Governor Baker’s Net Zero Pledge in Context

At his annual State of the Commonwealth address on Tuesday (1/21), Governor Baker pledged Massachusetts to a new goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, making the Bay State the third in the country to make such a commitment, with the others being New York and California.

Although details are in short supply for the time being, the announcement does come as state lawmakers seriously consider multiple legislative approaches to address the climate crisis. 

The Political Context 

On its surface, Governor Baker’s announcement can be seen as a doubling-down on the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional carbon pricing program largely led by the Massachusetts Governor. The show of commitment to the initiative could not have come sooner, as local reporting continued to highlight the growing number of state Governors who are unwilling to publicly commit to joining TCI at this time.

The impact of the Governor’s pledge goes beyond just TCI though, and it adds momentum to current legislative efforts that would put the state on track to achieve net zero emissions, like carbon pricing. Why? Although the Governor has the authority to legally commit to binding targets (because of the Global Warming Solutions Act), the specific tools he will use to get the Commonwealth to net zero by 2050 are less certain. 

Responsibility now partially falls on the legislature to move forward with legislation currently being considered, some of which — if passed into law — could seriously support the Governor’s goal to decarbonize the state. 

Take the Senate, which is set to release a brand-new ‘comprehensive bill’ to address climate change on Thursday (1/23). On the same day as the Governor’s announcement, Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and Senate Energy Chair Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) teased the release of the bill in a video on social media. Although the details of the climate bill are currently unknown, at a January hearing Senator Barrett said the bill would include carbon pricing. In a press statement following the Governor’s address, President Spilka confirmed that a net zero requirement would be included in the bill.

Meanwhile in the House, the Governor’s announcement provides a boost for the 2050 Roadmap bill (H.832). Filed by Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull), the bill centers around a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, while also establishing intermediate emissions targets for 2030 and 2040. The 2050 Roadmap also seeks to develop an “intentional, equitable, and people-centered plan that engages all sectors to reach this reduction,” according to a release by Representative Meschino. First introduced in 2019, the bill has already received near unanimous endorsement by the House Progressive Caucus and is strongly rumored to have support among House leadership. Speaking to the press after the Governor’s address, Speaker DeLeo said he was supportive of trying to achieve net zero emissions and that he hoped to get a bill done this session.

The Governor’s announcement also comes less than a week after more than 200 citizens, local leaders, and advocates filled the statehouse in support of carbon pricing. Supporters met with their legislators, but also packed a public hearing focusing on carbon pricing legislation. The hearing room itself was standing room only for three hours as over 40 people testified in favor of legislation that went beyond what has been proposed by TCI. Supporters included local leaders like Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and business leaders like Gentle Giant Moving’s owner & founder Larry O’Toole.

What’s Next

With the announcement less than 24 hours old, and made during an annual State of the Commonwealth address, specifics on the net zero pledge are yet to come. Over the coming month, we can expect details from members of the Baker administration outlining exactly how they want the process to proceed, and how the Governor intends to achieve net zero by 2050. 

In the meantime, the Senate’s forthcoming climate bill is expected to make a big splash on Thursday (1/23), followed by a flurry of activity as Senate leaders push it towards a vote before the end of the month. 

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Featured Image: On January 23, 2018, Governor Charlie Baker delivered his third State of the Commonwealth address from the House Chamber of the Massachusetts State House. Source: Rachel Mandelbaum for the Office of the Governor.