Governor Charlie Baker signed into law groundbreaking legislation on clean energy and climate earlier this month, and soon after that, President Biden took a similar step at the federal level with the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act. The two bills address things like offshore wind, electric vehicle credits and fossil fuel limits. Still, some say more needs to be done. Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, joined Morning Edition hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to discuss the laws. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Jeremy Siegel: Let's start with what is in this Massachusetts law. How big of a deal is it?
Brad Campbell: Oh, this is certainly a big deal. It gives a major boost to offshore wind, both in terms of some technical ways, like removing the price cap, but also changing the process of selection, so the major utilities aren't deeply, essentially, controlling the process. There was kind of a fox in the henhouse design of the earlier law. It eliminates some policies that pointed it in exactly the wrong direction in terms of climate change. For example, by clarifying that biomass is not a renewable energy source. Incentives for biomass are what spurred the proposal for a dirty wood-burning plant in Springfield, in an environmental justice community in Springfield, Massachusetts. Now, hopefully that proposal will go away.
Same with subsidies that were still in place for converting to natural gas. When we need to be phasing out natural gas, there were still policies in place that were subsidizing conversions to natural gas. So a lot of good in the law, and some very good things for transit in terms of pushing electrification of buses. And a lot of good things for equity in terms of recognizing that we need more incentives for lower income families to convert, to electrify their homes, to electrify their vehicles.
So there's much good in this bill. And in particular, hopefully this will also spur on the next administration to do the kind of next-level implementation in terms of rulemaking that will keep us moving forward on addressing the climate crisis.
"Hopefully this will also spur on the next administration to do the kind of next-level implementation in terms of rulemaking that will keep us moving forward on addressing the climate crisis."-Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation
Paris Alston: It sounds like we are taking some big steps forward, but are there any places where the law falls short, Brad?
Campbell: The law falls short in a number of ways. A major one is in transit. There's no provision for electrified commuter rail. It's a big issue, obviously a big issue associated with the MBTA, particularly now that it's really in crisis with two major lines shut down. The need for a long-term revenue source for the system so that it's not moving from crisis to crisis, that remains on the to-do list for the legislature. And it's a critical point because in terms of emissions from transportation — which in Massachusetts, cars and trucks are now the biggest source of emissions — the electrification of vehicles is not the answer for every family.
And we need to have a more holistic view of the system and in particular, needed to fix both the MBTA and to better fund the regional transit authorities so that we're moving forward and reducing emissions from transportation.
Siegel: I mentioned earlier that this came just before President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, as he's calling it. What does that new law mean for Massachusetts? And does it fill in any of the gaps that you were just talking about that might be missing in Massachusetts' new law?
Campbell: I think there's a great synergy between the two laws in the sense that what the federal government has done is really put in place additional funding to essentially help finance the transition to the clean energy future. So, for example, the Massachusetts bill has some incentives for electric vehicles in it, and it has a 2035 cutoff in terms of registering new internal combustion engine vehicles.
But the Inflation Reduction Act that the Biden administration passed adds to those incentives and also targets them a little more to lower-income families. So there's a real complementary aspect to the two laws that I think will really empower this state to move forward more quickly.
"There's a real complementary aspect to the two laws that I think will really empower this state to move forward more quickly."-Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation
Alston: You mentioned earlier that equity was a big part of this climate law, but I also know that the Conservation Law Foundation has pointed out that there's a lack of attention to environmental justice in this climate law here in Massachusetts, especially when we think about air pollution and the fact that just last month, Boston College put out a study detailing that almost 3,000 people die in the state every year from air pollution. So how do you think that that could have been better addressed with this legislation?
Campbell: Well, I think there are a number of ways in which it could have been better addressed. One is clearly in terms of siting reform, we still need siting reform to make sure that the burdens of both pollution from fossil fuels and the burdens of hosting the kinds of infrastructure we need for the clean energy transition aren't borne disproportionately by the communities that are already hit first and worse by climate change. And there are a number of areas in which they could do it.
Another example is that they prioritized and established a mandate for electrification of the bus fleet. They didn't do the same for the Commuter Rail fleet. And those are still running on dirty diesels. There's no hard deadline for them to convert. And it's a major piece both for the modernization of that system, but also a major piece of providing clean mobility options across the board to all communities.