Update: June 14, 2018
The senate has now acted on a version of this bill.
The bill combines dozens of ideas for reducing carbon emissions. I will certainly vote for it when it reaches the floor. I have long advocated strong action to reduce carbon emissions and a vote for the bill will keep the conversation moving.
I am most enthusiastic about the provisions of the bill (section 67) that would create market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and buildings. Vehicles account for approximately 40% of the greenhouse gases in Massachusetts and buildings account for almost as much. Electric power generation now only emits approximately 20% of the greenhouse gases.
Chart extracted from MA GHG Emission Trends as of February 18, 2018.
For three reasons, we have tended to focus on the electric power sector in policy discussions about green house gas emissions. First, it was once a larger slice of the pie. It has shrunk over the past twenty years, in part because of our efforts to shift it towards renewables, but largely because many generators have shifted from coal to cheaper natural gas which contributes less to global warming. Second, the state has a long history of directly regulating the power sector to prevent over-charging by monopoly utilities, so it was easy to start regulating it to reduce carbon emissions. Finally, wind, solar and other emerging energy industries are very active in lobbying and have effectively sought subsidies to support their growth.
Chart extracted from Appendix C, of Mass DEP’s Greenhouse Gas Baseline, Inventory & Projection, 1990-2014 Sector Tab, as of February 16, 2018 at this link.
The present legislation continues to expand subsidies for particular electric power sources. While I do not oppose these subsidies, I’ll confess some uneasiness about them — I am skeptical of our ability to make good quantitative decisions about just how much of an assist we should give to particular technologies. I prefer market-based incentives that encourage consumers to choose the carbon-reduction approach that works best for them.
That is why I am especially enthusiastic about the bill’s (section 67) provisions for reducing vehicle and building emissions. The bill requires the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to promulgate regulations creating market-based mechanisms to reduce green house gas emissions — first from cars and light trucks, then from commercial and industrial buildings, then from residential buildings, with the regulatory roll-out to complete by 2022. The bill contemplates that these mechanisms may be created in collaboration with other states and/or Canadian provinces. Especially for the transportation sector — by definition mobile across state lines — a regional approach makes sense.
I am also pleased that the bill puts teeth into the Global Warming Solutions Act that we passed in 2008. The GWSA defined a goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The present legislation would require the setting of intermediate goals and the definition of pathways to achieving those goals. It requires that the new market-mechanisms for reducing vehicle and building emissions be calibrated so as to make achievement of those goals more likely. These concepts reflect the thinking of my colleague, Senator Mike Barrett, who has long been a champion of carbon pricing.
The bill also speaks to climate adaptation. As far as we may go in reducing emissions in Massachusetts, we can be sure that the climate will continue to change and we need to be prepared. I’ve been especially focused on the flood risks created by rising seas and more powerful storms. Beyond protecting neighborhoods in my district, my concern is to assure that the MBTA and other regional infrastructure owners are taking the measures they need to defend their assets. As the bill moves forward, I’ll be giving particular attention to the adaptation provisions — the bill creates anopportunity to make sure we are giving the best possible legislative support to agency adaptation efforts.