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Healey taps Melissa Hoffer of the EPA to serve as state’s first climate chief

Governor-elect Maura Healey is seen during a press conference following a meeting with Governor Charlie Baker at the State House.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Governor-elect Maura Healey has named Melissa Hoffer, currently the principal deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency, as the state’s first-ever Cabinet-level climate chief.

According to the Healey administration, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to create such a position. In this role, Hoffer will be responsible for monitoring the progress on climate work across agencies and for centering the climate crisis in all aspects of the administration’s work.

“Melissa Hoffer is unstoppable. I’m thrilled to welcome her back to Massachusetts as our first ever Climate Chief,” Healey said in a press release.

Hoffer will step into this role at a time when experts say governments must move with urgency to slash planet-warming emissions and address the climate crisis. By the end of this decade, both state law and science dictate that Massachusetts slash emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels, en route to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Doing so will require rapidly scaling up the pace and scope of the current response to climate change, work that Hoffer will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating.

Climate advocates and legislators say she’ll be starting with a full slate of challenges. Those include the nationwide competition for billions of dollars of federal grants for climate response; the need to dramatically scale down fossil fuels in the state; and a rapid scaling-up of the electrification of vehicles and homes, including the implementation of a new pilot program allowing 10 cities and towns to ban fossil fuels in new construction.

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Prior to her current appointment in the Biden administration’s EPA, Hoffer worked under Healey at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, serving as the chief of the Energy and Environment Bureau. At the attorney general’s office she led the litigation against ExxonMobil for its deceptive portrayal of the risks that climate change posed to Exxon’s business and global financial markets, as well as the impacts of fossil fuels on climate change.

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“The climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges we face, but it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for us to build a better, healthier, more equitable future,” Hoffer said in a press release. “Climate change is not just an environmental issue — it’s a public health issue, an energy security issue, an issue inextricably linked with emergency preparedness, land use, agriculture, workforce development, clean tech innovation, transportation, housing, education, and more.”

20HealeyClimate - Melissa Hoffer (right) with former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy (left) at the National Association of Attorneys General Eastern Region Meeting in Boston on September 27, 2019. (Attorney General Maura Healey's office) Attorney General Maura Healey's office

State Senator Michael Barrett, one of the lead authors of Massachusetts’ 2021 and 2022 climate laws, applauded the Hoffer pick, while noting that she will face numerous challenges, including the delays in the deployment of offshore wind, supply chain issues with the availability of electric vehicles, and the high costs of getting heat pumps into homes, which will probably require additional subsidies.

“At every turn, there are questions to confront,” Barrett said. “None of them are insuperable, but all of them mean real work. Melissa Hoffer is going to have a lot on her shoulders.”

Logan Malik, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, said he is hoping to see a change in approach to new and existing fossil fuel infrastructure projects. In recent years, despite the adoption of progressive climate laws, the state has continued to support plans for fossil fuel projects including a gas- and diesel-fired power plant in Peabody and a gas compressor station in Weymouth. It is now considering a new gas pipeline in Springfield.

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“We have only a few years, really, to ensure that we are on track to meet our climate goals,” Malik said. “And in many ways, we’re still going in the opposite direction. We’re still allowing new fossil fuel to be connected to new buildings, and we’re still developing new oil and gas projects and new pipelines.”

During her gubernatorial campaign, Healey pledged to create the Cabinet-level climate chief. Her climate plan also set goals of achieving 100 percent clean electricity supply by 2030 and electrifying public transportation with clean power by 2040. In announcing Hoffer’s appointment, the Healey administration reiterated those goals.

Casey Katims, who worked with Hoffer at the EPA, said she was a natural choice for the role. “Melissa comes from Massachusetts and has a long record of leadership for the people of Massachusetts,” he said.

Katims, who is now the executive director of the US Climate Alliance, a bipartisan collective of governors committed to fighting the climate crisis, said the decision to create the position signaled a high level of ambition by the Healey administration to take on the crisis.

Hoffer’s work as climate chief will have some similarities to what she did in the Biden administration, according to Gina McCarthy, who stepped down this fall from her position as the first White House national climate advisor. At the EPA, Hoffer used her legal and policy background to track what the agencies were doing and how EPA could use its authorities to get the best available technologies to address climate change.

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Hoffer, for instance, worked with the US Post Office on a push to electrify more of its fleet, McCarthy said.

The need to work across agencies will be particularly acute now, as the state drives toward its climate goals, McCarthy said.

“It’s important that climate be understood as a whole-of-government issue,” said McCarthy. “It is not just about what happens at [the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs]. It’s about what happens in all decision making in every sector, like transportation, and housing.”

Prior to her work at the attorney general’s office, Hoffer worked at the Conservation Law Foundation and was an environmental lawyer at WilmerHale. According to a press release, in her spare time, Hoffer raises a small herd of Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats at her farm in Barre, Mass.

Seth Kaplan, who is now the director of government and regulatory affairs at Ocean Winds, said that he and Hoffer worked together during her time at CLF. When they were hiring her to the organization, Kaplan said, she was “a guitar-playing Hampshire College graduate who owns a small herd of goats and was a partner at a big downtown Boston law firm.” She was complicated, he said, and guided by a strong moral compass.

In the wake of Monday’s announcement, Joseph Curtatone, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, a business association for clean energy stakeholders in the region, said he hopes that other states follow suit. “Every state should have a climate chief,” he said.

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Sabrina Shankman can be reached at sabrina.shankman@globe.com. Follow her @shankman.