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Massachusetts Initiative to Limit Carbon Dioxide Emissions (2010)

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The Massachusetts Initiative to Limit Carbon Dioxide may appear on the November 2, 2010 ballot in the state of Massachusetts as an indirect initiated state statute. If the proposal is sent to the ballot and passed by state voters, it would mandate that waste-to-energy sources that rely on heat for decomposition to emit at most 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order to be categorized as "alternative energy developments." The measure is being sponsored by EcoLaw.

On May 7, 2010, the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee decided not to make the initiative a law, therefore leaving organizers to gather more signatures in order to place the measure on the ballot and let voters decide. According to the committee's report on the initiative, “The initiative petition, HR 4458, places severe emission restrictions on a broad range of renewable energy plants, including biomass and waste-to-energy plants, limiting our energy choices, harming our state’s economy, and preventing the state from meeting our renewable energy goals,”[1][2][3]

Even though signatures were submitted to the Massachusetts Secretary of State, supporters took their measure off the ballot. Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles wrote a letter that directed the Department of Energy Resources to reconsider the issue, and place strict requirements on wood-burning plants in order gain "green credits."The letter was written after the findings of a state commissioned study on the issue. As a result, sponsors of the measure claimed victory on the issue and pulled their measure from ballot consideration.[4]

Text of measure


The summary of the ballot measure reads as follows:[1]

This proposed law would require waste-to-energy and biomass renewable energy sources relying on combustion or pyrolization (decomposition caused by heat) to emit no more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order to be considered “renewable energy generating sources,” “Class I renewable energy generating sources,” “Class II renewable energy generating sources,” “alternative energy developments,” or “alternative energy properties” under state laws concerning renewable and alternative energy programs.
Under current state law, retail electricity suppliers are required to provide a minimum percentage of kilowatt-hour sales to end-use customers in Massachusetts from “Class I renewable energy generating sources” and “Class II renewable energy generating sources.” The proposed law would prohibit retail electricity suppliers from satisfying these requirements through the use of waste-to-energy and biomass renewable energy sources that rely on combustion or pyrolization if such energy sources emit more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.
Also under current state law, the state Department of Energy Resources is responsible for administering programs related to alternative energy development and alternative energy properties. The proposed law would exclude from these programs waste-to-energy and biomass energy sources that rely on combustion or pyrolization if such energy sources emit more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.



  • Representative Peter Kocot has stated that the measure is a counter to the global warming risk, and would decrease the use of fossil fuels. Since the Massachusetts Legislature is reviewing the measure and could possibly make it a law instead of sending it to the ballot, Kocot encouraged his peers to enact the measure automatically instead of letting voters decide. Kocot displayed his concerns in a hearing by the Telecommunications, Energy and Utilities Committee when he stated, "When you cut down trees, which naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, you ship them, you truck them and you burn them and put additional CO2 into the atmosphere, it’s contrary to those public policy goals.”[5]
  • The Conservation Law Foundation supports the idea behind the measure, but according to director Sue Reid, the group would like to see a change in the language of the measure if sent to voters for the November ballot. Changes the group would like to see includes language alteration that would allow some biomass to keep being produced.[5]
  • Massachusetts Medical Society stated that biomass plants are hotbeds for particle matter that end up in the air and contributes to respiratory illnesses.[5]
  • Chairwoman of the campaign for the measure, Margarent Sheehan stated,"It is an unacceptable threat to the public health. All subsidies for these plants should be removed." Sheehan also went on to comment, "No matter what you're burning, if you're emitting climate-warming chemicals then you shouldn't be considered a renewable energy source."[6]
  • Jill Stein, the Green-Rainbow Party nominee for Governor, stated her support for the measure.[7]


  • Supporters stated that energy generation operations do not meet the requirement of producing more than 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order for state subsidies to fund those projects.[6]

