It’s becoming increasingly clear that responding to climate change will require big new solutions — especially in coastal states like Massachusetts, where once-in-a-generation storms suddenly seem to be happening once every few weeks.
The challenge, of course, is reaching an agreement on what those solutions should be. On Beacon Hill there's a long-running legislative standoff over just that.
It’s been four months since the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2196, which would create a comprehensive state plan to respond to climate change. Now, that bill is sitting in the Ways and Means Committee of the Massachusetts House, awaiting further action.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, the bill’s lead sponsor, calls it a familiar pattern.
"We passed it five times here in the Senate," Pacheco said of the legislation, which is widely known as CAMP, short for Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan.
But since the House has yet to follow suit, some big ideas for managing the effects of climate change still haven't become law. They include a new state program to buyback flood-prone property, and a new mandate that state regulatory actions — e.g., licenses, permits and approvals — square with that new climate-change action plan "to the maximum extent practicable."
"We can prevent the worst impacts of global climate change ... if we have a strategy as part of state law," Pacheco said. "It’s a big problem that’s here. It’s not coming, you know, 100 years from now."
If you follow developments on Beacon Hill, you may be asking, 'Wait, aren't we doing this already?' The answer is, sort of.
Back in 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order to create an "integrated climate change strategy," which is due later this year. But Baker's order doesn't include a proviso that state regulatory actions match that strategy, or the aforementioned buyback program for flood-prone areas.
Deanna Moran, the director of environmental planning at the Conservation Law Foundation, says the latter mechanism is essential.
"Over the past few decades, over 400 homes in Massachusetts have been repeatedly damaged by flooding, and over 100 have received more in federal flood insurance payouts than the homes are even worth," she said.
Moran acknowledges that responding to climate change now won't be cheap. But she also says that as the damage increases, the price tag will, too.
"Every dollar we spend on mitigation today will save us $6 down the road," she said, referring to a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences.
Which brings us back to the Massachusetts House — where Rep. Frank Smizik has taken two cracks at getting this legislation passed. Smizik, who's about to retire, says that after the latest round of extreme weather-induced flooding, he's more optimistic about the bill’s prospects.
"We see more interest in the people who are in leadership now, [understanding] that this is an important thing to do," Smizik said. We have 32 people who’ve already signed on on both sides, and we’re going to get a lot more."
Given the top-down dynamics of the house, though, rank-and-file support may not matter much if House Speaker Robert DeLeo isn’t on board. In a statement, DeLeo’s office only said, "the proposed legislation is under review by the House Committee on Ways and Means.”
Make of that what you will.