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 Friday—enacting 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 boy—I 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 yet—it’s never too late.