STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 31, 2022…..The message from the top House climate negotiator was clear Sunday: the ball’s in your court, governor.

Democrats in the Legislature are hoping that this session does not end the same way the last one did, with Gov. Charlie Baker vetoing a piece of significant climate policy legislation. But Baker returned their compromise offshore wind and climate bill (H 5060) Friday with substantial amendments, including a desire to put $750 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars toward clean energy uses and a plan to scrap the offshore wind price cap that the Legislature stopped short of eliminating.

Baker’s administration, which has worked closely but not always agreed with the Legislature on climate policy since Baker took office in 2015, supports the main thrusts of the bill — to reshape the way the state connects to offshore wind power, accelerate a transition to renewable energy sources and help Massachusetts achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2050 — but was concerned about the feasibility of some sections.

An agreement on a House-Senate response emerged early Sunday, the final day for roll call votes this year, and it emerged in the House just before 4:30 p.m. in the form of a further amendment that Rep. Jeff Roy filed to the governor’s amendments. By adopting the further amendment with a voice vote, the House avoided having to vote directly on Baker’s amendments. The Senate rejected the governor’s amendment and then adopted the further amendment, also with voice votes. The bill was reenacted and sent back to Baker’s desk after 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Roy told the House that the latest version of the Legislature’s climate bill incorporates some of Baker’s suggestions like the outright elimination of the offshore wind price cap, but rejects his call to use $750 million of ARPA money. He also quoted a passage about compromise from the governor’s recently-published book and suggested that Baker will have to decide whether to go along with the latest climate bill or go down in history as the governor who rejected clean energy and climate policy.

“With your vote today, you return the decision back to the governor about whether it becomes law. And of the many people who live in this commonwealth, he was chosen to determine this most serious and substantial matter. He was selected to determine the fate of this legislation and our climate and energy future,” Roy said Sunday afternoon. “With his action on this bill, he can be the governor that transforms climate and energy policy in Massachusetts or he can be the one who pulled the plug on electrification and the one who took the breeze out of offshore wind. He has an incredible choice to make and we certainly hope that he embraces the compromise like all of us have already done.”

Roy repeatedly pointed out that, while the Legislature was rejecting Baker’s call to use $750 million, the House and Senate have approved a total of $3.1 billion in funding for climate and energy matters between the latest versions of the climate bill, an economic development package and an infrastructure bond bill — none of which have yet completed their legislative journeys — and the fiscal year 2023 budget, which is law.

“Again, four times the amount proposed by the governor,” Roy said.

When the climate issue came up in the Senate, Sen. Michael Barrett played the good cop to Roy’s bad cop and instead focused on the ways that Baker and his amendments “influenced our thinking and our approach” in the latest edition of the climate bill. He specifically mentioned the exclusion of life sciences, medical and hospital new construction from the provisions of the bill’s 10-town fossil fuel-free construction demonstration project, the way people are appointed to the Mass. Clean Energy Center’s board, and in regards to the Senate changing its position and going along with erasing the offshore wind price cap.

“We heard the governor. He wanted to do away with the price cap. For the entirety of the consideration of this climate bill from its inception months ago, the price cap has been the highest profile factor distinguishing the Senate’s position from the governor’s and we have yielded,” Barrett said.

In a statement Sunday night, Baker spokesman Terry MacCormack reiterated that Baker and the administration share the Legislature’s goal of ensuring Massachusetts can meet its clean energy and climate goals, and that the governor’s amendments were an attempt to find compromise.

“While the Legislature adopted a few of the Governor’s amendments, many other important improvements were left out. The Administration will carefully review the final bill that reaches the Governor’s desk,” MacCormack said.

During his comments on the Senate floor Sunday, Barrett also explained why he was not willing to go along with Baker’s proposal to add ARPA money into the bill.

“If we make this bill into a spending bill … it becomes susceptible to a line item veto. Think about that: we add spending this bill, which numbers 94 pages [and] something like 120 distinct sections, and every section becomes open for a line item veto, something the climate bill is not vulnerable to today. So we can’t add spending to this bill,” he said.

Environmental activists on Sunday urged Baker to support the latest climate bill heading to his desk and said they would scrutinize his handling of it.

“Starting tomorrow, all eyes will be on Gov. Baker. We’re counting on him to do the right thing and sign this bill into law,” Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, said late Sunday afternoon.

Others, however, were less than enthused with the final product from the Legislature and will likely be looking towards Baker to address their concerns.

“The New England Gas Workers Alliance (NEGWA) remains opposed to a number of elements in the revised bill,” the organization’s president, Kathy LaFlash, said in a statement Sunday night. “Measures that limit pipeline maintenance and place further restrictions on the use of our natural gas infrastructure represent a step in the wrong direction for the State’s energy policy. It is a major mistake to forgo utilization of the existing pipeline infrastructure and workforce of highly trained and experienced energy workers as we make the switch to renewables.”

(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.

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