Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi are heading toward a tussle over state energy policy as the Senate takes up its version of DiMasi’s bill to promote “green power” and conservation.
As the Senate Ways and Means Committee prepares to roll out a reworked version today of the DiMasi-backed energy plan House members approved in late November, Murray and her leadership team are backing, in broad strokes, several of DiMasi’s goals.
They include boosting wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, and mandating that utilities do their best to offset growth in energy demand by promoting conservation.
But Murray’s measure, which goes to senators for a vote Wednesday, also thwarts several DiMasi priorities in a bill that the speaker called the House’s “signature accomplishment” in 2007.
Among other changes, the Senate bill scraps DiMasi’s $2,000 state income tax break for hybrid car buyers, which Murray said the state can’t afford. She also rejects DiMasi’s effort to weaken the state Ocean Sanctuaries Act, an environmental protection measure, to clear the way for offshore wind farms such as Boston construction mogul Jay Cashman’s planned 120-turbine project in Buzzards Bay and a smaller project off Hull.
And Murray also rides to the res cue of the state Renewable Energy Trust, which is funded by a 25-cent-a-month tax on utility bills and has faced widespread criticism for failing to generate significant amounts of renewable energy in Massachusetts.
DiMasi, with support from Governor Deval Patrick, would have effectively turned over the trust fund’s $25 million annual revenues to Patrick’s administration to spend. But Murray’s bill ensures the fund stays independent, under a new advisory board with limited powers that would be appointed by Beacon Hill leaders. The Senate would even let the trust expand by creating a way for the state’s 40 publicly owned municipal electric departments – which currently don’t assess the utility tax and thus can’t obtain trust grants – to join the trust program if they collect the 25-cent tax and send it to the trust.
Senator Michael W. Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat who is cochairman of the Legislature’s energy committee, said that overall “we don’t think there’s a lot to fight about” when Murray and DiMasi negotiate a final compromise. But, Morrissey added that DiMasi’s bill “is only a fraction of what was originally reported out of our committee. He had some good ideas. He had some bad ideas, too.” The bad ideas “disappeared” in the final Senate draft, Morrissey said.
Murray said she is optimistic the Senate can approve the bill next week and soon after that work out a compromise between the two chambers’ versions, so a final bill can be sent to Patrick. But based on past frustrations negotiating bills with DiMasi, Murray said, “You never know, really. The ones you think will be no problem end up sitting [in the House] for months.”
After a first year in office during which Patrick had difficulty getting bills through the Legislature and with a bitter fight looming over his proposal for three resort casinos, the governor’s aides are eager to get a wide-ranging green energy bill through the Legislature.
DiMasi spokesman David Guarino said yesterday the speaker was generally aware of the Senate’s plans but had not seen a final draft of the bill. “We’re encouraged that there appears to be 90 percent or so where they agree with the speaker’s bill, and we’ll look forward to seeing what comes out of their debate,” Guarino said.
Representative Brian S. Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat who cochairs the energy committee with Morrissey, said he anticipates “an interesting give and take” with the Senate, especially over the renewable energy trust, which is overseen by the quasi-public Massachusetts Technology Collaborative in Westborough. “We need to have a focused effort on energy in the state, and not potentially a quasi-public agency going one way and the administration another,” Dempsey said, explaining why the House wanted to give the governor control over the $25 million trust fund.
But Murray said the DiMasi bill went too far in stripping the Westborough agency of control over the energy trust. “They can be cumbersome, but it wasn’t the Senate’s intent to blow them up or dismantle them,” she said.
By Peter J. Howe
3 January 2008
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