Tougher limits on emissions proposed  

Associated PressTraffic backs up on Interstate 93 in Stoneham. A bill calling for major reductions in carbon emissions, such as those from gas-guzzling vehicles, is now on Gov. Charlie Baker's desk for his signature. 

BOSTON — The state will take aggressive steps over the next three decades to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under a sweeping proposal awaiting Gov. Charlie Baker's approval.

On Monday, the Legislature voted to require the state to cut its total carbon emissions by 100% below 1990 levels over the next 30 years by clamping down on sectors of the economy that so far have frustrated efforts to reduce the carbon footprint.

Lawmakers said the legislation, which was hammered out by a six-member legislative committee, is among the most aggressive in the country to reduce emissions that scientists say contribute to a warming planet.

"This legislation takes a historic step in the fight against climate change, putting Massachusetts on the path to creating a cleaner, greener and healthier future for the next generation," Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said in a statement.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, said the proposal will "empower our environmental justice communities, achieve net zero emissions by 2050, continue to lead on offshore wind, increase equitable access to our clean energy programs and create pathways to clean energy jobs for underserved and low-income communities."

The legislation requires the state to meet several benchmarks over the next three decades, effectively updating the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Under the proposal, carbon emissions in Massachusetts would have to be slashed by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 75% of 1990 levels by 2040.

Backers of the changes say the ultimate goal is to get the state to 100% below 1990 levels, or "net zero," by 2050.

To do that, the plan calls for higher efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances, development of offshore wind and expanded solar energy use, as well as new emissions limits on electric power, transportation, commercial heating and cooling, and other sectors of the economy.

Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the proposal puts the state "on a path toward a cleaner, healthier, more equitable, and prosperous future ... by promoting emissions reductions, energy efficiency, workforce development, environmental justice, health and safety."

Baker, a Republican, has laid out similarly ambitious plans to meet the state's carbon reduction goals. He supports many of the bill's provisions.

The Legislature's proposal also includes provisions aimed at improving the safety of the natural gas distribution system that stem from the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

Those provisions would beef up regulations by requiring gas companies to improve maps and records of distribution systems, increase penalties for not restoring gas service following an outage, and adding whistleblower protections for workers who report violations to state regulators.

It would also set a more aggressive timeline for utilities to fix leaking gas pipes and authorizes state regulators to impose hefty fines for non-compliance.

Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who pushed for the changes with other lawmakers representing the North of Boston region, said the new requirements will "hold public utility companies accountable, strengthen safety standards, and help prevent natural gas disasters in the future."

With the two-year legislative session ending at midnight on Tuesday, Baker must either sign or veto the climate change proposal.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

 

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