Home general law What is the Global Warming Solutions Act in Massachusetts?

What is the Global Warming Solutions Act in Massachusetts?

muccilegal May 25, 2023

Massachusetts was one of the first states in the U.S. to enact climate change regulations. The state government enacted the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in 2008, at a time when a consensus about the urgent need to rapidly reduce global warming causing emissions was still gaining legitimacy. The state government has responded to pressure on it to strengthen the original regulations and expand them in the last few years at a time when ‘once in a century’ droughts, floods, fires and storms seem to be in the headlines every month somewhere in the world.

What was in the original legislation?

The Global Warming Solutions Act came into law in August 2008. With Connecticut, it was the first state to enact such comprehensive legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within specific time limits. The Act required the Executive office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) to establish emission targets across the state’s economy, including both private and government emitters.

The original reduction targets that were set by the legislation were for a reduction of statewide GHG emissions of between 10 and 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and a minimum of an 80 percent reduction of emissions from the 1990 level by 2050.

To achieve the reduction in emissions targeted at the time of the original legislation, the Act required the EOEEA to establish a way of measuring both actual annual emissions levels and types of emissions, but to also establish the baseline emissions in 1990 for reference. 1990 was used as the baseline year for the Act as it was also the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol, the earliest climate change agreement at a global level as well as the year used as a baseline by other state and international agreements.

The Act also required that projections of probable emissions if a business as usual (BAU) situation ensued. These calculations and projections were deemed needed if the amount of emissions needed to meet the Act’s emission targets were to be met.

Two advisory committees were set up initially by the EOEEA to advise the agency on strategies to reduce GHG emissions as required by the Act. These committees were the Green Economy Advisory Committee and the Climate Protection Advisory Committee.

The Green Communities Act

Energy efficiency initiatives

At the same time as the GWSA was signed off, a related piece of legislation also came into law. The Green Communities Act (GCA) was enacted in August 2008 to complement the GWSA. The GCA was aimed at stimulating the expansion of energy efficiency strategies, removing any barriers to introducing renewable and increasing emphasis on the development of new renewable in the state. The Green Communities program, an initiative of the GCA was established to provide state municipalities with opportunities to increase energy efficiency and develop locally based renewable energy initiatives.

How successful was the GWSA by 2020?

The original target set by the GWSA was a reduction of the baseline 1990 emissions figures by between 15 and 25 per cent by 2020. In 2018, 10 years after the GWSA was legislated, a review by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) estimated that there had already been a 22% reduction in state wide emissions. By 2022 (last year), that figure was revised again to cover the emissions reductions estimated by 2020 of 33% below the 1990 baseline level.

An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy

Offshore wind generation to increase in MA

Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker, signed into law a sweeping update of the GWSA in March 2021. This followed international agitation for more attention to climate change action as exemplified by the Paris Agreement in 2015. Also, the political environment at the federal level in the U.S. had become more sensitive to addressing climate change policy targets.

The “Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” addressed hundreds of changes that the state government decided were necessary to accelerate global warming reduction initiatives statewide. These included:

  • A target of ‘net zero’ by 2050. Net zero in climate change parlance means that only enough emissions can be emitted to balance those removed. Current technology is not yet sophisticated enough to have a substantial effect on removing GHGs, so effectively this target means reducing GHG emissions to zero by 2050.
  • A target of 50% lower emissions by 2030 from the 1990 level and 75% lower by 2040.
  • Legally binding targets for emission reductions every 5 years by high priority state sectors, including commercial and industrial buildings, industrial processes, residential buildings, natural gas distribution, transportation and electricity.
  • New building codes to help municipalities encourage the implementation of net zero building standards. These are meant to be more effective at emissions reductions than existing codes for energy efficiencies.
  • An increase in offshore wind generation to 5,600 MW.
  • Targets for electricity utilities to generate more power every year from renewable. The target has been set as 3% increase in renewable each year.
  • Encouragement for non electricity utilities like natural gas to become more creative about how they procure their energy products, i.e. wean them off GHG emitting products and substitute them for net zero alternatives.
  • Require MLPs (municipally owned light plants) to set targets for emissions reductions by substituting energy supplies from fossil fuels by renewables.
  • Encourage the uptake of EVs and set targets for the establishment of EV charging stations to reduce ‘range anxiety’.
  • Develop ways of increasing the use of solar technology and uptake of solar panels.
  • Increase funding for training of technicians needed for the transition to renewable energy provision.

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