HEARING EXPOSES TENSION OVER CLIMATE POLICY PACE
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, SEPT. 23, 2019.....Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides told a Senate oversight committee Monday it could expect the early framework for a multi-state pact to reduce carbon emissions from transportation sources by early October, ahead of a legislative summit at Yale.
The update came during a tense hearing where Sen. Michael Barrett, of Lexington, complained about the administration's "infatuation with planning" and Sen. Marc Pacheco urged Gov. Charlie Baker to use his position to push for more aggressive climate action.
The criticism had less to do with the Transportation Climate Initiative and more to do with the frustration felt by leading climate activists and legislators with the pace of activity on Beacon Hill. Earlier in the day, Pacheco gave a speech on the floor of the Senate warning about the dangers of waiting too long to set more aggressive state emission reduction goals.
Theoharides, who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker in April, is helping to lead a 12-state effort to develop a regional "cap-and-invest" program similar to the one Massachusetts and other states on the East Coast developed to curb power plant emissions.
The goal of the so-called Transportation Climate Initiative is to cap emissions from vehicles and other transportation sources, and use the money derived from the sale of credits for excess emissions to invest in low-carbon transportation infrastructure.
Theoharides said the leadership team of the TCI meets monthly, and gathered last week in Monpellier, Vermont. The framework released in early October will be turned into a memorandum of understanding by November with the goal of states being able to sign a finalized agreement by December.
Pacheco said it was encouraging that the framework would be released before the Council of State Governments hosts a summit at Yale University at the end of October where the TCI will be one of the topics.
Theoharides, who is planning to attend the CSG summit in Connecticut, said a "high degree of flexibility is being built into the program for how states can spend the money," which is where state legislators will play a big role.
The hearing, however, pivoted away from the climate initiative and toward the state's carbon emission reduction requirements, which both Pacheco and Barrett, the chair and vice-chair of the committee, believe need updating.
The administration has hired a consultant to study what policies would be required for the state to reach its statutory requirement of an 80 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050, as well as what it would take to get to net-zero emissions.
The "roadmap" with the different options will come out in the summer of 2020, Theoharides said, followed by the administration's clean energy and climate plan required by December 2020.
Barrett voiced frustration that the administration would not be committing itself to a plan before the 2020 elections to allow candidates for the state legislature to have a debate about the state's climate policy.
Holding up a copy of the 2018 Comprehensive Energy Plan published by the Department of Energy Resources, Barrett described it as 165-pages with "not a single discernable plan." He said he wanted to know, for example, what the administration's plan was to convert 2.4 million privately-owned, gas-powered vehicles to electric.
"Your leadership on TCI is crucial and it's also gutsy, and I appreciate that. Still, this endless infatuation with planning and scenario building is frustrating," Barrett said.
"At some point, scenarios become a dodge," Barrett said.
SHNS Audio: Full oversight hearing
Theoharides pushed back on the criticism, defending the planning exercises as important to developing good policy. She also said the administration has backed plenty of specific clean energy policies for the Legislature to debate as it waits for the formal plan to meet the state's emission reduction requirements.
"It terms of debate around policy choices, we're putting up things like TCI and MOR-EV. I don't think they're dependent on being in the plan," Theoharides said.
Theoharides also updated the committee on the latest offshore wind procurement, which drew three bidders - Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind and Mayflower Wind - for 1,600 megawatts of additional offshore wind power.
At a time when the U.S. Department of Interior has delayed permitting of the state's first offshore wind project for further study, the administration and utilities are expected to pick a winning bidder for the state's second offshore wind contract by Nov. 8.
Pacheco said he was concerned the federal delays would scare off bidders, or lead to less competitive pricing.
"We were pleased with the number of bids that came in and they are a competitive range of options for us to review," Theoharides said.
"Pleased and competitive. That's good. That's what I was hoping to hear," Pacheco replied.
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