Healey lawsuit against ExxonMobil is counterproductive

Mass. should focus on fight against climate change

IN RECENT YEARS, Massachusetts has earned widespread recognition for its efforts to prioritize clean energy and move aggressively towards a greener future. To do so, the Commonwealth has set forth a progressive policy framework that will guide the state to greater energy security while boosting the local economy through investments in new technologies, companies, and workforce opportunities.

Recent developments have continued the momentum. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has proposed policy changes under the SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target) program that, if enacted, will boost solar energy development incentives for local agriculture, including cranberry growers. The Commonwealth recently completed the second solicitation of offshore wind generation at a commercial scale, securing an 800-megawatt project that will help further decarbonize the region’s economy. The state’s success is reflected by surging employment in the clean-energy sector, which reported employment of 110,000 people during 2018.

There is no shortage of examples that illustrate the Commonwealth’s leadership in promoting sustainable clean energy solutions. Which is why the recent lawsuit filed by Attorney General Maura Healey against energy giant ExxonMobil stands out as a symbolic effort that will do nothing to move the Commonwealth forward in its fight against climate change. The AG’s case claims energy giant ExxonMobil deceived consumers about the contribution of its products to climate change. The 200-page lawsuit accuses the company of promoting “doubt and false debate” that increased carbon emissions in the environment while delaying adoption of renewable energy standards and fuel options.

Putting aside the seemingly arbitrary merits of this argument, the simple fact is that the litigation – which is directly funded by Massachusetts taxpayers – doesn’t do anything to advance clean energy. Seasoned observers of the state’s energy sector know that Massachusetts needs rational energy policies if it’s ever going to achieve a legal mandate to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent come 2050 (based on 1990 levels.) A key element of the Commonwealth’s strategy is to electrify two of the largest sources of energy emitters: the transportation sector – which accounts for roughly 40 percent of all carbon emissions in Massachusetts – and buildings.

To accomplish this, we need access to more energy resources, including new natural gas pipeline infrastructure. For several years, thousands of Massachusetts homeowners and businesses, including those on communities on Cape Cod, have lacked access to natural gas. While the moratorium on new gas connections on the Cape was lifted this spring, Holyoke, Southampton and Middleborough joined the ranks of local cities and towns unable to add new gas line connections due to insufficient pipeline capacity.  The lack of needed gas in Massachusetts – at a time when the resource is more plentiful and inexpensive than at any point in recent history – is expected to increase the cost of consumer utility bills. Never mind that natural gas has substantially decreased carbon emissions in the Commonwealth since 1990 – and by 14 percent across the country since 2005. The Commonwealth cannot electrify the transportation and home heating sectors without substantially boosting its generation capacity – and natural gas offers the most practical solution that can help the state dramatically decrease emissions over the next 30 years.

Meet the Author

Joseph Fitzpatrick

Principal, Salt Works Energy
Healey’s litigation against ExxonMobil may possibly avoid the fate of similar efforts in California and New York that have been dismissed from court or dramatically scaled back due to lack of evidence. Nevertheless, the case represents an unnecessary distraction from our state’s current energy challenges. Common sense tells us that Massachusetts needs to maintain a clear, unrelenting focus on the real challenges associated with climate change. Cogent, progressive energy policies that can make a real difference. That is where our focus must remain.

Joseph Fitzpatrick is a former Massachusetts secretary of energy and principal of Salt Works Energy, a solar development firm based in Chatham.