Facing persistent calls for a stronger climate response from the government, Governor Baker recently signed an Executive Order directing his administration to confront climate change across Cabinet offices on two fronts, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and preparing Massachusetts for the impacts of climate change by developing and implementing a statewide, comprehensive adaptation plan. The order picks up the pieces of language left out of the comprehensive energy bill, while aiming to comply with legal requirements recently clarified by the state Supreme Judicial Court.
One major policy proposal that did not make it into this summer’s energy bill was legislation to create a Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (otherwise known as “CAMP”) for Massachusetts. The EO promises a Climate Adaptation Plan that would include statewide adaptation strategy, though not on the same scale that statewide legislation could have prompted. State agencies are directed to develop a framework for each executive office and agency’s vulnerability to climate change, and a framework for municipalities to assess their vulnerabilities as well as providing cities and towns with technical assistance (within 2 years). The Department of Public Safety will lay a role in developing the plan, alluding to potential changes to building code and guidance for building adaptation and resiliency.
The EO’s requirement for vulnerability studies in every city and town will be especially helpful for small businesses who may not have the resources to conduct their own vulnerability studies. This will allow businesses to better understand the risks they may face, and how to properly plan for and adapt to these risks. Senator Marc Pacheco, sponsor of the CAMP legislation, noted during the press conference: “The essence of the comprehensive adaptation management plan is in the executive order. There are provisions that could not be in the executive order because they would need legislative approval.” The state Climate Plan does not do what the proposed CAMP legislation would have done – require that any future permits be conditioned on compliance with the Climate Plan. Senator Pacheco mentioned that CAMP legislation would be resubmitted next legislative session to make up for this fact.
In response to a Supreme Judicial Court ruling in May (the Kain decision), the order requires the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to implement emissions reduction regulations that take into consideration natural gas leaks, emissions permitting requirements, and the transportation sector. DEP has less than 11 months to draft, propose, take comment on, and finalize regulations to comply with Kain. The upcoming comment period, expected to start in February 2017, will allow for input and involvement from the business community.
The highlight of of transportation sector emissions is noteworthy. Emissions from the transportation sector are now the largest source of carbon emissions in Massachusetts, responsible for over 40% of the state’s annual emissions. It is the only sector of our economy whose emissions have actually increased since 1990, as increases in total driving miles outpace gains in fuel efficiency.
Governor Baker plans to address these emissions in 2 ways. First, he instructs Department of Transportation (DOT) to set declining annual emissions limits on the transportation sector. Second, he promises to work with other states to develop a regional program to reduce emissions from transportation. This could open the doors to carbon pricing policy in the region. Northeastern states are already working together in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) and have previously called for market-based policies to cut emissions.
The order also promises to set a new mandate for 2030 emissions targets by the end of the year 2020. Currently the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act sets targets for economy-wide reductions in emissions by 2050 to 80% less than 1990 levels, and by 2020 to 25% reduction. Finally, the order promises a comprehensive statewide energy plan that will prioritize energy efficiency over new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Governor Baker’s order is a clear step in the right direction by placing climate change as important challenge and consideration for agencies across the state’s administration. Though it does not make explicit changes to our state’s current climate or energy framework, it sets the stage for positive regulatory action by the administration.