Massachusetts high court backs state’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions

Source: By Robert Walton, Utility Dive • Posted: Friday, September 7, 2018

  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday the state can enforce declining greenhouse gas emissions described in a 2008 law, handing climate activists what they called an “unqualified win” for the state’s environmental goals.
  • Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) a decade ago, requiring at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. A group of generators sued the state last year, arguing the act’s cap on emissions was unlawful and would increase rather than decrease statewide emissions.
  • The Department of Environmental Protection had directed power plants in Massachusetts to reduce carbon emissions from 9.1 million metric tons this year to less than 2 million metric tons in 2050. The court’s Sept. 4 decision affirms the DEP has the authority to set these limits.

While President Trump has blocked implementation of the Clean Power Plan, and proposed to replace it with a less aggressive rule to address carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, individual states continue to pursue their own climate goals. Similarly, efforts to hamper energy efficiency regulations at the federal level are being countered by development of new state standards.

The New England Power Generators Association and GenOn Energy argued that key provisions of the GWSA didn’t apply to electric generators because they were already regulated by another provision. But the court rejected that idea and others, flatly telling the parties, “We conclude that none of these arguments [are] meritorious and, accordingly, uphold the Cap Regulation.”

“The Court’s opinion is a resounding call for the electricity sector to offer climate solutions rather than resistance and roadblocks,” Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell said in a statement.

While the GWSA continues to guide Massachusetts energy policy, the state is considering ratcheting up its clean energy goals. Earlier this summer, the state Senate approved a package of energy bills including provisions that would set a 100% renewable energy standard by 2047. Among other measures, the bill would also remove the state’s net metering caps and increase the state’s energy storage mandate to 2 GW by 2025.

A spokesman for the state’s generators told The Republican that capping emissions from Massachusets sources would not have the desired effect, in the end.

“With Massachusetts plants having their operations limited by this regulation, less efficient plants out of state will be dispatched to make up the difference,” New England Power Generators Association President Dan Dolan told the paper.