Senate President Karen Spilka, center, speaks to reporters alongisde Sens. Michael Barrett and Michael Rodrigues, right and left, in this Jan. 23, 2020 file photo. Photo by Sam Doran | State House News Service

The Massachusetts Senate next week plans to take up a far-reaching package of climate bills whose major components include carbon-pricing mechanisms for transportation, homes and commercial buildings, and a series of five-year greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements that ramp up to net-zero emissions in 2050.

The three bills, teed up for debate on Thursday, Jan. 30, with amendments due by Monday, amount to what Senate President Karen Spilka called a “comprehensive plan for the state” to respond to an international issue: global climate change.

“This is a race against time,” Spilka told reporters. “Climate change is changing not only Massachusetts and the United States, it is changing the face of our planet, and our planet’s survival is at stake.”

The carbon pricing and net-zero emissions provisions are both contained in one piece of legislation, dubbed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy (S.2477). The other bills address the energy efficiency of some equipment in homes and businesses (S.2478) and electric vehicles (S.2476).

S.2477 allows the governor to choose among a revenue-neutral fee, a revenue-positive tax, or a cap and trade system like the Transportation Climate Initiative Gov. Charlie Baker is pursuing with other states. It would require a carbon-pricing mechanism to be in effect for energy used in the transportation sector by Jan. 1, 2022, for heating and cooling in commercial, industrial and institutional buildings by Jan. 1, 2025, and for heating and cooling in residential buildings by Jan. 1, 2030.

Lexington Sen. Michael Barrett said he has been working on assembling the package of legislation since June and that its overall goal is for the state “to do its part in keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” something he characterized as “very hard to do.”

“Actually getting there is really going to take everything Massachusetts can muster,” he said. “The language in this bill is very no-nonsense about how we’re going to get there.”

On carbon pricing, the bill takes a similar approach to language the Senate approved in 2018, leaving it up to the governor and executive branch to choose a specific methodology but setting deadlines for its adoption. That measure did not survive talks with the House last session and was dropped from the clean energy bill that ultimately became law.

Giving latitude to the governor rather than spelling out a specific mechanism helped get more senators on board with the idea of carbon pricing last session, Barrett said.

Barrett said the 2030 timeframe for residential carbon pricing is to allow time for cleaner home heating alternatives to evolve and for more energy-efficient homes to be built, in hopes of keeping costs down for homeowners.

The bill’s cost implications, for consumers, businesses and property owners, were not the focus of a briefing senators held Thursday morning before the bills were introduced during an 11 a.m. Senate session.

Since Baker on Tuesday night announced he was committing the state to net-zero emissions in 2050, some advocates have called for the state to pursue a more aggressive approach.

“Changing our emissions goal from ‘80% reduction by 2050’ to ‘net zero by 2050’ may make no difference in accelerating the Commonwealth’s transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts said, calling for the state to instead entirely eliminate its use of fossil fuels. “Most of the additional emissions reductions could be met through dubious offsets and accounting changes.”

The press release Spilka’s office issued on the climate legislation included statements of support from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, the Massachusetts Sierra Club, Northeast Clean Energy Council, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, Acadia Center and the Mass Climate Action Network.

The senate’s main bill also would require the development of a net-zero energy code that municipalities could opt into if they choose to move away from fossil fuels as a heating source and would increase membership on the Board of Building Regulation and Standards, including new seats for experts in energy efficiency.

Bill Would Require Carbon Pricing for Commercial Buildings by 2025

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min
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