Senate Climate Bill

Update: June 14, 2018

The senate has now acted on a version of this bill.

Earlier this week, Senator Pacheco’s Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change released an omnibus bill climate change bill.

The bill combines dozens of ideas for reducing carbon emissions. I will certainly vote for it when it reaches the floor.  I have long advocated strong action to reduce carbon emissions and a vote for the bill will keep the conversation moving.

I am most enthusiastic about the provisions of the bill (section 67) that would create market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and buildings.  Vehicles account for approximately 40% of the greenhouse gases in Massachusetts and buildings account for almost as much.  Electric power generation now only emits approximately 20% of the greenhouse gases.

Chart extracted from MA GHG Emission Trends as of February 18, 2018.

For three reasons, we have tended to focus on the electric power sector in policy discussions about green house gas emissions.  First, it was once a larger slice of the pie.  It has shrunk over the past twenty years, in part because of our efforts to shift it towards renewables, but largely because many generators have shifted from coal to cheaper natural gas which contributes less to global warming.  Second, the state has a long history of directly regulating the power sector to prevent over-charging by monopoly utilities, so it was easy to start regulating it to reduce carbon emissions.  Finally, wind, solar and other emerging energy industries are very active in lobbying and have effectively sought subsidies to support their growth.


Chart extracted from Appendix C, of Mass DEP’s Greenhouse Gas Baseline, Inventory & Projection, 1990-2014 Sector Tab, as of February 16, 2018 at this link.

The present legislation continues to expand subsidies for particular electric power sources. While I do not oppose these subsidies, I’ll confess some uneasiness about them —  I am skeptical of our ability to make good quantitative decisions about just how much of an assist we should give to particular technologies.  I prefer market-based incentives that encourage consumers to choose the carbon-reduction approach that works best for them.

That is why I am especially enthusiastic about the bill’s (section 67) provisions for reducing vehicle and building emissions.  The bill requires the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to promulgate regulations creating market-based mechanisms to reduce green house gas emissions — first from cars and light trucks, then from commercial and industrial buildings, then from residential buildings, with the regulatory roll-out to complete by 2022.  The bill contemplates that these mechanisms may be created in collaboration with other states and/or Canadian provinces.  Especially for the transportation sector — by definition mobile across state lines —  a regional approach makes sense.

I am also pleased that the bill puts teeth into the Global Warming Solutions Act that we passed in 2008.  The GWSA defined a goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  The present legislation would require the setting of intermediate goals and the definition of pathways to achieving those goals.  It requires that the new market-mechanisms for reducing vehicle and building emissions be calibrated so as to make achievement of those goals more likely. These concepts reflect the thinking of my colleague, Senator Mike Barrett, who has long been a champion of carbon pricing.

The bill also speaks to climate adaptation.  As far as we may go in reducing emissions in Massachusetts, we can be sure that the climate will continue to change and we need to be prepared.  I’ve been especially focused on the flood risks created by rising seas and more powerful storms.  Beyond protecting neighborhoods in my district, my concern is to assure that the MBTA and other regional infrastructure owners are taking the measures they need to defend their assets.  As the bill moves forward, I’ll be giving particular attention to the adaptation provisions — the bill creates anopportunity to make sure we are giving the best possible legislative support to agency adaptation efforts.

Read  the committee’s detailed summary here or the full text of the bill here.

 

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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44 Comments

  1. Thank you very much for this update, and even more for the work and careful thought you have put into these so-important issues over the years. I hope this bill succeeds, and succeeds in accomplishing its goals. Both our Commonwealth and our planet need it.

    1. Thanks for your dedication . Complicated issue.

      Simple questions: why only “light trucks’ and not the diesel black smoking huge trucks, commercial vehicles?

      Wind power seems harmless, especially to those offended by the view but it is invisibly deadly: each turbine installation destroys an acre of seabed, ditching to get the power lines to shore destroys more. Inefficient to have power source so far from consumer. The killing of birds shouldn’t be dismissed. The few low turbines on Deer Island killed ospreys and peregrines last spring acc to state figures. No statistics available for wind farm kills due to impossibility of monitoring losses.

      Better to support tidal power/wave generation that doesn’t damage the vital ocean. Also new developments in solar: photovoltaic shingles, window films and the potential for locating solar farms over parking lots instead of wasting valuable open space. Thus power source near the consumer.

      Must keep in mind the long range: wind farms require maintenance and then deconstruction when obsolete which will be sooner than later. Our ocean is too valuable to waste on our greed for energy!

  2. Sounds great. I assume you saw the Globe editorial about the LNG issues with the Russians getting it from the Arctic-shifting even more to conservation and renewables will lessen the state’s Risk of being complicit in the Russian’s environmental damage.

  3. I believe in reducing my carbon footprint as I installed a solar system last September.
    Good move to support this effort.
    How about H740 which needs your support to get voted on. Can we count on Senator Brownsberger ? He is the key to get this bill to the floor for a vote!
    Respectively,
    Bill Horrigan
    Lifetime Alimony Payor

  4. Great to hear what our Legislature is doing to reduce carbon emissions and that you are a strong supporter.

    How I wish we could push the president and the U.S. Senate and Legislature to act on this urgent issue, also.

