Massachusetts energy chief sees 'long process' on emissions reduction regulations


BOSTON >> The Baker administration is a long way from developing emissions reduction regulations that would meet the mandate handed down last week by the state's highest court, according to the state's top energy official, who told the News Service there are opportunities to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, but no single sector will bear the burden of meeting the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

A unanimous Supreme Judicial Court ruling handed down last Tuesday affirms the state's obligations under a 2008 global warming law and orders state government to create and implement regulations that apply to multiple carbon sources to meet its emission reduction mandates.

Vacating a Superior Court judge's ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations do not fulfill the specific requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act. The ruling requires the department to promulgate rules "that address multiple sources of categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released, limit the aggregate emissions released from each group of regulated sources or categories of sources, set emission limits for each year, and set limits that decline on an annual basis."

"We have some work to do across every sector," Energy and Environment Secretary Matthew Beaton told the News Service after attending a Cabinet meeting in Baker's office on Friday.

A Senate committee tentatively plans a May 31 hearing focused on compliance with emissions reduction targets under the law. Sen. Marc Pacheco, chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, told the News Service Monday that the law's intent was to reduce emissions across the economy and the court ruling "lays down the law that this must be done."

"I've been pleased with the rhetoric that has come out of the administration from the beginning around this issue," Pacheco said. "Unfortunately though, right now we're already starting to get behind ... We really have to ramp up the implementation. We've had a few years where we could have been putting in place other regulatory processes that we really did not do. DEP was not taking the position that they had to do it. Now that we have this ruling it's going to be very important to move forward as quickly as possible."

In the wake of the court ruling, which was hailed by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) as a landmark case, Beaton said the administration is not working with any concrete deadlines to put new emissions reduction regulations in place.

"We haven't come very far in the full analysis of everything that is going to be required. I think how we are going to end up getting that answer is through engagement of the stakeholders, particularly I think one that would come to mind is CLF because they were in the center of the suit, and working with the community to try to identify what are the appropriate regulations that we would need to basically fulfill the mandate of the court," Beaton said.

He continued, "It's going to take a little bit of time to figure that out. I'd be speaking way out of turn if I were to say we have the roadmap, we know what sectors and what categories we're going to be regulating and what those regulations are going to look like and how many regulations we're going to have. It's still way too early to tell."

Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell told the News Service on Monday that CLF is hoping the administration commits to an "aggressive schedule" for new rulemaking.

"The regulatory process takes time to be done right, but certainly this set of rulemaking has to be done well before the end of the governor's first term," Campbell said. "Because so much time has been lost, from the Patrick administration's failure to promulgate regulations, meeting the court's mandate will require an ambitious and expedited rulemaking process. CLF is very encouraged by the initial signals we've received from the Baker administration. But the mandate to produce declining emissions caps across a range of economic sectors is going to require an all-out effort and needs to be completed quickly so that affected businesses and economic sectors can plan accordingly."

Plaintiffs in the suit are hoping the administration takes steps to curb emissions from the transportation sector.

Asked about that school of thought, Beaton said, "If you just look at the history and even in our updated clean energy climate plan, there is opportunity for us to make some strides in the transportation sector. You know, not all the solutions are going to come out of any one sector. So we really truly do have to look at this holistically. Transportation does play a role in it, but our meeting the Global Warming Solutions Act is not going to fall solely on the back of transportation. We have some work to do across every sector."

Pacheco has recommended that Massachusetts and states already involved in a regional compact to reduce power plant emissions band together and attempt to purchase electric vehicle fleets in state government.

"You start to package those up in the Northeast, and you create a significant market," he said. "By creating that market you can lower the price significantly with the automobile manufacturers."

In addition to internal work across agencies, Beaton said he expects a "significant stakeholder outreach" will be in the offing as "part of a long process to figure out what we're going to do."

The ruling in Kain et al. v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection was written by Justice Robert Cordy, who wrote that the case asked the court to examine whether DEP had fulfilled its mandate under the 2008 law that required regulations to be issued by Jan. 1, 2012, to take effect Jan. 1, 2013 and to expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

When the DEP failed to take action by the deadline, residents submitted rules to the department seeking the issuance of regulations. The department, after a hearing in June 2013, issued a statement concluding it had complied with the requirements of the law, citing a regional cap and trade program to reduce power plant emissions, efforts to limit gas leaks, and a low-emission vehicle program.

Plaintiffs went to Superior Court seeking relief in 2014 and a judge in March 2015 ruled for the department, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court.

In his opinion, Cordy wrote that the law's "unambiguous language ... requires the department to promulgate regulations that establish volumetric limits on multiple greenhouse gas emissions sources, expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents, and that such limits must decline on an annual basis."

The court ruled that the gas leaks, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and low-emission vehicle regulations, while important to overall greenhouse gas reduction efforts, "fall short of complying with the requirements ... because they fail to ensure the type of mass-based reductions in greenhouse gases across the sources or categories of sources regulated under each of the programs, as intended by the Legislature."


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