The Roadmap – “Net Zero” Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050

In the final week of July, the Massachusetts House took up far reaching legislation addressing climate change and environmental justice. First, a little context is in order. Unfortunately, it is context no doubt of which many of you are already acutely aware.

In the face of a growing global crisis, we have a federal government in full retreat on climate policy. Not only has our government pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, but– worse yet – it has rescinded the Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama Administration’s comprehensive plan to meet the goals of the Paris Accord.  At the same time our federal government is badly failing us, climate data is worsening. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put forth a report highlighting the dramatic impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. In 2018, 13 federal agencies published data in the National Climate Assessment that highlights just how dire the threat to our climate has become. An increase in temperature means dramatic degradation to ecosystems, agricultural production and health, among other things. It cannot be said enough: we must take action to combat the catastrophic change that is occurring to our planet. As I have long said, and now hear others echoing, even the Pentagon — no bastion of liberalism — is sounding the alarm on climate. 

The absence of federal leadership means that it is critical for states to act. Understanding this urgency, last week the House took a bold step in passing An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving commonwealth. This bill makes significant strides in combating climate change in the Commonwealth. As a result of this legislation, the Commonwealth is on a clear path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with measurable steps along the way — a 50% decrease by 2030 and at least a 75% decrease by 2040.  This is even more ambitious than the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) which became Massachusetts law in 2008.

The 2050 Roadmap

In 2008, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the GWSA which set a series of targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as measured against a baseline of 1990 levels. Under the GWSA, by 2050 the state was required to achieve emission levels at least 80 percent below statewide 1990 GHG emission level.

Amid worsening data and a greater urgency to take more significant steps, now we have gone beyond the GWSA to mandate “net zero” emissions by 2050. The secretary of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is obligated to issue the 2050 Roadmap Plan to explain how the required emission reductions will be met. Even prior to passage of the bill, EEA has commenced the required scientific modeling. This plan will include policies, regulations, and legislative recommendations that cover all types of emission sources. The regulations will be updated frequently to ensure ongoing compliance with the reduction of emissions. The secretary will also conduct and publish a quantitative analysis of Massachusetts’ energy economy and greenhouse gas emissions. From the results of such analysis, the secretary will identify plans to reduce emissions in an ongoing manner. The results of this analysis will be publicly available on the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs website. The roadmap will receive a comprehensive update every 5 years.

Environmental Justice
Regulations put out by EEA must ensure that our goals are achieved in an equitable manner that protects low- and moderate-income people and environmental justice populations. This bill gives clear legal definition to “environmental justice communities” for the first time. Specifically, these are communities (i) whose annual median income is significantly less than the state’s median household income, (ii) where English is predominantly not the primary spoken language, and/or (iii) in which there are significant minority populations.

Low-income communities are often disproportionately burned by landfills, power plants, incinerators, transportation hubs, and other pollution-emitting sources. This section of the newly passed legislation is dedicated to correcting this injustice — people who live in low-income communities should not be disproportionately subjected to the burdens imposed by pollution. Among other key features, the environmental justice prong of the Roadmap legislation mandates thorough environmental impact statements for any project that is likely to cause damage to the environment and is located within one mile of an environmental justice population. Importantly, it will require increased community notice and an opportunity to comment about potential projects, including that notices translated into the appropriate languages and public meeting times that work best for the community.

Renewable Portfolio Standards
As you may remember, in the last legislative session, we passed a law doubling the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 2% of energy sales annually which would have been effective until December 31, 2029. The RPS increase is most easily described as the annual percentage increase in the amount of renewable energy that investor owned utilities (IOUS) are required to purchase as part of their total energy mix. In this Roadmap bill, we are taking the step of implementing an additional increase to the state’s renewable portfolio standard of 3% which will go into effect on December 31, 2024 and remain effective until December 31, 2029. The 2% standard would remain until 2024.

Municipal Lighting Plants
There are over 40 municipal light plants (MLPs) in Massachusetts making up about 15% of our energy use in the Commonwealth. Formerly exempt from the rules applicable to the larger investor owned utilities, under the Roadmap bill there will now be a greenhouse gas emission standard for MLPs. Specifically, the bill requires that municipal light plants to set electricity targets to purchase carbon-free (non-carbon-emitting) energy as follows: (i) 50% by 2030; (ii) 75% by 2040; and (iii) net zero by 2050.

Expanded Regulatory Authority
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will have regulatory authority over direct emissions, indirect emissions, and carbon pricing. will have authority to monitor and regulate greenhouse gas priorities and related indirect emissions.  The Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs is charged with a series of obligations, including detailed reporting of data which will be publicly available.

Clean Energy Technology Center
In another key feature of the legislation, a clean energy equity workforce and market development program will be created. This will provide workforce training, education, professional development, job placement, startup opportunities and grants that will promote participation in energy efficiency and clean energy industries for minority and women owned small businesses, members of economic justice communities and workers displaced from fossil fuel industries. This program will also study barriers faced by these groups to clean energy resources and will implement solutions where possible.

Climate Protection and Green Economy Act
The Roadmap legislation also eliminates the sunset provision to greenhouse gas emissions reduction regulations established by the Global Warming Solutions Act from 2008. It also establishes new Solar Incentive Programs. Under these expanded programs, the Department of Energy Resources will provide equitable access to all ratepayers, including low-income ratepayers; address solar energy access and affordability for low-income communities; stakeholders must include low-income ratepayers & organizations that represent their interests.

Future Utility Grid Commission
A Future Utility Grid Commission will be created to study and make recommendations for a plan to modernize the grid for the long term, to make sure it meets the state’s new climate plan and meet our emission reduction requirements.To achieve our net zero emissions goals, to grow our renewables like wind and solar and to accelerate our use of electric vehicles and heat pumps, we need to have a modern grid that is capable of connecting and handling all of these technologies.

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Phone: 617-722-2263
Mail: State House Room 473B, Boston, MA 02133