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Massachusetts faces a big adjustment to meet its net-zero emissions goal

Morning traffic on the Mass Pike.
Jesse Costa
Morning traffic on the Mass Pike.

There's been another major setback for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's climate and energy plans.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said he's done pushing for the state to pass the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

That move left Massachusetts as the final state in the partnership, which aims to rein in emissions and pay for cleaner energy — in part by making fuel suppliers buy carbon credits.

But when Connecticut bailed, so did Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service talks about how big a deal this was to Massachusetts' climate plans.

Matt Murphy, SHNS: Yeah, it's pretty significant, with the final states pulling out of TCI, basically rendering this initiative dead. [Baker] had put a lot of his climate planning to reduce carbon emissions and make Massachusetts a net-zero emissions state by 2050. He built a lot of it around TCI.

And the fact is that this program worked in two different ways. One is: By capping the emissions, it would reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the environment. But it was also going to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the participating states to invest in other clean energy programs, and things like electrification, that would further reduce emissions and help fight climate change.

One silver lining here — or a mitigating factor — is that with this project dying, on the other hand, we're seeing Congress come through with a major infrastructure and climate bill in the "Build Back Better" plan that is going to send Massachusetts lots and lots of money that they can use on things that they were going to use TCI money for to help reach its climate goals.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: This comes on the heels of Maine voters rejecting a Canadian hydropower line that was supposed to bring energy to Massachusetts. Do you have any idea what Baker's likely next move could be to get the state to net-zero emissions by 2050?

This was always going to be a multi-pronged strategy. Probably at this point they're going to have to go back and update their climate plan and that roadmap.

They've not given up on the idea of importing hydropower from Quebec. They're weighing the options with that transmission line.

They're continuing to pursue offshore wind projects. We may see more in that space.

And then it comes down to money. How quickly can you ramp up things like getting buildings more energy efficient, and putting money into those spaces, electrifying the public transportation fleet, projects like that. So that is where I think we're going to see the federal money come in, and play a big part in the state's efforts moving forward.

The Massachusetts Legislature took off for the holiday season, leaving Baker and others quite annoyed that lawmakers failed to pass a bill dishing out nearly $4 billion in federal COVID-19 money. The Legislature is in informal sessions for the next seven weeks. What is the status of negotiations, and could that bill pass during informal sessions?

It's certainly possible. Leaders in both the House and Senate say talks will continue over this period of informal sessions and lawmaking.

The hitch here, of course, is that during informal sessions, there aren't roll calls. So any one lawmaker, either the Republican Party or a Democrat, could object and stop any deal in its tracks.

One thing that leaders point to in their favor, should they strike a compromise, is that the bills pass both branches, the House and the Senate, unanimously. So if they can keep everybody happy, and put it together — a final package that doesn't stray too far from what the bills have passed each branch look like, and includes a lot of the local projects that lawmakers fought for individually — it's certainly possible that we could see this get done before the new year.

Finally, we've seen modest increases in the state's COVID-19 positivity rate and case numbers, even as more kids become eligible for vaccines and all adults can now get boosters. Are officials concerned this is going to increase more in days after Thanksgiving, as we saw last year?

Yeah, I think there's always concern. This year is much different than last year, in that there are vaccines; that you have 90% of the eligible population in Massachusetts vaccinated.

More and more kids are getting vaccinated, but we are seeing several breakthrough cases.

There have been cases in schools where there will continue to be concerns. As people gather, as people travel, I think there is certainly some concern that we could see a continued bump up in some of these numbers.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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