On May 17, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued a unanimous opinion confirming that the landmark 2008 climate protection law, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), requires the state to take enforceable action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on an annual basis in order to achieve the law’s mandate. Basically, they said “limits are limits”, the targets are binding, more needs to be done to achieve the emission target for 2020, and the law is unambiguous.
As a co-plaintiff on this case, and as an organization committed to helping MA achieve the GWSA imperative of 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction by 2050 in the most economically sensible ways possible, we are thrilled with the outcome. Getting there requires that we hit our mark on every milestone until we get there. The SJC decision disciplines us to pay attention to the first milestones - writing the regulations and reaching 25% GHG reduction by 2020.
We look now to the Baker administration to make up for lost time (the GWSA required the regulations to be in place by January 1, 2012). The process for putting the regulations on the books will involve public input. But we know one thing for certain: Massachusetts must not increase our reliance on natural gas with the buildout of pipeline infrastructure. Yet, the Baker administration is advocating an unprecedented policy of having electricity ratepayers finance gas pipeline construction. In docket #15-37, the Department of Public Utilities opened the door to such a scheme. Seeing the door wide open, Eversource and National Grid have petitioned the DPU to assess the “pipeline tax” on all of us to pay for Spectra’s Access Northeast project. Both Eversource and National Grid have vested interests in that project.
At a recent pipeline oversight hearing held by the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton assured committee members that the administration is “firmly committed” to meeting the aggressive GHG emission reductions required by the GWSA. But a recent study commissioned by Attorney General Maura Healey confirmed that Massachusetts would fail to meet the GWSA targets if natural gas pipelines were built. The Commonwealth cannot simultaneously be in genuine pursuit of compliance with the law that requires robust emission reductions while also pursuing an option that will significantly increase emissions beyond the legal limit.
Energy efficiency is the key to balancing cost, reliability, and climate. Not only are the pipelines at odds with the unanimous decision of the SJC, but the AG’s study commissioned that we do not need increased gas capacity to meet electric reliability needs. And it confirmed that the proposed gas pipelines would increase GHG emissions to the extent that Massachusetts would definitely fail to meet the required limits of the GWSA.
The AG study demonstrates that a much more cost-effective solution is to embrace energy efficiency and demand response programs that protect ratepayers and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the costs of renewable energy, electric vehicles, storage, and other technologies are coming down every day. We can deploy those technologies, create jobs, and meet our energy needs all within our “budget” for greenhouse gases. But they will not be given the chance they deserve in the marketplace if utilities use ratepayer dollars to subsidize the long-term consumption of fracked methane imported from other states.
Gas should not be part of energy legislation! The legislature has a role to play in this debate as well. Today the House released H.2881: An act to promote energy diversity. This major energy procurement bill outlines the purchase of large hydro electricity and offshore wind power. However, absent from the bill is language prohibiting ratepayer financing of fracked gas pipelines. Given the SJC’s ruling last week, we had hoped the bill would acknowledge the Court’s decision by expressly prohibiting electric utilities for charging ratepayers for gas pipelines, but we will continue to push hard to ensure the bill does not otherwise become a vehicle for increasing our fracked gas capacity.
The SJC has made a decision that will beget many more decisions. Some will be easy and greatly beneficial to the state’s economy. And some will be challenging, but the pathway forward is clear. The DEP can delay no more on the regulations and the legislature must pass a clean energy bill that would prohibit the Department of Public Utilities from imposing the pipeline tax. Take fracked methane off the “combo platter”. It’s that simple.
Contact your legislators (especially members of the House of Representatives) today to tell them to say NO to more fracked gas, especially at the expense of customers, in the forthcoming omnibus energy bill.