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Report: With Hydropower, Mass. On Track To Meet Pollution Goals

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker testifies at a hearing regarding two energy bills at the Statehouse on Sept. 29, 2015. (Charles Krupa/AP)closemore
Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker testifies at a hearing regarding two energy bills at the Statehouse on Sept. 29, 2015. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The state is on track to meet its ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, Gov. Charlie Baker's administration said Tuesday while cautioning that success may hinge on legislative approval of a plan to import more Canadian hydropower.

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, signed by then-Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, established a benchmark of reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change by 25 percent from 1990 levels. The law sets a further goal of cutting emissions 80 percent by 2050.

In a report to lawmakers updating compliance with the law, the state's secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Matthew Beaton, said the 25 percent goal by 2020 was "attainable" and if recommendations contained in the report were fully implemented the state would be on course for "environmentally responsible economic growth for decades to come."

Baker, a Republican, last year filed a bill aimed at increasing the state's reliance on renewable energy sources, with a focus on hydroelectricity. The measure would require utilities to work with state officials in pursuing long-term contracts for importing Canadian hydro, though transmission routes haven't been determined.

The administration said boosting hydropower would account for 4 percent of the 25 percent reduction target.

"We need to show leadership in that area and recognize what an important role energy efficiency plays and how it's a cost-effective solution," Beaton told WBUR's Newscast Unit.

"While progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been made on many fronts, the (report) highlights the need for immediate action on our legislation for clean and affordable hydroelectricity and other renewable resources in order to achieve our 2020 goals and position us to meet the long-term reduction targets," Baker said in a statement accompanying Tuesday's report.

Officials also highlighted the need to continue implementing emission standards for new vehicles as critical to meeting the goals for reducing the states' carbon footprint.

By 2012, the last year in which statistics were available, the state had reduced its greenhouse gas output since 1990 from 94.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to 72.1 million. But the report warned that under a "business as usual" approach, emissions could quickly spike back to 92.7 million metric tons by 2020, well above the 70.8 million figure needed to meet the state goal.

The biggest percentage drop came in the area of electricity consumption, which accounted for nearly 30 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 but just below 22 percent in 2012. The recent closings of several coal-burning power plants and more energy efficient construction were cited as key factors in the drop.

Some environmental activists remain skeptical of the state's ability to meet the benchmarks under the law.

"In spite of good intentions, we are still not on track," said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

A push by utilities to build more natural gas pipelines into the state, Bachrach contended, will weaken the market for renewable energy sources.

"If we are to meet our statutory obligations for 2020, we need to diversify our portfolio, not just with Canadian hydro, but create new industries and jobs in solar and wind," he said.

The Conservation Law Foundation, along with several Boston-area teenagers, last year filed a lawsuit arguing state agencies had failed to craft regulations needed to reach the goals set by the law.

With additional reporting from the WBUR Newsroom.

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