Senate Climate Package

The Senate Ways and Means Committee just released a bold, thoughtful and comprehensive package of bills designed to accelerate our move away from fossil fuels.  The package is being well-received by many environmental leaders and I look forward to voting for it very soon.

Back in 2008, I had a hand in passing the Global Warming Solutions Act which set the state on a course to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.  The present package recognizes the latest science and amends the GWSA to set a stronger long-term target – net zero emissions in 2050. 

For discussion of the net-zero goal, please see this post.

The package makes the planning process stronger by making the emission reduction targets more detailed:  It requires definition of stringent short and medium term targets for each sector of the economy.  It also requires more timely reporting on progress.

The package mandates that the Secretary of Environmental Affairs implement “market based compliance mechanisms” to achieve emission reduction goals.  “Market based compliance mechanisms” include carbon fees and cap-and-trade systems that put a price on carbon emissions.  Most economists believe that this is the most effective kind of approach to transforming our economy – letting people and businesses make their own price-informed choices in the market as to how to reduce emissions.

The Governor is already using his authority under the original GWSA to create a cap-and-trade system for pricing carbon emissions from transportation fuels.  The package would require him to move forward to also price carbon emissions from the commercial, industrial, institutional and residential sectors.

The package makes other thoughtful changes to our energy/climate regulatory structure.  For example, it would create a new Climate Policy Commission comprised of respected independent experts who would offer regular unbiased assessments of our progress in reducing emissions.

The package will also accelerate the transition to electrified vehicles.  It makes permanent in statute the existing program to offer incentives for purchasing zero-emission vehicles.  It requires that the building code mandate electrical service to support charging stations in new construction of parking facilities with over 10 spaces. 

It also requires the state to migrate its fleet to zero-emission vehicles (to the maximum extent possible) starting in 2024, and mandates that the MBTA start migrating its bus fleet in 2030 to complete a migration by 2040.  Most of us would like to see a swifter migration of the bus fleet, but our cold weather tests the limitations of current battery technology for bus service.

The following pair of statistics shows the central importance of these provisions related to electric vehicles:  Vehicles registered in Massachusetts drive approximately 60 billion miles per year, but all of our transit agencies in the state together account for under 2 billion passenger miles traveled per year.

We can aspire to car free urban areas and we should support improved public transportation as a congestion reduction strategy.  But 30 years from now, many people will still be dependent on automobiles and if we are to achieve zero net-emissions, most of those vehicles will have to be electric.

Finally, the legislation includes appliance efficiency rules which are designed to counter the weakening of federal regulations that occurred recently.

Officials from a number of environmental organizations have already weighed in with strong statements in support of the legislation.  Their organizations include the Massachusetts Sierra Club, the Northeast Clean Energy Council, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Acadia Center, Mass Climate Action Network and the Conservation Law Foundation.

The package is the brain child of Senator Mike Barrett.  He has assembled the best ideas available in legislation filed by other senators and through long study has added a number of very creative concepts of his own.  Our Ways and Means Chair, Senator Mike Rodrigues, has done a great job refining the package and building consensus around it.  All of this progress has been made under the positive direction of Senate President Karen Spilka.

I feel fortunate to have such competent colleagues whose values align with my own and who have done the work necessary to put such a strong package on the floor.

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Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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48 Comments

  1. Kudos to you all. If public transportation can become as reliable as cars (ie running frequently, efficiently and on time, I think fewer people will drive.

  2. Good going Will. “Net zero everywhere” Is the key. We’re fighting to make sure the new Belmont High School keeps solar on the roof as part of its net zero footprint. Please help pressure that committee, which is getting $80 million of state funds for the HS.
    Net zero everywhere means making electric cars and buses ubiquitous but also convenient: the state has to start changing the rules of the game for service stations around MA, by requiring high speed chargers (200-300 miles in 10-15 mins) at “filling stations” so that urban drivers can quickly charge up. And the state should extend its beautiful solar exit ramps on the Pike to locate solar, battery packs and EV chargers along the right of ways of the Pike, 93, and other major highways. Miles and miles of solar abutting the emergency lanes, with periodic fast EV chargers, is the way to get people to change old driving habits….. it’s gotta be quick and easy to go long distances.

