‘The most important issue of our time’: Mass. Senate unveils climate change legislation for electric vehicles – MassLive.com
State senators unveiled a suite of concrete climate change regulations tallying more than $250 million Thursday that they consider vital for ensuring Massachusetts achieves net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, including incentives to bolster the transition to electric vehicles and all-electric building construction.
Senate President Karen Spilka called fighting the climate crisis a top priority as she outlined “An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward,” which will be debated on the Senate floor next week — marking the second major piece of climate change legislation the Senate has tackled this session, according to the Ashland Democrat.
“Let’s face it, improvements we make in education or health care policy won’t mean anything if our coastal cities and our cities are under water,” Spilka said during a press conference Thursday afternoon in the Senate Reading Room at the Massachusetts State House. “This is the most important issue of our time … We are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to saving the planet with a particular focus on three sectors.”
Those sectors are clean energy, transportation and buildings, according to the bill summary.
Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem, chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said the bill reflects her colleagues’ concerns that Massachusetts will not meet its ambitious goals with the policies now in place.
“We don’t think the agencies are taking the quick approach that they should be taking,” Creem said. Spilka added senators “wanted the legislative intent to be clear.”
The bill calls for the creation of a $100 million Clean Energy Investment Fund to spur infrastructure developments, with separate proposals making it easier to seek financial assistance for “cutting-edge technologies,” including nuclear fusion, networked geothermal and and deep geothermal energy.
There’s also a proposed $100 million Electric Vehicle Adoption Incentive Trust Fund in the bill, plus $3,500 rebates — an increase of $1,000 from the current provision — for zero-emission cars and light-duty trucks. Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft would need to comply with stricter emission-reductions rules, and the bill also requires the MBTA fleet to be fully electrified by 2040.
A new outreach program would be designed to reach undeserved communities, as well as communities that have a large proportion of high-emission vehicles, according to the bill summary.
“We wanted to make sure in the bill that we are not stimulating the purchase of electric vehicles by single-car owners at the expense of people who live in cities, and who may not be able to afford a car or who may rely at least primarily on mass transit,” said Sen. Mike Barrett, the Senate chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee.
The heftier rebates make it more feasible for middle-income residents to purchase electric vehicles, he said. And by 2028, commuters who depend on bus transportation should expect to travel in clean buses.
“We’re intent on making sure that working-class people and poor people have the same opportunities to breathe clean air and transportation as people living in the suburbs do. So we’re being pretty tough about that,” Barrett said of the strict timelines involved. “And it’s directly responsive to our concern about environmental justice.”
The heightened emphasis on electric vehicle infrastructure is accompanied with a proposed $50 million Charging Infrastructure Council Fund. New developments must also allocate at least 10% of parking spaces for electric vehicle charging.
In a pilot project embedded in the climate change bill, 10 municipalities, including Brookline, can restrict fossil fuel use in construction projects — as long as they receive local approval. Mass Save must also start limiting its funding on fossil fuel equipment.
Barrett said Bay Staters must have grit — and exude collective faith in one another — to “sustain a good life on this planet for all living things.”
“We know climate change is relentless, so Massachusetts needs to be relentless, too,” Barrett said. “No one’s going to give us an ‘A’ for effort — what matters are results. An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward pushes back against global warming on multiple fronts, with an emphasis on innovation and smart experimentation.”
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues said the comprehensive bill will allow Massachusetts to reach 2050 emissions goals “as quickly and as equitably as possible.”
During a virtual State House News forum last month, Spilka had previewed the Senate was working “fast and furiously” on a bill tied to climate change and green energy to roll out in April, coinciding with Earth Day later this month.
The legislation took on heightened urgency as gas prices soared due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The House and Senate rejected proposals to temporarily waive the state gas tax, expressing fear over jeopardizing the state’s bond rating and hindering future infrastructure projects. But in response to pain at the pump, Beacon Hill lawmakers have also used the opportunity to promote electric vehicle infrastructure and the future offshore wind industry.
“I believe it’s Massachusetts’ obligation to ensure as much as we can that we have a strong, thriving commonwealth 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now where our residents can live, work, raise the family, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy our natural beauty, and succeed,” Spilka said Thursday. “It sounds really basic, but it’s really critical.”