Supreme Judicial Court upholds MassDEP’s right to cap carbon emissions from power plants to fight climate change
A spokesman for the region's power plants on Tuesday expressed disappointment, cited issues of fairness, and suggested the cap regulation would give an economic edge to dirtier, out-of-state plants. "As went unrefuted throughout the case, with Massachusetts plants having their operations limited by this regulation, less efficient plants out of state will be dispatched to make up the difference," said Dan Dolan, president of New England Power Generators Association.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld the state’s authority to mandate aggregate, declining greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to comply with a 2008 climate change law.
“Its name bespeaks its ambitions,” wrote Justice Scott L. Kafker for the court. “The Global Warming Solutions Act … was passed to address the grave threats that climate change poses to the health, economy, and natural resources of the Commonwealth.”
A coalition of electricity generators panned the decision, while the Conservation Law Foundation proclaimed “an unqualified win for climate leadership in Massachusetts.”
The New England Power Generators Association and GenOn Energy, Inc. in 2017 sued the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, contending that it acted unlawfully in establishing a “cap regulation” for in-state power plants.
MassDEP had told the power sector to reduce its total carbon dioxide output from 9.1 metric tons in 2018 to 1.8 metric tons in 2050.
The cap regulation stemmed from a landmark 2016 case where teenagers sued MassDEP for its failure to comply with the state’s climate law. Gov. Charlie Baker subsequently ordered the agency to create new regulations for “volumetric reductions” across all economic sectors.
In the case before the SJC, which originated in Superior Court, power plants argued that they are already regulated under a separate law. They asserted that MassDEP overstepped its authority, that a cap would actually increase emissions, and that a “sunset provision” of the law prohibits such regulation after 2020.
The seven justices said that the plaintiffs hadn’t made their case.
“We conclude that none of these arguments is meritorious and, accordingly, uphold the Cap Regulation,” the decision reads.
A spokesman for the region’s power plants on Tuesday expressed disappointment, cited issues of fairness, and suggested the cap regulation would give an economic edge to dirtier, out-of-state plants.
“As went unrefuted throughout the case, with Massachusetts plants having their operations limited by this regulation, less efficient plants out of state will be dispatched to make up the difference,” said Dan Dolan, president of New England Power Generators Association.
Dolan said Massachusetts power plants are proud of having cut carbon emissions by nearly 60 percent since 1990. He said transportation is a much bigger culprit when it comes to climate change, and remains largely unregulated.
“We’re committed to continuing to do our share in meeting our environmental responsibilities, but it is now past time for Massachusetts to engage other sectors, as will be necessary to meet the economy-wide legal mandates,” Dolan remarked.
Conservation Law Foundation president Bradley Campbell offered a different perspective.
“Carbon pollution poses a major threat to our environment, our health, and our economy, and the Court’s opinion is a resounding call for the electricity sector to offer climate solutions rather than resistance and roadblocks,” said Campbell. “CLF is pushing for strong climate laws and mandatory emissions reductions in every New England state.”
The foundation had submitted briefs in support of MassDEP, and fought for the original 2008 climate law. The Global Warming Solutions Act requires that by 2050, in-state greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels.
The cap regulation is separate from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, which is a multi-state, market-based cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions from power plants. It is also separate from the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
MassDEP spokesman Ed Coletta said the Baker administration “remains committed to ensuring Massachusetts residents and business are provided with reliable, cost-effective clean energy while reducing carbon emissions,” and is pleased with the court decision.
The administration “looks forward to continuing statewide and regional efforts to implement a diverse energy portfolio, ensure environmental protection standards are met, and maintain system reliability across Massachusetts and New England,” Coletta said.
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