March 5th Roundup: Controversial Baker Budget Proposal May Reduce Climate Funding

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-Controversial Baker Budget Proposal May Reduce Climate Funding
: Hidden inside the Governor’s proposed $42.7 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020, in the section that authorizes spending of revenue from the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is the addition of a small phrase that may have big impacts on the state’s climate change goals. In there, Governor Baker is seeking to add “greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation,” which would make the money available for things like seawalls upgrades, municipal climate resiliency programs (i.e. the MVP program), and coastal conservation efforts.

Since 2014, these RGGI funds have gone primarily towards energy efficiency and conservation, with the bulk of that money available for the popular Mass Save energy efficiency program. Annual revenues from RGGI usually total in the tens of millions of dollars, with over 95% of that going towards energy efficiency & clean energy programs in Massachusetts.

According to reporting from David Abel at the Boston Globe, “Administration officials contend that the change wouldn’t come at the expense of energy-efficiency programs and would give the state more flexibility. But critics, including several prominent state senators who have been outspoken about climate change, worry that the proposal would allow the administration to shift money from what they consider to be vital efforts to cut emissions.”

The general concern from environmental organizations centers around a desire to keep funding for reducing emissions independent from climate adaptation funding. Based on statements from these groups, most agree that the state needs to fund both priorities, but not that they should be competing for the same pot of money.

The move comes as House Speaker DeLeo proposes spending $1 billion on climate change and local renewable energy resiliency, and only a few months after the Governor proposed a new tax on real estate transfers that would raise another $1 billion (over a decade) on climate adaptation.

Next steps? It’s not clear what legislative leaders think about this provision although some lawmakers have expressed serious concerns. These include chair of the Senate Global Warming committee Marc Pacheco and Senate vice-chair of the Joint Environmental committee Jamie Eldridge. Expect the debate over the use of these funds to heat up when House and Senate budget leaders reveal their versions of the state budget in early May, and start negotiation with the Governor.

-“Rep. Lori Ehrlich Announces Two Bills to Combat Climate Change” (The Daily Item Staff): “Lori Ehrlich has her way, Massachusetts would take two big steps to combat climate change. The Marblehead state representative has proposed a pair of bills to reduce carbon emissions produced by the state’s heating and transportation sectors. Should both bills pass, they would help drive Massachusetts toward its greenhouse gas emissions goals for 2050.

-Offshore Wind in Massachusetts Overcoming Challenges, Moving Forward
Vineyard Wind’s $2 billion, 800 MW, offshore wind project proposed off the coast of Massachusetts has been in the news for two reasons: one political, the other wonky.

First, the project cleared a major political hurdle last week when Rhode Island state regulators approved the project’s proposal to give $16.7 million to the local fishing industry. The money is meant to compensate local fish catchers for the impacts of the project on their traditional fishing grounds. Vineyard Wind will still need approval from similar regulators in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Vineyard Power was unsuccessful in its attempt to participate in a special renewable energy auction overseen by ISO-New England’s. It is believed that if the project was allowed to participating in the auction it would have reduced the price of electricity across the region. The reason for its exclusion was that it would not technically be in New England, but off the coast in federal waters. Regardless, ISO-NE has changed its rules and will likely let it participate in similar auctions in the future. As reported by Utility Dive’s Gavin Bade, this “illustrated how grid operators nationwide are struggling to integrate resources supported by government subsidies or mandates, like offshore wind.”

Despite both of these developments, Vineyard Wind is confident that it will begin construction later this year, and achieve their goal of providing electricity to Massachusetts residents by 2020.  

-“Offshore Wind Picking Up Momentum in Local Classrooms” (Sarah Mizes-Tan, WCAI): “This year the offshore wind company Vineyard Wind plans to start construction on a wind farm south of Martha’s Vineyard, with more than 80 turbines. Several other commercial wind-power projects are proposed for the state’s coastal waters. And while the first offshore turbine has yet to go up in Massachusetts, already this new industry is beginning to have an impact on local classrooms, from elementary grades to college.”

-Discussion Today: A Deep Dive on the Green New Deal
(Noa Dalzell, Climate XChange): The Green New Deal, a suite of economic stimulus programs aiming to address climate change in an equitable way, has been dominating news headlines since its introduction last month. But what does it all really mean? Can this legislation actually pass? How does the GND affect ongoing carbon pricing efforts, and most importantly- the future of our planet? Joining Climate XChange to tackle these questions and many more are Evan Weber, the political director of the Sunrise Movement, and David Roberts, the renowned Vox climate change writer. We will be taking live questions from our listeners, so tune in to get your GND questions answered by two of the biggest names in the conversation. [WEBINAR TODAY] Sign up for free here.

-“Neal backs ‘bold action’ on climate change, falls short of endorsing ‘Green New Deal’” (Shannon Young, MassLive): “U.S. Rep. Richard Neal offered support this week for efforts to lower emissions, develop renewable energy and other proposals set forth in the “Green New Deal,” but stopped short of endorsing the controversial environmental agenda. The Springfield Democrat praised supporters of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey’s, D-Massachusetts, recently unveiled “Green New Deal” resolution for energizing the climate change conversation on Capitol Hill and across the country.”

-“Meet The White House’s New Chief Climate Change Skeptic” (Dan Charles, NPR): “Happer is back in the White House, still fighting against what he considers unfounded claims that our globe is in danger. But this time, his cause is backed by the man in the Oval Office. Happer, 79, joined the staff of President Trump’s National Security Council last fall. And according to documents first leaked to The Washington Post, he appears to be pushing the White House to mount a challenge to the government’s official assessment of climate change, which calls climate change a serious national security threat.”

