Charlie Baker Can Lead on Clean Transportation

November 20, 2018 | 10:10 am
Courtesy of Charlie Baker
Daniel Gatti
Former contributor

Governor Charlie Baker’s decisive re-election puts his administration in a strong position to address some of the key priorities identified by Baker during the campaign, including climate change, affordable housing, and public transportation.

As a lifelong citizen of Massachusetts, I was proud to witness a gubernatorial contest in which both major party candidates expressed strong commitments to solving climate change.

In debates and on the campaign trail, Governor Baker repeatedly stressed some of the major accomplishments of his administration on climate and energy during his first term: the procurements of offshore wind and hydro power, the first statewide mandatory limits on global warming pollution from the electric sector, grant programs to help municipalities adapt to climate change, procurements of energy storage.

It’s an impressive list, made no less impressive by the fact that Governor Baker shares credit for these accomplishments with the legislature and the judiciary, as well as the Patrick administration.

But it is not enough.

Massachusetts needs more action on clean transportation

Massachusetts may still fail to reach our legally mandated requirements for 2020 under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. If we fail, it will be because increased pollution from transportation is offsetting the gains we are making in the electric sector. The state also does not yet have a long-term plan to achieve our limits for 2050, or our interim targets for 2030 and 2040 (although they are working on it). We have not yet placed mandatory limits on pollution from transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth.

When asked during the final debate to identify a big idea to define his second term, Governor Baker said climate change . If Charlie Baker wants to lead on climate change, the clear priority is transportation.

The good news is that we have some great policy models to work with. One policy that has been important in helping the state enforce limits on emissions from electricity is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI works by setting a mandatory regional limit on pollution, requiring polluters to purchase allowances from the state, and investing in energy efficiency and renewable projects that save consumers money and reduce emissions. Together with additional complementary policies and the transition away from coal RGGI is on track to require a 65% cut in electric sector emissions in the Northeast by 2030. RGGI is also a funding source for many of the state’s most popular energy policies, including Mass Save and the Green Communities Act.

In the final debate, Governor Baker noted that RGGI “has worked really well across all states that participate, and it’s had a huge impact on carbon emissions in power.  We have been talking to other states about putting together a regional approach to deal with transportation.”

One key question that will define Governor Baker’s success on climate change in his second term is whether his administration can help drive these interstate conversations to their logical conclusion: a regional program (like RGGI)  covering transportation fuels.

This program would represent the first mandatory limits on transportation fuels in the Northeast region. Moreover, it would present Governor Baker and his administration with an opportunity to address many of the other critical challenges facing the Commonwealth. As Governor Baker said during the debate on energy and the environment, “the issues associated with climate are not purely limited to climate… they cover a much wider collection of policy areas and decisions.”

A regional program could help address core challenges facing Massachusetts

Here are a few of the wider collection of policy areas that we could help address through a program limiting transportation emissions:

  • Affordable housing. As Baker has recognized, housing “is an enormous environmental issue,” in addition to being an important issue for economic growth, racial and economic justice, transportation congestion, and others. The Baker administration has promised 135,000 new units of housing over the next 5 years, and their Housing Choice program is a pretty good policy model: grants to municipalities in return for procedural reforms on density restrictions. However the $10 million budgeted for this program is clearly insufficient to deal with the scale of this challenge. A larger program could provide municipalities with more funding for affordable housing units near transit in return for more substantial progress on approving projects.
  • Public transportation. The poor state of the MBTA and public transportation services was a major theme throughout the campaign; Gov. Baker’s opponent Jay Gonzalez reported he “heard about more than any other issue” from voters. Funds from a transportation program could help electrify the MBTA bus fleet, improve services in low-income communities, and strengthen the resiliency of our public transportation system.
  • Electrification. Achieving our long-term climate limits requires the near complete electrification of our vehicle fleet. Massachusetts state agencies are currently producing modeling that shows that at least 2 of 3 new vehicle sales need to be electric by 2030 – a huge increase from current levels. Achieving widespread electrification will require more aggressive efforts to make electric vehicles and other clean vehicle technologies affordable for mainstream consumers, particularly low- and moderate-income consumers and people in rural areas. We need a program similar to Mass Save that can combine increased rebates for low income residents with financing assistance, infrastructure support and consumer education. That’s going to require dedicated funding.

If Massachusetts and other Northeast states create a regional market-based limit on transportation emissions, it could raise over $4.5 billion each year for clean transportation projects. In Massachusetts, that would mean over $450 million annually to address these and other critical priorities facing our transportation system in the Commonwealth.

The success of the RGGI program has always been built on the foundation of bipartisan cooperation between the parties and between the states of the Northeast region. As a Republican Governor with a history of bipartisanship and leadership on energy and climate issues, Charlie Baker has an opportunity in his second term to bring the states of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic together on a regional program. If he can succeed, it will give Massachusetts and the other states of the Northeast some of the tools necessary to cut emissions from transportation and build a clean, modern transportation system that works for everybody.