By Aryan Rai
Boston University News Service
BOSTON — Climate change will become the existential threat to Massachusetts post-pandemic, requiring the state to commit federal dollars to the problem, according to state Sen. Jo Comerford.
“We are coming out of a pandemic that has disproportionately affected communities. And we now face an existential threat of climate change,” said Comerford, D-Northampton. “With federal dollars coming in, we have not only a moral but a pragmatic and fiscal responsibility to take action at this time.”
Comerford was responding to testimony last week before the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change where lawmakers heard Massachusetts has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2020 by approximately 28.6%.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides noted that a complete annual report is still due and will aim to incorporate the anomaly that was 2020. Doing so will help highlight the effect the pandemic had in curbing emissions.
“The pandemic really dampened economic and physical activities. It helped reduce emissions,” said Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington. “We reached the required limit because of that. We didn’t get there by the virtue of our climate action.”
Massachusetts exceeded a requirement to reduce carbon emissions to 25% below the baseline 1990 levels by 2020 under the Global Warming Solutions Act. It must aim to halve its 1990 emissions level by 2030, achieve at least a 75% reduction by 2040, and net-zero levels by 2050 under the climate roadmap policy.
According to the last complete report on annual emissions available from 2018, Massachusetts has seen the sharpest decline in the electricity consumption sector. The data also highlighted two sectors that are yet to see a significant decline in emissions and are now expected to be under the microscope as the state prepares to meet its long-term targets.
“Transportation and buildings are the largest emitters of carbon emissions in our economy,” Theoharides said. “More than 50% of all emissions that we need to cut comes from personal transportation and residential heating space.”
That effort can be helped by a total of $9.5 billion through the federal bipartisan infrastructure funds and additional money through competitive grants.
The funds will help offset many setbacks like the state’s recent withdrawal from the Transportation and Climate Initiative. The initiative was a collaborative effort between Massachusetts and its neighboring states to limit vehicular emissions and tax fuel distributors to generate funds to invest in energy-efficient projects.
The state will now rely on the allocated federal funds to meet the transportation emission targets.
Massachusetts will receive $63 million over five years to build an electric vehicle charging infrastructure and $2.2 billion will be provided to the MBTA that was initially expected to come out of the Transportation and Climate Initiative. An additional $18 million a year will be provided to fund carbon reduction programs related to transportation. Port electrification, biking lanes, zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles are other prospects that will benefit from these funds.
The only drawback is that the federal funds will not be sustainable for long-term plans. Theoharides pointed out that the state will have to find a regional alternative to generate funds. But for short-term usage, the funds are “significant.”
Massachusetts is also developing a new opt-in net-zero stretch code. It is a carefully designed building code that, if approved, will mandate energy-efficient alternatives with the ideal goal of complete electrification of buildings. The net-zero code is an option for municipalities willing to explore energy-efficient alternatives.
But at the same time, the code does not ban the usage of fossil fuels entirely – something lawmakers criticized as being “shortsighted.”
“We have already received home rule petitions from municipalities to require electric options for buildings and not allow fossil fuels. That tells us that it’s a popular option,” said Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton. “So, I am hoping that the code can be amended to make it a requirement rather than encourage usage of fossil fuels.”
The final draft of the plan, due on July 1, will include approved changes and sector-specific emission limits for the 2025 and 2030 targets. Theoharides assured that her team was “on schedule” to meet the deadline. The long-term plans and emission sub-limits for the 2050 target will be due on Jan. 1, 2023.
“We really need to aggressively move into each of these sectors,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton. “We need to take the tools out of the legislative toolbox and get to work.”