With new climate plan, AG Healey aims high

Date: April 19, 2022
Author: Sabrina Shankman

Attorney General Maura Healey, who has said she would be the “most aggressive governor in the country on climate,” spelled out a plan for addressing the climate crisis if she’s elected that includes appointing a cabinet-level climate chief and pledging to achieve a 100 percent clean electricity supply by the end of the decade.

Her plan, released Tuesday, calls for tackling each of the state’s three major sources of emissions —buildings, transportation, and power plants — with a broad program of benchmarks and reforms that includes hard deadlines for meeting emissions targets.

It includes proposals to allow cities and towns to ban natural gas in new buildings, and pledges to convert 1 million homes to electric heat and replace 1 million gas burning cars with electric by the end of the decade.

She also said she would build an international hub of clean energy innovation that rivals Massachusetts’ biotech industry.

“There is no issue of greater urgency right now in terms of the existential threat from this crisis,” Healey said in an interview. “As a matter of leadership, this has to be viewed as the imperative that it is to meet our goals.”

The next governor will assume the office at a time when experts say there is no time to waste. With a state law mandating emissions cuts of 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade and slashing them to net-zero by 2050, the next governor will have to rapidly scale up the pace and scope of the current response to climate change.

Healey’s plan comes months after the release of a plan by her Democratic primary rival, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, and on the heels of criticism that Healey’s campaign has been making big promises without delivering clear plans to achieve them.The plan was met with broad support from advocates, activists and politicians, though they raised some questions about how a Healey administration would fund the full scope of programs her plan describes.

“The boxes are all lined up right. You can check them all off, but the devil really is in the details,” said Larry Chretien, executive director of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, a consumer advocacy organization.

Healey’s plan calls for full electrification of public transit by 2040, starting with school and MBTA buses by 2030, and for offering point-of-sale rebates on used and low-cost electric vehicles in order to help prompt greater adoption of electric vehicles. She pledged 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

On buildings, Healey said she will change the business model of gas utilities, requiring them to adopt transition plans that are equitable and consistent with the state’s emission reductions requirements. To get a million customers onto heat pumps by the end of the decade, Healey said she would focus on transforming the market via workforce training, customer and installer education, and lowering installation costs. She also said she would work with the legislature to adopt a statewide version of Boston’s BERDO ordinance, which sets emissions standards for the largest and most-emitting buildings.

Likewise, the plan calls for a rapid scaling up of clean energy, doubling the state’s offshore wind target to 10 gigawatts by 2035, reaching 10 gigawatts of deployed solar by 2030, and quadrupling energy storage deployment by 2030. In the first six months of her administration, Healey said she would convene a regional energy summit to work with other states in the region to determine how to reform the market and build large-scale regional transmission projects.Chretien said he was glad to see such proposals, but “if there is no serious funding to accomplish some of these things, it will be a major disappointment.”

The Healey plan’s funding mechanisms include a pledge to commit at least one percent of the state budget to its environmental and energy agencies, and a commitment to work with the legislature to increase funding for the Department of Public Utilities, which plays a crucial role in determining how the state will get off of fossil fuels and how to modernize the grid to meet the demands of increased electrification.

Other aspects of the plan will come with hefty price tags, including incentives to private landowners to retain their trees, an expansion of the Massachusetts Vulnerability Preparedness Program, which provides funds for cities and towns to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and a tripling of the budget for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state’s clean tech accelerator.

State Representative Jeff Roy said that while funding will, of course, be crucial to nail down, he was excited by the ambition of the plan and believes that Healey will attack the problem creatively. “And in the long run, it’s cheaper to do these things now than what the cost will be if we wait,” he said.