Massachusetts Sets Targets to Slash Carbon Emissions

 

Massachusetts officials on Wednesday announced a plan to curb heat-trapping gases emitted by homes, cars and businesses in the state by 25 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade.

Chitose Suzuki/Associated Press

Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs, at a meeting in Boston in 2007.

The targets set by the plan are the highest allowed under climate legislation passed by the state in 2008 and among the most stringent in the nation, placing Massachusetts in the company of California, New Mexico and other states that have taken strong action to address global warming.

Unlike California’s plan, however, which sets industry-by-industry regulations to achieve its mandated cutbacks, the Massachusetts plan relies largely on existing programs, like renewable-energy mandates, energy-efficiency standards for building construction and curbs in the electricity sector that are already in place under a multistate agreement known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In announcing the new measure, Ian A. Bowles, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said most of the planned emissions cuts would result in net gains in jobs statewide. The plan, he added, shows that a state can change its energy profile with minimal economic impact and “puts the lie to the Chicken Little-oriented debate on the national scene” that equates reduction of emissions with job loss and economic disruption.

“People who have studied this find you can get your first 20-30 percent of greenhouse-gas cuts without making significant economic trade-offs,” he said.

Debra Boronski, president of the Massachusetts Chamber of Business and Industry, said she was not so sure of Mr. Bowles’s contention, particularly when it came to switching from conventional fuels — like the natural gas that powers much of the state’s electricity grid — to renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power.

“Our biggest concern — even though it is right to conserve energy — is that alternative resources have to be cost-effective,” Ms. Boronski said, adding, “As far as we know, in Massachusetts, research has shown that alternative energy is more expensive.”

Data released by state officials on Wednesday indicate that more than one-third of the total greenhouse-gas emissions in Massachusetts — 33 million metric tons in 2007 — come from the transportation sector. As part of the plan, Mr. Bowles said, the state will start a pilot program giving drivers an incentive to cut back on unnecessary travel by linking car-insurance premiums to miles driven — a “Pay As You Drive” program.

Congress has authorized $15 million in federal Transportation Department grants for such programs, money that could be used to ensure that lower-income drivers do not suffer an unequal burden.

Massachusetts is one of 10 states already participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system for electric utilities. Under the plan, some emissions cuts are also expected to come if Massachusetts copies the stricter fuel efficiency standards it assumes that California will adopt.

Other possible routes to achieving the mandated cuts, Mr. Bowles said, include importing more hydropowered electricity from Quebec and improving the efficiency of home heating by finding economic incentives for homeowners to replace oil-fueled furnaces with new, more efficient models.

By FELICITY BARRINGER/NYT
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