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Massachusetts Legislators File Bill To Restart Talks on Climate, Emissions

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka, at left, with Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka, at left, with Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano.

The climate and emissions reduction bill vetoed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker last week has been refiled by state House and Senate leaders in the hopes of quickly returning the legislation to the governor — only this time, with the opportunity to override a veto, if it comes.

The bill, which was negotiated last session between the House and Senate over five months of private talks, was refiled by Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Thomas Golden late Tuesday afternoon in the Senate, but Senate President Karen Spilka's office said there were no concrete plans yet for a vote on the bill.

Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano issued a joint statement calling the legislation that passed the House and Senate on Jan. 4, two days before the session ended, an "ambitious and ground breaking climate bill" that had bipartisan support.

"Months of work was exhaustively studied by members of the conference committee, and the result was a bill that rejects the false choice between economic growth and addressing climate change. We must combat climate change while also maintaining a thriving economy and expanding the housing stock that will ensure future, sustainable growth. The legislation sent to the Governor showed how it can be done," Spilka and Mariano said.

Both leaders said they hoped the legislature would act with "urgency," but did not lay out a timeline for taking up the legislation, or say whether it would get a public hearing.

Earlier in the day, legislative officials told the News Service that the Baker administration was attempting to persuade lawmakers to consider amendments to the bill based on his positions before it comes up for another vote.

One legislative official said they thought Democrats could be open to modest changes, but had not yet seen specific proposals from the governor's office. Any changes, if not agreed to by both branches, could slow the bill's movement through the legislature, and could even require another conference committee.

"We are confident that members of the House and Senate will again act with urgency by swiftly sending this bill back to Governor Baker’s desk," Spilka and Mariano said.

Baker last week vetoed the bill that would have required Massachusetts to become carbon neutral by 2050 and establish the most ambitious timeline for carbon emission reductions in the country.

While Baker supports the 2050 net-zero goal, the governor said he worried that by allowing cities and towns to adopt a new net-zero building code it could stop housing production at a time when he's trying to encourage more construction.

Baker, in his veto letter, also raised concerns with the interim emission target for 2030 of 50 percent below 1990 levels, which he described as an unnecessary target that would cost $6 billion more than his administration's target of 45 percent.

Both the House and Senate have created temporary Ways and Means, Rules, and Bills in the Third Reading committees to to handle bills while legislative leaders mull committee assignments for the new session.

The Senate set up its committee structure on Tuesday during a short informal session, and referred the bill to the temporary Committee on Ways and Means.

The 40-member Senate has just two new members this session; there are 17 new members in the 160-seat House.

The omnibus climate bill cleared the branches last session by veto-proof votes of 145-9 in the House 38-2 in the Senate.

If the legislature were to act quickly to reenact the same climate bill, Baker could return the legislation with amendments, which he was unable to do after Jan. 6 when the 191st General Court dissolved.

"One way or another the governor is going to have the opportunity to participate. The usual course here would be for a bill to go to him that he could sign or return with amendments. That's the usual parliamentary route," said Barrett, who negotiated the bill with Golden, and who is the chief sponsor on the new bill (S 9).

"Rest assured that we look forward to hearing from him and that his ideas will get respectfully considered," Barrett said.

Another issue the governor had with the bill included a requirement for utilities to procure more offshore wind power, which the Republican said could interfere with interstate talks to procure clean energy regionally.

He also said the legislature missed an opportunity to invest in climate resiliency to prepare for sea level rise, flooding, droughts and other affects of climate change. He proposed to pay for these investment by increasing real estate transfer taxes.

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