Baker Urged to Sign Major Climate-Change Bill

Lily Bohlke – Commonwealth News Service

BOSTON — Environmental-justice and climate-change advocates are urging Gov. Charlie Baker to sign a bill called An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy. The bill includes requirements and incentives to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

It also defines environmental justice communities – those where the median household income is 65% or more below the statewide average, where minorities make up 40% or more of the population, or where a quarter of residents don’t speak English – and regulates possible pollution near them. Steve Long, director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, said the implications of the bill’s passage are far-reaching.

“There’s a big focus on reducing emissions, which is job one,” Long said. “But there’s also a real focus on how do we improve the quality of life for people and communities – especially people in overburdened and underserved communities.”

If signed into law, the bill would incentivize the use of energy-efficient appliances, including dishwashers and refrigerators. And it would require that all vehicles sold in the Commonwealth after 2035 be electric. Long said these measures would improve air quality, especially for folks with asthma or other respiratory issues.

The bill also requires the Commonwealth to set a goal for carbon sequestration and storage, and come up with a plan to protect and manage the ecosystems that can help. Long said forests, trees in urban spaces, wetlands and salt marshes are all great ways to draw carbon pollution out of the atmosphere and store it.

“We are so far above the amount of carbon that should be in the atmosphere anyway, we need to draw that down,” he said. “And nature is the only economically and technically feasible tool that we have right now to do that.”

Long said New England is one of the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to the impacts of climate change – from floods and droughts to storm surges, sea-level rise and heat waves. That’s why he said it’s key that this bill takes a comprehensive, broad-based approach.