Experts Discuss Massachusetts Climate Policy
Issue   |   Wed, 04/06/2016 - 01:07
Sydney Tate '18
State and local officials spoke to students about carbon-emission reduction goals in Massachusetts in Paino lecture hall on April 4.

On April 4 the Office of Environmental Sustainability, the environmental studies department and the Green Amherst Project held a Power Dialog event in Paino Lecture Hall. The Power Dialog series, organized by Bard College’s center for environmental policy, aims to engage college students nationwide in discussions with state legislators about reducing carbon emissions.

The event’s discussions focused on the actions required for each state to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.

Economics professor Katharine Sims hosted Amherst’s Power Dialog. The event started with a livestream of a simultaneous event at Boston University, which featured a panel with Massachusetts state senator Marc Pacheco and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Martin Suuberg.

Senator Pacheco began the event by talking about the development of his interest in climate change and the efforts that he has made in the state senate to push for environmental legislation. He also provided an overview of Massachusetts’ ongoing efforts to lower emissions.

Pacheco outlined the Global Warming Solution Act, Massachusetts’ largest climate change action bill. The bill was signed into law in 2008 and sets two carbon reduction targets for 2020 and 2050, both of which use 1990 CO2 emissions levels as a baseline. The state’s congress is also reviewing laws for intermediate reduction goals.

According to Pacheco, Massachusetts was ranked first in the U.S. in energy efficiency last year, for the fifth year in a row. However, he added that although Massachusetts has a head start on meeting the Clean Power Plan’s targets due to implementing the GWSA, the state is still not on track to fully meet the GWSA’s requirements. Pacheco said that the state must find ways to lower energy demand, increase solar energy use, and continue to increase energy efficiency.

The event transitioned to the speakers in Paino. Massachusetts state senator Ben Downing and Amherst Town Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello, who were originally to sit on the panel, could not attend due to the weather. Alex Barron, assistant professor of environmental science and policy at Smith College and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, joined Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection analyst Jordan Garfinkle on the panel.

Garfinkle spoke about the state’s progress on targets laid out by the GWSA, which provides the legal authority for most of the environmental regulations in place in Massachusetts today. Garfinkle said that the most recent data, which showed some success in reducing emissions, likely promised continued success. Garfinkle also spoke on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade permit system for the electricity sector that began in 2009. Massachusetts is part of this program, and Garfinkle said that Massachusetts will join several other states in using this initiative to set the main guidelines in meeting the Clean Power Plan reduction goals.

“The RGGI states intend to use RGGI as their compliance method, so during [the upcoming 2016] program review, we are designing the changes to RGGI in such a way that would comply with the Clean Power Plan,” Garfinkle stated.
Professor Barron also weighed in on the Clean Power Plan, which he worked on during his time at the EPA. As the panel wrapped up, Garfinkle shared ways for students to get involved with environmental policy efforts. He mentioned that as Massachusetts residents, students are stakeholders in the RGGI and can submit comments or attend stakeholder meetings during the upcoming RGGI program review.

The event ended with small group discussions led by members of the student-run environmentalist group Green Amherst Project, in which students discussed Massachusetts’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions and meet the Clean Power Plan’s goals.