In a sweeping, landmark decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently confirmed that the Global Warming Solutions Act is the law of the land regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. The Act’s emissions reduction limits are legally enforceable, and executive agencies must ensure that the Commonwealth in fact cuts its carbon pollution to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Even more immediately, the law and the court’s decision specifically require the Baker Administration to issue new regulations to ensure the Commonwealth meets its first mandated interim reduction level: a 25% reduction by 2020.
Is that possible? Yes! According to the state’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory and accounting, in order to ensure we meet the 25% by 2020 mandate, Massachusetts emissions will need to drop by another 5 million metric tons of CO2 per year by 2020 beyond the reductions we already expect from existing programs and regulation. By focusing on programs and regulations that are already in place – increasing their scope or increasing their pace – that level of additional reduction is absolutely possible in the next three and a half years.
What sort of programs do we have in mind? To help jump-start the conversation, here is a list of possible areas that together, or in some combination, have the potential to deliver the type of emissions reductions the law requires by 2020:
- Fixing Gas Leaks – Boston University scientists have been researching natural gas leaks across Massachusetts in recent years and have concluded that 7% of leaks are “super emitters.” These “super emitters” are responsible for about 50% of all emissions from “lost and unaccounted for” gas in the (mostly) old pipes that deliver gas to our homes and businesses. Fixing them (perhaps 1,400 or so leaks system-wide) has the potential to achieve half of the extra reductions we need in order to get us to the required 2020 limit.
- Lowering Demand for Gas and Electricity – Massachusetts utilities are already required to implement energy efficiency programs (think home energy audits, new light bulbs, more insulation), and these programs are a proven success. But if we require the utilities to double their efforts in 2019 and 2020 alone, there is a potential to permanently cut emissions by about 1.2 million metric tons annually.
- How We Get Around – Massachusetts Department of Transportation has a suite of policies and programs to help reduce the number of miles we all collectively drive each year. Upping those programs to cut the number of miles we collectively travel each year by just 1% has the potential to get us another 25% of the additional reductions we need.
- Getting More Clean, Renewable Energy on the Grid – Massachusetts was once a national leader in renewable energy, but we’re now starting to get left behind as states like California, New York, and Hawaii move to 50% or more renewable energy generation by 2030. While there is room for much more, just doubling the annual increase in our renewable energy capacity in the years 2017–2020 (and extending the renewables requirement to municipal power companies) could shave off another 1 million metric tons of emissions a year.