At Long Last, The Next-Gen Roadmap Bill is Signed into Law

They say patience gives way to remarkable results. After years of work, I was pleased to watch Governor Baker sign the Next-Generation Roadmap, into law this last Fridayenacting a bill that, as House Speaker Mariano put, “has more miles than my car" citing the four times it went back and forth with the governor and the legislature. There are so many good aspects to this bill, and although every amendment that we asked for back in July 2020 (remember that?) didn’t get accepted, it is still better than we expected.

The highlights of the bill include long-overdue updates to environmental justice policy, which in the past had been created only through executive order in the Patrick Administration. Now agencies will be required to account for the amount of pollution from a proposed project and how much that further adds to present-day pollution. Additionally, EJ communities will now be allowed to participate in decisions being made about their community (can you believe that wasn’t the case before?). This law will also establish an environmental justice advisory board. As someone who grew up in what is now considered an EJ community, these are measurable wins.

The NextGeneration Roadmap also delivers a significant increase in offshore wind power with an additional 2,400 megawatts, therefore raising the total procurement level to 5,600 megawatts for the state. Furthermore, by 2025, utilities like Eversource and National Grid must increase their Renewable Energy Portfolio by at least 3% every year. DPU is being reined in as well, as they must add reducing greenhouse gas emissions to their mission statement as well as security and safety measures, which is incredibly important since the Columbia Gas explosion of 2018 took the life of a young man in the Merrimack Valley. 

I remember many conversations with Senator Barrett over the session where he talked about DPU and his amazement that they weren’t being held accountable in offering up clean energy and safety measures. Now, he’s made it law.

Additionally, the law empowers MassSave to go beyond the light bulbs and window installations (which are meaningful but insufficient) and further offer up lower emission pathways for attaining heating and cooling.  It provides much stronger energy efficiency standards, bringing us up to par with California. It also includes a specialized stretch code that cities and towns can adopt in 18 months, and requires ALL 40 Municipal Light Plants to purchase 50% of their power from “non-carbon emitting” sources by 2030, getting to net-zero emissions by 2050, much like what the state has promised to do in this law, setting its own benchmarks at 50% by 2030,  75% by 2040 and net-zero by 2050. Reaching those goals is no small feat, and the law requires Mass CEC to spend $12 million more each year on clean energy workforce development and job training. I find that part to be really exciting, as the mother of the teenage boyI know that there is an exciting workforce awaiting him should he choose to go that route.

Speaking of my teenage boy who will soon be driving, I would love nothing more than to provide an EV as his first car. Currently, the expense of that is out of reach for me, but this law hopes to change that, first tackling the issue of inadequate charging stations, leading to more incentive programs (rebates) further dealing with the transportation sector’s contribution to climate change. 

One might ask, where are the bands on gas infrastructure? Where are the mandates to electrifying the entire system by 2030? Where is the band on wood-burning as fuel? Protection of forests?

Those are vital questions, as they are not included in this new law. As I always describe it, this law is the runway, not the plane. The plane will be built during this legislative session through the bills that have been filed. Notably, the number of climate bills that have been filed this session has increased astronomically compared to past years.

Clearly, our legislature is serious about tackling the climate crisis, and for the first time since 2010, we have a federal government that wants to play ball. It is an exciting time to be a climate activist; with the new coalition, Mass Renews Alliance filing bills like the Food Justice with Jobs Act and Building Justice with Jobs Act. Finally, a sustainable future is possible through this legislative cycle, and it is more important than ever that coalitions harmonize through the solutions that deliver an economic boom with job protections, continuing to prioritizing EJ communities, and healthier living standards for all people of the commonwealth. 

I have never felt more invigorated to get to work, and if you haven’t caught the activist bug yetit’s never too late.

Lessons of Texas: Don’t Be A“Lone” in the Cold

Back in the late 1800s, Texas made the bold decision to become electric and power independent. The idea for energy independence started in World War II because of the demand for more power. Additionally, the market triggered the passage of the Federal Power Act a law regulating electrical power in 1935 across the United States.

Subsequently, Texas utilities never allowed power outside of the state to avoid federal regulation and make their own rules for how power is distributed and who benefits from the profits. The trouble with this type of self-reliance is that it is also a catalyst for zero responsibility when something goes wrong, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or Ercot, which operates the state’s power grid, was no exception.

Last month, a historic cold snap, the coldest February in more than thirty years, blanked Texas in snow and ice, having catastrophic consequences for millions in the lone star state. Consequences that in the 21st century were completely avoidable. As New Englanders, it’s unthinkable to imagine a cold-weather event could shut down a massive part of the state for any length of time, but for Texas, that’s exactly what happened.

In 2011, many states began to experience extreme weather conditions and Texas made the top of that list. Federal Regulators alerted ERCOT that’s its grid was weak and made several recommendations, but ERCOT never acted on them.

