March 31, 2021

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Signs Comprehensive Climate Change Legislation

Holland & Knight Energy and Natural Resources Blog
Mark C. Kalpin | Dianne R. Phillips | Maria de la Motte
wind turbine and solar panel

On March 26, 2021, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy (the Act), into law, cementing the Commonwealth's status as a leader in taking action to address climate change.

While the Act largely is consistent with the framework established in the Baker-Polito Administration's Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap (the Roadmap) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) for 2030, it nevertheless will require a number of significant modifications to be made to each of those documents. For background information on the Roadmap and the CECP, see the authors' earlier blog post, The Road to Net Zero is Paved With Numerous Policy Initiatives (Jan. 22, 2021).

This post provides a brief introductory overview of the Act, the highlights of which include:

  • The Commonwealth will be required to achieve Net Zero by 2050, with interim reduction limits in 2030 (at least a 50 percent reduction from 1990 levels) and 2040 (at least a 75 percent reduction from 1990 levels). The 2050 Net Zero limit requires at least an 85 percent reduction from 1990 levels.
  • The Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (the Secretary) will be required to report to the legislature on compliance with the established limits within 18 months after each deadline.
  • Sector sub-limits will be established for electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes and natural gas distribution and service.
  • The Secretary will be required to issue regulations on all sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gases (GHG) in order to achieve required emission limits in an equitable manner that protects low- and moderate-income individuals and environmental justice (EJ) communities.
  • The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) will adopt a voluntary municipal specialized stretch energy code that includes a definition of a net-zero building to be developed within 18 months of the Act's passage.
  • GHG standards are established for municipal light plants (50 percent non-carbon emitting energy by 2030, 75 percent non-carbon emitting energy by 2040 and energy sales achieving net zero GHG emissions by 2050).
  • The Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) process will be reformed to require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for projects with more than insignificant impact that are located near EJ populations, which must include an analysis of existing unfair or inequitable environmental burdens and related public health consequences. This marks the first time the agency will be required to evaluate the cumulative effects of historic pollution and not just individual project impacts during the permitting process.
  • An Environmental Justice Council will be established to advise the Secretary of relevant policies and standards to achieve environmental justice principles.
  • Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) membership will be expanded to include experts in commercial building energy efficiency, residential building energy efficiency and advanced building technology.
  • There will be the adoption and publication of interim CECPs for 2030, 2035, 2040, 2045, and 2050. A new 2050 Roadmap with initial sector sub-limits will be published and adopted by Jan. 1, 2023, with updates and revisions in each subsequent five-year CECP.
  • The legislation also establishes new energy efficiency requirements for various commercial and residential appliances.

Massachusetts-based members of Holland & Knight's Energy & Environment Team, a multidisciplinary team of lawyers and professionals who are well informed on emerging environmental issues, will continue to monitor these developments as they progress. The Energy and Natural Resources Blog will publish additional articles exploring the Act's implications in greater depth. For questions about this article or for legal counsel about a specific situation involving your organization, please contact the authors.

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