BOSTON — Environmental groups are urging lawmakers to reject many of Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed changes to a sweeping climate change bill.

Over the weekend, Baker returned the bill to the Legislature with proposed amendments he said are needed to make it more workable and less costly for consumers and businesses.

Baker supported a majority of the bill's provisions but said the changes are needed to set the state "on a path for net-zero emissions in 2050 through aggressive, equitable and science-based climate action that protects the state's economy and vulnerable citizens."

Environmental groups say the changes dilute the climate plan too much.

"Legislators should reject any weakening amendments — and, most important, they should act quickly to pass this bill into law," said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. "It's time to turn the page on this bill so legislators can get to work on the other climate policies awaiting action."

Mass Power Forward, a coalition of more than 200 organizations, sent a letter to lawmakers last week calling on them to make the climate bill a law by Feb. 19 — the deadline to consider new bills in the upcoming session — if Baker had either vetoed the bill or recommended changes that would weaken it.

A key element of the bill commits the state to a "net-zero" limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, achieved through programs that capture carbon in the atmosphere and by expanding overall use of renewable energy sources.

The bill calls for new statewide limits on emissions every five years.

If approved, it would be the most ambitious timeline for reduced carbon emissions in the country.

Baker "pocket" vetoed an identical version of the bill last month after lawmakers approved it on the final day of the previous legislative session. Because it was approved late, Baker could only sign or reject it. He rejected it.

In the latest bill, Baker offered concessions but said several provisions could hurt industries still struggling amid the economic fallout of the pandemic. For example, Baker said a requirement that cities and towns adopt a new "stretch building code" will hamper efforts to increase housing stock.

Baker also cited the cost of reaching the Legislature's emissions targets for 2030, which went beyond his original target of a 45% reduction from 1990 emissions levels.

Baker has instead suggested amendments making the net-zero building code a "planning tool" rather than a requirement, and he proposed a compromise goal of reducing emissions by 45% to 50% in the next decade.

Baker said the changes will give the state more flexibility to avoid passing costs onto "those who can least afford it."

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides said the Baker administration is trying to balance the need to tackle climate change with easing its financial impact. She said the administration has been working with lawmakers in an effort to find common ground.

"We've spent a lot of time in discussion and believe that these amendments will make the bill a better, stronger and more equitable approach to reducing emissions to net zero," she said. "The goal is to ensure we bring emissions down without having to shut down sectors of the economy."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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