Gov. Baker’s Clean Energy & Climate Plan Merely Skims the Surface of Meaningful Climate Action

Jenny Rushlow | @jennyrushlow

Last week, the Baker Administration released its first update to Massachusetts’ Clean Energy and Climate Plan. This plan – a requirement of the state’s landmark climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) – is intended to guide the state in reaching its statewide emissions limits of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.

In its updated plan, the Administration confidently asserts that it will meet the state’s aggressive emissions reduction goal on schedule. But, up until now, all signs showed that the Administration was NOT on track to reach that goal. A recent analysis by the Global Warming Solutions Project showed that, by 2020, Massachusetts would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% below 1990 levels – trailing the mandated target by 5%.

The Administration’s strategy to make up the difference? Hydroelectric power from Canada. In fact, 17% of the climate plan’s purported emissions reductions by 2020 rely on long-term contracts to procure Canadian hydropower.

But this calculation belies the truth about hydropower, which relies on reservoirs that flood forests and release carbon dioxide, making the true emissions from this fuel source much higher than Governor Baker contends. Furthermore, the transmission lines Governor Baker is counting on to carry all that supposedly clean power from Canada to Massachusetts do not yet exist. They haven’t even been permitted yet (which must be done by other states), let alone constructed or made operational. And there is no assurance any of that will be completed by 2020 (if it’s completed at all).

A bad bet on hydropower isn’t the only way the Baker Administration’s plan goes wrong. Here are highlights of others ways it fails to deliver:

  • The section on transportation downplays current statistics showing that people are driving more, not less – a reality that threatens to wipe out the planned emissions reductions from this sector entirely. While the plan frames this problem as a mere caveat, it’s much more than that, and the plan should address this challenge head on by utilizing more aggressive measures in this sector.
  • Energy efficiency has been downplayed since the last version of this plan and deserves a stronger emphasis as the most cost-effective solution to reducing emissions.
  • The plan fails to address the Commonwealth’s stated reliance on new natural gas pipelines – a “sin of omission,” to quote our partner, Mass Energy. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel – and it brings with it a slew of climate warming emissions. An overreliance on Big Gas will cripple the state’s ability to cut emissions as deeply as climate change demands.
  • In addition to what the plan gets wrong, it also misses a big opportunity to get one thing right: increased emphasis on wind and solar, preferred renewables that aren’t burdened by the same challenges plaguing hydropower.

Implementing the GWSA is of the utmost importance if we’re to prevent more damage to our climate from greenhouse gas emissions. Backfilling the state’s climate plan with tenuous hydropower commitments that misrepresent its true emissions profile is a recipe for disaster.

And this isn’t the only way the Administration is failing to meet its obligation under the GWSA. CLF is also working to ensure that the GWSA’s goals are met by suing the Department of Environmental Protection at the Supreme Judicial Court over its failure to issue regulations to fully implement the GWSA, as the statute requires (check out our oral argument here).

The Administration needs to step up to the plate to ensure that climate change and its immediate and future threats to Commonwealth communities are meaningfully addressed – skimming the surface won’t do.

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