The message from the top House climate negotiator was clear Sunday: the ball’s in your court, governor.
Democrats in the legislature are hoping that this session does not end the same way the last one did, with Gov. Charlie Baker vetoing a piece of significant climate policy legislation. But Baker returned their compromise offshore wind and climate bill (H.5060) Friday with substantial amendments, including exempting multifamily construction from a proposed pilot program that would prove out costs and benefits of developments that pass on fossil fuel building systems.
Baker’s administration, which has worked closely but not always agreed with the legislature on climate policy since Baker took office in 2015, supports the main thrusts of the bill – to reshape the way the state connects to offshore wind power, accelerate a transition to renewable energy sources and help Massachusetts achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2050 – but was concerned about the feasibility of some sections.
An agreement on a House-Senate response emerged early Sunday, the final day for roll call votes this year, and it emerged in the House just before 4:30 p.m. in the form of a further amendment that Rep. Jeff Roy filed to the governor’s amendments. By adopting the further amendment with a voice vote, the House avoided having to vote directly on Baker’s amendments. The Senate rejected the governor’s amendment and then adopted the further amendment, also with voice votes. The bill was reenacted and sent back to Baker’s desk after 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
Legislators Talk Up Compromises
Roy told the House that the latest version of the legislature’s climate bill incorporates some of Baker’s suggestions like the outright elimination of the offshore wind price cap, but rejects his call to use $750 million of ARPA money to further the development of green power infrastructure. He also quoted a passage about compromise from the governor’s recently-published book and suggested that Baker will have to decide whether to go along with the latest climate bill or go down in history as the governor who rejected clean energy and climate policy.
“With your vote today, you return the decision back to the governor about whether it becomes law. And of the many people who live in this commonwealth, he was chosen to determine this most serious and substantial matter. He was selected to determine the fate of this legislation and our climate and energy future,” Roy said Sunday afternoon. “With his action on this bill, he can be the governor that transforms climate and energy policy in Massachusetts or he can be the one who pulled the plug on electrification and the one who took the breeze out of offshore wind. He has an incredible choice to make and we certainly hope that he embraces the compromise like all of us have already done.”
Roy repeatedly pointed out that, while the legislature was rejecting Baker’s call to use $750 million, the House and Senate have approved a total of $3.1 billion in funding for climate and energy matters between the latest versions of the climate bill, an economic development package and an infrastructure bond bill – none of which have yet completed their legislative journeys – and the fiscal year 2023 budget, which is law.
“Again, four times the amount proposed by the governor,” Roy said.
When the climate issue came up in the Senate, Sen. Michael Barrett played the good cop to Roy’s bad cop and instead focused on the ways that Baker and his amendments “influenced our thinking and our approach” in the latest edition of the climate bill. He specifically mentioned the exclusion of life sciences, medical and hospital new construction from the provisions of the bill’s 10-town fossil fuel-free construction demonstration project – in response to real estate industry concerns – the way people are appointed to the Mass. Clean Energy Center’s board, and in regards to the Senate changing its position and going along with erasing the offshore wind price cap.
“We heard the governor. He wanted to do away with the price cap. For the entirety of the consideration of this climate bill from its inception months ago, the price cap has been the highest profile factor distinguishing the Senate’s position from the governor’s and we have yielded,” Barrett said.
In an email to Banker & Tradesman Monday, Barrett also noted that the legislature adopted several suggestions from the administration on how portions of the fossil fuel-free pilot program were phrased.
Ban’s Author: Pilot Will Help Industry in Long Run
Research produced by the state Department of Energy Resources in February as part of efforts to develop a new stretch energy code showed small single-family, large single-family and small multifamily buildings could be significantly cheaper to build and own or operate if designed from the ground up with all-electric building systems for heating, cooling, cooking and other uses.
But real estate industry trade groups strongly opposed an earlier version of the ban, which did not include housing production requirements or the lab exemption. Even after the changes, commercial development trade association NAIOP-MA said it welcomed the alterations but still had “significant concerns” about the bill.
Barrett, who drafted much of the pilot program’s language, said it was important for the state to help multifamily developers show their products weren’t climate-killers.
“As the climate crisis intensifies, you don’t want people looking disapprovingly at multi-family because, alone among housing types, it’s ‘dirty,'” he said in an email to Banker & Tradesman.
He also raised concerns that creating distinctions within a single development class – between multifamily and single-family homes – would create “unintended consequences, inimical to the interests of multi-family, in singling out one residential subsector in that way.”
“Who knows how quickly the pressure will grow in certain communities to minimize fossil fuel-based systems across the board,” he said.
Baker Will ‘Carefully’ Review Bill
In a statement Sunday night, Baker spokesman Terry MacCormack reiterated that Baker and the administration share the legislature’s goal of ensuring Massachusetts can meet its clean energy and climate goals, and that the governor’s amendments were an attempt to find compromise.
“While the legislature adopted a few of the governor’s amendments, many other important improvements were left out. The administration will carefully review the final bill that reaches the governor’s desk,” MacCormack said.
Environmental activists on Sunday urged Baker to support the latest climate bill heading to his desk and said they would scrutinize his handling of it.
“Starting tomorrow, all eyes will be on Gov. Baker. We’re counting on him to do the right thing and sign this bill into law,” Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, said late Sunday afternoon.
This story has been updated with comment from state Sen. Michael Barrett
Banker & Tradesman staff writer James Sanna contributed to this story.