By Shanna Cleveland, Senior Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation
This post was written by one of our friends and partner attorneys at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). Our Children's Trust supports the youth plaintiffs in Massachusetts in this litigation led by CLF, Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen P.C., and Columbia Environmental Law Clinic.
In 2008, the Massachusetts legislature unanimously passed the strongest climate change mandates in the nation, and Governor Patrick signed it into law. One of the key pieces of that law, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) was a direct command to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to put regulations in place that would establish legally enforceable emissions reductions.
The legislature spoke clearly and unmistakably, dictating that:
“The Department shall promulgate regulations establishing a desired level of declining annual aggregate emission limits for sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gases.”
The statute provided the Department with ample time to develop the regulations, setting a date of January 1, 2012, for establishing the regulations and an effective date of January 1, 2013. Now, six years later, that mandate remains unmet.
For years, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, clean energy companies and children concerned for their future have called upon the Department to comply with the law. However, the Department has refused, and so CLF, Mass Energy and four youth plaintiffs have gone to court to force the Department to follow the law.
Climate Action Delayed is Climate Action Denied
Why are these regulations so important and why have they been delayed?
There is no doubt that Governor Patrick has been a leader on clean energy and that much good work has been done as a result of the GWSA, but there remains one clear, unequivocal mandate that has yet to be met. The GWSA required the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to adopt regulations establishing “declining annual aggregate emissions limits” for greenhouse gas emissions sources. The regulations were supposed to be adopted by January 1, 2012, and were to have taken effect by January 1, 2013. As yet, no such regulations have been adopted.
The harmful consequences of this inaction have prevented Massachusetts from fully unlocking the potential of the clean energy economy and have jeopardized our ability to meet the strong mandates of the GWSA. For example, there is no regulatory framework to ensure that all energy infrastructure decisions in Massachusetts are consistent with the GWSA’s mandates, and, despite beating out other states, Massachusetts has been falling behind on meeting the targets it established for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency programs.
The absence of these regulations is becoming even more clear as the battle over New England’s energy future is being waged. If the Department had established the regulations required by the GWSA and set declining annual aggregate emissions limits in the electricity and heating sectors, for example, power plant developers, like Footprint, and pipeline developers, like Kinder Morgan, would have a clear standard to meet in demonstrating that their projects will comply with the mandates of the GWSA.
Instead, organizations like CLF have been forced to step into the regulatory void to ensure that appropriate conditions are imposed on these types of projects. Without regulations, project developers and agency officials are left to proceed on a case-by-case basis without any certainty about whether these new projects will sink efforts to meet the GWSA mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 – mandates that were unanimously adopted. Ironically, had these regulations been in place for the last two years, Massachusetts might have seen increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy generation that would have mitigated the price spikes we’ve seen these past two winters by reducing our dependence on natural gas.
Regulations Spur Action and Innovation
Climate change–inducing greenhouse gas emissions have real impacts, and the cost of inaction is high. Hurricane Sandy caused more than $60 billion in damages and Tropical Storm Irene and Winter Storm Nemo had devastating economic impacts here in Massachusetts. The toll will continue to rise as climate change leads to more frequent and intense tropical storms, flooding, and extreme weather events such as heat waves and droughts. Massachusetts has already begun to experience the impacts of climate change that the GWSA mandate is intended to prevent, putting our youth, our economy, and our energy systems at risk.
However, climate change regulations can inspire innovation and spur economic growth. Just as the Clean Air Act regulations regulating smog and acid rain spurred the power industry to develop new technologies and paved the way for cleaner energy, climate regulation has spurred the clean energy economy. One of the reasons that Massachusetts was able to bounce back more quickly from the 2008 recession was that the clean energy revolution had already begun. Massachusetts has put almost 100,000 people to work in the clean energy industry.
Without these regulations in place, the hue and cry for unlimited new investment in natural gas threatens the continued growth of local resources and local clean energy technologies. The imperative for decisive action is clear. We can’t afford to wait any longer to protect Massachusetts, especially our youth, from the impacts of climate change. Please stand with us to call on the Governor and the Governor-Elect for Climate Action.