Healey appoints cabinet rover on climate change

Hoffer’s responsibility will extend across many state agencies

GOV.-ELECT MAURA HEALEY named an environmental attorney as her cabinet-level climate chief on Monday, setting in motion another experiment in the best way to manage state bureaucracies that have independent management but overlapping responsibilities.

Melissa Hoffer, currently the deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency, will be charged with monitoring climate efforts across state government and achieving Healey’s goals of a 100 percent clean electricity supply by 2030 and electrification of all public transportation by 2040. The Healey team said Hoffer will be the first state climate chief in the country.

Other governors have tweaked their cabinets in the past to focus attention on a major priority and avoid work being done at cross-purposes in siloed agencies.

Former Democratic governor Michael Dukakis created a subgroup of cabinet members to focus on economic development issues and Republican Mitt Romney appointed a leading environmentalist, Douglas Foy of the Conservation Law Foundation, to oversee cabinet members involved in smart growth.

Hoffer, in a statement, indicated her oversight will extend across several cabinet-level executive offices. “Climate change is not just an environmental issue,” she said. “It’s a public health issue, an energy security issue, an issue inextricably linked with emergency preparedness, land use, agriculture, workforce development, clean tech innovation, transportation, housing, education, and more. With this new office, we’re establishing a governance structure that reflects that reality and ensures our actions are aligned with the science.”

A Healey spokeswoman indicated she will not seek legislative approval for a new cabinet position but will instead issue an executive order next month creating the post. It was unclear how big a staff Hoffer will have.

Hoffer’s challenge will be to enhance cooperation across state government in addressing climate change and avoid being just another layer of bureaucracy.

“It really depends on how Healey empowers the person,” said James Aloisi, who served as secretary of transportation under former governor Deval Patrick.

Ian Bowles, who served as secretary of energy and environmental affairs under Patrick, said he was glad to see Healey focusing attention on climate change.

“It will be fun and interesting to see how muscular that czar role proves to be,” he said. “Certainly there are vast greenhouse gas reduction opportunities outside the purview of Energy and Environmental Affair’s in transportation, state buildings, insurance, and regulations like building codes. The only downside would be if it is another layer of approvals for an ambitious environmental agenda, but I don’t see any reason to think that is likely.”

Bowles said the White House often has several “issue-area czars” working to move issues along through the bureaucracy of the Office of Management and Budget and congressional oversight. “Trying out the model in state government makes sense,” he said.

Prior to joining the Biden administration, Hoffer worked in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office under Martha Coakley as chief of the environmental protection division and then served as the head of Healey’s energy and environment bureau starting in 2015.

The press release announcing her appointment said she led the office’s litigation against ExxonMobil for deceiving Massachusetts investors and consumers about the risk climate change poses to Exxon’s business and global financial markets.

Prior to joining the attorney general’s office, Hoffer worked at the Conservation Law Foundation and the law firm WilmerHale. She graduated from Hampshire College and received advanced degrees from UMass and Tufts University and her law degree from Northeastern. Her bio said she raises Nigerian dwarf dairy goats at her farm in Barre.