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Logan Airport drafts climate change plan

Targets energy use, emissions; aims to protect against sea rise

Logan Airport officials plan to curb energy consumption, cut emissions, and spend millions to protect runways from rising seas.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

In a major effort to address climate change, officials at Logan International Airport plan to make significant cuts to carbon emissions, curb energy consumption, and spend millions of dollars to protect runways and terminals from rising seas.

Airport officials said their plan makes Logan among the nation's first major airports to take substantial action to confront its contribution and vulnerability to climate change.

While environmental advocates praised the plan, they said much more is needed to offset the massive amount of greenhouse gases Logan produces and urged even more ambitious goals. They also questioned how Logan intends to meet its goals; officials could not provide specifics.


The airport plans to cut its carbon emissions 40 percent and energy consumption by 25 percent below 2012 levels by 2020. Officials also plan to curb the amount of waste produced by passengers by 2 percent every year by 2030, reduce water use by 1 percent every year over the next 10 years, and increase the recycling rate by 60 percent by the end of the decade.

With sea levels expected to rise 2 feet to 6 feet by the end of the century — and as much as an additional 5 feet during the heaviest storms — airport officials plan to spend $9 million over the next five years on flood doors and barriers, coastal management, and portable pumps to keep the airport running in the event of a major storm surge. Within 10 years, they plan to spend millions more to move all critical equipment and upgrade systems to be able to withstand the worst storms.

"I think this is a full agenda," said Thomas P. Glynn, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan. "I think we have the wind at our back and a sense of momentum working on these issues."


He and other airport officials said Logan, which last year received a record 31.6 million passengers, has already managed to reduce flights while increasing the number of passengers. Logan now has an average of 1,100 flights a day, down from 1,500 in 2000, the result of airlines becoming more efficient. Flights are now often more than 80 percent full; 15 years ago, the average flight was more than half empty.

Logan has doubled its use of solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy sources since 2012, though they still contribute a small amount to the airport's overall energy use.

Officials also cite Logan's new rental car center, which is among many newly built or renovated buildings, nearly all of which have incorporated environmentally friendly improvements, they said. The rental car center, for example, has cut the number of shuttle bus trips from 100 per hour to 30 per hour, and the fleet of 50 buses are powered by either hybrid engines or natural gas.

As a result, the airport has cut its carbon emissions by 8 percent since 2002, while the number of passengers has increased by 39 percent over the same period and the amount of airport building space has increased by 40 percent since 2004, they said.

Environmental advocates said Logan's plan should be a model for other airports. But they said it doesn't go far enough and questioned how the airport would meet its goals.

"They need to be more aggressive on their climate change goals," said Jack Clarke, director of public policy at Mass Audubon, the oldest conservation group in New England.


He noted that Logan's plans for cutting carbon emissions use 2012 as a benchmark, rather than the lower levels from 1990, which is what the state's Global Warming Solutions Act uses as its threshold for reducing emissions.

Logan officials said they chose 2012 as an emissions benchmark because that was the first year they could gather all the information they needed.

Clarke also wondered how Logan would reduce its emissions by 80 percent by 2050, which the airport's 40-page plan doesn't answer. Neither the report, financed by a $1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, nor officials could say how the airport would meet its goals.

"They would need to eliminate many more tons of carbon, if they went back to 1990 levels," Clarke said.

Logan officials also acknowledge that their carbon emissions have actually increased since 2012, according to their most recent data. In 2013, the airport emitted more than 1.3 billion pounds of carbon dioxide — 66 million pounds, or 5.3 percent, more than in 2012.

Logan officials also can do little to reduce the emissions of aircraft. However, they said in recent years they have urged airlines to taxi using a single engine or by being towed by ground vehicles. The airport also now provides electrical power to aircraft parked at gates, so planes can avoid burning fuel while passengers board.

Other environmental advocates said Logan should make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to get to the airport and do more to increase the composting of organic waste. But they mostly praised Logan's plans.


"Logan is clearly moving in the right direction," said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts

He and others urged Logan to provide better data about how it compares with other airports. They called on airport officials to include more community members, such as neighbors and environmental advocates, as they update their plans to address climate change.

Logan officials said they did not have any recent data to compare its energy consumption or carbon emissions with other airports.

Mary Ellen Welch, a neighbor and founder of Airport Impact Relief in East Boston, said she would like to see Logan plant more trees and expand green areas to offset its pollution and create more of a buffer between the tarmacs and her neighborhood. She also called on Logan to help neighbors in the area prepare their homes for future storm surges.

"There's a lot more they can do," Welch said. "As a good neighbor, they should put their resources with ours to help us to assess our vulnerability."

Brenda Enos, one of the authors of the report and assistant director of capital and environmental programs at Massport, said the airport is in the initial phase of becoming more environmentally friendly.

"This report, for the first time ever, sets key performance indicators that have to be reported every year," she said. "For the first time, we have actual goals and measurements against those metrics. I think it holds our feet to the fire."


David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.