    Totally agree on carbon pricing, that’s how you begin to level the field and force economy-wide change, through the mighty dollar, otherwise it’s just aspirations without any teeth.

  3. Do agree that it needs to be market driven. Energy socialism will not work. The concept of alignment and proportionality needs to be preserved (the more carbon you produced the more you pay). I am concerned about a free-for-all spendathon in the legislature with the “new found revenue” and all the irrelevant programs it could be wasted on. Pay close attention to the revenue feedback loop alignment of the of taxation cost burden to the beneficiaries (those who use the most carbon) and rebate it to those who can least afford the tax. Spend only on related carbon reduction measures. We want to avoid the property tax disaster of stealing (through taxation) from senior citizens (who don’t benefit from) to support local public education we have now.

      1. I found a publication from the Public Service Commission of Massachusetts, dated 1916 (Boston, Wright and Potter Printing Co, 1918). The state had 2,434 revenue (passenger) tracks that generated $3,191,081 (1916 dollars) in revenue from 1,165,453,576 rides. The website: https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1916 shows that $100 then is equal to $2,357.56 now. The website https://mbtabackontrack.com/performance/#/home indicated that daily ridership on the T is 1.23 million. So this state has really progressed in 104 years. 🙁

  4. Electric cars are useful, but in my opinion, they just kick the can down the road. The energy used to charge electric vehicles mostly comes from burning fossil fuel (at least as things stand today). More electric vehicles means more energy demand, which means more greenhouse gas being released. Granted, in the future, perhaps a greater fraction of our energy will be supplied from renewables, but at the present moment present, electric cars really don’t present a net reduction in carbon emissions.

    1. I’ve wondered about that myself. Unless the source of the electricity is from renewable sources, it doesn’t seem that going electric would make much of a difference from an emissions standpoint. I would appreciate more discussion on the options related to emission free electricity sources if we’re including it as a solution.

      1. The electric cars are more efficient too, though in our climate we may lose some of that to heating. I’ve heard the number 50% less emissions thrown around with sources like ISO NE has. It is scary to think how we’ll get past natural gas. When I’ve looked at ISO NE projections they’re nothing we’d find acceptable (> 60% natural gas in the 2030s IIRC).

        A big concern I have too is the slope of the adoption curve and whether there will be problems we don’t know about yet that would prevent complete conversion to electric cars. There may be a tricky moral issue too unless engineers find a way to use something other than cobalt in the battery technology. What is it, roughly half of our cobalt comes from Democratic Republic of Congo, which has had (continues to have?) slave labour, including children, and has had militia use the proceeds for violence if I remember rightly.

        So while I get the Senator’s reasoning re. how people get around now vs. how they’ll likely be willing to in the future, I hope there’s good tracking and a trigger that fires if the EV path isn’t working out. That reasoning only makes sense if EVs truly are a viable path. If not then what is there? I think only public transit and getting people to live closer to city cores so it, walking and bicycling are viable for more people. When helpful ideas like the Governor’s zoning bill come around we should put those in place just as risk management in case our other plans don’t work out.

        Finally, people who are really on top of the world’s problems speak of biodiversity in the same breath as climate change. To do our part for that we should do no worse than to confine our sprawl to where it is now. EVs don’t help there too much I think.

  5. Thank you, Senator Brownsberger, for this communication. It is heartening to know that the climate crisis is being fully acknowledged and forcefully addressed by all competent and conscientious legislators.

  6. Will, this is off the subject, but I have not seen you take a position:

    Would you vote up or down on the Rent Control bill now before state legislative committees?
    It would allow cities and towns such as Belmont to impose various kinds of controls on rents, including non-owner occupied condos/single-family homes.
    Property owners have to plan for contingencies.
    You know that Rent Control has had a long and very bad history, causing deterioration of housing, for example.
    Please don’t say you’re undecided after all this time.

