BEACON HILL HAPPENINGS
– House leaders convene panel to review green energy priorities (Tim Cronin): According to reporting from the State House News Service, a new legislative task force tapped by House Democrats will “explore ways to support renewable and clean energies as Massachusetts moves past the COVID-19 pandemic”. Rep. Golden, House Chair of the Joint Energy Committee, will lead the task force that will review existing policy proposals and new ideas. Among the focuses will be the negative impact of the pandemic on green energy industry jobs. In a statement, Golden said: “Once again, we need to roll up our sleeves, take a clear view of our challenges, and forge ahead to identify pathways to a cleaner, more resilient Commonwealth.”
– POLICY DIVE: Baker admin releases modest bond spending proposal (Tim Cronin): Last week the Baker administration released its latest 5 year Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for FY21, an obscure document that plays a major role in funding everything from roads to climate resilience infrastructure. Among other projects, the CIP directs funding for the climate Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program and other investments supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation programs.
It’s in the CIP that the Governor sets the state’s “bond cap” for the coming year, which determines how much money the state borrows to cover the cost of major projects. The state determines how much money to borrow through a complicated process that starts with lawmakers passing “bond bills” (that give the Governor the ability to spend money in certain areas), then the Governor sets this “bond cap” which authorizes some of this spending, and finally state agencies chose whether or not spend the money they are authorized to.
The bond cap for FY21 is $2.46 billion, an increase of just 1.15% over the previous year. Zooming into environment funding, the bond cap for the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) increased from $231.4 million to $238 million. Although this looks good, it’s important to note that even though funding is authorized doesn’t mean it will be spent. A report from the House Bonding Committee found that the Baker administration had some of the highest levels of unused spending, especially in agencies like the EEA. We will not know whether EEA funding for FY21 is actually spent for about 2 years.
Although Baker has consistently kept the bond cap low (resulting in fewer relative capital investments) his predecessor Governor Deval Patrick was more open to increasing bond spending, especially during the last recession. Attempts have been made to bypass the Governor’s suppression of capital spending, including proposed changes within Speaker DeLeo’s GreenWorks Bonding bill that would require Baker to spend money on green projects authorized. Bonding has the potential to be a key component of funding future green stimulus or recovery policy in Massachusetts in the coming years.
– Report: FUTURE Act improves safety, lowers cost for gas pipelines (Martha Merrow): On June 17th, the Applied Economics Clinic released a briefing on the FUTURE act brief. The FUTURE Act “would improve the safety of today’s gas distribution system by accelerating repairs of gas leaks, strengthening requirements for monitoring leaks, and prioritizing large gas leaks for rapid replacement.”Aiming to complement the AG’s petition to investigate gas companies, the brief highlights areas including how:
- Replacing the leak-prone pipes in MA will cost the Commonwealth $17.1 Billion dollars ($2.8B already spent)
- At the current rate of reimbursement charged to ratepayers (about $5/month), it would take over 100 years for us to pay it back or $15/month to pay it off by 2050.
- MA should redirect current $1.5 billion in incentives for the installation of new gas furnaces plus electric AC to instead go to heat pumps and electrification.
– Poll shows dramatic rise in racism as a public priority (Tim Cronin): A poll released by WGBH News, the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and MassLive shows racism jumping past climate change, opioids, and other priorities for residents of Massachusetts. The poll showed 29% of respondents listed “racism” as the most serious problem facing Massachusetts, while “climate change” dropped to under 10%. “Unemployment/ the economy” came in second, with 25% of the respondents listing it as the most serious problem. This priority seems reflected in a renewed focus on passing a policing reform bill by lawmakers, before other stated priorities like a FY2021 budget and climate change.
ALL POLICY IS LOCAL
– “With Air Permit Vacated, Senators Call For Construction To Stop On Weymouth Compressor” (Barbara Moran, WBUR): [read the article]
– Settlement reaches agreement for Plymouth nuclear plant decommissioning (Martha Merrow): AG Maura Healey and the Baker administration have agreed to drop their legal dispute to the sale of the Plymouth nuclear plant. The move comes as part of a larger deal that will require its owners to preserve the existing decommissioning trust fund at a minimum balance of at least $193 million (in case the project faces delays or other unexpected costs). In a statement, Governor Baker called the deal “a critical step towards the safe decommissioning and cleanup of the Pilgrim site while our administration continues working on a clean energy future for the Commonwealth.” The Plymouth plant sale was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August of 2019, but Massachusetts filed two lawsuits and a federal petition in concern that Holtec did not have the funding to clean the site safely and store spent nuclear fuel.
– Somerville, Cambridge Pass Resolutions Calling on Insurers to Ditch Fossil Fuels (Tim Cronin): In city council meetings this week and earlier in June, Cambridge and Somerville became the first cities in Massachusetts to pass resolutions calling on insurance companies to stop insuring and investing in fossil fuels. “Cambridge has a long history of addressing global climate change at the local level and we are now urging the insurance industry to stop exacerbating the climate crisis by decarbonizing their business activity and working with us for a climate-safe future,” said Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan in a statement. Read the full press release.
– “Yes, we still need to raise the gas tax” by the Editorial Board, via the Boston Globe.
– “Breathing Room For Weymouth: Compressor Station Air Permit Vacated by Federal Court” by Chris K, Karry M, Perri M., via Take Back the Grid.
