Massachusetts' Climate Change Efforts: Nation-Leading, But Still Not Good Enough?

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Massachusetts was one of the first states to launch an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction program, setting a 2020 goal of cutting emissions 25% from 1990 levels and a 2050 goal of an 80% reduction.  With less than eight years to go before 2020, is the Commonwealth on track to measure up?  According to a report released this week by think tank MassINC and the Clean Energy States Alliance, maybe not.

The report concludes that, although Massachusetts has implemented many effective programs -- notably the renewable portfolio standard, energy efficiency programs, and Green Communities program, all of which were introduced in 2008 -- implementation of new activities and initiatives called for in the Clean Energy and Climate Change Plan for 2020, released in 2010, is lagging.  The lag is sufficiently significant that Massachusetts may miss its 25% reduction mark -- only no one's really sure. 

One of the main problems is that the 2020 Plan did not lay out specifics or create any systems to track and monitor progress and milestones along the way.  Although the authors praise the 2020 Plan as being based on solid analysis and putting forth appropriate, logical actions, they conclude that without a full work plan or monitoring programs, the state does not have specific expectations or a way to measure them.  Without a publicly accessible, central scorecard of emissions, milestones and projected effects of different initiatives, it is difficult even for those within state government -- let along outsiders -- to know how well the state is doing.  

The report also identified a number of unknowns within particular initiatives.  For instance, it is not clear how much methane is currently leaking from aging natural gas pipelines.  The report recommends that the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection work aggressively to measure the extent of the problem and create incentives for gas companies to fix the leaks of this potent greenhouse gas quickly.  

The authors make 4 main recommendations:

  • the Governor should appoint a single individual charged with directing the overall effort and tracking progress across the government
  • set up an effective, transparent process to track and monitor every item in the 2020 plan, with year-by-year milestones, metrics, progress indicators and methods to determine whether the state is on track
  • make a concerted effort to educate the public about the specific goals and actions in the 2020 Plan and what citizens can do to help
  • reassess the 2020 Plan's lagging initiatives and either accelerate them to achieve results in time, or replace them with other viable programs that can achieve the reduction goals

Many of the "lagging" initiatives in the 2020 Plan relate to transportation, which is responsible for 36% of Massachusetts' greenhouse gas emissions, the largest share by sector, and one of the hardest to tackle.  But it's not all bad news -- the authors conclude that the GreenDOT policy provides evidence of a gradual, but real, culture shift within the bureaucracy.  Look for GreenDOT's own 2020 Implementation Plan, expected this spring.