A top state environmental official pledged Tuesday swift action to comply with a court order to develop specific regulations to cut carbon emissions by 2020.
“We recognize our work must begin immediately,” said Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, at a hearing before the state Senate’s Global Warming and Climate Change Committee. “We expect to make substantial progress in 2016 and 2017.”
In a decision hailed by environmental groups, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that the state had failed to comply with the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
The law requires the state issue regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter below 1990s levels over the next four years.
But exactly how the DEP will proceed with complying with the ruling won’t be determined until an advisory committee is set up this month to develop a strategy, Suuberg said.
“We will be developing a more detailed schedule of actions,’’ Suuberg said.
The ruling required the state to develop regulations that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions annually. The law also requires the state to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The decision was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that claimed both the Baker and Patrick administrations had not done enough to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
The state currently uses a number of methods to curb emissions, including tax incentives and promoting electric vehicles. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide are emitted from power plants, vehicles, and other sources.
Tuesday’s hearing was an attempt by a key Senate committee to determine how state environmental officials will implement the ruling.
Senator Marc R. Pacheco, the Taunton Democrat who chairs the committee, said the decision has created renewed urgency for the state to develop emissions regulations.
“The court indicated that we need to get going,” Pacheco said.
Senator Michael J. Barrett, a Democrat from Lexington, said the ruling has given the state the green light to use “any tool in the toolbox” to enforce the emissions regulations.
For nearly an hour, senators urged Suuberg to consider a range of options, including the controversial practice of “carbon pricing,” or charging companies when they pollute the air with carbon.
“It may not be the perfect way to do it, but it is a way in which you could move forward,” Pacheco said.
He also suggested DEP look into tracking the percentage of greenhouse gases used by the state for fuels.
Suuberg said that the DEP legal and technical staff are still reviewing the court decision.
“We are in the early innings,” said Suuberg in a phrase he repeated often during nearly an hour of questioning by the committee. “We intend to be transparent in our approach. We will make sure we are consulting with the many stakeholders who have an interest in these efforts.”