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Massachusetts lawmakers approve climate change bill (again)

The bill now heads back to Gov. Charlie Baker, who vetoed the last version.

The GE-Alstom Block Island Wind Farm stands in the water off Block Island, Rhode Island. An increase the production of offshore wind energy in Massachusetts is part of the climate change bill headed back to Gov. Charlie Baker. Eric Thayer / Bloomberg

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BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday again sent back to Gov. Charlie Baker a sweeping climate change bill that has bounced between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the Republican governor for the past several months.

The Massachusetts House voted 146-13 in favor of the bill, agreeing with the Senate which voted 39-1 on Monday to again approve the legislation.

Rep. Thomas Golden, one of the backers of the bill, praised lawmakers for sticking with the legislation, which he said will make sure the state’s power grid will be “cleaner and greener every single year to come.”

“This is the fourth occasion we’ve spoken about this piece of legislation,” the Lowell Democrat said. “There is no way the House of Representatives would back down on our ambitious goals.”

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The votes this week come after the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill during the waning days of the prior formal session in January.

Baker subsequently vetoed the bill, prompting lawmakers to quickly pass the bill early in the new legislative session to get it back to Baker’s desk.

Baker and lawmakers both say they support a key element of the bill — creating a net-zero greenhouse gas emission limit by 2050.

The Legislature’s bill includes additional steps like incremental goals every five years to reach a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 before meeting the 2050 goal.

The bill would also strengthen protections for “environmental justice populations” — typically lower income communities facing greater health risks from pollution; create a specialized energy code that would allow for net-zero building construction for towns that want it; and increase the production of offshore wind energy.

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Baker has said he supports much of the legislation, but has also said some elements of the bill could end up slowing the economy as it tries to rebound from the pandemic.

Most of the changes suggested by Baker are technical in nature, impacting the details about how the state hopes to reach its renewable energy goals. One amendment proposed by the governor would give specific sectors of the economy more flexibility in reducing emissions, as long as the state hits its overall target.

Baker has also expressed concern that some elements of the bill could make it harder to build desperately needed housing.

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Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Franklin Democrat and supporter of the bill said lawmakers took Baker’s suggestions into consideration, and adopted some of the technical changes.

“We heard the governor’s concerns. We worked with him on some changes and are sending back a bill that remains strong,” Roy said, adding that the House rejected amendments that lawmakers believed departed from the bill’s ambitious goals.

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