Baker signs climate change order

Senator says the measure is too little too late

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, who six years ago expressed skepticism about the science of climate change, signed an executive order on Friday setting the state on a course to develop a comprehensive plan to mitigate and adapt to the fallout from rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The order requires the Baker administration to pursue reductions in greenhouse gases, to set annual emission  targets, and to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The order sets out broad goals but offers little insight on how they will be accomplished.

The order begins by saying “climate change presents a serious threat to the environment and the Commonwealth’s residents, communities, and economy.” In signing the order, Baker took note of the extreme weather conditions that have gripped Massachusetts just since he took office in 2015. Massachusetts faced one of the toughest winters ever when Baker first took office and the state is currently in the midst of a prolonged drought.

In 2010, when he ran unsuccessfully for governor, Baker was more skeptical about climate change. “I’m not saying I believe in it. I’m not saying I don’t,” he said then. “You’re asking me to take a position on something I don’t know enough about.”

The governor agreed to issue an executive order on climate change in July to gain the full backing of some senators for energy legislation that passed in the final hours of the session. The senators were threatening to hold up the bill if climate change adaptation measures were not included in the legislation.

Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, one of the senators, thanked Baker on Friday for doing what he said he would do. “Thank you for following through, for understanding the science, and for understanding the importance of this,” he said.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, who did not attend the signing in the State House press room, said he was disappointed in the executive order. A Supreme Judicial Court decision in May ordered the state to establish declining annual, volumetric greenhouse gas emission targets by industry sector; currently, Massachusetts has developed statewide emission targets for only 2020 and 2050. The 2020 target calls  for emission levels to be 25 percent below what they were in 1990.

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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.

Barrett pointed out that the executive order doesn’t require the new annual targets to be in place until Aug. 11, 2017, which means 2018 will probably be the starting year. Because of lag times in reporting climate data, Barrett said the state probably won’t find out whether it met the 2018 target until 2020, long after the next gubernatorial election.  “Isn’t that convenient,” said Barrett.

Barrett said the state cannot afford to let all of 2017 go by before addressing greenhouse gas emissions. The senator warned that the state is moving far too slowly. “We’re not going to meet the 2020 goal. It’s almost a certainty,” Barrett said. “It’s an important failure.”