  5. I love all efforts to encourage a smaller carbon footprint and less pollution. As a renter, I would love to see efforts to encourage landlords to make their rental properties more energy efficient including better weather proofing, more energy efficient appliances in rental units and common areas, and the use of clean energy. In many cities, creative ways have been found to green their communities, including rooftop (and even exterior wall) gardens, removing asphalt in no-park areas and replacing them with hardy plants that can be driven over in the case of emergency, city-wide compost initiatives and more. In Brighton, I’d love to see more efforts to green our community. Let’s eliminate styrofoam and plastic bags and make green living easier and more affordable for renters and students. Thanks for everything you’re doing.

  6. Having just looked over the summary of the bill it looks very comprehensive. On concern regarding power generation from natural gas is the fact that large amounts of methane are vented or burned off in the fracking process. (I see that the courts upheld the Obama administration policy on this overruling Trump.) My concern is it is difficult to monitor and the penalties are probably not enough to deter bad actors in the industry.
    Energy conservation and incentives to insulate and improve energy efficiency of commercial warehouses and residential buildings would also help.

    1. Now that we’re mostly done with coal, natural gas is a dirty fuel again anyway whatever other problems there are. Doing more natural gas no longer gives us any emissions offset. It’s not better than anything we have left. The only direction for natural consistent with reducing emissions from now on is to use less of it. By 2040/2050 we have to figure out a way to use close to none of it.

    2. Regarding natural gas I’m concerned that though it may bring down the emissions in MA the emissions cost in far away places (such as Siberia I’v heard recently)of producing it and shipping it mean that on a worldwide basis there’s no net savings. I’d rather see more massive funding for offshore wind and a new strategy for sourcing hydroelectric now that NH has refused to allow power lines for a project that would have made a HUGE difference.

  7. I posted something long and windy which didn’t seem to land (and just as well). I’ll just say what I don’t like about the summary above is there’s lots of attention to electric vehicles and pretty much nothing to improve public transit. The two efforts should be at least equal. It should be acknowledged somewhere by someone that the emissions reductions from more people in electric trains are significantly higher than those from people switching to single occ. EVs. EVs will be part of the solution, but people have to be realistic and note the estimates that they’re only 50% less emitting (until our power sources improve a lot and that’s a long way off) than conventional cars rather than seeing them as being “zero emissions vehicles.”

    1. Great point. Engineering solutions can only take us so far and we’ve got to get our heads out of the Henry-Ford-American Dream. I still love the progress being made, though. The regional agreement a la RGGI seems to make so much sense and the potential for a market system of allotments to raise money for investments in transportation sure is tantalizing. I’m gonna start now arguing that some guidelines be considered for steering those $’s to the T and RTA’s.

    2. Couldn’t agree more that public transit is a huge part of the solution and it is terribly important for many other reasons — safety, congestion, local pollution, environmental justice, economic development.

      That’s why I put much of my energy on improving transit.

  8. Ideally we would have more wind power – the cape winds project would have served not only the electric demand but also would have made an area safe for fish and shell fish since dragging and drag nets could not be used in these area’s making a sort of fish sanctuary – I believe we could do the same off Boston Harbor as well. – I just do not understand the people who object to these projects – cape winds was going to be 13 miles off the coast of Cape Cod – which the sight of the windmills would have been past the line of sight – noise – don’t think that would matter – Birds – we kill more birds with planes every day

  9. Glad to see there’s some progress, Will. And I know your heart’s in the right place.

    However, it’s most definitely not enough! Within a short period of time, climate change will have become inevitable and essentially inalterable.

    We really do need much more and much better.

  10. Residential emissions could be considerably reduced by switching from diesel fuel to natural gas.

    Changing building codes to improve efficiency is a good idea, but I do hope the legislature will do a cost-benefit analysis, and not turn this into another funding mandate on communities. Government construction costs already are back-breaking for many communities.

    Geothermal wells, for example, are a good solution for large buildings (e.g. schools) but they add a couple million dollars to the cost. If the state wants to fund geothermal wells, it would save considerably on emissions, but the extra costs have to be funded by the state – or the building codes must be relaxed in other areas in compensation.

    1. One other quick point: with the closing of Pilgrim nuclear plant, emissions are actually expected to go up – and the state does not have a game in place to address the loss in carbon-free capacity.

      New York State is stepping in to finance its failing nuclear plants. That would be unpopular in MASS but a good energy policy is not always a popular energy policy.

    2. You are getting to the heart of the issue here — reducing emissions does cost money. The equity issues in bearing those costs are very complex — honestly beyond the ability of government to sort out if we try to it through specific energy programs. That’s why I like the carbon fee approach the best.

