No News Is Good News: Massachusetts Updates Its MEPA Greenhouse Gas Policy

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released its Revised MEPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Protocol. For those who cannot get enough of this stuff, they also released a summary of revisions to the policy and a response to comments. On the whole, EEA took an appropriately moderate, incremental approach to revising the GHG policy. Indeed, it’s telling that the very first “change” identified by EEA in its summary is not a change at all – it’s EEA’s decision to retain the current case-by-case approach to determining appropriate performance standards and mitigation requirements. EEA decided not to establish numerical GHG emissions limits or emissions reductions targets.

Some of the other noteworthy aspects of the revised policy include:

Establishment of the state building code in effect at the time the ENF is filed to determine the project baseline

Elimination of the requirement to include a formal analysis of a separate “better” alternative. Although EEA said it was in some circumstances unrealistic to propose something “better” than the preferred alternative, to me it was simply that the MEPA process for the analysis of mitigation is the appropriate avenue for determining GHG improvements. That mitigation process was already in place, is always what MEPA has been about, and works well. Thus, the separate alternative was inappropriate.

No requirement to analyze life-cycle emissions. EEA was pushed to require full life-cycle analysis, including such components as emissions associated with construction, waste generation, water use, and wastewater generation. However, EEA concluded that such analyses would not be cost-effective: “the effort and cost associated with making these calculations may outweigh their usefulness….”

Retention of the self-certification process for verifying mitigation efforts. The policy does require that agencies include the self-certification requirement in Section 61 findings for permits.

An updated list of mitigation measures.

As EEA noted, the MEPA program has never been about standards; it is about project-specific analysis of impacts and potential mitigation measures to address those impacts. Particularly inthe GHG arena, where both technology and science are changing so rapidly, it makes even more sense to maintain the case-by-case approach, rather than adopt overly prescriptive standards. The devil is in the details regarding how MEPA implements the policy, but given the legislative mandate in the Global Warming Solutions Act, the policy continues to provide an appropriate framework for integrating GHG analysis into MEPA.

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