  7. Excellent legislation. I hope this gets positive votes in both Senate and House. I expect that with the Commonwealth supporting climate action and subsidies for purchasing zero emission vehicles that the people will follow their lead. It is good to see our state working for a better climate future when things still look dire nationally.

  8. A coupe of thoughts:
    1. I only hope that this will not increase the cost of doing business in our state as we are already on the high side, allowing businesses to select their energy type means nothing if all of the alternatives are more expensive than what we have now.
    2. If every state in our country does the same will it solve the problem? The answer is of course not! So, what is going to force the emerging market economies to do their part to solve this problem? The answer is nothing will force these countries to do what we are doing as they need to provide jobs for their people more than we do so they will use whatever energy is less expensive to grow their economies no matter the impact to the environment.
    3. In light of the above two thoughts I just do not see that we will solve the problem with these actions, it seems that is just feel good legislation costing us more money. (it is not that I think that we can just sit back and see what happens, but this does not solve the problem as it has been presented to us)

    1. You are right that other countries, especially developing countries, may not also cut carbon, but I really think we need to put the pressure on to use less carbon. We won’t invent the technologies that we will ultimately need unless create market conditions in which they are valuable.

      1. When giving developing countries the hairy eyeball on whether they’ll act (as IMO Al Gore did in his recent film) it’s important to consider emissions per capita vs. per country emissions. Looked at like that, and also if you include our historic usage of the carbon budget, as Thunberg frames it, we have a lot of responsibility to do what we can. The way I see it, if a place can’t act that has as much wealth, as much expertise and as relatively decent government institutions as Massachusetts (including excellent state senators 😉 ) then there really can be no hope. But as others point out the “no hope” line isn’t a way out either. Even if we’re too late how late we are will matter.

  9. All good, I don’t see anything on revisions to the building code (e.g. making Passive House mandatory for all new construction & renovation) or retrofits to state facilities?

    1. S2477 includes a mandate to “develop and adopt, as an appendix to the state building code, in consultation with the board of building regulations and standards, a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that includes, but is not limited to, a definition of net-zero building.”

      1. Ah . . . OK . . . Not entirely sure what that means or whether it helps, but will ask around. And I take it, implicitly, as read that the state itself has no intention of walking the walk as far as its own buildings are concerned. No surprises there . . .

  10. I am so glad to learn about this. Hope it passes both houses. Wish it could
    happen sooner than in thirty years, though!

  11. Great progress. Thanks for the hard work. Will the Governor and Legislature consider the climate effects of
    ever-expanding Logan Airport?– a (the?) major source of emissions.

  12. Excellent. Please be sure that building codes are modified, as well.
    Current projects on the table should be held accountable.
    Thanks, Will.
    Definitely a step in the right direction.

    1. S2477 includes a mandate to “develop and adopt, as an appendix to the state building code, in consultation with the board of building regulations and standards, a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that includes, but is not limited to, a definition of net-zero building.”

  13. A decade to (for example) electric buses is too long. Is a decade beyond the critical no recovery period? Is there a sense of urgency?

  14. Off shore windmills south and southwest of Marthas Vineyard are proscribed at the moment by lack of federal approval. Is there anything Massachusetts can do to speed approval?

  15. Please drive Route 2 from Alewife to the new ($80 million) interchange and to the Concord Commuter Rail Station. Feel the glassy smooth new paving. Then have someone drive the car back. Take the Fitchburg Commuter Rail back to, say, Waverly Station. Compare the train ride with the ride on the newly paved Route 2. Are we doing enough to attract commuters to transit? Is there a sense of urgency?

