Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Massachusetts’ Path Forward | Conservation Law Foundation

Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Massachusetts’ Path Forward

David Ismay

In a recent Executive Order, Governor Baker broke his silence on this summer’s landmark decision by Massachusetts’ highest court on the Global Warming Solutions Act. The Court’s decision in Kain v. Dept. of Environmental Protection unanimously confirmed that Baker’s administration must act decisively to ensure the Commonwealth meets the Global Warming Solutions Act’s 2020 cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Baker understands the climate crisis facing the people of Massachusetts (and the globe) and his administration will issue new emissions reductions regulations no later than August 11, 2017.

In support of that schedule, Baker’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is holding a series of public stakeholder meetings to discuss and refine the details of its plan for complying with the Supreme Judicial Court’s order. CLF is playing a central role in those meetings, and we’ll have more to say on DEP’s proposed plan once it has released all the details.

But before the process goes any further, we think it is important to return to – and emphasize – a few critical issues that DEP must clearly and publicly address.

First, DEP needs to publicly acknowledge not just that it will comply with the court’s decision, but what it means to comply. That is, the agency must make it clear that the required goal of creating these new regulations (as the Supreme Judicial Court described clearly and unanimously) is to – at minimum – set annually declining emissions caps on specific greenhouse gas emitters. And those regulations must legally ensure that the Commonwealth will meet its mandated 25%-below-1990 emissions cap in 2020. So, even though DEP has the discretion to create new programs and policies that will continue to reduce emissions beyond 2020 (which we encourage it to do!), this immediate effort fundamentally must result in real-world, 2020 statewide emissions equivalent to no more than 70.8 metric tons of CO2.

To meet the 2020 cap, Massachusetts’ emissions will need to drop by an additional 5% per year.

Second, DEP needs to clearly define the method and metrics it will employ to create and enforce its new regulations. As CLF has previously argued, DEP has only limited discretion here, as there are only two ways it can ensure Massachusetts meets its 2020 emissions goal: It can either impose a comprehensive, economy-wide cap, i.e., legally binding, declining annual emissions caps on all major greenhouse gas sources in the Commonwealth (from power generators to the transportation sector). Or it can regulate a subset of carbon polluters to ensure they collectively reduce emissions enough to make up for any factors beyond the state’s control (such as rising emissions from those sectors that would remain unregulated).

Given the short time-frame for these regulations to achieve their goal – barely three years – we continue to recommend regulating a subset of polluters rather than looking at economy-wide action. But how much is enough? That’s where the metrics become critically important.

According to the state’s own most recent greenhouse gas inventory and accounting last December, just months before the Kain decision was issued, the answer is clear. To meet the 2020 cap, Massachusetts’ emissions will need to drop by another 5% per year (about 5 million metric tons of CO2) beyond the reductions we already expect from all existing programs and regulations. That way, regardless of the weather (which continues to dictate emissions from our under-insulated building sector) or the pace of economic growth (the factor most responsible for the rise or fall in transportation sector emissions), our “worst-case” 2020 emissions profile will be at or under the cap.

With much work still to do to not only meet the 2020 emissions goal, but to plan for how we get there, CLF is looking forward to reviewing this first round of draft regulations and playing an active role in this critical process. Stay tuned for future updates here.


Focus Areas

Climate Change



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