Baker all talk on regional carbon limits

Governor MIA on greenhouse gas initiative

AS PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP moves forward with his efforts to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and accelerate the extraction of coal, oil, and gas on federal lands, it’s worth taking a look at our own record here in Massachusetts. While state officials speak the language of “climate leadership,” their actions have often fallen short.

Case in point: Last August, officials in Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration announced their support for doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program to limit carbon pollution from power plants and invest in clean energy and energy efficiency in Massachusetts and eight other northeastern states.

These proposed changes would reduce emissions by 5 percent per year, as opposed to 2.5 percent under the current program rules — enough to cut an additional 100 million metric tons of pollution by 2030. That’s the equivalent of making more than 1 million homes run entirely on solar power.

We were thrilled to see Massachusetts become the first state to support doubling the strength of RGGI, and we joined other environmental advocates in praising the administration’s move.

But since August, Baker and his administration have been missing in action. The governor and his top officials have largely stayed silent on the issue of RGGI. When pressed by reporters, administration spokespeople have issued mealy-mouthed statements expressing vague support for RGGI but without any specifics on how strong the program should be.

Has Baker backed away from his commitment to double the strength of RGGI and reduce carbon pollution more quickly? It’s hard to say for sure, but absent any definitive statement from the governor or top officials such as Matthew Beaton, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, and Martin Suuberg, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, it’s clear that the administration’s priorities lie elsewhere.

If Baker wants Massachusetts to be a leader in the fight against climate change, he needs to be a vocal champion for strong limits on carbon and a vigorous supporter of clean energy programs. Instead of leading the way, the governor’s officials are hedging their bets with vague statements.

Unfortunately, the governor’s actions on RGGI follow a troubling pattern, where actions on clean energy and climate solutions often fall short of initial rhetoric and promises. We’ve seen a similar story from the Baker administration on multiple fronts, including solar energy and carbon pollution regulations, as well as the administration’s misguided support for expanding gas pipelines.

That’s why Environment Massachusetts recently joined the Environmental League of Massachusetts and other organizations in giving the Baker administration a C+ for their record on energy issues.
For RGGI in particular, the governor’s inaction is hard to understand. In the decade since it was created, RGGI has brought major benefits to Massachusetts and other northeastern states. Carbon pollution from power plants has declined by 61 percent in Massachusetts, and RGGI has emerged as the most successful regional climate program in the United States.

Limits on carbon pollution have also led to reductions in other forms of harmful pollution from power plants, including soot and smog-forming emissions. One study estimated that pollution reductions from RGGI have saved as many as 830 lives, prevented up to 9,900 asthma attacks, and helped avoid 39,000 to 47,000 missed days of work.

At the same time, RGGI has generated more than $400 million in funding for clean energy and energy efficiency projects in Massachusetts through revenue from the sale of emissions allowances. Funding from RGGI helped the towns of Swampscott and Wenham install efficient LED streetlights, cutting carbon pollution by an estimated 294 metric tons each year while reducing annual energy costs by more than $100,000.

Strengthening RGGI is a clear political winner. In fact, 81 percent of Massachusetts residents responding to a recent survey said that they support strengthening the program.

With that in mind, there’s no reason for the governor to stay on the sidelines. Baker and his aides should vocally support doubling the strength of RGGI. Massachusetts and other states participating in RGGI will make a key decision about the future of the program in June, so there’s no time like the present for Baker to take a strong stand.

The governor should also take bigger steps to expand solar, offshore wind, and energy efficiency, as well as emerging technologies such as electric vehicles and energy storage, while rejecting proposals to expand gas pipelines and deepen our dependence on fossil fuels.

With the right support from state leaders, we can get off of fossil fuels and power our society entirely with renewable energy in the coming decades. Businesses such as Amazon and Johnson & Johnson, as well as cities from San Diego to Burlington, Vt., have committed to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy. In Massachusetts, Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Reps. Sean Garballey and Marjorie Decker recently introduced a bill to repower the entire state with 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

Meet the Author

Ben Hellerstein

State director, Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center
Our climate and our health won’t wait. In the era of Donald Trump, we need Baker to truly lead the nation in addressing climate change and switching to clean energy.

