On Wednesday, November 2nd the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection hosted their first of three stakeholder meetings to develop a set of regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Massachusetts, as a state, is required to reduce GHG emissions 25% from 1990 level by 2020 and 80% by 2050 according to 2008 legislation, the Global Warming Solutions Act.
In May, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that Massachusetts failed to issue proper regulations to cut emissions according to the landmark legislation. Court officials agreed that existing regulations fail to ensure the type of mass-based reductions in greenhouse gases across different sources. The SJC asserted the words of the GWSA to be “clear and unambiguous” and that no state agency interpretation can conflict with the legislative intent of the policy. This was an important proclamation of the legally binding nature of our emissions requirements. The ruling required the state to develop new regulations that will impose a limit on greenhouse gas emissions by both limiting the aggregate emissions released from each category of sources and setting emissions limits that decline on an annual basis.
Since this ruling, stakeholders were anxiously awaiting an official response from the state Administration. On September 16, Governor Baked signed Executive Order 569 which directed the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to coordinate with their agencies and make consistent new and existing efforts to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to the SJC ruling. The Executive Order specifically directed MassDEP to create new regulations to satisfy the mandate of Section 3(d) of the GWSA which states:
“The department shall promulgate regulations establishing a desired level of declining annual aggregate emission limits for sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gas emissions.”
Chart 1. Emissions projections (MassDEP)
State emissions from the most recent complete inventory found emissions to be 19.7% below the 1990 level. While this seems like an easy drop in emissions, most of this is due to switching our coal-fired power plants to natural gas. This means the minimum reductions needed by 2020 calculate to an additional 5.3%. Getting this extra percent reduction will grow increasingly challenging as we’ve already phased out our dirtiest emitters. As part of its efforts to develop effective rules, MassDEP is soliciting input from stakeholders. The first session was at the MassDEP Boston office, the second session is Thursday, November 3rd at the MassDEP Worcester office, and the final session revolves specifically around electricity sector emissions and will take place on Monday, November 7 at the Boston office.
Throughout the session they proposed regulations within three designated sectors: gas-insulated switchgear, transportation, and methane leaks from the natural gas distribution system.
Table 1. Reductions from New and Existing MassDEP Regulations
|MassDEP Regulation||New or Draft Amendment?||Section 3(d)?||Estimated Reductions 2013-2020|
|Transportation Sector Regulations||3.2 – 4.1%|
|Federal Vehicle GHG Standards||N/A (Existing)||No||3.1%|
|Requirements for MassDOT||Amend||Yes||0.1 – 1.0%|
|State Vehicle Fleet||New||Yes||<0.01%|
|Electricity Sector Regulations||4.0%|
|Clean Energy Standard for Retail Sellers||New||No||TBD|
|Generator Emissions Caps||New||Yes||TBD|
|Methane Leaks from Gas Distribution System||New||Yes||0.05%|
|Gas Insulated Switchgear||Amend||Yes||0.01%|
|Total||7.3 – 8.2 %|
While the Executive Order and the proposed regulations are a good first step, it’s clear they are more reactive than proactive. Majority of the proposed regulations were taken directly from the 2015 Update to the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020, a required analysis and update from the GWSA regulations. Within the transportation sector, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the state (40%), the only new regulation would require CO2 emission limits for state fleet passenger vehicles. Out of the billions of cars on the road in Massachusetts, limiting emissions for the state’s 15,000 vehicle fleet is a small step in the larger picture of transportation emissions policies. Within the electricity sector, the state estimate of emissions reductions from clean energy imports implies that all new offshore wind and large-scale hydropower will come online in the next 4 years, which is an unlikely proposition because of the time it takes to construct such large transmission projects. Given that, policies that require more deployment of renewable energy are needed to meet our emissions reductions – either through a Clean Energy Standard or increasing the Renewable Portfolio Standards.
Overall, the proposed regulations are an important step in ensuring we meet the emissions reductions requirements outlined in the GWSA. If Massachusetts fails to meet these requirements, there will likely be little to hold the administration accountable for future requirements. Meeting our 2020 targets is crucial, but looking to 2030, 2040, and 2050 shouldn’t be designated as an afterthought either. As we approach our target years it will become increasingly important to engage with the state agencies and administration responsible for upholding our success. MassDEP will be accepting comments until November 16.