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In defiance of Governor Baker, the Legislature returns climate bill he vetoed

A protester at the Youth Climate Strike in the Massachusetts State House in 2019.
A protester at the Youth Climate Strike in the Massachusetts State House in 2019.Craig F. Walker/Globe staff/File 2019

In an act of legislative defiance, state lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill identical to one vetoed this month by Governor Charlie Baker that would make Massachusetts one of the nation’s leading states in addressing climate change.

The bill would require the state to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and effectively eliminate those emissions by 2050.

“For the climate bill, this is resurrection day,” said state Senator Michael Barrett, one of the bill’s chief sponsors and lead negotiators. “It isn’t the rule that major legislation leaps lightly across time from one session to the next.”

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Baker’s veto of the original bill couldn’t be overridden because the governor rejected it after the legislative session had expired. That meant lawmakers had to approve a new bill, which Baker now has 10 days to sign, veto, or return with proposed amendments.

In a five-page letter Baker sent to the Legislature upon vetoing the bill, he said he would likely have proposed amendments to the legislation had he been given more time. It’s unclear what he will do now.

In a statement, Baker administration officials called the new bill “an opportunity to craft the best possible legislation.”

“The administration looks forward to engaging in productive discussions with lawmakers and stakeholders to ensure the bill . . . achieves climate goals in a manner that is cost-effective and equitable, and builds upon the Commonwealth’s longstanding, bipartisan leadership on climate change,” said Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

If Baker returns the bill with amendments, the Legislature can accept, reject, or further amend them.

Before voting to approve the bill Thursday, state Representative Thomas Golden, a Lowell Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill in the House, called the Legislature’s action “historic” and thanked the House speaker and Senate president for “holding the line.”

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In addition to setting strict emissions limits statewide, which must be reviewed every five years to ensure 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 legislation also promotes environmental justice by seeking to reduce pollution in the most-affected communities; 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 his veto letter, Baker said he shared lawmakers’ goals but differed with them “on how these goals should best be achieved.”

“Reluctantly, I cannot sign this legislation as currently written,” he wrote.

Baker said he declined to sign the bill because it countered a recent law that seeks to promote affordable housing; lacked provisions to help fortify the state against rising seas and other impacts of climate change; would potentially harm regional efforts to procure clean energy; and was not supported by scientific analysis.

He also estimated it would cost at least $6 billion more than his administration’s plan to reduce emissions and cited the uncertain consequences of the bill on the state’s economy as it emerges from the pandemic. “As we are all learning what the future will hold, I have concerns about the impacts portions of this bill will have for large sectors of the economy,” Baker said.

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Other critics, including development lobbyist NAIOP Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, had also urged Baker to veto the bill.

Michael Ferrante, president of the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association, said some provisions of the bill could be onerous for households that rely on oil to heat their homes.

“The Legislature has not recognized the heating oil industry’s ability to help the state transition to net-zero emissions through the accelerated use of renewable liquid biofuel,” he said. “Lawmakers and policy makers want to convert all heating oil customers to very expensive and ineffective electric heat pumps. This will be especially damaging to low-income households.”

But state lawmakers and environmental advocates said criticism of the bill was shortsighted.

“We can work with the executive branch to address technical changes,” said state Senator Marc R. Pacheco, who chairs the committee on global warming and climate change. “But there’s simply no time to waste.”

Environmental advocates praised lawmakers for their swift response to Baker’s veto and said they will expect a similar response if he rejects the new bill.

“Last session’s climate bill is an important step toward a cleaner, safer future, but we need to go further,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts. “Let’s clear the decks of last session’s business by passing this bill into law. And then let’s turn our attention to the other important climate policies awaiting action.”

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Deb Markowitz, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, called the legislation “one of the boldest climate bills in the United States.”

“The state now has the driving force of accountability and targets by which to measure progress,” she said. “It’s the momentum we need in this defining decade.”


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