Ben Hellerstein is the state director for the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, a statewide organization dedicated to protecting Massachusetts’ air, water and open spaces.

  • If Governor Baker is serious about wanting to keep his job in Massachusetts, he will need to align more with traditional Democratic values on the one hand, and the libertarian spirit which lies deep in the Massachusetts psyche on the other. What could be more consistent with the latter than wanting to control your own energy supply rather than importing it from out of state? What could be more in line with self-determination than having your home or your neighborhood or your town or your region control their own energy destiny than handing over control of it to a Stalinist cooperative called ISO-NE which, in a hegemony with a couple of energy utilities, essentially dictates how things will be? Oh yeah, they’ll tell you they use a market system to allocate resources and prices, but these markets are closed to all but a few qualifiers, and the incumbents are the ones to judge who is acceptable. This is no true marketplace.

    Governor Baker set out well with his Executive Order 569 on the Global Warming Solutions Act and climate preparedness, but the evidence on the street is that Kathleen Theorharides has dropped the ball on encouraging climate resiliency by failing to engage a wide number of Massachusetts municipalities, for whatever reason. It might not be her fault. Perhaps the Governor stringently limited the amount of funding for climate resiliency because of budget concerns. If that’s true, then, of course, we know how seriously the Governor takes these matters, despite his noble political statements.

    Or perhaps the Governor is no real friend of the free marketplace, wanting to place the incumbetns and the favorites and the buddies. Like it or not, Governor Baker, the energy resolution is coming. Massachusetts posed itself to take advantage, but its pace is hardly remarkable, and it has few tangible measures to score itself compared to other states. This no doubt will be noted by both investors in states and their properties and municipalities as well as by companies who might want to move here. The introduction of wind energy and solar energy is agonizingly slow, and you’ve shown no commitment to hitting the GWSA 2020 target, let alone the more stringent ones thereafter. And you still talk about natural gas pipelines.

    Facts are, you act, Governor Baker, like you really don’t trust the markets. You don’t want to strip away the limits and the protections, and let it solve the problems out there, such as supply and reliability. That’s because National Grid and Eversource are whispering in your ear they cannot do that. They don’t know how. Well, high tech and the marketplace can.

    So, are you a free enterprise supporter or not?

  • NortheasternEE

    Germany and Australia, who have pushed ahead with renewable energy, are finding out that increasing the penetration of wind and solar on the grid is not sustainable. It leads to skyrocketing rates, blackouts, and little to no carbon avoidance.

    Let’s not punish Governor Baker for being careful.

    The road to 100% renewable energy is full of unintended consequences. Ten years ago, the previous administration passed legislation that set us on a path for 20% renewable energy by 2020 on the grid. Rising electric rates, and the early retirement of coal and nuclear power plants, before we even reach 10% from renewables, is an obvious sign of failure.

    Wind and solar power is just not ready for prime time!

  • disqus_PkSG5DR82f

    Let’s at least recognize the significant GHG reduction our residents and businesses in the Commonwealth have paid for over the years. In 2005 Massachusetts emitted 96.3 million metric tons of CO2e emissions (mmCO2e). In 2014, this level decreased by 22.5% to 74.6 mmCO2e. In 2008, Massachusetts legislators enacted the Global Warming Solutions Act to determine our state GHG reduction goals and we as a state are making progress. We didn’t need a federal clean power plan or the Paris Climate Agreement to set GHG reduction goals. I would rather see 50 different state policies enacted closer to the source of GHG’s and the actual folks who have to pay for those polices.

    In comparison, the Paris Climate Agreement would commit (without congressional ratification) the US to reduce GHG emissions 26-28% from the baseline year of 2005 to 2025. The last 2015 report on total United States CO2e emissions indicates total GHG emissions decreased 11.5% from 2005 through the end of 2015; almost half-way in meeting the Paris Climate Agreement already and without spending $3B of US taxpayer money to fund other countries climate mitigation and clean energy projects.

    I’d like to see that amount spent here in the US to help us reach our own clean energy goals.