Governor Charlie Baker’s administration on Wednesday released a plan that will require the state to dramatically cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the next decade and beyond through a raft of changes, including by mandating that all new cars sold in the state be electric by 2035.
Among the changes the state plans over the next decade: retrofitting 1 million homes to use electricity for heating instead of gas and oil, cutting commuters’ driving miles by 15 percent, and dramatically increasing offshore wind power generation.
The state’s new legally binding commitment to reduce the state’s carbon emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 is among the most ambitious of such pledges by governments in the United States and the rest of the world. Achieving that milestone would put the state on track to reach “net zero” fossil-fuel emissions by 2050, a goal announced this year by Baker’s administration.
“The people of Massachusetts are experiencing record droughts, increased risk of wildfire, severe weather, and flooding in our coastal communities,” Baker said in a news release. “The costly impacts of climate change are on display in the Commonwealth, making it critical that we take action.”
Environmentalists and scientists on Wednesday widely praised the plan, though some felt it didn’t go far enough.
The state’s emissions fell to about 22 percent below 1990 levels this year, after a decade of investments in renewable energy and cutting coal-burning power plants, officials said. But to make another sizable dent in emissions and hit the state’s new goals, it will take dramatic changes to how many miles people drive, what types of cars they buy, and how they power and heat their homes and workplaces, officials said.
“We know that achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050 will require hard work and collaboration across all sectors of the economy,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. The new plan “establishes a blueprint that will help us achieve our climate goals in a way that is cost-effective and delivers significant benefits to residents across the Commonwealth, especially those in our most vulnerable communities.”
The state strove to balance its ambitious goals with the need to maintain a thriving economy and prevent residents’ living costs from ballooning, Theoharides said. The changes will benefit Massachusetts residents by improving air quality — leading to savings in health costs up to $100 million per year by 2030 — and through the creation of thousands of high-quality local jobs, officials said.
Baker’s administration was required to set the state’s emissions-reduction goal for the next decade as part of the Legislature’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. The act gives the governor authority to pursue many policy changes in its plan, but some would require legislative action. The administration will hear public comments on the plan in January and February.
To reach its goals, the state said it would continue its “landmark, nation-leading” clean energy and clean electricity transmission procurements including in offshore wind, hydropower, and solar energy. The state will work to significantly scale up its wind energy production; the plan relies on generating more than 15 times the current amount under contract, to produce 25 gigawatts by 2050.
The state also plans to support building electric-vehicle charging infrastructure over the next decade to facilitate the transition to those vehicles, as passenger vehicles are now responsible for 27 percent of statewide emissions. Officials acknowledged charging may be a challenge for people without dedicated parking spaces, so public charging stations will be crucial.
Massachusetts currently has about 30,000 electric vehicles on the roads, a number which may include hybrid vehicles, officials said. They set the goal of increasing that number to 750,000 by 2035, when all new “light-duty” vehicles, or passenger cars, sold will be mandated to be zero-emissions, meaning either electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars, which also run on electricity.
The policy change follows a similar move by California, which set the same deadline. Other countries, including many in Europe, have also announced phaseouts of gasoline-powered car purchases by 2030.
Massachusetts’ and California’s efforts will likely pave the way for many more states to follow suit, said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. His group found last year that low-income residents and Black, Latino, and Asian communities bear the brunt of air pollution and its related health impact in Massachusetts, and that pollution largely comes from vehicle traffic.
“When you get fossil fuels out of transportation and heating, you clean up the air,” Kimmell said. “That particularly benefits the most vulnerable populations.”
Kimmell praised the plan as rightfully ambitious, though he cautioned that achieving the goals will be difficult and said he wanted to see more details as to how it will be accomplished.
“It can be done and a decade is enough time to hit the targets, but it’s going to require a high level of governmental policy and investment and partnership with the private sector to achieve it,” Kimmell said.
However some environmental advocates said the administration had not gone far enough. Elizabeth Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the next decade is critical for climate action, and her organization had urged the administration to reach for a more aggressive interim target of 2030 emissions to be 50 percent below 1990 levels, rather than its chosen 45-percent goal.
“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, this is not bold enough,” Henry said. But she praised the administration’s roadmap overall, especially its centering of offshore wind “as a critical, low-cost workhorse in this clean energy transition.”
Meanwhile, the New England Power Generators Association cautioned that the electrical grid and existing power plants would need major investments and maintenance to sustain a broader expansion of electric power.
“Electric reliability becomes even more important as electrification becomes the engine of the new economy,” said Dan Dolan, the association’s president.
He also called for charging wholesale distributors for carbon emissions in electricity, transportation, and heating in a way that doesn’t dramatically raise consumers’ costs but still guides them toward making cleaner choices.
Massachusetts signed on to such an effort last week, along with Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., in an attempt to reduce transportation emissions, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative, which takes effect in 2023, sets a cap on vehicle pollution and requires fuel distributors to buy permits for any carbon dioxide they produce beyond the cap. States will then use those revenues to invest in more environmentally friendly transportation such as public transit, bike lanes, and electric car charging stations. The initiative is estimated to raise gas prices 5 to 9 cents a gallon, but could increase them as much as 13 to 24 cents, one study found.
All the state’s new initiatives are aimed at preventing some of the worst climate-change impacts in New England, including damage to coastal property, extreme temperatures, flooding, water quality, and freshwater fish supplies.
“This is a decade when we need to make these changes immediately,” Theoharides said.
Naomi Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.