The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and the Environment (EEA) has released the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030. The Plan is focused on greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction, including includes CO² sequestration, while the 2022 Massachusetts Climate Change Assessment focuses on identifying the most urgent issues and update to the State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (SHMCAP) in order to better address them.
The Collaborative has been participating in these two projects, and encouraging other food system stakeholders to do so as well. The projects will ultimately inform policy and regulation related to climate change, and will impact the food and farming sectors, with the potential to provide support to as well as challenges for local farmers, fishers, and other food businesses. Plans include greater investment in programs that protect natural and working lands, consideration of policy that would extend protection programs to smaller parcels than currently permitted, and further investment in soil health and other climate-smart land management practices.
The Climate Change Assessment notes a number of climate-related threats likely to impact agricultural sustainability and food security, including:
- Damage to infrastructure. Disruption/loss of energy production and transmission, damage to buildings, and damage to transportation.
- Environmental systems impacts. Freshwater system degradation, reduction in clean water supply, and soil erosion.
- Business Impacts. Decrease in agricultural productivity, decrease in marine fisheries and aquaculture productivity, extreme weather business interruptions, and heat-related lowered ability to work.
Overall, the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 prioritizes electrifying transportation and building heating and cooling over the next eight years, using green energy, and building the electric supply infrastructure required while increasing carbon sequestration in and protection of forestland. The Plan is likely to increase competition for cropland and for workers. Modeling indicates that the 2025/2030 CECP will result in a net gain of over 22,000 jobs, most of which will be in installing electric vehicle chargers, solar photovoltaic projects, energy efficiency retrofits in buildings, offshore wind projects, and transmission lines.
The Plan proposes a number of actions that will impact the local food system:
- The Plan states: “Natural and working lands’ (NWL) ability to sequester emissions will be a critical component of achieving netzero GHG emissions in Massachusetts.” As a result, the plan seeks to permanently conserve at least 28% and 30% of undeveloped land and water by 2025 and 2030, respectively. These goals translate to approximately 63,400 acres through 2025 and more than 167,000 acres through 2030, and the Commonwealth aims to double the state’s current pace of NWL conservation of ~10,000 acres per year to 21,000 acres per year. To do so, the Plan says the state will:
- Consider expanding the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program beyond its current model to protect farms that currently do not qualify for APR due to soils, acreage, land values, ownership, forest, and other criteria.
- By the end of 2024, EEA will develop and seek to advance new legislation to support the goal of No Net Loss of Forest and Farmland. This will include amendments to the Chapter 61 and 61A current use program to allow parcels of 3 acres or more to qualify (current tax incentives are for conserving forest land of 10+ acres and farmland of 5+ acres). This will also include a state Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) bonus to facilitate land protection in rural communities with a low tax base and high percentages of state conservation land.
- Increase the annual budget of land protection grants and programs through state and federal funding sources.
- Raise the state Conservation Land Tax Credit cap.
- Beginning in 2024, MDAR will seek to provide additional financial incentives to farmers through the MA Coordinated Soil Health Program for implementing healthy soils practices that increase carbon storage in agricultural soils.
- EEA and the Department of Energy Resources will develop a model building code for municipalities that requires make-ready charging in all new commercial and residential buildings and will also require at least 10% of parking spaces in new commercial parking lots to be EV-ready.
- Incentivize at least 20% of privately owned forests and farms to adopt climate smart management practices.
- Incentivize planting at least 5,000 acres of new urban and riparian trees by 2025 and 16,000 acres by 2030.
- Seek an increase in the Land Planning Grants annual budget that would enhance the adoption of Natural Resources Protection Zoning (NRPZ) and tree protection bylaws and incentives.
- By the end of 2023, DOER will provide guidance for future solar siting through the Technical Potential of Solar Study. Such guidance is expected to help minimize environmental impacts and forgone carbon sequestration on NWL and increase solar projects on “built” landscapes.