Baker’s energy policy only part right

All-of-the-above approach not tenable

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S FLURRY of announcements on climate change and clean energy has elicited cautiously optimistic praise from some sustainable energy advocates. While many details of the administration’s new initiatives are yet to be developed, one fundamental shortcoming of the Governor’s energy policy remains clear: he fails to acknowledge that a serious response to climate change requires rejecting the proposed massive buildout of natural gas infrastructure.

The governor’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy is not tenable, and the shift from one fossil fuel source (coal) to another (natural gas) in recent years is causing new and unforeseen problems. The switch may have reduced carbon dioxide emissions within Massachusetts, but greenhouse gases don’t recognize borders, and carbon dioxide emissions don’t tell the whole story.

Study after study confirms that when you measure full-lifecycle emissions, the greenhouse gas emissions of fracked shale gas are not any better than the full-lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from coal. This is because emissions also include methane released directly into the atmosphere, both during drilling operations and during transportation (through interstate and local pipeline systems). And new reports indicate that so-called “fugitive emissions” of methane – the primary component of natural gas – significantly exceed levels reported by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even a small discrepancy in reporting is significant because methane is 86 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.

Despite adverse court decisions and the science on natural gas greenhouse gas emissions, the administration has not in any way walked back its support for expanding the interstate pipelines system. The Supreme Judicial Court made clear in its Kain v. DEP ruling this May that Governor Baker’s inadequate action on greenhouse gas regulation (which has built modestly on former governor Deval Patrick’s inadequate actions) violates the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. This summer, the governor’s plan to force electric ratepayers across the Commonwealth to pay for new interstate pipelines was derailed by another SJC ruling, which declared the so-called “pipeline tax” invalid.

After executive action was ordered by the court in Kain v. DEP, the administration cleverly created a PR opportunity, recently holding a press conference to announce an executive order on climate change. Yet Baker’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs makes clear that the administration still wants to work out some way for Massachusetts residents to fund the expansion of interstate gas infrastructure. We must watch closely to ensure that the new greenhouse gas regs do not create incentives for new and expanded markets for natural gas – such as conversion of diesel transportation fleets to natural gas – which in turn are used to justify the push for new pipelines.

Meet the Author

Kathryn R. Eiseman

President, Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast Inc.
The administration also recently released a report that recommends jumpstarting the renewable energy storage industry, to solve the oft-cited problem that “the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.” The administration concludes that its original $10 million energy storage initiative should be doubled. In contrast, the Massachusetts “pipeline tax” proposed would be about $50 million per year, for twenty years, to be funded by everyone who pays an Eversource or National Grid electric bill (if Governor Baker and the utilities find a legal path forward). Given that the administration recognizes energy storage as a potential “game-changer,” why is its proposed investment so small compared to what it would have us pay to expand fossil fuel infrastructure?

Sorry, Charlie: we aren’t all buying what you’re selling as energy and climate policy – certainly not before we can read the fine print. Seriously combating climate change requires ramping up renewables, storage, energy efficiency and other demand-side management – and discontinuing our over-dependence on natural gas, rather than encouraging it.

Kathryn R. Eiseman is the director of the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network and president of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast Inc.