BOSTON -- Lawmakers want to ramp up environmental spending as the state nears passage of a landmark climate change bill that sets aggressive new limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Gov. Charlie Baker's $46 billion preliminary budget, filed in January, calls for about $293 million for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs -- a roughly 6.2% decrease from the previous fiscal year.
During a live-streamed hearing on the budget, lawmakers questioned if the funding is enough to implement a sweeping climate change bill awaiting Baker's approval.
Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, said he wants the state to hire more employees to implement new emissions reduction benchmarks and meet myriad regulatory requirements of the new law.
"I don't know how you're going to do it without additional staff," Barrett, one of the chief negotiators on the climate bill, told Baker administration officials during the Monday's Ways and Means Committee hearing. "We're going to be demanding a lot more work ... I want to make sure you have enough staff to get that work done."
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides welcomed the offer of additional funding from legislative budget writers but said the agency is "well equipped" to begin ramping up its work to implement the climate change bill.
"I'm encouraged that we are all in agreement on our shared climate goals," she told the panel. "But we do agree that there is significant additional work to be done."
Theoharides pointed out that most of the cost cutting in the agency's proposed budget is not related to climate change.
The wrangling over state department spending comes as Baker mulls a climate change bill that has ping-ponged between his desk and the Legislature four times in the past two months. The House and Senate approved the plan, which passed with bipartisan support, last week.
The plan calls for creating a net-zero greenhouse gas emission limit by 2050, in part, by setting incremental reductions on emissions and adopting new appliance energy efficiency standards.
If approved, it would be the most ambitious timeline for reduced carbon emissions in the country.
Baker supports most of the bill's key provisions but has differed with legislative leaders over its timeline. He vetoed a nearly identical plan passed by lawmakers in the final days of the previous session that could only be approved or rejected in its entirety.
Baker has until Sunday to sign the latest version of the bill, veto it or send it back to lawmakers with recommended changes.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org