Massachusetts senators eyeing new path to advance climate change bill
BOSTON >> Stymied earlier this session by the House, senators hope to again push forward legislation preparing the state for the powerful rains and tidal surges associated with climate change.
The House scrapped language passed by the Senate last summer, which would have called for a statewide climate-change adaption plan and then required reasonable adherence to that plan in state permitting.
Before passing the climate-change readiness bill (S 1979), the Senate grafted on a provision to encourage solar development, and when the House took up the bill it focused on the solar policy - leaving out the underlying language.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who attended a briefing on climate preparedness on Wednesday, said the issue could be forwarded again on the chassis of another bill.
"This is going to continue to be a high priority in the Senate, and there are a number of vehicles floating around that could be used to continue the conversation," Rosenberg told the News Service.
Chad Cox, of GZA GeoEnvironmental, told lawmakers and staffers at a briefing Monday that "a lot of low-income housing is located in flood zones," which would be vulnerable to increased coastal, river and downpour flooding. Cox said so-called 100-year floods are floods with a 1 percent chance of occurring in a year so that over a period of 30 years the chance of a 100-year flood occurring is actually 26 percent.
"Climate change just increases that risk," Cox said.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat who sponsored the climate-change bill with Brookline Democrat Rep. Frank Smizik, told the News Service he is "very seriously" considering using another bill (S 458) he sponsored to once again advance the climate change preparedness language.
Pacheco said the other bill, set to hit the Senate floor next Thursday, Jan. 21, would be a good fit for the climate plan as it sets more detailed benchmarks for the state on the way between a 25 percent emissions reduction goal in 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The emissions benchmarks, aimed at reducing global warming, are measured against 1990 emission levels.
Pacheco also mentioned the upcoming fiscal 2017 budget as a potential vehicle for the climate-change-preparedness bill along with other unspecified environmental bills.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, a Worthington Democrat who is vice-chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said he supports the climate change bill that passed the Senate.
"I think it's a good idea. We see the effects of climate changes," Kulik told the News Service. He said, "I think we should be proactive on dealing with the effects of climate change on the landscape."
David Begelfer, CEO of the commercial property development association NAIOP, said the bill puts a burden on new development while ignoring existing properties.
"To focus so much on the next new building without considering the impacts that the infrastructure's going to have on 95 percent of the existing built environment, that's a concern," Begelfer told the News Service last year.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, said constituents should speak out more on the issue of climate-change resiliency and said developers have been a challenge in moving the bill toward the governor's desk.
"I think people are seeing more and more severe weather episodes happen in the Northeast so I think there's a growing interest in the public, but I definitely think in terms of legislators there needs to be more advocacy by constituents, because right now there's not a lot of focus in climate resilience among elected officials," Eldridge told the News Service. He said, "Unfortunately some of the real estate interests are opposed to it because I think they're experiencing some short-term thinking about how do we make sure to protect buildings, especially on the coast including Boston, so some of the corporate special interests are pushing back on the bill."
Smizik said House leadership is more interested in importing Canadian hydroelectricity than in fostering solar, and he hopes the climate-change language is able to move.
"They told us they wanted to do the line in from Quebec and they don't want to push solar as much," Smizik told the News Service. About the Pacheco bill, which he co-sponsored, Smizik said, "We really have to get it somehow back in or into another bill. It's important. Trying to have a good plan for dealing with the problems that are caused by global warming and climate change is a serious, serious problem."
Asked for an explanation for why the House scrapped the climate-change plan, Pacheco said the branch was focused on the solar legislation, which revolved around a policy known as "net-metering."
"They just looked at it as a vehicle to come back with their proposal on raising the net-metering cap and just left all the rest of the bill there," Pacheco said.
A House-Senate conference committee convened in November to reconcile the two versions of the solar legislation has yet to produce a compromise.
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