As a result, the storm that paralyzed parts of Texas last month left millions without water and heat- further prompting some to burn their belongings for warmth. Those that didn’t lose power, without warning, were hit with astronomical heating bills.

These egregious practices are not sustainable. Climate change and our lack of aggressive policies to mitigate the negative effects have left us all vulnerable, Texas being the extreme example. Governor Rick Scott of Texas erroneously stated that because the wind turbines froze during the storm, his citizens were left in the cold. Nothing could be further from the truth, as wind only generates 20% of the electricity in Texas. Texas mainly relies on natural gas to power the state, and experts say the natural gas infrastructure was unprepared for the frigid temperatures brought by the February storm.

Representatives need not deflect when a crisis happens but instead publicly state the facts to make certain they never happen again. Enforcing renewable energy and energy efficiency is the most responsible way towards a future that is undoubtedly poised to be extreme in every sense of the word.

The possibilities for renewable energy and energy savings are endless and it’s high time these solutions got the positive recognition they deserve. Renewable technologies like wind, geothermal, solar, and hydropower have been ready for use for years. Surrendering to the climate crisis at a time when the market is ready to implement solutions is equivalent to completely lifting COVID restrictions just when the vaccine rollout gets underway. It’s ludicrous and dangerous and yet, Governor Scott is once again, behind this negligent move.

Furthermore, the idea that regulations are counterproductive to prosperity is a baseless claim. It’s a necessary and responsible way of doing business and the only way forward. The disaster in Texas is a lesson for us all.

To hear more commentary regarding Texas and other environmental issues, listen to Cabell Eames, Legislative Manager on Callie Crossley’s Environmental Roundtable on Under the Radar.

Deja Vu: Baker sends Next-Gen Roadmap S.9 Back to Legislature

On Sunday, just one day before his deadline to sign or veto, Governor Baker sent back a letter of amendments to the Next Generation Roadmap (S.9) climate and environmental justice bill instead of signing the bill into law — ignoring calls from citizens across the state to sign the bill without weakening it. After vetoing the same bill earlier this month, Governor Baker’s continued refusal to listen to his constituents and sign this landmark bill into law is disappointing, but not surprising. 

Yet again, Governor Baker has sided with business interests instead of Massachusetts families and communities — who overwhelmingly support ambitious climate action — by proposing amendments that would dramatically weaken the bill. Gov. Baker has made three particularly perilous changes:

  1. First, Baker’s amendments weaken the emissions reduction targets laid out in the bill —  undermining Massachusetts’s ability to hit his administration’s own stated emissions goals. Baker lowered the emissions reduction target for 2040 and proposed a “compromise” target for 2030 —  changing the 2030 goal from 50% emissions reduction to 45-50% emissions reduction. By making our targets less ambitious in the short term, Baker is trying to pass the responsibility for implementing ambitious climate policy to future administrations. We can’t let this happen — the best available science about what we need to do to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis, especially for Massachusetts’ most vulnerable populations, is clear that the bill’s original targets themselves don’t go far enough. Weakening targets that are already in existence in other countries is unconscionable. 
  2. Second, Baker’s changes weaken the bill’s net-zero stretch code, which would require that new buildings consume only as much energy as can be produced onsite through renewable resources, by taking "net-zero" out of the stretch code definition and removing the requirement that "net-zero” be defined at all.  He replaces it with vague language about "...a higher-performing municipal opt-in standard which is designed to achieve compliance with [the state’s GHG emissions goals]” which could mean anything, or (more likely) nothing.  
  3. Finally, one of the most essential sections of the bill sets ‘sublimits’ — targets for emissions reductions in six important subsectors, including transportation, electric power, and commercial and industrial heating and cooling. Because Governor Baker doesn’t want to be held accountable for putting pressure on these industries to lower their emissions, his amendments would make those sublimits “planning tools” instead of legally binding targets... meaning they would have no power or enforceability.  

Discussing the need to reject these amendments, Legislative Director Cabell Eames said: “This bill is the floor, not the ceiling, for the transformative policy we need —  any weakening is inexcusable.”

Nearly all of Governor Baker’s amendments are in favor of business interests at the expense of the communities he was elected to represent. However, in his desire to be perceived as a compromiser, Baker has also included a handful of amendments that would clarify and strengthen the bill. He proposed several clarifying technical amendments to help the administration implement the bill. He strengthened the environmental justice section by adding language that would bolster the environmental review process in environmental justice communities and expand the definition of environmental burdens to include climate change. To be clear, these changes are no great victory — but we’ll take what we can get when it comes to an administration that has repeatedly failed to treat climate change as a crisis. 

We call on the legislature to accept Baker’s environmental justice and technical amendments, override everything else and expediently vote this bill into law. Climate cannot wait!

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