– “We Need a Green Recovery” by Jennifer Benson, via the CXC Roundup: “…With the spread of COVID-19 slowing in areas that acted responsibly in the early days of the pandemic, attention is turning to discussion of the public policy solutions that will be required to dig us out of this recession. The business community can play a role in advocating for a green recovery…” [SEE FULL COLUMN BELOW]
– Theoharides says TCI is still necessary in time of COVID-19 (Martha Merrow): Last week (6/17) on an ELM webinar, EEA Secretary Theoharides doubled down on her commitment to moving forward TCI and other parts of the Baker administration’s climate change agenda, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Even though the virus threatens global economies, Theoharides said the combination of the disease and instances of racial injustice across the country has played a compelling part in showing how communities that have historically excluded from the environmental planning conversation can be hurt by climate change and pollution. When asked specifically about the future of the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative, Theoharides responded that the six-month delay in releasing a final MOU for signatures should have no impact on the proposed start date for the program, which had been 2022.
– “How systemic racism determines health outcomes for Black Americans” (Carlie Clarq, Climate XChange): [read the article]
– “Demolition dust one more Chelsea burden” (Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine): [read the article]
OUR LOCAL ENVIRONMENT
– “GE outlines planned Housatonic cleanup ahead of EPA order” (Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle): [read the article]
– “Theoharides stirs outrage with Pike stance” (Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine): [read the article]
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
– “How green sand could capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide” (James Temple, MIT Technology Review): [read the article]
LOCAL CAMPAIGNS ON CLIMATE
– ELM releases recordings of Congressional candidate forums on federal energy and the environment policy (Martha Merrow): 10 co-sponsors, nine candidates, and hundreds of viewers joined ELM for their 4th District Congressional Candidate Forum on Energy and the Environment. The candidates spoke about how to build a clean, green, equitable, and inclusive 4th district. The candidates shared perspectives on how to best address environmental justice (EJ) concerns in policymaking, how they would ensure the many EJ communities in the district are not left behind in an economic recovery effort, and why they feel they are the right person to represent the diverse citizens of the district.
– “Environment America launches a 10-state campaign calling for all new homes to be built with solar panels” (Environment America): [read the press release]
BEYOND THE BAY STATE
– “Vermont bill one step closer to holding government accountable” (Carlie Clarq, Climate XChange): [read the article]
INSIDE THE BELTWAY
– House leadership releases green infrastructure plan (POLITICO Morning Energy): “House Democratic leaders on Monday unveiled the text of a broad $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes billions for clean energy and clean water. “Those who don’t believe in climate change, tough luck,” Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio said when announcing the bill last week. “We’re going to deal with it.” The bill, H.R. 2 (116), would pour tens of billions of dollars into modernizing the electric grid, investing in clean water projects and extending a host of clean energy tax credits…. House leaders expect to bring the bill to a vote before July 4. But it faces an uncertain path forward amid opposition from Republicans, who call it a Democratic wish list.” [read the article]
– “Springfield east-west rail, faster broadband internet, green technologies highlight $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill” (Jim Kinney, MassLive): [read the article]
– Jasmine Sanders has joined Our Climate as their new Executive Director. She previously managed strategic initiatives and special projects for the Executive Office at HIAS, a Jewish American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.
WEEKLY GUEST PERSPECTIVE
“We Need a Green Recovery”by Jennifer Benson, President of The Alliance for Business Leadership
“In March, the world was shaken by dire warnings from public health experts about the rapid spread of COVID-19. Stay-at-home advisories and orders to close non-essential businesses saved millions of lives but decimated the global economy. With the spread of COVID-19 slowing in areas that acted responsibly in the early days of the pandemic, attention is turning to discussion of the public policy solutions that will be required to dig us out of this recession. The business community can play a role in advocating for a green recovery.
First, we should continue to support public policy choices that disincentive the use of fossil fuels. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts were underway to decarbonize our economy through the implementation of carbon pricing. These efforts are continuing in the form of the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative, and in state houses across the country debating carbon pricing legislation like the bill I introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature in 2019. Analysis has shown that implementing an economy-wide carbon pricing system will spur innovation, create jobs, and significantly boost the renewable energy sector.
Second, business leaders should work to keep up the pressure on corporations to commit to ambitious and transparent emissions reduction goals, even as the economy recovers. Many organizations have already pledged to cut emissions significantly by 2050 to do their part to address climate change. We should hold them accountable to those pledges and closely follow their progress.
Third, governments should accelerate renewable energy procurement and support large-scale renewable projects. In the U.S., and specifically in Massachusetts, there is massive untapped potential to generate more electricity with wind turbines. The U.S. currently generates about 8% of our electricity from wind, but we could reach 20% by 2030. The offshore wind industry has been ramping up in Massachusetts in preparation for the installation of 3,500 MW of offshore wind turbines, but the project has been held up by federal regulators. It is important that the business community continues to speak with a unified voice in support of this and other large-scale renewable energy projects across the country.
Business leaders at all levels can help ensure that this a green recovery. Please use your voice to highlight the economic benefits of disincentivizing fossil fuel usage, keep the pressure on corporations to set and meet ambitious emissions reduction targets, and advocate for increased procurement of renewable energy and funding for renewable energy infrastructure.”
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Jennifer Benson is the President of The Alliance for Business Leadership, a nonprofit that works to amplify the voice of the progressive business community in policy discussions in Massachusetts. Benson was previously a State Representative in the Massachusetts Legislature for 11 years, where she worked extensively on clean energy policy, including carbon pricing and grid modernization.
Missed the last CXC Roundup? Here are the top three climate headlines from last week:
- State Auditor: Mass. environmental officials violated Clean Water Act
- “Effort to keep state’s largest power plant open fuels concern about climate, public health”
- Dr. Cruz: Climate change is already making allergy season much, much worse
Correction: In the last edition we stated that Somerville-based Greentown Labs was based in Cambridge.