BOSTON (State House News Service) - Climate and environmental activists made clear Wednesday that they feel they have a real ally in Gov. Maura Healey and sent a direct message to the new administration's climate chief: it's time to get to work.
Speaking to more than 175 climate and environmental activists Wednesday, Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer said that addressing climate change in Massachusetts is going to require state government and activists "to work together in a way that is different from how we've done it before."
Healey made significant climate promises on the campaign trail, like achieving a 100 percent clean electricity supply by 2030 and electrifying public transportation with clean power by 2040. Her administration will also pick up where former Gov. Charlie Baker's team left off in efforts to electrify the transportation and building sectors and expand clean energy sources such as offshore wind and hydroelectricity. Most of the work is undertaken with an eye towards the state's commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
"We're gathered here today in this virtual space to celebrate a new dawn for climate action, the beginning of a period in which we in Massachusetts have now some of the tools we need, the popular will to succeed, and the supportive leadership required to take a giant step forward on the path to our ambitious climate goals. We want to thank all the voters that have given us a new administration that is climate-friendly and that will be not slow-walking the future for us," activist Tina Grosowsky said during a virtual rally Wednesday. "We have high expectations for prompt action on all climate tasks. No more slow-walking of regulations, program development and implementation, or allocation of funds. The climate crisis demands full speed ahead."
Grosowsky detailed some of the climate tasks with "broad support" that she and other activists expect prompt action from the Healey administration on: equitable distribution of [federal Inflation Reduction Act] funding to Massachusetts, sufficient funding for the state's clean energy, climate and offshore wind laws, the immediate establishment of programs to address decarbonization of buildings, the establishment of a state "green bank" in 2023 to ensure funding to meet emissions reductions targets, and selecting appointees to key state agencies who are committed to rapid decarbonization.
The activists Wednesday roundly cheered Healey's appointment of Melissa Hoffer, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who also headed up Healey's Energy and Environment Bureau in the state's attorney general's office, as the state's climate chief. Hoffer leads the newly-formed Office of Climate Innovation and Resilience with a goal to, as stated in the executive order that created it, "centralize policy-making on climate issues to support a whole-of-government response."
Hoffer joined Wednesday's virtual rally and said that she shares the sense of urgency from those on the Zoom. She said now is the time to "reach across the divides that may have separated us in the past and really try to find ways to come to accord and work together" in ways that government, businesses and advocates might not have worked together in the past.
"We're at a very unique moment in our history and we're now faced with a task of doing very rapid decarbonization while we're also simultaneously building resilience for a world that's changing around us. And it's a time, as a result of that, when we're all really going to need to work together in a way that is different from how we've done it before -- because we just don't have time," Hoffer said.
Part of Hoffer's role as climate chief is to get the various tentacles of state government to work together in ways that they have not previously.
"Our job is going to be to build a governance structure that reflects the reality of climate change, which is that climate change is a housing issue, it's a transportation issue, it's an issue of energy and food security, it's a public safety issue, it's an environment and land use issue, but it's not just an environmental issue," she said. "And so part of this effort is to help everybody kind of understand, climate change is really an issue that addresses all of these different aspects of our life and so if we're really going to get a handle on trying to respond effectively to the challenge of climate change, we need to be thinking about it from all those different perspectives."
Within the first 180 days of the Healey administration, Hoffer is to conduct a review of each executive office, analyzing staffing and policy-making practices, and present to Healey a report with recommendations for modifications to better align the offices with the state's climate goals.
As a state, Massachusetts has committed to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 33 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, 75 percent by 2040 and at least 85 percent by 2050, all compared to the baseline of 1990 emissions. Massachusetts was required to reduce carbon emissions by at least 25 percent from the 1990 baseline by 2020 and the Baker administration determined that 2020 emissions were actually 31.4 percent below the 1990 level.
At the national level, the Rhodium Group reported Tuesday that based on preliminary economic activity and energy data, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. increased 1.3 percent in 2022, compared to 2021.
"While this is the second year in a row that emissions have increased, it nonetheless marks a change from 2021, when emissions rebounded faster than the economic growth rate," the independent research group said. "This reversal in 2022 was largely due to the substitution of coal with natural gas — a less carbon-intensive fuel — and a rise in renewable energy generation."
The Rhodium Group report said that renewable energy generation rose 12 percent over the year and generated 22 percent of total electric power, surpassing coal, which was at 20 percent.
Hoffer, along with Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper, will also be tasked with developing plans for what Healey has called "a climate corridor of innovation, technology and investment across the state."
Sen. Michael Barrett, who has chaired the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee for the Senate for the last three sessions, said he thinks Hoffer was an "outstanding appointment," noting that she "will know that Inflation Reduction Act inside and out" from her time in the Biden administration and already has a working relationship with the governor.
Barrett said he thinks Hoffer has the ability "to get the Department of Transportation finally involved, something that did not happen in the previous administration."
"She's going to be able to sync up housing policy and climate policy. She's going to be able to focus on jobs and jobs for all, and then focus on finding the people to fill those jobs," the senator said.
Written by Colin A. Young/SHNS