NORTHAMPTON — Hampshire County may send only a handful of legislators to Beacon Hill, but they have been in the thick of efforts to combat the climate crisis, which several lawmakers cited as priorities for themselves and their constituents.
“We’re frankly running out of time,” state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow said. “The science shows that.”
From a fee on the sale of fossil fuels to divesting the state’s pension fund from coal to pushing for a net-zero energy policy for designated green communities, politicians from this region are pushing for solutions that they believe will help the state combat what state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, calls an “existential crisis.”
One bill supported by a number of area legislators is H.2810, “An Act to promote green infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions.” Introduced by state Rep. Jen Benson, D-Lunenburg, H.2810 would impose a fee on the sale of fossil fuels in the commonwealth, ideally collected at the first point of their sale.
The bill would also return the majority of that fee to the residents and businesses of the commonwealth in the form of a rebate, with low- and moderate-income residents and rural residents getting more of a rebate.
“It’s different from a gas tax,” said state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, who added that the rebates would be sent out before heating and cooling season. “I just think that it’s a well-thought-out bill.”
Money collected from the fee that is not returned to the residents in the form of a rebate would be put into a green infrastructure fund.
“It’s got a progressive formula,” said state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, another co-sponsor. “We’re not making it harder for the low-income families.”
Sabadosa and state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, are also both co-sponsors of H.2810, as is state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.
One of the bills Comerford has introduced is S.1935, “An Act establishing a net-zero stretch energy code.” Most cities and towns in the state have adopted a stretch code, which requires buildings to meet higher energy efficiency standards. Comerford said her proposed bill “basically redoes the stretch code for green communities.”
She said that the proposal is inspired by Amherst’s efforts around net-zero energy buildings. An Amherst bylaw mandates that all municipal buildings be net-zero energy when built.
“Amherst really led the way here,” Comerford said. “I call this ‘the Amherst bill.’”
Domb, meanwhile, has co-filed a bill that seeks to combat climate change through divestment.
H.2220, “An Act relative to public investment in fossil fuels,” would immediately divest state pension funds from coal, while establishing a state commission to study the financial and environmental impacts of divesting from other fossil fuel areas. It also provides a framework with which the more extensive divestment can proceed.
“That is a really important bill,” Domb said.
Lesser believes shifting to a “green economy” will create more jobs, and he disputes that there is a trade-off between growing the economy and protecting the environment.
He pointed to rail initiatives in the western part of the state — he has been a vocal supporter of such efforts — and said that east-west rail from Boston to Springfield is being backed by both the Massachusetts Sierra Club and numerous chambers of commerce.
“It’s received very broad support,” Lesser said.
He added that implementing east-west rail has the potential to take tens of thousands of cars off the road.
Lesser is also sponsoring a bill that would create home energy scores for houses.
“It’s a customer service law,” he said, noting that the work of making homes more energy-efficient would create jobs.
While Sabadosa said that she is a co-sponsor of a number of bold climate bills, she said that “it’s often a struggle to pass bold legislation in Massachusetts.”
■ Comerford has filed a bill that would give money, training and technical support to farmers interested in low- to no-till agriculture, a practice that helps to sequester carbon.
■ Sabadosa would like to see regulations on the siting of solar projects in small communities that encourage projects while protecting natural resources. “We don’t want to cut down all of our trees to do that,” she said of putting in solar.
■In addition to sponsoring H.1761, which promotes cluster development, and H.2031, which promotes tiny homes, Blais is a co-sponsor of S.484, which would establish an office of outdoor recreation in the state.
Blais said that the outdoor recreation office is relevant to the conversation around climate change because exposing young people to the outdoors can make them feel invested in protecting the environment.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
Bera Dunau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.