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State lawmakers poised to pass revised climate bill

Greater use of electric vehicles is a big part of the state's green-energy plan.
Greater use of electric vehicles is a big part of the state's green-energy plan.Jim Davis

A month after Governor Charlie Baker returned a landmark climate change bill to the Legislature with a host of suggested amendments, lawmakers are poised to approve a new bill that would reject some of his more substantial changes.

The first vote could come as soon as Thursday in the Senate. Lawmakers in the House are expected to vote next week on the same legislation, which would be one of the nation’s most far-reaching mandates for reducing planet-warming carbon emissions.

“We’re poised to pass an ambitious bill that restores Massachusetts’ national leadership on climate,” Senator Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat who’s one of the bill’s chief sponsors and lead negotiators, said Wednesday. “The Senate is just saying no to all the recent high-profile efforts to weaken the legislation.”

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Lawmakers have been negotiating closely with the Baker administration and plan to approve most of the changes he requested, which they described as “minor” or technical.

But they are poised to reject amendments that would lower the target for reducing emissions by the end of the decade. Specifically, the bill would require the state to cut its emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, lawmakers said. Baker had called for reducing emissions by 45 percent, saying it would cost the state $6 billion less than the Legislature’s plan.

To reach the 50 percent threshold, the state would need to eliminate the use of oil to heat homes, put nearly 1.2 million electric vehicles on the road, add twice as much clean power, and persuade other states to set new regional fuel standards that would reduce by nearly a third the amount of carbon in transportation fuels, administration officials said.

It’s unclear whether Baker would sign the revised legislation. The Legislature is likely to have enough votes to override a potential veto.

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Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said administration officials “look forward to reviewing any bill that reaches the governor’s desk.”

Baker’s decision last month to return the legislation with proposed amendments came after lawmakers, in a show of defiance, overwhelmingly approved an identical version of the bill that had died on Baker’s desk in early January. After Baker offered some 50 amendments, Kathleen A. Theoharides, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, told the Globe last month that she thought there was “considerable common ground” between the Baker administration and lawmakers.

“There is a shared sense of the urgency of addressing climate change as strongly as we can, while making sure we’re doing it through clear, practical, equitable, and cost-effective measures,” she said. “Getting a bill of this magnitude right on the technical details really matters.”

The bill seeks to put Massachusetts on a path to effectively eliminating its carbon emissions by 2050. It also calls for increasing energy-efficiency requirements for appliances and requiring utilities to buy more megawatts of offshore wind power. It has potentially broad ramifications for the business community, touching everything from the solar industry to municipal light plants.

While the new bill incorporates proposals from Baker that lawmakers said could enhance the legislation, such as measures that would promote environmental improvements across socioeconomic lines and could further reduce the state’s reliance on natural gas.

But lawmakers are likely to maintain language in the bill, over the governor’s wishes, that would require the state’s building codes to promote more “net zero” construction and set mandatory emissions limits in six distinct sectors of the economy, such as transportation, manufacturing, and the distribution of natural gas.

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Baker had sought to soften the language on the specific sectors by changing the legal requirements to “planning tools” if statewide reduction goals are being met. That change was backed by Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an influential employer group that in a letter to lawmakers argued some sectors might be better suited to cost-effective carbon reductions than others.

On Wednesday, Robert Rio, the group’s senior vice president, declined to comment on lawmakers’ plans.

Under pressure from the commercial real estate industry, Baker also opposed provisions that would allow municipalities to adopt rules requiring that new buildings produce net-zero emissions. Developers say such a mandate would increase construction costs and cause delays.

Tamara Small, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a development trade group, also declined to comment, saying she preferred to wait until the bill is complete.

Indeed, Representative Jeff Roy, a Franklin Democrat who cochairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said lawmakers were still negotiating some of the final language in the bill. Among the changes being discussed Wednesday was whether to include language that would not require the sector emissions limits, if the state meets the limits for 2030 and beyond.

“We heard the governor’s concerns, and we worked with him on the technical changes,” he said. “We think it’s a better bill, and allows us to be a national leader on climate protection.”

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Environmental advocates said they were pleased the Legislature is holding fast to most of the original bill.

“I think the few months it’s taken to sort this out will certainly be worth it,” said Casey Bowers, assistant vice president for government relations at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “I think the governor’s technical amendments will strengthen the bill. These are small differences that will have an outsized impact on making this a better bill.”

But Bowers and others applauded lawmakers for opposing Baker’s more significant changes.

“It’s encouraging to hear that legislators are planning to reject Governor Baker’s weakening amendments,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts. “It’s time to clear the decks of last session’s business by passing this bill into law, so legislators can get to work on the other climate bills.”

Representative Thomas Golden, a Lowell Democrat who shepherded the bill through the House, said he expects his chamber will follow the Senate in a vote as soon as next Wednesday.

“I’m very excited to see this come to fruition,” he said. “It has been a long time coming.”


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