  11. Questions:
    1) chances of passage?
    2) how best can we increase above?
    (are there particular opinion-leaders to focus on?)
    3) how quickly will Deleo deep-six this if/when something similar goes up for vote in House?

    Thanks.

    1. Eventually, it will likely get done, but not sure of timing. I’d say that a bill of this breadth has a good chance of getting to the Senate, but may not make it through the House in the five months remaining in the session — there is a lot to digest in this bill and it may take into next session.

  12. Dear Will:

    Harnessing market forces is a great idea–along with stiffer government regulation, eg. greener building codes, and more serious government engagement in promoting public transportation. We need both public and private sectors to ‘step up’ at times together, at times independently but always in a complementary fashion.

    An example of complementarity is the need of private EV owners in urban areas to have publicly provided charging stations. Maybe the absence of public charging station is an effort to reduce privately owned vehicles but limitations of parking spaces, resident parking programs, etc. will keep a cap on that.

    What can we do to encourage our municipalities to install more charging stations and thereby promote the EV industry.

    Michael McCord
    Chair,
    NABB Green Committee

    1. I would prefer the no-car option with better public transportation. EV only solve the tail-pipe problem, We still need 6 car spaces for every car on the road (1 space at home, 1 space at work and 4 spaces on the road you are driving on) and all the petroleum pumped to make the pavement and run the machines that lay it. Public transit is an efficiency of scale.

  13. Right on, Will. Keep fighting the good fight. I’m so glad to see MA moving in this direction. I only wish the rest of the country was doing so. We can work on them by being a good example.

  14. I share your views on power subsidies, I have my concerns about the Energy Utility Industrial Complex. I have been blizzard-ed with select your own electric supplier (in reality the same monopoly delivers it to my door), Energy audits push electric air conditioners that run backwards it the winter. I will wait for the off-grid option.

  15. Looking at the chart included above, I was curious as to how such analyses account for out-of-state GHG emissions caused by in-state consumption.

    In this document:
    http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dep/air/climate/1990-2020-final.pdf
    I found some thoughtful consideration of that issue, including:

    “It is important to recognize that 20-25% of the Commonwealth’s electricity is imported from power plants located in other states and in Canada. In order to account for the net electricity imports into Massachusetts from other New England states and import areas, as required by statute, Massachusetts-specific generation and load data were utilized to develop an imported emissions estimate.”

    and

    “Similarly, the 1990 Baseline apportions to Massachusetts a percentage of the megawatt hours of losses (and associated emissions) due to pumped hydro and of the net annual imports into the ISO-NE grid from the New York, New Brunswick and Quebec grids.”

    By contrast, there’s a disappointing dearth there of similar attention to the remote GHG emissions related to Massachusetts consumption of agricultural products. The closest I find is:

    Traditional emissions inventories (including the SGIT) and projections are based on the production of emissions in a geographic area. But emissions generated by the manufacture
    of products elsewhere and transportation of these products into Massachusetts (and thus “embodied” in these products) are potentially significant, and in the future could be tracked
    and projected as well.”

    Indeed. The analysis can be highly misleading absent doing that, and corrective actions far less than optimally effective.

    In any event, thanks for your own, well-considered, attention to such matters, Senator.

  16. Many years ago tidal power generation was created as a clean source of energy production but never seemed to be adopted due to its high investment cost. With the increase in ocean levels anticipated due to global warming it would seem that this source of energy should be re-examined.

  17. Interesting for me to learn that buildings account for almost as many greenhouse gases as transportation. Also glad to see the regional approach to this crucial issue. Thanks, as always, for keeping us informed.

  18. Bravo. And while you are at it, how about restricting gun possession to official military personnel and police, plus hunters who can register and deposit their rifles (no handguns or assault rifles) with the police, except for relevant hunting seasons. As you know, our daughter teaches at a Mass. High School.

  19. The bill seems to be addressing a lot of important issues and sets us in the right direction. It is amazing to me that all the issues are combined into one bill, males it difficult to digest all the details. What is the effect on Belmont, and specifically Belmont Light going to be? Will there be presentations on this bill that are open to the public?

  20. Senator Brownsberger, I support the ideas in this bill, especially a focus on a carbon tax as a way to reduce greenhouse gases. My organization, 350 Central MA, would like to see this bill get a vote on the floor SOON, as the legislative calendar is winding down. PLEASE tell us how we can help push this to a positive vote on the floor. Who are the senators that need education on the issues?

  21. It’s time to focus on environmental incentives for transportation. Beyond the benefits for the environment, are the real opportunities to move more of the substantially rising number of commuters on our fixed streets with greater occupancy in and additional capacity of, multi commuter vehicles. Further is affordable housing, if families can more reliably commute. Millions and even hundreds of millions are being spent on roads of the NW and western corridors, simply to maintain capacity.

  22. Will,
    A belated post.
    The bill has a lot of good elements but I am concerned there is so much in it that it will be a tough sell overall. ELM apparently recently put out a message that the bill had passed the Senate. Is that so?

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