Massachusetts takes on leadership role with new greenhouse gas-cutting regulations

Clean energy purchases projected to reach 80 percent by 2050.

The Brayton Point power plant in Massachusetts was one of New England's last coal-fired power plants. It officially went offline on June 1, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt O'Brien
The Brayton Point power plant in Massachusetts was one of New England's last coal-fired power plants. It officially went offline on June 1, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt O'Brien

Massachusetts regulators rolled out new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources, putting the state one step closer to meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals within the next few years.

The regulations, announced on Friday, include clean energy requirements for utilities, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generating plants, and cuts in methane emissions from natural gas distribution systems in the state. The new climate rules also also require declining emission limits for passenger vehicles owned and leased by state government executive offices.


The regulations are aimed to allow Massachusetts to meet legislatively mandated greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 and then larger reductions in the future. The new regulations take effect on January 1, 2018.

The regulations came in response to a 2014 lawsuit by the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group that argued the state failed to develop policies needed to comply with the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. The state launched a review and held public hearings following a landmark May 2016 ruling by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court that sided with the environmental group, saying the state was not doing enough to meet greenhouse gas limits.

“These rules re-establish the Commonwealth as a national leader in developing sensible, enforceable standards to transition our economy to a low-carbon future,” Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell said in a statement Friday. “Much more needs to be done, and Governor [Charlie] Baker’s leadership will be essential to getting neighboring states to take meaningful action to prepare New England for the energy future being shaped by the Paris climate agreement.”

The rules are likely to increase customers’ electricity bills by no more than 2 percent a year, with the increases in monthly bills expected to fall off as more renewable energy sources come on line in the next decade, the state said.


Two of the rules published Friday address carbon emissions from power plants. One sets a minimum percentage of electricity sales that utilities and competitive suppliers must purchase from clean energy sources. The percentage begins at 16 percent in 2018 and increases 2 percent annually to 80 percent in 2050.

The other rule establishes an allowance trading program for carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. It sets a sector-wide, annually declining limit on aggregate CO2 emissions from 21 large fossil fuel-fired power plants in Massachusetts, from 8.96 million metric tons of CO2 in 2018 down to 1.8 million metric tons in 2050. Massachusetts is already a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program encompassing nine Northeastern states.

This new state program would set more aggressive emissions-reducing targets than RGGI uses. Since RGGI was created in 2009 to cut utility-sector carbon emissions, the states in the regional compact have cut their carbon emissions from electric generation by 37 percent and reduced electricity prices by 3.4 percent. At the same time, the state’s economies have grown 3.6 percent faster than states outside the compact, according to a study by the clean energy nonprofit Acadia Center.