fb-pixel Skip to main content

Massachusetts takes major steps in fight against climate change

With several major initiatives, Massachusetts has ramped up its efforts to curb climate change and now leads the nation in its commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

The latest step, just days after the Baker administration issued a legally binding plan to achieve zero emissions on a net basis by 2050, came Monday as the state Legislature approved a far-reaching environmental bill, the most sweeping measure to address climate change since the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008.

The bill, which must be approved by Governor Charlie Baker, comes a few weeks after Massachusetts joined Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. in an agreement that would mandate cuts to their transportation emissions — the nation’s leading source of greenhouse gases — by roughly a quarter over the next decade.


“This could be the best month in Massachusetts history for climate policy,” said Elizabeth Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “If the governor signs this bill, it vaults Massachusetts back into national climate leadership.”

It was unclear on Monday whether Baker would sign the bill, which would require the state to reduce its emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The plan released by the Baker administration last week would require the state to cut emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels during the same period.

State environmental officials declined to comment on whether Baker would sign the bill. He has 10 days to sign, although the legislative session ends Wednesday.

“The administration will review any legislation that reaches the governor’s desk,” said Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

In a recent hearing on Beacon Hill, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said her staff’s modeling suggested that it would be better for the state to set a 45 percent target, given the economic costs of the steeper cuts.


“If you do the transition too fast, you can accelerate costs without necessarily getting any benefit,” she told lawmakers.

Baker’s plan to reduce emissions, among a raft of reforms, would mandate that only zero-emissions vehicles be sold in the state by 2035; retrofit a million homes to use electricity for heating instead of gas and oil; and dramatically increase offshore wind power and other forms of renewable energy, putting the state on a path to essentially end its use of fossil fuels by 2050.

“The people of Massachusetts are experiencing record droughts, increased risk of wildfire, severe weather, and flooding in our coastal communities,” Baker said in a statement last week. “The costly impacts of climate change are on display in the Commonwealth, making it critical that we take action.”

State lawmakers and environmental advocates said they were hopeful Baker would sign the bill, which took months to negotiate.

In addition to setting strict emissions limits, which must be reviewed every five years to ensure the state is making sufficient progress, the bill establishes mandatory limits for six sectors of the economy: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.

The bill also requires the state to reduce emissions 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2040 and 85 percent below those levels by 2050. The state would have to find other ways to offset the remaining emissions to reach net zero, such as planting trees.


“If signed by the governor, this bill would restore Massachusetts’s national leadership in addressing climate change, and the disproportionate impact of pollution on Black, brown, and other environmental justice communities in the state,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, acting director of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, who said the bill’s emissions targets for 2030 would be stricter than those set by California and New York.

The legislation promotes environmental justice by seeking to reduce pollution in the most-affected communities. It also increases energy efficiency requirements in appliances; directs the Department of Public Utilities to focus more on reducing emissions; and calls for utilities to buy an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power, raising the state total to 5,600 megawatts.

In a statement, the bill’s chief negotiators, Representative Thomas Golden of Lowell and Senator Michael Barrett of Lexington, called the bill “the strongest effort of its kind in the country.”

“This is focused, serious, and specific,” Barrett said. “It won’t allow us to look away when we fall short. It keeps the work of reducing carbon emissions squarely in front of us. This is no-excuses law-making.”

Golden said the bill would ensure that all communities with environmental and public health concerns have the full weight of the law behind them.

But some environmental advocates raised concerns about the bill, saying it didn’t ban wood burning for electricity or prevent such plants from qualifying for state subsidies.


William Moomaw, a retired professor of environmental policy at Tufts University, called the bill “fatally flawed” because it lacked such provisions and could allow a controversial plant to be built in Springfield, which has ranked as the asthma capital of the nation.

“Burning wood for electricity makes climate worse by releasing more carbon dioxide than any fossil fuel, including coal,” he said. “The air pollution released will harm all, especially low-income people of color, where the power station is to be located.”

The bill imposes a five-year moratorium on biomass plants qualifying for state subsidies. It also directs state energy officials to study the impact of those plants on carbon emissions and public health.

The bill won support from some of the state’s largest business groups and power plant operators.

“AIM supports the bill because it not only sets aggressive goals to meet the state’s climate change objectives, but importantly for businesses, it provides many of the tools needed to achieve these goals,” said Robert Rio, a senior vice president at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a trade association of businesses.

Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, called the bill and the Baker administration’s plan “a new economic pathway.”

“The future that this bill outlines will require major investments in new clean electricity supplies as well as continued maintenance of many existing power plants to preserve reliability,” he said. “New England’s competitive electricity generators are ready, willing, and able to power that future.”

David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.