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The Climate 202

Meet Massachusetts's first-ever climate chief

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today is a busy day on Capitol Hill for environmental policy. Norfolk Southern’s Alan Shaw will testify about the Ohio train derailment before a Senate panel and a House committee will mark up a big energy permitting bill. We’ll have updates in tomorrow’s edition.

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In today’s edition, we’ll cover the Interior Department’s delay of an offshore oil and gas leasing plan and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to limit water pollution from coal plants. But first:

Melissa Hoffer, Massachusetts’s first climate chief, is taking a whole-of-government approach

On the first full day of her administration, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) signed an executive order creating the state’s first-ever climate chief and appointing Melissa Hoffer, a former Environmental Protection Agency official, to the Cabinet-level role.

Hoffer, who previously worked for Healey when she was Massachusetts attorney general, is responsible for ensuring that climate change considerations are incorporated into “all relevant decision-making” at every state agency. Her position mirrors that of White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi, whom President Biden has tasked with ensuring a whole-of-government approach to climate change within his administration.

But unlike Biden officials, Hoffer doesn’t have to contend with a divided Congress that threatens to stall climate action at the federal level. Instead, Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Massachusetts legislature are likely to help advance Healey’s ambitious climate goals, including 100 percent clean electricity by 2030 and the end of new gasoline-powered car sales by 2035.

That means Hoffer could become an influential climate official in America, and one with the unique opportunity to inject climate considerations into state agencies that have not historically focused on global warming.

“I’m very excited for the climate chief to play a role in state agencies that are certainly impacted by climate policy, but don’t necessarily do it as their primary mission,” said David Melly, legislative director at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “And Melissa is absolutely the right woman for the job.”

The Climate 202 spoke with Hoffer on Wednesday about how she’s approaching the role, how officials are addressing Massachusetts’s shortage of clean-energy workers, and what kind of car she drives. The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

C202: Do you see similarities between Biden and Healy’s approaches to climate policy?

Hoffer: Absolutely. What President Biden did with the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy was to establish a norm of injecting climate into the DNA of every federal agency. It’s hard to overstate how important that is, and how important it was for [former national climate adviser] Gina McCarthy to be collaborating with each of the Cabinet secretaries. And it’s really similar to our Office of Climate Innovation and Resilience.

C202: Do you see any differences between the two offices?

Hoffer: If you look at the executive order that established our office, our authority is quite broad, and it’s possibly broader than what’s available to the White House climate policy office. We do have the ability to require certain actions to ensure that we achieve our emissions reduction mandates. Obviously, our pathway here is one of partnership and collaboration. But at the same time, that authority is there in the order.

C202: What’s an example of a state agency that isn’t primarily focused on climate change but is now working on climate-related initiatives?

Hoffer: Well, I can give you an example of how we’re working with multiple agencies. In Massachusetts, we have an acute shortage of electricians. There’s a huge gap — 30,000 to 40,000 — between the number of workers that we need to power our clean-energy transition and the number that we currently have. So we’ve established a cross-Cabinet effort that involves the secretaries of labor and workforce development, economic development, education, and energy and environmental affairs. We’re all working together on this problem. Everybody’s taking a piece of it and coordinating.

C202: How are you working to cut carbon pollution from transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts?

Hoffer: You know, we’ve done a very good job with the power sector. We’ve got a burgeoning offshore wind industry, and there’s hardly any coal left in New England. But transportation and buildings are pretty tough nuts to crack. With transportation, we’ve got about 30,000 registered passenger electric vehicles on the road today out of about 2 million registered passenger vehicles. To meet our climate goals, we need about 200,000 by 2025, and we need almost 1 million by 2030. So we provide a state rebate of $3,500 to supplement the federal EV tax credit, and we’re also really hard at work expanding our charging infrastructure. 

Our Department of Transportation has secured funds from the [infrastructure law] to support the build-out of charging infrastructure along some of our major highways. We’re also working with our Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to stand up an EV infrastructure coordinating council. And we’ve already convened an interagency team that’s going to be mapping statewide where all of these chargers are going to go.

C202: As a lighter last question, what kind of car do you drive?

Hoffer: I drive a Chevy Bolt. It’s orange, it’s peppy and it’s fun to drive. I love it.

On the Hill

Biden delays offshore oil leasing plan, sparking outrage from Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday slammed the Biden administration for repeatedly delaying a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing after the Interior Department said it needed until December to finish, The Washington Post’s Timothy Puko reports. 

“They are putting their radical climate agenda ahead of our nation’s energy security, and they are willing to go to great lengths to do it,” Manchin, a key swing vote in the Senate, said in a statement Wednesday. 

The plan is already months behind deadlines established in law, but in a federal appeals court brief Monday, officials said they needed more time to review public comments and complete other analyses on a proposal issued last summer, when the last plan expired. 

An Interior Department spokeswoman declined to respond to Manchin’s comments. 

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has recently expressed outrage over how the Biden administration is implementing the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act. On Wednesday, Manchin announced he would vote against Daniel Werfel as the new head of the Internal Revenue Service, which is charged with writing guidance for the law’s clean-energy tax credits, because he had “zero faith [Werfel] will be given the autonomy to perform the job in accordance with the law.” 

Westerman says House will vote on GOP energy package this month

House Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said Wednesday that House Republicans will bring a sweeping energy package to the floor for a vote by the end of the month.

Westerman told reporters the package will include the TAPP American Resources Act, which seeks to speed up the permitting process for energy and mining projects, as well as more than a dozen energy bills from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a handful of pipeline bills from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

It will be a “comprehensive energy package that looks at all forms of energy,” he said. “You know, fossil fuels are going to be around for a while.”

The Natural Resources Committee will mark up the TAPP Act on Thursday. On the House floor, the energy package will be considered under a “structured rule,” limiting the opportunity for GOP amendments and intraparty tensions. However, most of the package will be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Agency alert

More coal plants could shut down under EPA water pollution rule

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday unveiled a proposed rule aimed at limiting millions of gallons of toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants, The Post’s Anna Phillips reports.

The proposed rule would require coal plants to more thoroughly filter toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and selenium from their wastewater before releasing it into rivers, streams and lakes. The proposal could lead some coal plants to shut down, or switch to burning natural gas, rather than pay for upgraded pollution control equipment that would probably be needed for compliance.

At least 74 electric generating units at 33 coal plants nationwide have already indicated plans to retire or switch to natural gas, at least in part because of the expense of stricter water pollution regulations, according to the EPA.

On a call with reporters Tuesday evening, however, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the proposal is not aimed at driving a “specific outcome in terms of companies’ investment strategies.”

Biden announces $6 billion to decarbonize heavy industry

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it will invest $6 billion to cut emissions from energy-intensive industries such as steel, aluminum and cement manufacturing that account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, Timothy Gardner reports for Reuters. 

The funding under the Industrial Demonstrations Program comes from the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. Technology developers, industry producers, universities and others will be eligible to apply for competitive grants that cover up to half of the cost of emissions reduction projects, according to the Energy Department.

The agency is looking to fund projects that “we can learn from and then have that technology be replicated and taken to scale,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday at the CERAWeek conference in Houston. 

In the atmosphere


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