The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that Massachusetts has a right to make in-state electricity generators cut their carbon emissions dramatically over the next 30 years.
It's the second time in two years that the state's highest court has recognized the science of climate change. Referring to the state law that called for cuts in carbon emissions through "cap regulation," the justices wrote:
The act is designed to go well beyond business as usual in terms of reducing emissions: to upend, rather than to uphold, the status quo. The electric sector is no exception.
In its decision two years ago, the court ordered the Baker administration to come up with tougher regulations to cut the state's greenhouse-gas emissions, which it did last year. Under the new regulations, the owners of fossil-fuel plants in Massachusetts would be required to reduce carbon emissions from roughly 9.1 metric tons this year to 1.8 million by 2050.
Plant owners, naturally, sued, because of course they would. They argued that they were exempt from the regulations because a separate set of regulations already regulated them.
The state's highest court, however, told them: Nope. In more legal terms, the court said the carbon-reduction regulations were complementary and that "the electric sector is one of the multiple categories of sources of emissions that may be regulated," under the new state code.
The company's also argued the rules would lead to emissions "leakage" - that generators would buy electricity from more noxious plants outside the state rather than attempting to reduce their own emissions.
The SJC said nice try, but noted that in addition to reducing emissions from Massachusetts plants, the regulations also require generators to increase the amount of their energy that comes from "clean energy sources" each year, along with curbing emissions.
Because of the emissions reductions that will occur as a result of the [rules], the agencies predict that the Cap Regulation's limit on greenhouse gases will be met without any decrease in production by Massachusetts fossil fuel generators. They predict that, as a result, little or no leakage will occur, because it will be unnecessary to shift to out-of-State producers in order to comply with the Cap Regulation. Furthermore, even if the Cap Regulation does result in an increase in electricity imports, the agencies project that an increasing percentage of those imports will be derived from zero-emission sources, in part due to the CES Regulation's mandate that the Commonwealth consume greater percentages of clean energy each year.
Finally, far from causing increased greenhouse gas emissions from out-of-State generators, according to the agencies, the two regulations together will send a market signal that Massachusetts' neighbors should invest in clean energy development in order to satisfy the Commonwealth's increasing demand for renewable energy.