  16. Will
    I don’t support this legislation and I caution you to not let your activism cloud your vision. Unfortunately when a person becomes an activist their ability to listen to opposing points of view declines because they believe so passionately that they are right. In looking at the groups you listed as supporting this legislation there isn’t a single voice outside the usual climate change cheerleaders. This will raise the cost of living for all of us and make it harder to do business in Massachusetts. It will impact lower income people the most by raising their transportation and utility costs and driving blue collar jobs to lower cost areas.
    I am unconvinced that any of these measures will have any significant impact on the climate. This reminds me of the Onion’s money pit video. https://youtu.be/JnX-D4kkPOQ

    1. It’s a complicated conversation about how carbon fees will impact the economy. Some argue it will be good for MA economically by encouraging more use of locally produced energy. But regardless, I will continue to strive for objectivity.

  17. As many have commented, the success in converting to electricity in transport (and household/business heating as with heat exchangers) depends upon finding renewable energy sources, like using 1% of the available solar power! But while the cost of installing brings real return it is a capital investment that many are not able to make. The problem in part is in making finance available, as with mortgages. The state could set up its own mortgaging bank expressly for this purpose?

    1. Interesting thought. The state provides subsidies through the SREC program and tax credits to augment the federal credit.

      Private installation companies provide most of the financing through arrangements in which they bill over time. I don’t hear them asking for state financing. More for more subsidies.

  18. Responding to the wind power comment: we need to be thoughtful on that. The evidence is overwhelming that the low frequency noise from wind turbines is harmful. It causes structural changes to the inner ear (and thus headaches, nausea, anxiety etc. to those living nearby.)

  19. thanks for sharing this great news, Senator.
    I support all these measures. Electrifying our transportation and net zero energy. I also want to point out two additional points:
    1, making public transportation more accessible is a great idea. But limit the scope at improvement at smaller scales might not be enough. We need to add more infrastructure, how about putting new light rail/subway lines into the scope of long term planning. And we need to achieve that changes fast enough, hopefully in my lifetime giving the current MBTA/DOT records.( It is ridiculous that it would take 7 to 8 years, just to swap out the outdated and un-reliable cars out of the orange line and redline. It is also ridiculous that it would 5 years to resurface the long fellow bridge when it took Americans the same amount of time to build it from scratch more than a century ago. )

    2. A global optimization of development across Boston suburbs. We simply cannot keeping on centralizing all the commercial development in the urban area ( particularly City of Boston and surroundings) where traffic and sea level rise will soon be the biggest headache. At the same time, create huge traffic inflow/outflows because towns like Belmont(I live there) insist on making it more expensive and time consuming to live, drive through or take public transportation. I understand that residences in towns like Belmont enjoys the cherished tradition of small town, close-knit community and bucolic country style. But we are on the collision course between Belmont tradition and the continued economic development of Boston metro area (which we are all proud of). If towns like Belmont/Arlington stays the same, it means headache and pollutions for hundreds of thousands of commuters who need the work in Downtown but can’t afford to live there. IMHO, this has a larger impact than converting cars to electricity as it creates unnecessary commute, transportation and waste of energy and time.

    1. Cut them some slack on the Longfellow — they had to take it apart piece by piece and rebuild it the old fashioned way. Nothing harder than historic preservation.

      Agreed we need to move towards higher density around transit corridors.

  20. This fantastic news and important step. I agree that Massachusetts needs to be a leader on this issue. I didn’t see above, but perhaps have missed in the many details of the bills, how waste (which is a huge source of carbon emissions) can be a part of the legislation/solution (i.e., waste to energy and reducing waste overall).

  21. How can I track progress on what the House is doing with S2477 and the other two bills in this package? The latest update I could find today was this article: https://www.telegram.com/news/20200630/mass-lawmakers-agree-on-goal-climate-bill-in-2020
    I’ve lost track since that time, but it’s still all in progress, right?

    Btw., not sure if you keep track of this, but I told you I wasn’t a citizen in past communications. I had my citizenship interview yesterday and was found acceptable. So I should be a citizen shortly, in case that effects the weight you give my communications.

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