(The Center Square) – Calls to adopt swift, sweeping legislation to advance a 2050 net-zero emissions target have been sounded in both chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature, and advocates from a number of organizations have backed the plans.
But the aggressive legislative plans, which come a year after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a climate change bill, have also prompted pleas to look at the bigger picture and the extent natural gas might play in the decades ahead.
Two companion pieces of legislation – Senate Bill 2819 and House Bill 4515 – would advance offshore wind and clean energy policy across Massachusetts. The bills have been debated this legislative session, most recently amid Senate deliberations held April 14.
On a more granular level, legislative panels have been digging into the nuts and bolts of potential policies that could be enacted in the years ahead with the 2050 benchmark in mind.
While Baker’s bill set the nearly three-decade mark, Massachusetts has a long road ahead in achieving it, said state Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, who chairs the Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.
“In my view, reaching net zero-emissions requires that the future of gas is largely a future without gas,” Creem said at a recent committee hearing. “However, Massachusetts is currently doubling down on natural gas.”
At the April 4 hearing, Creem and other senators on the panel took testimony from a range of academians, lobbyists, grassroots organizers and other interested parties. Creem said the multi-faceted issues that feed into net-zero emissions “are incredibly complex.”
Nearly all of the speakers at the committee hearing encouraged lawmakers to double down on net-zero emissions policies in short order.
But John Buonopane, president of the United Steelworkers union, offered his own take on the matter. The USW represents the New England Gas Workers Alliance.
“We strongly believe that natural gas will continue for many years to be an important and necessary resource for the commonwealth’s clean energy future,” Buonopane said. “We know that with appropriate oversight, natural gas can and probably will remain an efficient, affordable and safe energy for residents of the commonwealth for decades to come.”
If state legislation related to net-zero emissions is not methodically carried out, Buonopane said he is concerned workers within the alliance will be negatively impacted – a scenario, he said, that could have ripple effects through the state economy.
“We are talking about good, middle-class jobs that have taken years to reach the level to be considered a good middle-class job,” Buonopane said. “It is a very important part of this I don’t think is getting enough attention.”
But others testified on the state’s race toward net-zero emissions policies.
Amy Boyd is director of policy at the Acadia Center, an organization that advocates for climate change policy by electrifying buildings and transportation.
“We need a real process in how we pay for heat,” Boyd said. “To put it bluntly, we need a lot more innovation here, a lot more change, a lot more process. I think the Legislature can have a strong role in helping us get there.”
Bob Howarth, a biochemistry professor at Cornell University, also spoke to the Senate panel about several issues, including discussion around the natural gas industry’s clean energy strategy. In particular, Howarth said he was concerned with hydrogen.
“There’s no way it should ever go into a pipeline,” Howarth said. “It’s coercive; it’s dangerous. It should not be used for home heating.”
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