State’s Most Ambitious-Ever Climate Bill Is Still on Table. Here’s What’s at Stake

On January 14, 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker vetoed an ambitious piece of climate action legislation, named the “Next-Generation Roadmap,” which was passed by the State House chamber earlier in the month. The proposed bill would require Massachusetts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It would also put environmental justice definitions into law for the first time in the state’s history, ramp up offshore wind power by thousands of more megawatts, and make Massachusetts one of the country’s most aggressively focused states on reducing carbon emissions.

Since Baker’s veto, lawmakers have already refiled the bill in hopes that it will once again swiftly pass through the State House and Senate to land back on the governor’s desk, albeit with some changes expected to be added by Baker.

“I hope they can negotiate the differences and address them accordingly,” says Dennis Carlberg, Boston University’s associate vice president for sustainability and adjunct assistant professor of earth and environment, who is an energy conservation and sustainability leader in Boston and Massachusetts. “We have to move forward with this.”

In vetoing the bill, Baker outlined his concerns in a five-page letter written to the Massachusetts legislature, writing that despite being largely in agreement with the bill’s broad strokes, he had not yet had time to review it thoroughly and make necessary suggestions for him to sign on. His biggest issues with the bill as currently written? Baker says it doesn’t have strong enough protections in place for affordable housing, take into consideration future natural disasters and severe weather events caused by climate change, put in place clear language or funding to address the impact that climate mitigation will have on underserved communities, establish a framework for coordinating a clean energy plan with other states in the Northeast that share our regional power grid, follow key criteria established by the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, or make accomodations for the devastating toll that the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the state’s economy.

“In the coming days, I look forward to the opportunity to engage in a constructive, thoughtful dialogue on these important policy proposals with our partners in the Legislature to set the Commonwealth on a path for Net Zero by 2050 through aggressive, equitable and science-based climate action while protecting the state’s economy and most vulnerable residents,” Baker wrote.

But for many activists, Baker’s move to veto was a frustrating one. The bill had garnered support from many climate activist groups and environmental justice organizations, and, despite formally landing on Baker’s desk for his signature on January 4, 2021, has been under discussion since the summer of 2020. In December 2020, Baker’s administration outlined its own vision of climate legislation, which included slight variations from the proposed bill, including a change to how the state would measure carbon emission milestones within the next 30 years. Carlberg says both proposed paths forward are aimed at addressing a necessary update to the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, which has surpassed its target date of lasting through 2020.

The Brink asked Carlberg to explain the differences between the proposed bill and Baker’s own vision for climate legislation, and where the state’s policymakers must go from here to meet the state’s long-standing sustainability and emission reduction goals.

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