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Massachusetts Senate Introduces Major Climate Change Policy Bill

BOSTON (CBS/AP) -- Massachusetts state lawmakers are taking a major step to address climate change. The state Senate has introduced a climate change policy package which will be up for debate next week.

Building, along with transportation, make up nearly 99% of Boston's carbon emissions. The legislative package includes multiple efforts to reduce emissions, including a plan to get the state to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Also included in the bill is a plan to jump-start efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities, setting a deadline for converting MBTA buses to all-electric power and a goal of getting an entirely zero-emissions fleet by 2040.

The bill authorizes utilities to test technology and pipelines that generate and transport renewable thermal energy and a pledge of state support for communities that choose on the own to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings.

To reach the goal, the legislation requires the state to hit near-term carbon limits in 2025, 2030 and every five years after that. The bill also sets separate sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution and other major sectors.

State government would also be limited to buying or leasing zero emissions vehicles beginning in 2024.

"The young people of Massachusetts have told us in no uncertain terms that they are looking to state leaders to take bold action on climate change," Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said.

Existing state law — the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act — set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The package of bills unveiled Thursday would effectively set a goal of 100% below 1990 levels.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said this week he is also committed to achieving a climate goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The bills would give the governor and his successors the ability to choose among various market based forms of carbon pricing — including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional "cap and trade" system — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Among those in support of the bill are Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who reaffirmed his plan for Boston to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Supporters of the legislative package say it would counter efforts by the Republican administration of President Donald Trump to slow the progress of energy-efficient appliances by updating the state's own appliance standards to improve energy and water standards for household and commercial appliances.

The bills would also create a new Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission to oversee the government's handling of climate change and offer a "nonpartisan, science-based view" of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said this week that the House will also be supporting the net-zero goal.

Environmental activists said they support the bill, although some say it still doesn't go far enough.

The Sierra Club said it backs the phase-in of electric buses and increasing access to solar for low-income communities, but said Massachusetts should get in line with other states that have embraced a transition to 100% clean, renewable electricity.

"Without a more urgent timeline to move the electric sector to 100% clean, renewable energy, it will be extremely challenging to meet the goals outlined in the bill," said Deb Pasternak, Massachusetts chapter director of the Sierra Club.

The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation by the end of January.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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