Senate passes climate change package

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BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – The state would be required to develop a climate change mitigation plan and meet new long-term carbon emission reduction benchmarks under legislation passed unanimously by the Senate on Thursday.

Senate President Pro Tem Marc Pacheco, who sponsored the legislation, praised the bipartisan collaboration of Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, contrasting that with the partisan divisiveness that accompanies political discussion of climate change on a national level.

Tarr said he is “very supportive” of the bill and sponsored a provision adopted by the Senate that would require the transportation secretary to study the feasibility of adding electric vehicle charging stations along the Mass. Turnpike.

With the five members of the Republican caucus joining the majority, the Senate voted 37 to 0 in favor of the legislation, which now heads to the House for its consideration.

Last year the Senate passed a similar bill mandating a state climate change plan after grafting on legislation designed to encourage more solar development. The House dropped the climate-change plan language and Speaker Robert DeLeo recently said his interest is primarily on the state’s energy mix.

“We’ll take a look at it but I think most importantly now from the House’s perspective, I think we really have to look at where we stand with the energy legislation. I’m hopeful that the solar piece will get done, and then I want to see an all-encompassing piece on energy,” DeLeo told reporters last week.

The solar bill, all that remains of the Senate’s earlier climate-change plan legislation, has become bogged down in a conference committee, which was charged 71 days ago with reconciling House-Senate solar policy differences.

Thursday’s legislation would set into law new targets between the statutory goal of reducing the state’s emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and reducing it to 80 percent below 1990 levels in 2050. The bill establishes benchmarks of 35-45 percent below 1990 levels in 2030 and 55-65 percent below 1990 levels in 2040.

In addition to requiring the state to develop a climate-change plan, the bill would require state permits to be consistent with that plan “to the maximum extent practicable.” Tarr tried and failed to soften that language so the climate plan would need to be “taken into account” rather than adhered to.

After the unanimous vote, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg proclaimed that the Senate had a “stellar” day by unveiling a public records bill, approving a pay equity bill and then tackling the environmental legislation.

Joined by a few Democrats, Republicans sought to make cost-considerations a greater part of the legislation, an effort that failed on a 10-26 vote. Tarr also sought to achieve Gov. Charlie Baker’s goal of passing legislation for the procurement of hydroelectricity, arguing that with nuclear plants retiring the state is in need of baseload carbon-free electrical generation.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton earlier this month said the state needed hydro, which would be wired in from Canada, to meet its target for 2020.

“This is a situation of absolute urgency,” Tarr said, arguing the bill should do more than offer “hollow promises or speculative aspirations.”

“This is not the energy bill,” Pacheco countered, before the amendment was rejected on a voice vote.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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