Gov. Charlie Baker has returned an omnibus climate bill to the Legislature with amendments seeking changes to the bill.

The bill had been passed in the final hours of the previous legislative session, but was vetoed by the governor in early January and then re-filed and passed again in its original form on Jan. 28.

The main objective of the bill, a commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, is an area of agreement between the administration and the Legislature.

Disagreements remain over a series of interim emissions reduction targets, with the Legislature enacting a 50% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, and the governor initially calling for 45%. The governor is now proposing that the administration be allowed to set a range between 45% and 50% for 2030, and between 65% and 75% for 2040.

Another controversial component of the bill is a requirement that the Department of Energy Resources “develop and adopt, as an appendix to the state building code, in consultation with the board of building regulations and standards, a municipal opt-in specialized stretch energy code that includes, but is not limited to, a definition of net-zero building.”

On multiple occasions, the governor has cited concerns he said he’s heard from the real estate and construction industries about the net zero stretch energy code, which they fear would make building and buying homes and commercial properties cost-prohibitive.

Gov. Baker pointed out that the state’s draft Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030 calls for an “updated stretch energy code that includes a municipal option for high-performing, energy-efficient new construction” and recommended that the same language be adopted in the final bill.

Baker applauded the Legislature’s efforts to codify environmental justice principles in the bill, but proposed two amendments to that section, which would add climate change to the definition of “environmental burdens” faced by environmental justice populations.

Baker also proposed adding language that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct “cumulative impact analysis” as a condition of issuing certain permits. Cumulative impact analysis would consider not only the environmental impacts specific to the proposed project, but also the aggregate environmental impacts experienced by the affected population to date.

The Legislature now has the option to take a vote to override the governor’s proposed amendments or to make adjustments to the bill. The bill passed by a 144-14 vote in the House and a clear voice vote in the Senate, indicating a level of support needed for a veto override, but legislative leaders are continuing to negotiate with the administration over differences between their approaches.

As the new legislative session only began in early January, there is no immediate timetable for further action on the climate bill now that the governor has returned the bill to the Legislature.

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