earmarked to support deep energy retrofits in the building sector. We also recommend that a portion of market-based compliance funds be dedicated to the proposed Clean Energy Equity Workforce and Market Development Program, eliminating a conflict with the current proposed source of funds that would take money away from energy efficiency projects. A Better City strongly supports investing in equitable clean energy workforce development, and has worked hard to find solutions that do not jeopardize energy efficiency dollars.

The one provision in the proposed climate legislation before the committee that A Better City opposes is the creation of the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission. Although we continue to push for the legislature’s need to address climate resilience at a regional scale through a possible Climate Resilience Commission, the funding, governance structure, and scope of the proposed MA Climate Policy Commission, that focuses only on mitigation, poses a risk of duplicating existing efforts like the Global Warming Solutions Act Implementation Advisory Committee and the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. We also oppose the reallocation of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds towards this proposed commission, as we believe that those funds should stay available for energy efficiency initiatives.

A Better City submitted comments to conferees on October 8th understanding that a committee meeting was imminent. However, many advocates are suggesting that we may not see movement on climate legislation until after the presidential election in November. In the meantime, A Better City is actively pursuing meetings with climate committee conferees, as well as engaging with our peer organizations and advocates, in order to present a united climate and clean energy advocacy front. With wildfires continuing to burn in the west and hurricanes devastating the southeast, the evidence is abundantly clear that we must act on climate this session.

Finally, in addition to continuing to push the legislature to pass comprehensive climate legislation before the end of the year, A Better City continues to engage on parallel climate policy processes within the Baker Administration at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) as well as within the City of Boston. As a reminder: at the state-level, A Better City sits on the Implementation Advisory Committee (IAC) of the Global Warming Solutions Act. Through A Better City’s role on the IAC, we have been actively engaged in providing comments to EEA on transportation and buildings policy recommendations as they finalize a Decarbonization Roadmap Study aimed at Massachusetts becoming net zero by 2050, and also finalize priority actions to include in the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030. Drafts of both the Decarbonization Roadmap Study and the 2030 MA Clean Energy and Climate Plan should be available by the end of 2020 with comment periods to follow. At the city-level, we are actively engaging with the City of Boston as they develop pathways for existing buildings and a standard for new construction to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.  We are also in the process of developing draft recommendations for the next three-year energy efficiency plans (2022-2025) and will be seeking input on those in the near future.

You can read A Better City’s comment letter submitted to the climate conference committee on October 8th, 2020  here.





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