Mass. Bills Aim to Cut State's Emissions

Senate leaders hope to transition vehicles to electric power and supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities.

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BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate unveiled bills Thursday that Democratic leaders say will help dramatically reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.

The transitioning of cars, trucks and buses to carbon-free electric power and the jump-starting of efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities are among the goals outlined by the bills.

The package also sets a statewide “net zero” emissions greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050.

To reach the goal, the legislation requires the state to hit near-term carbon limits in 2025, 2030 and every five years after that. The bill also sets separate sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution and other major sectors.

The legislation would set a deadline for converting all Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority buses to all-electric power by directing the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2030, and to aim for an all zero-emissions fleet by 2040.

State government would also be limited to buying or leasing zero emissions vehicles beginning in 2024.

“The young people of Massachusetts have told us in no uncertain terms that they are looking to state leaders to take bold action on climate change,” Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said.

Existing state law — the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act — set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The package of bills unveiled Thursday would effectively set a goal of 100% below 1990 levels.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said this week he is also committed to achieving a climate goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The bills would give the governor and his successors the ability to choose among various market based forms of carbon pricing — including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bills would also require the state Department of Energy Resources to set aside future solar allocations for low-income neighborhoods and let the state support cities and towns that choose to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings.

Supporters of the legislative package say it would counter efforts by the Republican administration of President Donald Trump to slow the progress of energy-efficient appliances by updating the state's own appliance standards to improve energy and water standards for household and commercial appliances.

The bills would also create a new Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission to oversee the government’s handling of climate change and offer a “nonpartisan, science-based view” of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts.

The bills are expected to be debated by the full Senate next week.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said this week that the House will also be supporting the net-zero goal.

Environmental activists said they support the bill, although some say it still doesn't go far enough.

The Sierra Club said it backs the phase-in of electric buses and increasing access to solar for low-income communities, but said Massachusetts should get in line with other states that have embraced a transition to 100% clean, renewable electricity.

"Without a more urgent timeline to move the electric sector to 100% clean, renewable energy, it will be extremely challenging to meet the goals outlined in the bill," said Deb Pasternak, Massachusetts chapter director of the Sierra Club.

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