BOSTON – State Sen. Patrick O'Connor, R-Weymouth, and his legislative colleagues approved a climate change measure on Jan. 4, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions to "net-zero" in 2050.
"This is a historic day for Massachusetts," O'Connor said while addressing the State Senate. "We have long been one of the clean energy leaders in our country, but today, we strengthen the foundation that we have built upon and chart a course that has been long discussed but never codified or fully implemented. In short, today, we get real."
The legislation approved by the House and Senate has been sent to Gov. Charlie Baker for approval.
O'Connor was among six legislators who served on a conference committee that produced a final version of “An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy.”
The legislation establishes greenhouse gas emissions limits for; transportation industries, electrical power, commercial/industrial heating, and cooling, residential heating and cooling, and natural gas distribution.
O’Connor said that lawmakers needed intense action to combat the effects of climate change and "create a sustainable future."
“I believe the provisions in this legislation provide the Commonwealth with the tools necessary to achieve that goal,” he said. “We’re setting aggressive and practical goals in the areas of emissions reduction, green energy, environmental justice, and grid modernization. I am proud to have served on this conference committee and thank my colleagues for their hard work and collaborative spirit in crafting this legislation.”
The legislation also defines environmental justice populations and provides new tools and protections for these neighborhoods.
An environmental justice label for a community empowers federal agencies to identify and address "disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations.”
Quincy Point and its neighbor Germantown are considered environmental justice communities.
Both sections are near a natural gas compressor station in North Weymouth, which could be fully operative later this month.
A 2017 letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environment signed by O'Connor and 12 South Shore legislators stated that Snug Harbor Elementary School in Germantown and Wessagusset Primary School in North Weymouth had significantly higher rates of asthma than the state average.
The legislation also places a primary focus on green energy and requires utility companies to purchase an additional 2,400 megawatts of generation.
The legislation also raises the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard by 3% each year for 2025-2029 to ensure that 40% of the state's electric power will be renewable by 2030.
O'Connor said having a state climate policy "can't wait."
“I appreciate the efforts of the environmentalists and state-wide groups that have long been advocating for positive policy changes such as the ones we put forth today,” he said. “What we have before us today is Massachusetts once again playing its part for our planet. We can’t do it alone, but we can lead.”
Key components of the measure
- Updating solar policy and advancing solar equity by loosening net metering caps and establishing a new solar energy grant program for nonprofits and more groups.
- Requires the state Department of Public Utilities to issue new safety regulations relative to training and certifying utility contractors.
- The DPU must set standards for maintaining gas distribution maps and records;
- Gas companies must report "disruptions in the provision of electronic data" as a service quality metric.
- Extends whistleblower protection to utility employees who report violations of law by their employers.
- Increases the penalties on utility companies for failure to restore service after emergencies.
- Raises the cap on civil penalties for gas pipeline safety violations and allows for fines in excess of those set by federal law.
- Requires all written complaints regarding gas service to be investigated and responded to promptly, and directs the DPU to establish a publicly-accessible database of such complaints.
- Strengthens gas company plans to address aging and leaking infrastructure by setting interim targets for reducing gas leak rates and authorizing the DPU to levy fines for non-compliance.
Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station Alice Arena said the group hopes Baker signs the legislation.
“The climate bill has been pushed around we are asking people to email the governor and tweet him to sign it,” she said.
Arena said FRRACS is pleased the legislation requires federal agencies to help environmental justice communities identify health hazards.
"Our biggest push has been on the environmental justice component," she said. "We have an environmental justice policy that was passed by Gov. Deval Patrick, but it's been ignored by the Baker administration during the past six years. It took them until last January to install a person in the state office of energy and environmental affairs who is responsible for overseeing the policy."
Arena said the legislation needs to be approved because a potential methane leak from the compressor station is more dangerous than greenhouse gas.
“It (methane) carries with it an arm’s length worth of toxins because of fracking,” she said.
Arena said if Baker pocket vetoes the legislation, he will reveal himself as not a climate champion.
”Our neighborhoods will then suffer the insult of those toxins,” she said.
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