The previous two months were a good demonstration of the checks and balances embedded in state governments. There were three cases of back-and-forth vetoes between governors and their state legislatures, resulting in two energy efficiency “wins” and one “loss”. Let’s take a closer look at these cases.
In July, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Bill 2025 which placed the authority to join regional cap-and-trade programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the hands of the General Assembly instead of the Department of Environmental Protection. Governor Tim Wolf vetoed the bill which had not been passed by a veto-proof majority. If he had not done this, joining RGGI would have been nearly impossible in the large natural gas-producing state. Since the veto, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board took the first step towards joining RGGI by launching a formal rulemaking process.
The remaining two actions took place in Vermont. In September, Bill H926 passed through both chambers but was vetoed by the governor. In this case, the veto means that those looking for building permits do not have to demonstrate plans to utilize the best available technology for energy conservation, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas reductions. On another note, the Vermont legislature was able to overturn a governor veto on Bill H688 which increases the state’s GHG reduction targets and holds the state legally accountable for achieving the goals. It also adds Vermont to the growing list of states - such as Maine and Delaware - with climate councils. The Vermont Climate Council will be comprised of members from various state agencies, governments, and communities to analyze and evaluate strategies and programs to reduce GHG emissions and achieve the state’s reduction requirements.
Equity and Environmental Justice
It’s refreshing to see equity and environmental justice taking a bigger seat at the table across the region, ranging from increased program incentives to program review and policy legislation. Now more then ever, it is important for underserved communities to have equal protection from environmental and health hazards and access to decision-making around associated processes. Since the last policy update, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut made actions targeting these communities. A common trend is the requirement of impact reports to equity and environmental justice (EEJ) communities for certain types of proposed projects.
New Jersey signed Bill S232 into public law which requires the Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate environmental and public health stressors of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications. The impact report must include new environmental and public health stressors associated with the proposed expansion or new facility as well as the stressors already borne by the overburdened community. The bill’s definition of “overburdened communities’’ could apply to more than 300 municipalities and over four million residents, and gives communities a tool to block projects that would add pollution.
In Massachusetts, the House and the Senate passed different versions of Bill S2500 An Act Generating New Climate Policy and are now in the process of reconciling the differences. One aspect of this legislation, similar to New Jersey’s legislation, is the requirement of an environmental impact report for any project that is likely to cause damage to the environment and is located within one mile of an environmental justice population. Along with this EEJ piece, the legislation also outlines interim targets and strategy setting to achieve at least net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 by incorporating appliance standards, Board of Building Regulation and Standards membership, utility-scale renewable thermal projects and more.
The EEJ initiative in Connecticut takes the form of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) Equitable Energy Efficiency proceeding. The proceeding will define equity in the context of the energy efficiency and load management programs within DEEP’s purview and expand the inclusion and participation of individuals in underserved communities, such as minorities, customers with limited incomes, veterans, and those who rent their homes. DEEP sought public input and engagement to ensure that decisions were community driven. This work expands what the state did earlier in the year to improve and streamline eligibility requirements for limited-income program participation with the approval of the 2020 Conservation and Land Management Plan Update.
At the beginning of the pandemic, most states in the Northeast passed moratoriums on utility service shut offs. However, these moratoriums cannot last forever and utilities now face the problem of managing the growing number of arrearages. To ease the economic burden on customers in arrears the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved the 2020 small commercial arrearage forgiveness program (AFP). The goal of the AFP is to enhance assistance through economic relief to reduce the accrued arrearage of small commercial customers. As of September, all Massachusetts utilities had filed their programs and did not stray from the original order. Moving down the coast to New Jersey, Governor Murphy announced that all BPU regulated utilities for water, gas, and electricity had agreed to extend the voluntary moratorium on shut offs. However this extension ended on October 15. The utilities are offering customers a flexible and extended Deferred Payment Agreement of at least 12 months and up to 24 months. No down payments will be required for this assistance. Progress is also being made in Maryland where the Public Service Commission issued a request for arrearage program proposals due by October 7 with a comment period until October 28 and finally virtual hearings into November. The Commission adopted a motion that when shut offs commence, a customer must be given 45 days of notice prior to shutoff. To further help limited-income customers, draft plans for the 2021-2023 EmPOWER Maryland Limited Income Program Plan was filed. In addition to continuing existing programs, the department is requesting approval for two new programs: Enhanced Weatherization and Net Zero Construction.
For more resources on Covid-19 visit NEEP’s COVID Resource Page. For a deeper dive into moratoriums and arrearages check out last month’s blog: Expiring Utility Moratoriums and Managing Arrearages in the Age of COVID-19