BOSTON (SHNS) – Seventy-five days ago Wednesday, senators, representatives and administration officials gathered in the State Library to watch Gov. Charlie Baker sign a wide-reaching climate policy law. That means there are just 15 days left before it takes effect, and the lead Senate architect of the law made clear Wednesday he will be watching its implementation closely.
Sen. Michael Barrett spoke as part of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and Alliance for Business Leadership’s annual Massachusetts Clean Energy Day, an event that also featured his House counterpart Rep. Jeff Roy and Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock, and that illustrated the bifurcated state of climate policy right now: one eye on making the ambitious new law a reality and the other looking for a solution to the next challenge.
“I want to emphasize the Senate’s interest in following through with implementation of the 2021 climate act. The Senate as a body has a lot invested here,” Barrett said, adding that even though the law was a result of legislative and executive branch collaboration, “small gaps” remain between how the Senate would like to see the law implemented and the Baker administration’s perspective.
The law Baker signed in March after months of stops and starts commits Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establishes interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopts energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorizes another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and addresses needs in environmental justice communities.
Barrett has taken a watchdog role in the law’s implementation since the governor’s signature was still wet. Minutes after the bill signing, he told the News Service he was concerned that the Baker administration had tried to “evade legislative intent” of the new law. On Wednesday, he pointed specifically to the law’s provision calling for a municipal opt-in net-zero stretch energy code — which was a major point of contention between the Legislature and governor during debate on the bill — as an area of concern.
“The framing, verbally, of the administration’s responsibility here by others in the administration has tended to drop the words ‘net-zero’ out of the conversation, which is really strange because we not only require in statute that there be a definition of net zero building, we also require that there be, and I’m quoting from the statute, ‘net-zero building performance standards’ promulgated by the end of 2022,” he said. The senator added, “So there’s still a difference between legislative intention, which is pretty clear, and what the administration says it intends to do with drafting the net-zero stretch energy code.”
Barrett said the Senate would be “dead serious” about making sure “that the politics within the executive branch, which may include builders and developers, don’t somehow throw us off path.”
“I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I haven’t seen a significant indication really that there’s unambivalent buy-in by the executive at the current time, current company exempted,” he said.
Barrett excluded Woodcock from his criticisms throughout his remarks Wednesday. During his own remarks, Woodcock mentioned that DOER is “moving forward with building code updates, not only with our stretch code but looking at a municipal opt-in that includes a definition of net-zero.”
On Tuesday, Barrett and Senate Global Warming Committee Chair Sen. Cynthia Creem issued a five-page document outlining the numerous deadlines the executive branch will have to meet as it implements the climate law.
First up, on June 25, the Department of Public Utilities must begin to consider emissions reductions on an equal footing as its considerations of reliability and affordability, the governor will have three new seats to fill on the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, the “social value of greenhouse gas emission reductions” must be factored into the Mass Save program, and the DPU will have to establish a publicly accessible database of complaints regarding gas providers.
“In all, the Act hands out seven new assignments each to the DPU, the DOER, and the EEA, three of the state’s frontline climate agencies. Each of these assignments is a major undertaking,” Creem said Tuesday. “The to-do list we release today is as much for our benefit, and for the benefit of our constituents, as it is for the agencies themselves.”
Woodcock said Wednesday that he and the administration remain focused on “the challenges that come with implementing as bold legislation as was enacted previously this year” because it puts Massachusetts on a path to a “net-zero” future that “utilizes a scale of clean energy that really would not have been anticipated just a few years ago.”
But while the work unfolds to implement the new law, Woodcock said the administration is also keeping an eye on “barriers” to that future, like an existing clean energy procurement process that likely won’t be able to bring as much new clean power online as quickly as the state will need it, the challenges of getting people to adopt electric vehicle and electric heat pumps at scale, and ensuring all communities benefit from the shift to cleaner energy equitably.