by Brenden Cline
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) submitted comments on the “Draft NEPA Guidance on the Consideration of the Effects of Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions” (the Guidance) issued by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in February 2010. EEA’s comments provide suggestive information about the effects that state efforts to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions may have and illustrate why CEQ’s guidance for similar action at the federal level is worthwhile.
EEA’s Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office introduced a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Protocol in 2007 similar in structure to the CEQ’s draft NEPA Guidance. Like the Guidance, the Massachusetts policy requires that a project’s proponents quantify its major sources of greenhouse gas emissions early in the planning process. Unlike the NEPA Guidance, however, the MEPA GHG Policy does not establish a threshold above which the policy applies but instead mandates accounting for all projects that must already file an Environmental Impact Report, excluding those that qualify for a de minimis exception. Additionally, the MEPA Policy requires quantification of not only direct GHG emissions, but also indirect emissions from electricity use and project-induced vehicle trips. This flexibility has permitted successful evaluation of public and private projects beyond large stationary sources, including “commercial retail, office, residential and mixed-use developments; industrial projects, including power plants and other energy-related projects; wastewater treatment plants; and public infrastructure projects such as roadway construction or improvement projects and public transit projects.” Lastly, Massachusetts’s policy demands not only quantification of anticipated GHG emissions, but also assessment of applicable mitigation options.
By May 24, 2010, the MEPA GHG Policy had been applied to more than seventy-five projects proposed for construction in the state, of which over twenty had completed review under the protocol. Environmental Impact Reports filed under the policy documented substantial ongoing mitigation commitments. For instance, buildings planned by this time are expected to generate an average of 18.8% less greenhouse gas emissions annually than equivalent minimum code-compliant buildings. Traffic demand management programs demonstrated the potential to reduce as much as 22% of mobile source GHG emissions. Overall, mitigation measures identified in those projects that had completed review could reduce projected GHG emissions by 50,000 tons per year.
While it is not clear to what degree those GHG mitigation actions would have already been planned absent the MEPA GHG Policy, the protocol has brought to light abatement efforts that might otherwise have gone unreported and, according to EEA, the policy may even have encouraged an increase in mitigation actions. Besides Massachusetts, California and Washington currently mandate evaluation of both emissions and mitigation options. EEA’s comments suggest that such state policies are already advancing the reporting, and possibly even undertaking of, GHG mitigation at the state level and that the draft NEPA Guidance may have a similar effect nationally.