Massachusetts’ Energy Bill, Psychology and The Perils of Pauline

About a century ago a serial called The Perils of Pauline introduced movie-goers to such images as a heroine tied to the railroad tracks while a train rushed toward her. Would she be found in time and saved?

Massachusetts’ pending “comprehensive energy bill” might be safer than Pauline, but one cannot be sure. Only time will tell how this story comes out, and the legislature wraps up its work a month from now.

As the House and Senate do their work on the bill a great deal is at stake, including whether or not Massachusetts will guarantee the beginning of a robust offshore wind industry for the United States. Yet even an assiduous reader of The Boston Globe would be hard-pressed to know much about the energy bill. On the one hand, a recent Globe editorial urged that the pending energy bill (which is not in its final form) be among about a dozen bills that ought to be passed into law; but the editorial devoted only a few words to a description. On the other hand, another recent article in the Globe tells readers that the powerful Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, “reassured” business leaders that the energy bill “will curb the high costs” of electricity in the state—a statement that is not reassuring to anyone deeply concerned about climate change. (Fossil fuels are cheap; it costs money to combat climate change by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.)

The Paris climate agreement, which was signed about six months ago, was front page news for a while. Yet people are so people-ish (as my father used to say), and their memories are short. Now a major and critical piece of legislation related to climate change is pending in Massachusetts and it seems a safe bet that the majority of voters in the state have no clue what is in the bill.

Adding to the perils of Pauline atmosphere is the fact that multiple important bills are pending with little time remaining in the legislative session. Senator Ben Downing, one of the best informed, most respected legislators on the topics of energy and climate, recently said, “I can’t remember a time that I’ve served that this many big things are still up for grabs.”

Two days ago the Senate Ways and Means committee released its draft energy bill, which is better and more comprehensive than the House version. Importantly, the Senate bill changes the required annual increase in the amount of renewable energy that electricity providers must include, doubling the annual increase from 1% per year to 2%. This doubling means that by 2050 80% of electricity in the state would come from renewable sources, whereas if current law is not changed the figure would be only 45%, which is far from enough. The Senate will vote on the bill this week, and then the House and Senate will need to reconcile their two approaches. Lastly the Governor must sign the resulting bill, if there is one.

Massachusetts has for many years been a leader on combating climate change. Will that leadership continue? We should know how this drama ends by the close of July.

(Note: For those interested in reviewing this blog in its entirety, it is available as a single document in the “About” section of this blog.)

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