When the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Kain that § 3(d) of the Global Warming Solutions act requires MassDEP to promulgate emission limits for multiple source categories, requiring declining annual emissions enforceable in Massachusetts, I sympathized with the difficult task MassDEP was given. To DEP’s credit, they are working hard, determined to get draft regulations out by mid-December.
I still sympathize, but evidence to date only demonstrates further that Kain was a mistake and it’s forcing a waste of resources at MassDEP and a misallocation of attention if we really want to attain further significant GHG reductions in Massachusetts. The ways that the approach required by Kain is flawed are almost too numerous to mention – certainly in one blog post. Here’s one contrarian’s quick summary – regulations promulgated under § 3(d) will have almost no impact on the GWSA’s GHG reduction goals.
According to MassDEP’s background materials on the § 3(d) regulatory effort, by 2013, the Commonwealth had reduced GHG emissions by 19.7% below 1990 levels, leaving 5.3% more to reach the 25% target. There are three logical targets to find the remaining reductions: buildings, transportation, and power plants.
MassDEP is not currently proposing to regulate buildings under § 3(d), which is understandable, because it would be nearly impossible to do so in a way that would comply with the SJC’s interpretation of § 3(d). MassDEP is planning to promulgate regulations for the transportation sector, but more than 75% of the reductions will come from regulations separate from § 3(d).
So what about power plants? MassDEP proposes both a Clean Energy Standard and a declining emission cap for fossil fuel generation facilities. The CES would not satisfy § 3(d) and is not being promulgated under § 3(d). The declining cap will be under § 3(d). Unfortunately, because the cap is limited to Massachusetts facilities, it does not play well with RGGI. In fact, while a facility could technically comply with both RGGI and with the proposed Massachusetts cap, the Massachusetts regulations would make RGGI functionally irrelevant in Massachusetts. I thought that the point of RGGI was to demonstrate the power and efficiency of interstate trading. What if facilities in Maryland can reduce emissions more efficiently than a Massachusetts facility? Too bad.
Finally, I take issue with the required annual declining cap. I recently came across this picture, which makes my point. We’re not going to solve climate change by 2.5% annual reductions in power plant emissions. The only way to comply with an annual 2.5% reduction is to keep burning gas, but burn less of it. On the other hand, the only way to solve climate change is to establish long-term goals that provide the incentive for research to develop disruptive technologies. Instead of 2.5%/year, the requirement should be something like 12.5% over five years, or 25% over ten.
The rules MassDEP plans to promulgate pursuant to § 3(d) would make almost no difference in GHG emissions. The one 3(d) rule that would do so would undermine the interstate trading benefits of RGGI. Section 3(d) is a side-show which is distracting from the hard work of really reducing GHG emissions.