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After a veto, Baker signs landmark climate bill

Governor Charlie Baker, left, and Senator Marc Pacheco at the signing ceremony Friday for the climate measure.
Governor Charlie Baker, left, and Senator Marc Pacheco at the signing ceremony Friday for the climate measure.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Pool

After vetoing the initial bill and sending a second one back to lawmakers with a host of proposed amendments, Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed a revised climate bill, establishing one of the nation’s most far-reaching efforts to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions.

The new law requires Massachusetts to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050. Given that it’s unlikely the state will eliminate all of its emissions, officials will have to plant trees or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to offset any lingering use of fossil fuels or other sources of greenhouse gases.

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The law calls for increasing energy-efficiency requirements for appliances and for utilities to buy significantly more offshore wind power. It also has potentially broad ramifications for the business community, touching everything from the solar industry to municipal light plants.

In a signing ceremony at the State House, Baker said the bill spoke to the profound need for the state and nation to address climate change.

“We know the impacts on our coast, on our fisheries, on our farms, and on our communities are real and demand action,” he said.

While the governor thanked lawmakers for their patience with him over the past few months, they gave him some good-natured guff in return.

“This bill has more miles on it than my car,” House Speaker Ronald Mariano said after the governor signed it.

He noted that Baker’s veto was his first as speaker. “We gave it right back to him,” Mariano said.

Senate President Karen Spilka added: “Good things are worth waiting for.”

She noted that a lot of hortatory language has been used about the bill, including “landmark” and “sweeping.”

“Indeed, I believe, it’s all of those things,” she said. “It’s not all that often that those words truly fit the piece of legislation before us.”

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While lawmakers approved most of what they described as “technical” changes that Baker had proposed, they rejected amendments to lower the target for reducing emissions by decade’s end. Baker had called for cutting emissions by 45 percent, saying it would cost the state $6 billion less than the Legislature’s plan.

Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said changes in the bill were likely to offset some of those projected costs. The initial bill, for example, called for emissions limits in six distinct sectors of the economy, such as transportation, manufacturing, and natural gas distribution. But the revised bill no longer makes those limits legally binding if the state is able to meet overall emissions targets by the end of the decade.

Theoharides acknowledged that the hard work will now be in figuring out how to achieve the law’s ambitious requirements.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said.

The bill seeks to promote environmental justice by giving communities with a disproportionate amount of pollution a greater voice in approving local developments. It also requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to take historical and existing pollution into account when deciding whether to approve a project.

“As we create and build this new clean energy system of the future, not making some of the same mistakes we made in our old energy system, in terms of marginalizing communities or putting more of a burden on certain communities, can be a real lasting legacy of this bill,” Theoharides said.

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The new law also:

  • Sets emissions limits every five years.
  • Authorizes up to 2,400 additional megawatts of offshore wind, bringing the state’s total requirement for offshore wind to 4,000 megawatts by 2027, with another 1,600 megawatts planned.
  • Requires the state Department of Public Utilities, which regulates natural gas and electricity, to consider greenhouse gas emissions when approving projects.
  • Encourages municipalities to adopt a new building code that promotes new construction that doesn’t use fossil fuels.
  • Provides for $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, as a means to promote renewable energy from businesses owned by women and people of color.
  • And sets benchmarks for the adoption of electric vehicles, charging stations, energy storage, heat pumps, anaerobic digesters, and new solar technologies.

Senator Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and one of the bill’s chief sponsors and lead negotiators, called the signing of the bill a “satisfying moment.”

“This pathbreaking climate law makes a fresh start to Massachusetts’ work of curbing emissions,” he said. “We’re resetting the bar for ourselves, moving it higher, so we need everyone in state government pulling in the same direction.”

While he said he appreciated Baker signing the bill — which was passed with overwhelming support by the Legislature, enough to have overridden another veto — Barrett warned the administration not to take any steps to undercut it.

“Attempts to evade legislative intent and substitute the weaker preferences of the executive branch have got to stop,” he said. “If these efforts continue, they will trigger a wave of lawsuits, something none of us want.”

State Representative Thomas Golden, a Lowell Democrat who shepherded the bill through the chamber, called the bill’s signing “a historic moment.”

The bill was vigorously supported by environmental groups, many of whom thanked the governor and lawmakers for finding common ground.

David O’Neill, president of Mass Audubon, the largest and oldest conservation group in New England, called the bill “ambitious enough to safeguard the climate system for our kids and their kids.”


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