Last Friday, Governor Baker issued Executive Order 569, “Establishing an Integrated Climate Change Strategy for the Commonwealth.” EO 569 will advance climate policy in Massachusetts in a number of important ways. It also leaves much to be accomplished by MassDEP. Here are the highlights:
- EOEEA and MassDOT are instructed to work with other New England and Northeastern states to develop regional policies to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector.
- EOEEA and the Department of Public Safety must jointly develop a Climate Adaptation Plan within two years. The Plan will focus on what state agencies and municipalities need to do to adapt to climate change.
- EOEEA and DPS must also develop a framework for state agencies and municipalities to assess their vulnerability to climate change.
- MassDEP must promulgate regulations by August 11, 2017 to satisfy the Global Warming Solutions Act mandate, as interpreted by the SJC in the recent Kain decision, that would accomplish declining annual emissions from GHG sources. In doing so, MassDEP must consider:
- Leaks from the natural gas distribution system
- Changes to GHG permitting requirements
- Reductions in transportation emissions, including the Commonwealth’s vehicle fleet
- Gas insulated switchgear.
All of this is good. Two elements of the EO are particularly noteworthy. First, because Governor Baker was acting through Executive Order, the state Climate Plan does not do what the legislation passed by the Senate, but rejected by the House, during the last legislative session would have done – require that any future permits be conditioned on compliance with the Climate Plan. One can hear the development community breathing a big sigh of relief. Second, EO kicks a very large can down the road – though perhaps not as far down the road as MassDEP might have liked. MassDEP has less than 11 months to draft, propose, take comment on, and finalize regulations to comply with Kain.
The requirement that MassDEP propose GWSA is particularly important to the regulated community. The focus on leaks from the natural gas distribution system is shrewd. Recent legislation had required utilities to identify such leaks, but was largely toothless on remedy. Having DEP promulgate regulations is low-hanging fruit that will please pretty much everyone other than the utilities. The requirement that MassDEP look at GHG reductions in the transportation sector is also important, but it bears emphasis that the EO focuses in particular on the Commonwealth’s vehicle fleet. This may well be a recognition of the difficulty in promulgating regulations that would set declining annual limits on GHG emissions from private transportation.
All that’s left is to wish MassDEP a hearty “good luck”! in meeting the deadline in the EO.