Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy
On March 26, 2021, Massachusetts Governor Baker signed legislation, “An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” (“the Act”). 1 The Act amends the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and directs state agencies to set interim economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limits, as well as sector-based emissions sublimits for certain sectors, every five years. It codifies the state’s long-term emissions limit of net-zero emissions by 2050 and directs the adoption of a 2030 emissions limit of “at least 50 percent below 1990 levels” and a 2040 emissions limit of “at least 75 percent below 1990 levels.” The Act also increases Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirements, directs the creation of a municipal opt-in energy building code, addresses environmental justice protections, and directs the procurement of an additional 2,400 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2027.
The Act defines “environmental justice populations” and other key terms and includes several provisions intended to increase environmental justice protections. When evaluating proposed projects that are in proximity to, or are anticipated to affect, such populations, the Act requires state agencies to prepare environmental impact assessments and take additional public participation measures.
The Act expands the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review process to require EEA (Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs) to prepare a state environmental impact report for any project that is “likely to cause damage to the environment and is located within a distance of one mile of an environmental justice population.”
For projects that impact air quality, environmental impact reports are required “if the project is likely to cause damage to the environment and is located within a distance of five miles of an environmental justice population.” If EEA’s environmental impact report determines that an environmental justice population is subject to “an existing unfair or inequitable environmental burden or related health consequence,” the report must identify “any: (i) environmental and public health impact from the proposed project that would likely result in a disproportionate adverse effect on such population; and (ii) potential impact or consequence from the proposed project that would increase or reduce the effects of climate change on the environmental justice population.” If EEA determines that a proposed project is significant and will impact an environmental justice population, EEA must take additional public participation measures specified in the Act. The Act also directs EEA to consider “environmental justice principles,” as defined in the Act, in making any policy or decisions on projects under review, in order to reduce unfair or inequitable impacts to environmental justice populations. Additionally, EEA must “establish standards and guidelines for the implementation, administration and periodic review of environmental justice principles” used by state agencies.
Environmental Justice Council The Act also establishes an environmental justice council. The Governor will appoint nine to 15 members to the council to provide recommendations on policies and standards to meet environmental justice principles. By July 31, 2022, and every five years thereafter, the council must evaluate and analyze the definition of an “environmental justice population” and provide advice and policy recommendations to EEA when needed, to ensure the objectives of the state’s environmental justice principles, as defined in the Act, are being met.
Policy summary courtesy of: M.J. Bradley & Associates
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