Climate bill signed into law

This legislation won't bring Massachusetts all the way to the finish line for 100% renewable energy — but it will help us take a few big steps out of the starting blocks. Here's how we helped pass the bill.

Today, following years of advocacy by environmental groups and allies, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill that will take several important steps toward a healthier future powered by renewable energy:

  • Energy efficiency standards for appliances and plumbing fixtures. By cutting the amount of energy we waste, these standards will reduce global warming pollution by an estimated 113,000 metric tons per year by 2025, equivalent to taking 24,000 cars off the road.
  • A requirement for at least 40% of Massachusetts’ electricity to come from clean, renewable sources by 2030. This increase to the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) represents a significant bump-up in Massachusetts’ renewable electricity commitments, equivalent to installing another 200,000 solar roofs over the next ten years.
  • An increase in Massachusetts’ offshore wind commitments, requiring utilities to buy an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind energy.

The bill will also ensure greater protections for environmental justice communities and empower cities and towns to set higher energy efficiency requirements for new buildings.

In the race to 100% renewable energy, this legislation won’t bring us all the way to the finish line — but it will help us take a few big steps out of the starting blocks.

We’re celebrating this bill for the significant progress it represents, and we’re urging legislators to take further action on clean energy this session. I want to share a few highlights from our recent work to persuade state leaders to pass strong clean energy and climate legislation.

Pushing for strong action on clean energy

Environment Massachusetts and our coalition partners have worked for years to put Massachusetts on a path to 100% renewable energy. In the 2019-2020 legislative session, we supported a bill filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker and Rep. Sean Garballey to transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2045. The Decker/Garballey 100% Renewable Energy Act was endorsed by a majority of legislators, along with more than 50 environmental organizations and dozens of business leaders and local elected officials.

Last June, we heard credible reports that House leaders were considering advancing a much weaker bill that would set a target of “net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” while doing little to increase renewable energy generation or reduce the use of fossil fuels in the short term. We swung into action, working with grassroots activists, civic leaders, and energy experts to push for a robust policy to achieve 100% renewable energy: 

  • We worked with doctors and medical students to organize a virtual lobby day and deliver a letter signed by dozens of their peers affirming the urgent need to transition to 100% renewable energy to protect public health.
  • More than 150 city and town officials signed a joint statement calling for action on 100% renewable energy legislation.
  • Academics, business leaders, and clean energy experts helped explain to legislators how a transition to 100% renewable energy is both feasible and necessary, and why a “net zero emissions” target is inadequate.
  • We released a report describing the resources, technologies, and ideas that will help Massachusetts achieve 100% renewable energy.
  • Together with MASSPIRG Students and partners in the Mass Power Forward coalition, we organized a week of action that generated hundreds of social media posts, phone calls, and emails asking legislators to act. We also helped activists publish letters to the editor in their hometown newspapers supporting 100% renewable energy legislation.

On July 29, House leaders unveiled a bill that I described as bringing a “toy squirt gun” to the five-alarm fire of climate change. We supported key amendments to strengthen the bill, while keeping up a flood of phone calls and emails into legislators’ offices.

While we didn’t succeed at getting a 100% renewable energy commitment added to the bill, we did win several important amendments, including an increase to the RPS, appliance efficiency standards, and expanded offshore wind procurements. The result was a bill that fell short of what’s needed to protect public health and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but included several praiseworthy steps in the right direction. 

At a virtual lobby day, doctors and medical students made the public health case for a transition to 100% renewable energy. (Staff photo)

Keeping up the pressure

After the House passed its climate bill, a conference committee was appointed to reconcile the differences between the House bill and legislation passed by the Senate in January 2020. Typically, the window for action on bills ends on July 31 of the second year of a legislative session, but last year the House and Senate extended the deadline due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We worked to shine a spotlight on the provisions of House and Senate legislation that we saw as essential components of any compromise bill. We focused our advocacy on the three policies we believed would make the biggest difference for renewable energy and the climate:

We also supported other provisions that would move Massachusetts toward a cleaner future, such as increased offshore wind procurements and protections for environmental justice communities.

