State sets tougher limits on emissions

Auto insurance may be incentive

By Carolyn Y. Johnson
Globe Staff / December 30, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick’s administration set an ambitious limit yesterday on statewide greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2020, through a suite of new and existing policies that balance energy efficiency and reduced fossil fuel use with cost savings.

Over the next decade, the plan aims to bring greenhouse gas emissions to levels that are 25 percent below those in 1990, the maximum possible limit allowed under the state Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. That legislation mandates an 80 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Massachusetts, through existing caps and an initiative that increases utilities’ use of renewable energy sources, is already on track to cut its emissions to 18 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Under the new plan, the state would cut at least an additional 7 percent through new initiatives and incentives, including a pilot program to make auto insurance cheaper for people who drive fewer miles.

Yesterday’s move was expected, as the administration had sent signals that it might take an aggressive step toward limiting greenhouse gases and was required by law to set the limit by the end of the year.

But the announcement sets Massachusetts apart from other states, according to one leading environmental organization.

“I’m not aware of anything else that comes close to this,’’ said Sue Reid, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation.

According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, at least nine other states have adopted statewide greenhouse gas emission limits, and Massachusetts appears to have the most aggressive reduction target.

While there are a slew of fresh policies included in the new plan, it does not include sweeping new regulations that will deeply alter everyday life for most businesses and people.

Ian Bowles, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said that the plan demonstrates that it is possible to reduce emissions 20 to 30 percent without making drastic changes.

“I think that’s very significant news for efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions around the country,’’ Bowles said.

One new policy in the plan aims to make energy efficiency a factor in the real estate market, by creating an energy grade for buildings, along the lines of the miles-per-gallon rating on cars.

Also in the plan is a pilot program that will create an incentive for people to cut back on unnecessary driving by scaling auto insurance premiums so that those who drive less pay less.

Another new policy will require development of a plan to ensure that state agencies, departments, boards, commissions, and authorities consider climate change impacts and emissions when they issue permits and licenses.

“This sets Massachusetts on a clear path to achieve its long-term climate goals and also positions Massachusetts as a national leader,’’ said Jeremy McDiarmid, staff attorney at Environment Northeast, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.

The plan lays the groundwork for the law’s required 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas levels by 2050.

“It’s important that we get moving at a pace that is appropriate to that larger statutory goal,’’ Bowles said.

But, he added, reaching that long-term goal will require larger, nationwide changes, such as new federal vehicle standards and the development of a transportation fleet powered by electricity and biofuels.

It will also require more far-reaching changes for businesses and consumers.

The Massachusetts plan outweighs those of other states, environmental advocates said.

“This is the only state that’s really going to be on track to meet the 2050 reductions the scientific community tells us we need to achieve,’’ Reid said.

Michael Durand, a spokesman for NStar, said the utility was deeply involved and supportive of the development of one of the new policies, which will expand the availability of efficiency incentives currently available to residential oil heat customers to commercial and industrial heating oil customers.

The state projects that the plan will create 42,000 to 48,000 jobs, including work weatherizing homes and positions in manufacturing and research.

Andrew Tarsy — executive director of the Progressive Business Leaders Network, a network of 150 chief executives — said the state’s limit shows that renewable energy and efficiency can be good for the economy.

“The Patrick administration has shown they understand the connection between a renewable energy future and economic growth, and it looks like they’re recommitting to that direction,’’ Tarsy said.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at