Mass. governor returns climate change bill with a host of changes


The debate over sweeping climate change legislation in Massachusetts continues. Weeks after state lawmakers re-passed a bill, Gov. Charlie Baker sent it back to the legislature on February 7 with proposed amendments.

The bill, “An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” landed on Baker’s desk for a second time after he “reluctantly” vetoed it when the legislative session ended in January. Determined to push ahead, lawmakers refiled and passed an identical bill when the new session started.

As previously reported, the legislation includes a host of environmental, social, and clean energy goals. The bill also includes several provisions designed to help boost the state’s solar industry, including net metering changes and tax certainty.

Baker’s list of proposed amendments appears to leave the solar aspects intact.

In his letter to lawmakers, Baker wrote that he is “grateful” the legislature re-passed the bill, allowing his administration time to work on reaching a compromise regarding some of the governor’s concerns.

Baker restated his support for the overall intent of the climate bill, but proposed various “technical amendments to address the nuts and bolts of implementation.”

Chief among Baker’s worries was the bill’s mandate to cut the state’s emissions no less than 50% below 1990 levels by 2030, which he said is “more aggressive” than his administration’s goal of 45% in the same period. When he vetoed the initial bill, Baker claimed the higher target would prove costly and wasn’t based on the latest data.

In his letter, Baker proposed establishing a range of 45% to 50% reductions for the 2030 limit, as well as 65% to 75% for the 2040 limit. He said the new language would give the executive branch the flexibility to make the most appropriate decision based on the best-available information and unforeseen changes. Baker said this would help “avoid the costs that are expected to result from imposing a higher limit, particularly on those who can least afford it.”

Baker also raised concerns about the bill’s emissions-reduction mandates for particular sectors, which he argued could “unintentionally and disproportionately” hurt Massachusetts businesses and industries. The governor proposed an amendment to have sector-specific emissions sublimits “serve as planning tools, rather than independent legal requirements.”

Similarly, Baker raised concerns about the possible impacts a stretch energy code might have on development and affordable housing. He proposed that the Department of Energy Resources be in charge of transitioning to a specialized stretch energy code to provide more certainty.

Baker underscored his support for the bill’s environmental justice provisions, proposing amendments he claimed would make them “even stronger.” For example, he proposed new language requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct analyses of environmental justice populations as a condition of issuing certain permits.

Baker wrote he “sincerely” hoped the legislature will re-enact the bill with his proposed amendments.

According to local reports, a number of lawmakers are open to compromise and welcome some of the proposed changes. Sen. Michael Barrett, in particular, preferred Baker’s amendment letter over the governor’s earlier veto letter.

Barrett told one publication, “There will be disagreements there, but I liked the new theme.”

Because the climate bill passed with a supermajority, the legislature likely has enough support to override another veto from the governor.

Environment Massachusetts called Baker’s letter a “mixed bag.”

“Legislators should reject any weakening amendments—and, most important, they should act quickly to pass this bill into law,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for the advocacy group, in a statement.

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