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State sets carbon targets for 2025, 2030

Solar panels on the roof of a building in Amesbury. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Solar panels on the roof of a building in Amesbury. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Massachusetts is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 33% compared to 1990 levels by the middle of this decade and by the minimum 50% required under law by 2030, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card announced Thursday as she set requirements for the next steps towards Massachusetts being a net-zero emissions state by 2050.

The state's 2021 climate roadmap law required Card to set emissions limits and sector-specific sublimits for 2025 and 2030, and to publish "comprehensive, clear and specific" plans to achieve them, by Friday. Card said Thursday that the strategies laid out in the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 submitted to the Legislature on Thursday "will help grow the Massachusetts economy" to the tune of 22,000 new jobs by 2030 while limiting carbon's harm to the environment.

"To enable Massachusetts to achieve its emissions limits, and sublimits, the plan incorporates two overarching approaches: One, electrify non-electric energy uses and two, decarbonize the electric grid," Card told reporters Thursday afternoon. "The 2025-2030 CECP also aims to make Massachusetts' transportation and energy systems more efficient to reduce energy costs and the cost of transition. The CECP highlights the commonwealth's plan for 2025 and 2030 while maximizing the ability to realize a 2050 future in which the heat in our homes, the power in our vehicles, and the state's electric grid can all operate with a minimum reliance on fossil fuels. The plan also highlights that additional natural and working lands will need to be protected, better managed and restored to enhance carbon sequestration."

In addition to the minimum 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, the climate roadmap law also requires Massachusetts to reduce emissions by at least 75% by 2040 and at least 85% by 2050, with tag-along policies to get the state to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

Massachusetts was required to reduce carbon emissions by at least 25% from the 1990 baseline by 2020 and Card said Thursday that the administration has determined that 2020 emissions were actually 31.4% below the 1990 level of 94 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2e). Card and Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang both acknowledged Thursday that 2020 was a unique year because the pandemic upended the economy and dramatically altered travel habits.

"As I like to explain this, to achieve our 2025 target of 33%, we have to do more than what the pandemic did to the economy back in 2020, which is significant," Chang said.

Both officials also acknowledged that the bulk of the carbon emissions reductions required by 2030 appears to be concentrated in the years between 2025 and 2030 rather than being more evenly spread across the 2020s.

The Baker administration is proposing to set the 2025 emissions reduction target at 33% compared to the baseline of 1990 emissions. Total emissions for 2020 totaled roughly 64.1 MMTCO2e, the administration said. The 33% reduction called for in the 2025-2030 CECP released Thursday would set the 2025 emissions limit at roughly 63.2 MMTCO2e. Over the last five years of this decade, emissions would have to drop to no more than 47 MMTCO2e to meet the state's 2030 commitment.

The reduction required between actual 2020 emissions and the 2025 requirement (a drop of roughly 0.9 MMTCO2e) is equal to the emissions from 193,922 gasoline-powered cars being driven for one year, while the reduction that would be required to get from the 2025 requirement to the 2030 reduction (a drop of 16.2 MMTCO2e) would be equal to the emissions from more than 3.4 million gas cars being driven for one year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"There is some build-up effect that we need to account for. For example, the dominant strategy here is to electrify our transportation and our buildings, and in transportation, we are at a phase where there are more electric vehicle models available for consumers to purchase and that will hopefully quickly ramp up and, of course, Massachusetts policy will help push the market forward. On the building side, we do need ... a significant increase in the workforce necessary to help us install the heat pumps that we hope that the citizens ... will adopt. So there is a bit of a ramp-up period," Chang said. "But hopefully that too will get to a little bit of a gliding path beyond 2025. And for those reasons, we think that setting a 33% reduction in 2025 is setting a goal that's aggressive, but achievable."

Whoever is elected governor this November will have significant influence over whether Massachusetts lives up to the emissions reduction commitments it has made in recent years. The next governor will be elected to a term that runs from January 2023 until January 2027 — crunch time for meeting the requirement of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030.

State action and federal rollback

The state's announcement of emissions limits and sublimits came just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court curtailed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. EPA held that "Congress did not grant EPA ... the authority to devise emissions caps based on the generation shifting approach the Agency took in the Clean Power Plan."

While Card and Chang did not address the Supreme Court's decision during their briefing with reporters, climate and clean energy activists lashed out at the conservative court's conclusion.

"The Supreme Court just made the monumental task of cleaning up our air and reducing climate-warming pollution much, much harder," Environment Massachusetts State Director Ben Hellerstein said. "Bay Staters count on the EPA to protect our air and environment. Now that the Court has put a stable climate even further from reach, lawmakers in Massachusetts must seek out other ways to reduce emissions and secure a clean and healthy future. The first step is to pass a climate bill before July 31 that includes the key provisions of the 100% Clean Act (H 3288), to set us on track to a 100% clean energy future."

As of Thursday, that bill was still before the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee as that panel's chairs, Rep. Jeff Roy and Sen. Michael Barrett, lead closed-door negotiations seeking to reconcile competing energy and climate bills passed by the House and Senate.

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President Joe Biden pledged Thursday that his administration would take action, pointing out that air pollution has been cut by 78% since the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress in 1970, even while the national economy has quadrupled in size.

"My Administration will continue using lawful executive authority, including the EPA's legally-upheld authorities, to keep our air clean, protect public health, and tackle the climate crisis," he said. "We will work with states and cities to pass and uphold laws that protect their citizens. And we will keep pushing for additional Congressional action, so that Americans can fully seize the economic opportunities, cost-saving benefits, and security of a clean energy future."

Attorney General Maura Healey, who is also now the lone Democrat running for governor this fall, said that she was disappointed with the Supreme Court's "misguided decision giving in to the coal industry and its scheme to prevent regulation of harmful greenhouse gas emissions."

"Today's decision marks a step backward in our collective effort to combat the climate crisis. But my office remains committed to using every tool available and working with EPA and our state partners to address climate change, protect public health, and support our clean energy economy," she said.

In a climate plan that she released in April, Healey said her gubernatorial administration would set a target of net-zero emissions from state operations by 2030, establish a Cabinet-level climate chief who would coordinate efforts across executive offices, fully electrify public transportation by 2040 (school and MBTA buses by 2030), and boost the state's use of offshore wind energy and battery storage technology.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said the ruling was handed down by "a far right, stolen, illegitimate Supreme Court."

"We have a four-alarm climate fire. This decision takes away the EPA's fire hose and gives it a leaky bucket instead," Markey said at a press conference Thursday.

The senator added, "This decision makes our efforts here in the regional electricity market even more important. Our states and regional authorities must become the engines of our clean energy revolution. We will fight in Congress and in the executive branch to do what we can and to not back down, but no one — not ISO-New England, not our state governments, not our city councils — no one can now sit out this crisis and wait for the climate chaos to arrive."

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