Baker administration mum on emission plans

DEP’s Suuberg says all strategies will be reviewed

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION told lawmakers on Tuesday that it would comply with a Supreme Judicial Court decision mandating specific reductions in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, but said it was too early to speculate on how those reductions would be accomplished.

Lawmakers at a State House hearing suggested putting a price on carbon, increasing energy efficiency efforts, and halting all efforts to expand the region’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure. But Martin Suuberg, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, refused to speculate on what the administration would do.

“We are going to take a look at all of the strategies,” he told members of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, stating several times that the administration plans to convene an advisory group at the end of June and then hold public hearings with the goal of setting policy quickly.

On May 17, the SJC ruled that Massachusetts, first under former governor Deval Patrick and now under Gov. Charlie Baker, had failed to comply with a state law requiring the development of regulations setting hard, declining limits on in-state greenhouse gas emission sources.

State lawmakers and the Baker administration have been talking about developing an offshore wind industry and buying more electricity from Canada. But Suuberg said the Global Warming Solutions Act requires the state to go further to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

David Ismay, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, the plaintiff in the SJC case, estimated the state’s annual greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 5 million tons if the state is going to comply with the law’s 2020 targets. He suggested the 5 million ton reduction could be accomplished by cutting in half leaks from the state’s gas distribution system, doubling energy efficiency spending, lowering by 3 billion the number of vehicle miles traveled in the state, and doubling the rate of growth in the use of renewable energy.

“Just doubling energy efficiency?” asked Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, the chairman of the Senate committee. “How about quadrupling energy efficiency?”

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, who is pushing legislation that would impose a tax on carbon, worried that state officials will face no penalty if they fail to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act. He said the only way to force compliance would be to ration fuels that contribute to global warming. “Short of that, I don’t think there is a foolproof compliance mechanism,” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Ismay of the Conservation Law Foundation said his organization would return to court if the state fails to comply with the law. He said one possible outcome could be a judge taking control of the compliance process.

Peter Shattuck, the Massachusetts director of the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said the one initiative the state cannot pursue if it wants to comply with the emission reduction targets of the Global Warming Solutions Act is to build new natural gas pipelines into the region.