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Massachusetts Senate approves “net-zero” environmental bills

January 31, 2020 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate approved a series of bills Thursday that supporters say will help dramatically reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.

The package of bills envisions transitioning cars, trucks and buses to carbon-free electric power, jump-starting efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities, and requiring appliances meet energy efficiency standards.

Supporters say they’re aiming for a statewide “net zero” emissions greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050.

Democratic state Sen. Marc Pacheco said Massachusetts is starting to fall behind other states which have passed aggressive carbon emissions standards.

He said it’s urgent that states take action, even if individually they account for a relatively small part of the problem.

“Would you drive your car into your garage with the engine running and stay in that garage?” Pacheco said. “We are in a big garage. The world is in a big garage.”

The bills would set a deadline for converting all Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority buses to all-electric power by requiring the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2030, and to aim for an all zero-emissions fleet by 2040.

State government would be limited to buying or leasing zero emissions vehicles beginning in 2024. The bills would provide rebates or other financial incentives to consumers who buy or lease a zero-emission vehicle.

To reach the 2050 net-zero goal, the legislation requires the state to hit near-term carbon limits in 2025, 2030 and every five years after that. The bill also sets separate sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution and other major sectors.

Critics say the Senate bills don’t take into consideration the financial impact on small businesses, consumers, drivers and others in Massachusetts. They said those impacts could come in the form of higher energy bills, higher fuel prices, more expensive products, and limits on what consumers can buy or install in their homes or what companies can sell.

“Shoppers living within a budget may not be able to buy and install a more affordable product from another state, or even purchase a used appliance,” said Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“The potential carbon taxes would make the state’s small businesses uncompetitive with companies in states with lower energy costs,” Carlozzi added.

Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, praised the efficiency standards for new faucets, shower heads, commercial dishwashers, ovens, and other products.

“By reducing the amount of unnecessary energy wasted by common products, we can take a big bite out of pollution,” he said.

Supporters of the bills say they will also help counter efforts by the Republican administration of President Donald Trump to slow the progress of energy-efficient appliances by updating the state’s own appliance standards to improve energy and water standards for household and commercial appliances.

Existing Massachusetts law — the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act — set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The package of bills would effectively set a goal of 100% below 1990 levels.

The bills would give the governor and his successors the ability to choose among various market based forms of carbon pricing — including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bills would also require the state Department of Energy Resources to set aside future solar allocations for low-income neighborhoods and let the state support cities and towns that choose to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings.

A new Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission would also be created to offer a “nonpartisan, science-based view” of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has said he’s committed to achieving a climate goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last week that the House will also be supporting the net-zero goal.

The Senate bills now head to the House.