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The Greening of Massachusetts

By / 4.8.2010

Much to Mitt Romney’s chagrin, Massachusetts has been in the news a lot recently as the birthplace of President Obama’s new health care reforms. Despite Romney’s protestations to the contrary, Obama’s ideas indisputably grew out of the reforms that the commonwealth enacted a few years ago.

Now it turns out that Massachusetts is also leading the country in another area that will likely become the subject of intense national controversy later this year: environmental regulation and the quest to build a clean economy. In one of America’s oldest and most traditional states, a coalition of business, policy-makers and nonprofits are leading the way in transforming the American economy – and bringing us closer to a clean, green future.

Massachusetts has a distinctive environment that makes clean energy a particularly bright choice. The commonwealth has unusually expensive electricity (from a lack of indigenous coal or natural gas) and a deregulated power market (where utilities do not own power plants).

Recently, PPI convened about three dozen clean tech industry leaders at the beautiful Parker House Hotel in downtown Boston. PPI’s new E3 Initiative held an event keynoted by Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environment Ian Bowles and also featuring Nick Darbeloff and Peter Rothstein, president and senior vice president, respectively, of the New England Clean Economy Council.

Secretary Bowles recounted for the audience the advances that have taken place under Governor Deval Patrick. Massachusetts has taken the lead in New England’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covering all major power plants, which caps emissions at 2009 levels through 2015, after which the cap will decline to reduce emissions 10 percent by 2019. Its efficiency programs have been so successful that the state is on track to cut its energy use by 30 percent by 2020. And under the renewable portfolio standard it adopted they have already exceeded their targets. Massachusetts has also built greenhouse gas emission reductions into the state environmental review process, which is leading to greater private investment in green buildings. The state will also provide utility customers with $1.6 billion in incentives to conserve energy at home, including free energy audits and rebates to purchase more efficient appliances.

National leaders looking to Massachusetts for lessons would do well to keep one thing in mind. Just as muscle needs a skeleton for support, structure and politics both matter for environmental regulation. Soon after Patrick was sworn in, and with the cooperation of Massachusetts’ legislative leaders, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to merge all its energy and environmental agencies (six total) into a single cabinet secretariat with the overall mission of bringing clean energy technology to market, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving energy efficiency.

With that structure in place, Bowles and his team went about achieving their agenda by closely cooperating with legislative leaders in the state House and Senate. Too often American states (or the federal government, for that matter) have seen promising environmental issues die on the vine, as special interests whittle ambitious legislative proposals into pilot projects that fail to achieve the economies of scale and systemic effect necessary for change. In Massachusetts, however, Bowles and his team began working very closely with legislative leaders in 2007, soon after Patrick took office. With a lot of elbow grease and diplomacy, Massachusetts enacted six major energy and environmental laws achieving broad energy reform, greenhouse gas reduction and comprehensive oceans management.

In advance of the battles certain to come this summer in Washington about a carbon control system, the E3 Initiative was proud to showcase Massachusetts’ pioneering work on achieving a clean economy. With smart ideas, proven economic benefits and steady political talent, we can see results instead of gridlock.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mnsomero/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0