Baker urges Congress to adopt emissions targets

  • Gov. Charlie Baker testified about climate change adaptation on Wednesday before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. shns photo

Published: 2/6/2019 11:11:45 PM

In testimony before a U.S. House committee Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker told Congress to set politics aside and follow Massachusetts’ lead on adapting to a changing climate and preparing to deal with more powerful weather, including setting specific targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The Republican governor has made climate change adaptation and resilience a central part of his agenda as he begins a second term in office and last month proposed raising a real estate transfer tax to pay for a $1 billion, decade-long program to help Massachusetts cities and towns prepare for and clean up after the impacts of climate change.

The governor told the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee that states “need strong federal leadership and a bold bipartisan vision on climate change.” He said climate policy is not a partisan issue in Massachusetts because “we understand the science and know the impacts are real because we are experiencing them first-hand,” and called on federal lawmakers to row in the same direction.

“The magnitude of the impacts from climate change requires all of us – at the federal, state and local levels – to put politics aside and work together. That is the path we have taken in Massachusetts,” Baker said.

Baker and the Democrats who control the state Legislature have found common ground on many energy and climate change policies, but remain divided over how aggressively to move forward and embrace renewable energy. The governor has also been criticized at home over his support for the natural gas industry.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who testified alongside Baker, told the committee that the United States needs to move rapidly towards “a clean energy economy” in order to combat the effects of climate change and maximize the economic benefits.

“We’ve got to get moving fast,” Cooper said. “We’ve taken some small steps. Our states are working hard to do what we can, but this needs to be a partnership and we want to work with you.”

In addition to asking for more federal support for state efforts around climate change, Baker relayed Massachusetts’ experiences since it set specific emission reductions targets in the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. He said adhering to the law and working towards its requirements is “an enormous undertaking” but said that “developing ambitious, yet realistic goals is working.”

“We believe it is essential to establish federal targets for emissions reductions that can vary by state or region,” he said. “In our state’s experience, setting an aggressive target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions provides the foundation for clean energy policy, sends a clear signal to industry, and enables long-range planning.”

Baker said that the law is working in Massachusetts – through 2016 the state had reduced carbon emissions by 21.4 percent below 1990 levels, and was on track to meet the requirement of 25 percent reduction by 2020 – and has not harmed the economy. He said it is “far from being an economic burden.”

Baker was pressed by Louisiana Congressman Garrett Graves, a fellow Republican, on how he can square Massachusetts’ emission reductions success with the fact that the state uses 24 times as much energy as it produces while states like Louisiana have centered their economies around energy production.

“Your state has virtually no oil and gas production, yet just within the last few years your state has averaged about over one quadrillion BTUs of fossil fuels being used to just operate your state,” Graves said before asking to submit for the record a letter he said U.S. Sen. Edward Markey signed asking the president to increase global oil production and a ranking showing Massachusetts has among the highest electricity prices in the country. “Over one quadrillion – quadrillion – BTUs of fossil fuels being consumed for everything going on in the state of Massachusetts.”

Baker said Massachusetts has looked to “reduce our draw on energy” when productivity droops and to “continue to redefine our source points for energy” by pursuing offshore wind and hydropower procurements.

“Maybe the last 20 [years], we’ve had a significant increase in our gross state product, we’ve had modest population growth, we’ve had a modest increase in the number of vehicle miles driven and a 20 percent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions over that same period of time,” the governor said. “And the energy draw generally has been flat over the same period because we’ve gotten more productive about how we actually use energy.”

Graves responded, “I do appreciate that you all have taken steps, I do. But I also think it’s important to recognize that states in some cases are fundamentally different.”

Baker forcefully responded, “agree!,” as the chairman, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, attempted to move to another member for questions. In his written testimony, Baker said that any emission reduction targets set by the federal government should be crafted to allow states and regions to operate under different requirements based on their needs.

“Every region of our country should have the flexibility to develop a unique plan that leverages existing resources and economies, but we must seize the opportunity to responsibly reduce emissions now,” he wrote.

Responding to a question from U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal from southern California later in the hearing, Baker said setting “long term goals and objectives” for an emission reduction plan is critically important “because that helps the private sector plan.”

Aside from the emission reduction targets, Baker also urged Congress to shift from making certain federal aid available only after a disaster and to try an approach similar to the Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which funds projects intended to prepare for climate change, in order to “help communities address resiliency issues before the next disaster.”

Baker said the idea of a bipartisan federal infrastructure bill – something that’s been discussed but not advanced for about two years – “holds tremendous promise to not only repair and modernize our deteriorating infrastructure, but also make it resilient to changes in weather.” He pitched lawmakers on considering climate change, vulnerability and new design standards when, or if, Congress takes up an infrastructure bill.

“We should be thinking about infrastructure, going forward, in terms of what the consequences will be for bridges, for culverts, for dams, for all of that stuff based on what people anticipate the significant issues they’ll be dealing with will look like,” he said.

Baker’s testimony came at the beginning of what some Democrats touted as the first congressional hearing on climate change in more than eight years. The portion of the hearing with Baker and Cooper was free of any real partisan squabbles, though the ranking Republican member U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop questioned the purpose of the hearing and asked if they were “for that group [of reporters] sitting over there at that table so they can write cute stories?“

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