Massachusetts has more aggressive plan than new federal rule reducing power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions

Last modified: Thursday, August 06, 2015

AMHERST — Massachusetts should have little trouble adapting to President Barack Obama’s new rule on reducing power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions because the state already passed a more aggressive plan, according to Senate President Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst.

The state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2008, sets the goal of reducing the state’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050. Obama’s plan calls for cutting 32 percent of 2005 levels of CO2 emissions by 2030.

Rosenberg, along with University of Massachusetts Amherst climate scientist Michael Rawlins and spokesmen for energy providers in western Massachusetts, applauded the plan.

“Our plans are more aggressive than the federal plan and we’re well on our way,” Rosenberg said. “In terms of actually aligning the two, we’re going to have to do some work in appropriately aligning the data so we have an apples-to-apples comparison.”

He added that in 2014 Massachusetts also passed a bill requiring natural gas leaks to be repaired, which will further propel the state toward its goals.

By 2011, the state had reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels, with nearly all of the reductions coming since the 2008 law, according to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection data.

“We are way ahead of most of the rest of the country, so this plan, this policy and request of the president, basically is not news and is not breaking new ground in Massachusetts,” Rosenberg said. “We just have to align what we’re doing into what they are asking us to share as a statewide plan.”

The federal rule calls for each state to come up with its own plan. Rosenberg said the state’s administration, including the secretary of energy and environment, the Department of Public Utilities, the Office of Energy Resources and the legislative committee on telecommunications and energy would be involved.

Rosenberg said Massachusetts already had reduced its reliance on coal and had increased production of natural gas and renewable energy sources. The state’s plan also incorporates reductions in transportation emissions, building emissions and non-energy emissions.

Rawlins, who is assistant professor in the department of geosciences and manager of the Climate Science Research Center at UMass, said he commended Obama for putting forward the plan. He said it does not appear to be “overly ambitious.”

“The emission targets may appear difficult for some states, but some states are already well on their way to achieving the required reductions,” he said.

At the same time, the 32 percent reduction called for by the climate plan may fall short of what is required to avoid the harmful effects of the drastic climate change his department is already measuring, he said.

“It is a step in the right direction, but I believe that sharper emissions cuts will be necessary in the coming decades in order to limit warming,” he said.

Putting a plan forward is particularly important from an international perspective, he said. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Paris in the fall, and having a climate plan will give the United States leverage to encourage other countries to act on climate change, he said.

“Solving the climate crisis will require the cooperation of all nations,” he said. “Reducing the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases will require reductions worldwide ... The U.S. alone cannot solve this crisis.”

Electricity providers National Grid and Eversource both support the plan, as well.

A National Grid statement released Monday quoted the company’s U.S. president, Dean Seavers, as an advocate for federal legislation as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he said he supported Obama’s plan in the absence of such legislation.

“This landmark, comprehensive regulation will enable real progress in significantly reducing greenhouse gases,” he said in the statement.

National Grid has reduced its total emissions in the U.S. by 65 percent from 1990 levels, according to the statement.

Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said she’s confident Massachusetts is in a good position to meet the federal standards.

“Eversource is committed to tapping clean sources like hydropower and cleaner-burning natural gas and other renewable sources,” she said.

She cited participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known has RGGI, an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions among Northeastern states.

Ress said a bigger issue to Eversource than the Clean Energy Plan is the issue of natural gas capacity in the Northeast. Eversource, National Grid and Spectra Energy have been collaborating on a pipeline called Access Northeast, which would increase gas capacity.Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan has put forward is own pipeline plan, which has been unpopular with some Pioneer Valley activists.

Some opponents of the Kinder Morgan pipeline have filed suit against the federal government, asking the government to halt any activity related to the pipeline. The pipeline would pass through eight Franklin County towns, and the suit’s plaintiffs claim the pipeline will worsen climate change and deplete natural resources.

To Rawlins, the effects of climate change are already apparent, meaning that the new federal plan is a necessary step forward. He said 2014 was the warmest year on record, the Western United States is suffering a historic drought, and most of the warmest years on record have been in the past 10 years.

“Sea levels will rise as long as the temperatures rise,” he said. “Society needs to act to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at


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