Massachusetts Starts 2021 With a Bang on Climate

Foley Hoag LLP - Environmental Law

Foley Hoag LLP - Environmental Law

Over the past four years, while the Trump Administration did everything possible to ignore climate change, optimists continued to find progress at the state level.  Any while President-elect Biden has put together a A-team on climate, Massachusetts, at least, seems determined to show that the states will continue to lead – even if they now have a partner at the federal level.

Two weeks ago, I noted that Massachusetts was one of three New England states committing to implement a cap and invest program to limit GHG emissions from the transportation sector.  Last week, I was tempted to call the Baker administration’s 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap a “tour de force.”  Not to be outdone, a legislative conference committee reached agreement last night on “An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy.”  Assuming that both houses adopt the conference report, the act will be one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation.  It’s going to have a profound impact on the Massachusetts environment and the Massachusetts economy.  And while no legislation is perfect, I am comfortable in saying that that impact will be for the better – for the environment and the economy.

The conference report is 57 pages and has 114 sections, so this post will most certainly stick to the highlights:

  • A net-zero limit by 2050 (with no less than an 85% reduction in actual GHG emissions).
  • A 50% reduction by 2030 (The Governor’s Roadmap last week required a 45% reduction by 2030).
  • A requirement that EOEEA adopt GHG limits on six economic sectors:  electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.
  • A 2,400 megawatt increase in the required procurement of offshore wind, to a total of 5,600 MW.
  • An increase in the renewable portfolio standard of 3% per year beginning in 2025, resulting in a minimum of 40% renewable generation by 2030.
  • A mandated net-zero stretch energy code, available to municipalities as a local option.
  • Adoption of a number of provisions intended to address environmental justice concerns, including:
    • Enacting basic EJ concerns into law for the first time
    • Requiring that environmental assessments for new projects under MEPA address EJ concerns in very specific ways
    • Incentives for solar development that particularly benefit EJ communities.

As I indicated last week in discussing the Administration’s 2050 roadmap, the concern about getting to net-zero isn’t technological or economic feasibility; it’s whether we have the political will to implement the necessary programs.  This legislation doesn’t fully answer the question, but it is a strong indication that, at least for now, at least in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the political will seems to be present.  Let’s hope it’s true and let’s hope that Massachusetts helps lead the way for the rest of the nation.

At the very least, if things don’t get unstuck in Washington, residents of Massachusetts can resurrect their slogan from 1972 – “Don’t Blame Me, I’m From Massachusetts”!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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Foley Hoag LLP - Environmental Law

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