We generated constituent emails and calls to legislators in support of appliance efficiency standards, with a focus on mobilizing our members who live in the districts of the six legislators responsible for making a decision on the final bill language. We also submitted letters to the editor to local newspapers and published a “flip book” with graphics for activists to share on social media. And when Massachusetts lost its top spot in the annual ranking of the most energy-efficient states, we explained how appliance standards could help us be number one again.

We worked closely with coalition partners to speak in support of our shared priorities, including MASSPIRG, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Appliance Standards Awareness Project, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, National Consumer Law Center, and our allies in Mass Power Forward.

When the climate bill was released by the conference committee, we were pleased to see that two of our top three priorities — appliance efficiency standards and the RPS increase — were included, along with other provisions we supported for offshore wind, energy efficiency, and environmental justice.

Our "flip book" helped raise awareness of the benefits of appliance efficiency standards on social media. (Staff image)

A veto, and another try

Legislators passed the climate bill and sent it to Gov. Baker’s desk in the final days of the 2019–2020 legislative session. A few days later, the Governor vetoed the bill, claiming that its requirements would be too costly to implement. The real estate lobby and other special interests were quoted in the media claiming that the bill’s energy efficiency requirements would bring construction to a halt.

Fortunately, leaders in the House and Senate vowed to send the climate bill back to the Governor’s desk in the first weeks of the new legislative session, which began in early January. We knew that any delay in passing the bill would give special interest lobbyists more power to weaken it. A delay in taking up this bill would also prevent the Legislature from turning its attention to all of the other climate and clean energy bills awaiting action. Together with our coalition partners, we worked to make sure that the bill was passed into law quickly, with its key provisions intact.

We sent a letter asking legislators to stand up for the most important pieces of the bill and pass it into law — overriding the Governor’s veto, if necessary — before February 19. We also published an op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine urging swift action on the bill.

Negotiations between House and Senate leaders and the Governor continued a few weeks into March, but when the dust settled, we had won a significant victory. The bill signed into law today by Gov. Baker includes all of the key elements present in the bill he vetoed just a few weeks earlier, such as efficiency standards for appliances and expanded commitments to offshore wind and other renewable sources of energy.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the climate bill into law at a State House ceremony on Friday, March 26.

What’s next?

First, let’s all take a few minutes to celebrate. This bill includes several important policies to reduce wasted energy and increase the amount of electricity we get from renewable sources like the sun and the wind. The result will be a cleaner, healthier, and safer future for all of us.

This bill is Massachusetts’ first big step on climate action in 2021 — but it can’t be the last step.

For all that the bill will accomplish, a lot has been left on the table, and legislators will need to take further action on climate this year.

One policy that’s at the top of our to-do list for 2021: the 100% Clean Act, a bill championed by Rep. Marjorie Decker, Rep. Sean Garballey, and Sen. Joseph Boncore, which will transition our electricity, heating, and transportation system to 100 percent clean energy.

We’re also supporting:

  • The Better Buildings Act, filed by Rep. Maria Robinson and Sen. Becca Rausch, which will reduce energy use and harmful pollution from existing large buildings.
  • The GREEN Act, filed by Rep. Natalie Higgins, Rep. Michael Kushmerek, and Sen. Brendan Crighton, which will retrofit low- and moderate-income housing in Gateway Cities to be efficient, fossil-fuel-free, and powered with renewable electricity.
  • The Solar Neighborhoods Act, filed by Rep. Mike Connolly, Rep. Jack Lewis, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge, which will require solar roofs on new homes and commercial buildings.

We’re continuing our advocacy for a future powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy — a future where all of us can breathe cleaner air and live in a safe, stable climate. Thank you for standing with us!

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Ben Hellerstein

State Director, Environment Massachusetts

Ben directs Environment Massachusetts’ efforts to promote clean air, clean water, clean energy and open spaces in Massachusetts. In 2016, he launched a campaign to repower Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable energy. His areas of expertise lie in renewable energy and the impacts of fossil fuel pollution, and he has authored reports on clean energy policies at the local, state and federal levels, earning media coverage statewide. Ben lives in Brookline and enjoys exploring the region on foot, by bike and by public transit.

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