In a ruling that could, among other things, force Massachusetts to devise automobile emissions standards even tougher than California's, the Supreme Judicial Court today ordered the state to do better at reducing overall greenhouse emissions.
The state's highest court said the state Department of Environmental Protection wasn't doing enough to comply with a state law that calls for annual reductions in the total amounts of gases Massachusetts companies and residents release into the atmosphere.
In adopting the law, the legislature specifically set a policy of reducing the total amount of emissions generated in the state, and state regulators could not just wave that away as an "aspirational" goal, the court said.
As an example, the justices pointed to the state's adoption of California emissions-control laws. Although those have led to a reduction in emissions from the average car, the statewide totals could still increase if enough additional cars are bought in Massachusetts:
As a consequence, the [low-emission vehicle] regulations may contribute to lower emissions from vehicles, but they cannot ensure that aggregate emissions do not increase. Therefore, they do not comply with [the state law].
The court used similar reasoning in dismissing state support for a Northeast regional compact in which Massachusetts power plants that exceed carbon-emission goals could buy credits at auction from plants in other states that had met their goals: As with car emissions, the regional compact has a laudable goal, but Massachusetts legislators went even further in adopting the state law, the court ruled.
Because of this feature, there is no way to ensure mass-based reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the Commonwealth that participate in the [regional compact] ... [T]he [compact] may contribute to reductions in emissions, but does not comport with the specific requirements of [the law]. Any other interpretation would diminish [the law]'s purpose of achieving measurable and permanent reductions to emissions in the Commonwealth.