Massachusetts Tightening Rules on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Gov. Charlie Baker's administration will issue a set of new rules aimed at bringing Massachusetts into full compliance with an ambitious state law that calls for a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.

The regulations being rolled out on Friday include clean energy requirements for utilities, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generating plants, and curbs on methane emissions from natural gas distribution systems. Officials also planned to announce a "lead by example" provision that establishes new fuel efficiency standards for the state's own fleet of passenger vehicles.

The state launched a review and held public hearings following a May 2016 ruling by the state's highest court. The justices sided with environmental groups that sued Massachusetts, saying it wasn't doing enough to meet greenhouse gas limits called for in the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

In addition to the 2020 target of a 25 percent reduction in emissions relative to 1990 levels, the law sets an 80 percent reduction goal by 2050.

"Combatting and preparing for the impact of climate change remains a top priority of our administration, and requires collaboration across state government and with stakeholders throughout Massachusetts," said Baker, a Republican, in a statement planned for release in conjunction with the regulations.

Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, acknowledged the rules likely would push consumer electricity bills higher, but by no more than 2 percent a year with increases expected to tail off as more renewable energy sources come on line in the next decade.

Massachusetts already was closing in on the 2020 goal, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton told reporters, having achieved a 21.3 percent reduction in emissions so far.

"We are trending in a very good direction and we are confident that we are going to hit those goals," he said.

The state is soliciting bids under a separate law passed last year for renewable energy projects that will generate 1,600 megawatts of power from offshore wind facilities and 1,200 megawatts from hydropower, solar and onshore wind over the next 10 years.

Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, criticized the new regulations for falling too heavily on electricity plants and not enough on the transportation sector that he said generated twice the emissions of power plants.

"Frankly our concern is that these regulations...make the problem worse, not better," said Dolan.

Conservation Law Foundation, one of the plaintiffs in the climate lawsuit against Massachusetts, worked with officials in crafting the response, which the group praised as sensible and enforceable while stressing that further steps were needed.

Another environmental advocacy group, 350 Mass, called the regulations "weak," arguing they failed to address 85 percent of pollution that contributes to climate change

"This move shows Baker's stand on climate is more posturing than policy," executive director Craig Altemose said, referring to the governor's opposition to President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accords.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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