The Massachusetts Legislature sent a major climate bill back to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk as the session wound down, incorporating some, but not all, of his proposed amendments. The fate of the legislation is now in Baker’s hands.
On the House floor Sunday, Representative Jeff Roy, who negotiated the bill in the Legislature along with Senator Michael Barrett, read a passage from Baker’s recent book about the importance of political compromise.
Roy said the bill gives Baker, who isn’t seeking reelection this fall, a chance to secure his climate legacy.
“He indeed has an incredible choice to make and we certainly hope that he embraces the compromises in this bill like all of us have already done,” he said on Monday. “Otherwise, he will be remembered as the one who pulled the plug on electrification and took the breeze out of offshore wind.”
Here are a few things to know about the state of the legislation.
The Legislature didn’t capitulate to Baker’s suggested amendment on power generated by burning wood.
In their original bill, lawmakers sought to remove wood-burning power plants from the state’s renewable portfolio standard, meaning they would no longer count toward renewable energy goals in Massachusetts or be eligible for state clean energy subsidies. The Legislature would have grandfathered in two long-standing small facilities that are currently in the program.
Baker filed an amendment that would have exempted all wood-burning power plants that began commercial operation before 2022.
Environmental advocates say that would have gutted the provision and praised the Legislature for standing its ground. Wood-burning plants produce harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide, and research shows they can emit even more carbon at the smokestack than coal-fired plants.
“In passing this bill, the Legislature is preventing our clean energy dollars from going up in smoke,” said Laura Haight, US policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, in an e-mailed statement.
Ability to ban gas hookups in new construction
Lawmakers also rejected Baker’s proposed changes to their plan to permit 10 towns and cities to ban gas hookups in new buildings.
The policies have been contentious for state officials since Brookline first attempted to pass one in 2019.
The Legislature’s original bill would have allowed 10 communities — Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, Lexington, Arlington, Concord, Lincoln, Acton, Aquinnah, and West Tisbury — to adopt bans. To implement the bans, communities would first have to ensure at least 10 percent of their housing is considered affordable under state law. All life sciences labs and health care facilities would also be exempt from the bans — a response to concerns from NAIOP Massachusetts, a lobby for developers and building owners, said Senator Mike Barrett.
The governor proposed major changes. He suggested the bans also exclude multifamily housing and proposed that each town’s pilot project be contingent upon the state Department of Energy Resources certifying that the community’s energy supply is at least 50 percent powered by renewable energy.
Barrett said the lawmakers’ original version was already compromised, noting that the bans would still leave existing buildings untouched.
“A huge majority of buildings in any of these participating towns would remain on natural gas,” he said.
Since all of Massachusetts relies on a regional electricity grid, communities also lack the power to clean their energy supply, he said. And if and when the regional grid does manage to reach 50 percent renewable power, due to lags in data collection, it could take a year or more for the Department of Energy Resources to certify that percentage.
“We’re basically talking about a gubernatorial requirement, which would have threatened to delay the demonstration almost indefinitely,” he said.
He said he found Baker’s opposition “befuddling.”
“We’re only talking about 10 towns out of 351,” he said. “How on earth could he care so much about such a modest exercise?”
Funding for clean energy
Legislative leaders tossed out Baker’s bid to inject $750 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act into a clean energy investment fund.
Baker has been pushing for the fund for months. In October 2021, he proposed such an investment to the Legislature, which voted it down.
On the House floor on Sunday, Representative Jeff Roy said that while the Legislature was rejecting the proposal, through other bills, lawmakers approved a total of $3.1 billion in funding for climate and clean energy matters — “four times the amount proposed by the governor.”
Rejecting the proposal was strategic. The Legislature’s original climate bill proposal didn’t include any spending proposals because all legislation that deals with funding is considered an appropriations vehicle. In such cases, the governor has the authority to veto each individual line item in a bill.
“He would have been in a position to eviscerate policy choices the Legislature had made, striking out the things he didn’t like and retaining the ones he did,” Barrett said. “Now, because this is not a spending bill, he doesn’t have a line item veto — it’s up or down on the whole enchilada.”
Offshore wind price cap
One major concession the Legislature made to Baker: scrapping Massachusetts’ offshore wind price cap. Currently, the state requires each new offshore project to offer power at a lower price than the one brought online before it, which some worry has discouraged bids.
The Legislature’s original compromise climate bill would have modified the price cap to apply only when there are two or fewer bidders. But in his proposed amendments, Baker instead suggested eliminating the price cap altogether.
“We share the governor’s view that removing the price cap will allow our future procurements to give us more value per dollar so that we can build out the necessary supports and attract and retain local offshore wind jobs, thriving supply chains and local businesses, and training and educational opportunities for our constituents,” Roy said.
Barrett, meanwhile, said he doubts the price cap has caused Massachusetts to lose bids, since there are so few players in the offshore wind market. He said a price cap could have shielded utility customers from increased electricity costs.
Still, on Sunday, the Legislature capitulated to Baker’s proposal.
The timing for Baker is complicated, Barrett said, because in the fall, his administration plans to seek bids for offshore wind development. If he vetoes the bill, the price cap will remain intact for that procurement process.
The governor has 10 days to act on the bill. If he vetoes it, lawmakers will have little ability to act, because the session ended on Sunday.
Technically, they could take the rare step of calling for a special session, but the chances of that happening are “irreducibly small,” Barrett said.
Terry MacCormack, Baker’s press secretary, said the governor “shares the Legislature’s goal to help Massachusetts achieve its clean energy and climate goals,” but he’s still looking over the new proposal.
“While the Legislature adopted a few of the governor’s amendments, many other important improvements were left out,” MacCormack said.
Dharna Noor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.