Amid alarming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed a major bill, S.2819, An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward, or the Drive Act. The bill addresses climate change in three primary areas—clean energy, transportation, and buildings—with the aim of achieving the Commonwealth’s ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, which the Legislature codified into law in 2021.
Around 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts come from the power plants that fuel its energy grid, making support for clean energy alternatives necessary to meet the Commonwealth’s goal of having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Recognizing this, the Drive Act includes significant provisions to deploy clean energy infrastructure, including those related to offshore wind energy, solar energy, and energy storage. Acknowledging the importance of growing the Commonwealth’s green economy, this bill allocates $100 million to a Clean Energy Investment Fund to support infrastructure development in the clean energy industry.
In addition to wind and solar power, the bill addresses other innovative sources of clean energy such as fusion and geothermal power, and amends Massachusetts law to ensure that the state can consider potential options for the development of safe, clean energy sources. Acknowledging the harmful health and environmental impacts of biomass facilities, this legislation removes biomass from the list of energy-generating sources that are allowed to receive state incentives for clean energy. To ensure that the Commonwealth has adequate storage systems to accommodate all the clean energy that Massachusetts will be adding to its energy portfolio, this bill directs a study of how to optimize the deployment of long-term energy storage systems.
As the transportation sector is the largest source of fuel emissions in Massachusetts, the bill takes steps to encourage the use of electric vehicles, including codifying into statute, expanding, and allocating $100 million for the state’s MOR-EV electric vehicle incentive program, which provides rebates to individuals who purchase electric vehicles.
Under the Drive Act, the rebate amount will increase by $1,000, to $3,500, for passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Moreover, electric vehicle purchasers who trade in their emission-producing vehicles will be eligible for an additional incentive of $1,000. For the first time, rebates provided through the MOR-EV program will be administered at the point of sale, rather than through a rebate that can take up to 90 days to receive. The bill also makes used vehicles eligible for rebates. Further, the bill directs the department of energy resources to conduct an outreach campaign to promote awareness about the MOR-EV program among consumers and businesses in underserved and low-income communities, as well as in communities with high proportions of high-emission vehicles.
Finally, the bill takes historic steps to address emissions that come from MBTA bus fleets. Starting in 2028, this bill would require every passenger bus that is purchased or leased by the MBTA to be a zero-emission vehicle. By the end of 2040, the MBTA would be required to operate exclusively zero-emission vehicles. Underserved and low-income communities would be prioritized for the equitable deployment of these zero-emission buses.
To tackle the difficult issue of emissions from the building sector, the bill creates a 10 municipality demonstration project allowing all-electric building construction by local option. Participating municipalities must receive local approval before applying into the demonstration project.
The Drive Act makes targeted enhancements to the Mass Save program, which provides rebates and incentives for owners and renters related to efficient appliances and other home energy improvements. Under the bill, priority for Mass Save projects will be given to those that maximize net climate, environmental, and equity impacts. Beginning in 2025, Mass Save funds will also be limited in most instances from going to any fossil fuel equipment.
S.2821: An Act relative to the remediation of home heating oil releases
The Senate also passed S.2821, An Act relative to the remediation of home heating oil releases. Over 650,000 homeowners across Massachusetts use home heating oil to heat their homes. Every year, over 100 of those homeowners report to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that there has been an oil spill associated with their home heating oil tank. These spills can cost anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars to clean up, causing a potential financial crisis for a family.
The bill adopted by the Senate today addresses this problem by requiring that all homeowner insurance policies cover a potential home heating oil spill. This is a common-sense measure, considering that homeowner insurance policies already cover other potential risks, including natural gas line explosions. This legislation will help prevent families from having to deal with the tragic situation of paying for the cleanup of home heating oil spills by themselves.
S.2820: An Act preserving open space in the Commonwealth
In addition, the Senate passed S.2820, An Act preserving open space in the Commonwealth. This bill would prevent the loss of natural resource lands that are covered under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. The bill requires that any municipality or state agency that is disposing or changing the use of any Article 97 protected open space must replace that land with comparable land, which would protect open spaces across Massachusetts.
Since the Drive Act builds off a previous climate bill that was passed through the House, the differences will need to be worked out by both branches before the bill advances to the Governor’s desk. The open space bill also amends a similar bill that was passed through the House, and so differences will need to be reconciled on that bill as well. Having only passed in the Senate, the home heating oil spill bill will now go to the House for further consideration.