MASSACHUSETTS HAS A LONG HISTORY of leading the nation through innovative programs and establishing tough standards that improve public health and environmental protection. From some of the nation’s earliest innovative hazardous waste cleanup programs to requiring innovative technologies to reduce emissions, protecting our air and natural resources has always been a source of pride in the Bay State.
But after a cold, bitter winter in which New England relied heavily on dirtier coal and oil, our heritage of environmental leadership is being challenged – and our path forward is in doubt. As several recent Boston Globe editorials and Commonwealth pieces aptly underscore, an energy policy that results in in increased air pollution and reliance on oil, while limiting access to cleaner and affordable natural gas, is having major unintended consequences, including higher costs.
The Obama Administration saw this storm brewing – and understood the seemingly intractable challenge of reducing emissions while also keeping the lights on and heating our homes and businesses. Their answer was the Clean Power Plan. Led by two homegrown Massachusetts leaders—then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz—the plan called for increasing renewable energy sources, enacting tough emission standards for power generators that would lead to less reliance on coal and oil, and increasing research and development in energy storage and renewable energy technologies. In general terms, the Clean Power Plan effectively balanced stable and reliable energy and cost effectiveness with reducing air pollution and support for next generation energy production technologies and storage.
The Obama Administration also recognized the key role that natural gas had already played in reducing emissions. President Obama himself said in the 2014 State of the Union that natural gas could safely “power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change” as we move toward a renewable energy future. Indeed, this approach is precisely why carbon emissions from electric generating stations in Massachusetts plummeted from 1990 to 2014, even as energy consumption increased.
Now, the current EPA Administrator is dismantling clean air and public health protections by rolling back the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards.
Even still, the Legislature should use the Clean Power Plan as a template for establishing a framework that supports regional collaboration with the goal of continued greenhouse gas reductions. The Commonwealth has a strong tradition of collaboration and cooperation regionally – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, where northeast states banded together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Ozone Transport Commission, which brought together states from Virginia to Maine to reduce harmful air pollutants and pollution being blown in from uncontrolled power plants upwind. Both the gas and ozone initiatives demonstrated that regional cooperation can reduce emissions and improve public health.
But it starts with us. The time has come to ensure a clean and reliable energy supply in the northeast, with more stable and predictable pricing. With an “all of the above” strategy that encourages additional renewable energy sources, embraces research and development, ensures a reliable energy grid, and establishes tough emission standards, the result will be less oil and coal being burned throughout the region – and cleaner air.
By building on the Commonwealth’s inherent strengths of innovation and environmental leadership, we can continue to lead on climate change and provide a cleaner and more stable regional energy grid we all need for the future.
Robert Golledge Jr. is an environmental consultant, a former country director for the Peace Corps in Ghana, and former secretary of environmental affairs and commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for the Commonwealth.