-“Republican claims on climate change, then and now” (Jean Chemnick, Climatewire via Energy News Network): “If a congressional hearing last week is anything to go by, climate denial is no longer in fashion among some GOP lawmakers who once espoused it… This is different. Republicans did not hold a climate hearing like last Thursday’s when they had a majority in the House — going back eight years. Instead, during that time many Republicans suggested that climate change wasn’t happening because of human activity. They often suggested that alternative climate science was being repressed or that warming was cyclical, natural and out of human control.”

-“State regulators to review compressor station findings”
(Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger): “State regulators will conduct their own environmental review of the proposed site for a 7,700-horsepower natural-gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River, potentially forcing further cleanup of the land… The state Department of Environmental Protection issued an air-quality permit on Jan. 11, just a week after the Metropolitan Area Planning Council released a health-impact assessment that found that the compressor station would be unlikely to affect health and noise in the area. Gov. Charlie Baker had ordered the study in July 2017 amid strong local opposition to the project from officials and residents in Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree and Hingham who fear that the plant would vent pollution and toxic gases or that it could explode in the densely populated neighborhood.”

-“Climate Study Urges State to Get Strict With Flood Controls” (Chris Lisinski, State House News Service): “A day after the Conservation Law Foundation warned in a report that 37 acres of open space in Boston will face flooding risks due to climate change, Boston’s environment commissioner described it as a “very useful contribution” that echoed many of the city’s findings. The report released Wednesday outlined challenges Boston faces as sea levels are set to rise in the coming years and how regulations should be updated in response. CLF examined 62 sites covered by the state’s Public Waterfront Act and found that between 61 percent and 94 percent of them will face new flooding risks.” [Full report here]

-“Driven from their home by 2018 nor’easter, Quincy family reflects on a year relying on helping hands” (Laura Crimaldi, the Boston Globe): “A year ago Saturday, Jillian O’Brien and her daughter, Billie, then 16 months, huddled in a loft atop their cottage as flood waters poured into the home. O’Brien was seven months pregnant and waiting for rescuers in a room where she and her husband display prayers written on paper scraps. Her husband, Cory O’Brien, was driving home about a quarter of a mile away on Sea Street, where flood waters had nearly submerged a white vehicle in the middle of the road.”

-[Vermont] “Carbon tax bills introduced in House. Speaker says it’s too late.”
(Elizabeth Gribkoff, VT Digger): “Activists on either side of the carbon tax debate were making a ruckus at the Statehouse well in advance of such legislation actually being introduced this session. Now two carbon tax bills have arrived, both sponsored by Progressive House members, but the body’s Democratic leadership seems intent on doing nothing with them, at least during this session.”

-“The Energy 202: Climate change is Jay Inslee’s top priority in Washington. How will it play in 2020?”
 (Dino Grandoni, Washington Post): “Climate change is poised to be a big issue in the race for the Democratic nomination. But there hasn’t been a candidate who has made the issue the center of his or her pitch for president — until now. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee launched his bid for president Friday to address what he called in his first campaign video “the most urgent challenge of our time.” While the crowded field for the Democratic nomination already includes five senators co-sponsoring the ambitious Green New Deal resolution, Inslee is prioritizing climate change to the exclusion of other issues. He said “climate change” or “global warming” in the video at least 10 times. It was the first, last and only issue he mentioned in his video announcement.”

-“Green New Deal vs. Carbon Tax: A Clash of 2 Worldviews, Both Seeking Climate Action”
(Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News): “Congress is in uncharted territory on climate policy. For the first time ever, lawmakers face competing approaches to reviving U.S. climate action. And despite hostility from the White House, each has significant support and the potential to shape the 2020 elections. On one side are the student activists of the Sunrise Movement and Congress’s new young firebrands; on the other, more moderate groups, including grassroots advocates and some of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen, supported both by established environmental groups and by major energy corporations. The young activists want nothing short of a social and economic revolution. Their Green New Deal, while not yet fully formed, promises jobs and economic security as part of a drive to get greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. The moderates, hoping to win over Republicans in Congress, seek a market-based incentive in the form of a carbon tax plan. But key to energy industry support for their efforts is that any carbon pricing proposal also include protection from other regulations on emissions and immunity from climate lawsuits.”

-“Will Massachusetts and Other Northeastern States Move to Aggressively Price Carbon Emissions?” (Brook J. Detterman, National Law Review): “Carbon tax proposals are proliferating, both nationally and in New England. Last year, carbon tax bills were introduced in all New England states, New York, and several other states. While some of those proposals have faded away (at least for now), they are alive and well in Massachusetts.”

-“Why Good Politics And Good Climate Science Don’t Mix”
(Maggie Koerth-Baker, FiveThirtyEight): “As the U.S. confronts what to do about climate change, human psychology leaves climate-conscious politicians in a tough spot. Political action means convincing both constituents and colleagues that said action has to be taken and that you know the right path forward. But the global climate system, and our understanding of how humans are altering it, is complex and nuanced enough that talking about it can easily involve a stumbled series of “ifs,” “ands” and “buts.” So it’s worth asking: Is the science of rhetoric fundamentally at odds with the science of evidence-based policymaking?

-“Three takes on natural gas”
 by Craig Altemose, Rick Sullivan, and Kathryn R. Eiseman, via Commonwealth Magazine.

-“EDITORIAL: Massachusetts to Maine Governor Janet Mills: Thank you” via the Boston Globe Editorial Board.

-“LETTERS: State eyes shift in climate change funds” via the Boston Globe opinions page.

-“The Green New Deal isn’t outlandish — it’s a necessity” by Jeffrey Sachs, via the Hill.


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