State said to be on track on 2020 climate goal
Theoharides: TCI-like system will be needed down the road
THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION released a first-of-its-kind projection on Tuesday indicating the state is on track for now in meeting its climate change goals, but the governor’s top energy aide said challenges loom ahead that may require the state to embrace some form of cap-and-invest system like the Transportation Climate Initiative the governor abandoned late last year.
As part of its effort to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the state is legally required to meet certain interim targets for reducing emissions in intervening years. The challenge for policymakers is that it often takes two to three years after a target date to determine if the target has been met, which means the state could go badly off track and not even know it.
At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change on Tuesday, Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said an internal projection indicates the state surpassed its target for 2020. The target was to reduce emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels, but the Baker administration estimated the state came in 28.6 percent below 1990 levels.
“This is not necessarily cause for celebration — 2020 was an abnormal year,” Theoharides said.
The calculations about statewide emissions hinge on a variety of data sets, many of which are produced by the federal government. Theoharides said some of the data sets for 2020 are still not available, but she said the Department of Environmental Protection was able to develop a projection about emission reductions as of 2020.
“We’re extremely nervous about doing this,” said Martin Suuberg, the DEP commissioner. “We’ve never done this before.”
At the same hearing, Theoharides said a long-term solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions may not be as big as once thought. The current goal is to reduce emissions to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and reach net zero by naturally removing carbon emissions using forests, grasslands, and oceans.
Theoharides said current estimates say the 15 percent projection for carbon sequestration is too high and actual results will about half that. “We are flushing that out,” she said.
Theoharides said a downturn in the sequestration of carbon will mean that the difference will have to be made up by reducing emissions even more from the transportation and building sectors.
Twice during the hearing Theoharides indicated the state will likely have to launch a cap and invest program like the Transportation Climate Initiative, which Baker withdrew from after the governor of Connecticut bailed out last year.
The Transportation Climate Initiative was intended to be a cap-and-invest program for automobile fuels. Fuel wholesalers would purchase at auction allowances permitting them to sell gasoline in Massachusetts and other participating states. The number of allowances would be reduced each year, ratcheting up the price of gasoline and incentivizing drivers to switch to electric vehicles.
“I think we’ll need something like this,” she said.