Governor Charlie Baker sent the Massachusetts Legislature several amendments on a new climate bill on Friday afternoon, leaving the future of the legislation uncertain.
The move came with just two days left in the legislative session, leaving little time to work through the sprawling amendments on the legislation, the culmination of months of negotiations.
The 19 pages of amendments address core components of the bill, including efforts to streamline the offshore wind industry’s bidding process and allow 10 communities to ban the use of fossil fuels in new buildings and major renovations.
“We are optimistic that we can get to a final piece of legislation that the governor is happy to sign,” said Energy and Environment Affairs Secretary Beth Card. The governor’s amendments retain the themes of the Legislature’s bill, she said, while trying to “ensure that from an implementation perspective, it’s possible to do what’s being suggested here.”
Representative Jeff Roy, who negotiated the bill in the Legislature along with Senator Michael Barrett, said he remains “confident that we will have a climate and energy bill completed in this session.”
But there’s little time left on the clock to pass a bill that advocates and legislators say is key to the state’s climate response. “There is quite a bit here, none of which appears to be good beach reading,” said Barrett. “The sheer density of it will complicate prospects for the two branches coming together.”
The sticking point on offshore wind is what’s known as the “price cap” — a mechanism that requires each new offshore project to offer power at a lower price than the one brought online before it. Some worry that the cap has discouraged bids. The bill from the Legislature wouldn’t have eliminated the price cap, but it would only apply it when there are two or fewer bidders.
The governor proposes taking that out, and eliminating the price cap altogether. “We thought that was overly complicated, and that it may delay the implementation of our procurements,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock.
The governor also wants to modify the Legislature’s plan to allow 10 communities to ban fossil fuels in new buildings and major renovations. He is proposing that the state Department of Energy Resources establish regulations “to put some boundaries around how these bylaws will be established, so that we have consistency from one community to the next,” said Card.
The governor also wants to exclude multifamily housing from the fossil fuel ban, and proposed that the pilot project not be allowed to go forward until the state reaches a certain amount of clean energy capacity.
Other amendments touch on how the state defines what an electric vehicle is, the proposed expansion of the board for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and changes to proposals regarding energy efficiency, the generation and use of renewable energy and protections for ratepayers.
In addition, the governor is proposing using $750 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to invest in a clean energy investment fund. In October of last year, Baker had proposed making such an investment, but it did not pass the Legislature.
Advocates and legislators, who were still mostly digging through the technicalities of the proposed amendments on Friday afternoon, offered mixed reviews.
Kyle Murray, senior policy advocate for The Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy organization, said that the group is still evaluating the amendments but is “pleased to see that the Governor’s changes include the spending of real dollars at a large scale, including $300 million for building decarbonization.”
State Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton said he was pleased with the seriousness of the proposal. “The resources it includes seem more consistent with the invaluable opportunity before us to secure meaningful investments in our clean energy economy that will help us create new jobs, improve public health, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers, and achieve our newly updated Global Warming Solutions Act emission reduction requirements,” he said.
Steve Long, director of policy and partnerships at the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, said Baker had missed an opportunity to intervene on the way that solar energy is sited, saying that the bill encourages siting of solar panels on agricultural land without offering a pathway for conservation groups to be part of the decision-making process.
Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts, said he thought some of Baker’s proposed amendments would weaken the legislation. For instance, while the Legislature aimed to set a statutory requirement for Massachusetts to reach 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2035, Baker said it was not necessary to put it into law and could conflict with the “existing authorities” under which the state is already planning to implement that policy
Still, he said, he was “encouraged” to see Baker file amendments with two days left in the session.
“He certainly could have run out the clock and basically made it impossible for the Legislature to respond. He didn’t,” Hellerstein said. “So I think this is a good sign.”
Now that the governor has weighed in, it will be up to the House to first consider the amendments before sending what is technically a new bill to the Senate, which will then make its own suggestions. Then both branches will have to come to an agreement before sending it back to the governor.
If the bill is not passed before the end of the day Sunday, it could get reintroduced in the next legislative session in January, or the Legislature could come back for a special session.
Dharna Noor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor. Sabrina Shankman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shankman.