Downing pushes for climate policy

By RICHIE DAVIS
Recorder Staff
Monday, February 23, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, February 24, 2015)

A new state Senate report on climate change is a call to action for the new Baker administration, as well as the Legislature, to set policies in the face of deepening environmental impacts, says state Sen. Benjamin Downing, a local legislator on the six-member committee that drafted the report.

As if that point might be lost on anyone, the report, released this month, is titled, “No Time to Waste: Our climate clock is ticking and our natural resources, public health and the future of our economy are at stake.”

The report, which Downing says will ideally lead to a mix of new regulations and legislation, includes recommendations pushing for more energy efficiency, modernizing the electricity grid and encouraging deployment of “smart meters” to help users track their energy consumption, and putting a price tag on carbon emissions as one way of enforcing the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

“Massachusetts has made significant progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change,” says the report, pointing out that the state requires increasing levels of energy to come from renewable sources, which has boosted renewable generation. “On the other hand, the former Patrick administration unfortunately declined to … pursue a carbon pricing mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

A simpler means of carbon pricing than a market-based cap-and-trade program, a “fixed carbon fee” could come in a variety of forms and could be used for a variety of purposes, Downing says.

“At its most simple level, it would be a tax on emission of carbon, whether from power plants or tailpipes or the use of electricity.”

Yet he says implementing such a fee “gets tricky,” especially in a state with a greenhouse gas initiative that already penalizes carbon-producing power generation. A carbon tax might amount to a “double tax” that pushes energy costs even higher.

The report recommends adopting a clean fuel standard in Massachusetts and suggests the state look into updating laws to require that construction of public buildings take into consideration long-term “life-cycle” environmental costs of the way they’re built and bolstering the state’s energy-saving stretch building code.

“The general message is that while we’ve made a great deal of progress and been a leader among states when it comes to tackling climate change, there’s a great deal of work to do, and sitting on our hands really isn’t an option here,” said Downing.

And while there’s a lot of overlap between the Legislature’s priorities and those of the incoming Baker administration, Downing added “That hasn’t been something the Baker administration has prioritized, at least not in their rhetoric yet.”

The Pittsfield Democrat, whose district includes nine western Franklin County towns, said he has spoken with new Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton about ways to improve the state’s energy audit program, in marketing and promotion, but also managing it, to better track how many people have followed audit recommendations.

Some legislators have proposed that energy audits could be required for homes being sold, to give buyers an idea of future energy costs but also to encourage improvements.

“It seems to me a perfect time for a person to think about making those improvements,” said Downing, who is also a member of a new Net Metering and Solar Task Force charged with recommending updates in the rules governing incentives for photovoltaic development in the state.

“A consistent solar policy is an important part of a successful strategy,” he said.

On the Web: http://1.usa.gov/1AX8X0G

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269