Possible legislation

  • Legislation is being considered in the state as an alternative to the proposed ballot question. The bill under consideration is similar to the initiative, and is being supported by initiative organizers, along with "many members of industry that would be affected by the ballot initiative" and others concerned with biomass production. According to a letter written by four environment groups, "We are writing to urge your support for alternative legislation which, if it reaches Governor Patrick’s desk by July 7th, would avoid the petition going to the ballot.” The four groups were the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon.[8]



  • In a Legislative hearing held during December 2009, Palmer Renewable Energy founder David Callahan voiced his opposition to the proposition, claiming that supervision of biomass production is already strict. Callahan categorized Department of Environmental Protection's authority as "stringent, tough, and demanding," and also stated that his operation would not create any environmentally harmful products.[5]
  • Stategic Energy Systems stated the proposed law could compromise biomass producing operations that do not depend on producing energy by burning. Andrew Sims, who is affiliated with the organization, stated that the company is on the verge of using waste to convert into ethanol alcohol which would decrease transportation costs of bringing the product to the state.[5]
  • Berkshire Green Energy stated that the measure could stunt algae-sourced fuel development. Edward Esko, head of the business, stated that biomass production could bridge energy production to the future, which could involve solar and win reliance.[5]
  • Two renewable energy projects are being threatened by the effects of the measure. One project is a proposed project to grow oil-rich algae, harvest the oil and use them as power sources for a local farm. The other project is a biofuel plant that would fuel Crane & Co.[6]
  • Peter J. Clarke, president and CEO of Western Massachusetts Electric Co. stated opposition to the measure.


  • According to Edward Esko, founder and president of Berkshire Green Energy, the group that is developing the oil-rich algae project stated, "As currently written, the ballot petition places unreasonable restrictions on the development of green energy projects. If passed, it would severely impact the ability to advance innovative clean-tech projects such as our biofuel technology that is dedicated to helping Massachusetts farmers gain energy independence."[6]
  • Peter J. Clarke claimed that state public utility companies are looking for ways to meet green energy requirements. However, if energy technologies that will help those companies meet green energy requirements are banned under the measure, higher electricity rates will occur, according to Clarke.[6]

Events, reports and studies


  • State environmental and public health officials planned to hold a public hearing on June 28, 2010 to review health impacts of using wood as fuel for electric power. According to reports, state officials were trying to assess levels of contaminants that are found in wood feed stocks, and also were trying to find solutions for reducing such health risks.[9]


  • A study commissioned by Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences found that wood-burning power plants, or "biomass" burning power plants, releases more greehouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere over time than coal. According to reports, the study took place over the last six months and also found that electricity powered by biomass would result in a 3 percent increase in carbon emissions compared to electricity powered by coal by 2050.[10]
  • Results of the study were concluded by comparing "carbon debt" with "carbon dividends." In other words, those who conducted the study compared how much carbon is sent into the atmosphere by wood burning and the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere from the reconstruction of New England forests. However, owners of biomass plants argued that wood-burning plants and the megawatts they produce replaces a megawatt from a plant that uses coal. Also, trees that are still standing in the area will absorb the carbon dioxide when wood is burned for energy purposes.

Media endorsements


  • The Berkshire Eagle stated opposition to the efforts of the initiative, when the publication wrote an editorial criticizing key points of the effects of the measure. The editorial stated, "If approved, and signatures are still being collected to put the referendum question on the ballot, two local projects, one a biofuel plant planned to provide energy for Crane & Company, the other an effort to grow algae rich in oil to fuel all the power needs of a local farm, could be hamstrung. These are exactly the kind of responsible environmental projects that should be encouraged, not discouraged."[11]

Path to the ballot

The initiative was reviewed by the Massachusetts Legislature. The Massachusetts Legislature did not approve of the initiative by the May 4, 2010 deadline, according to the Massachusetts Elections Division, leaving petition organizers to obtain additional signatures from about 1/2 of 1% of voters who voted in the last governor election and submit them before or on July 7, 2010. According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office, that number amounts to 11,099 signatures.[12][13][3]

Signature filings

The initiative effort turned in signatures with Massachusetts city and town clerks by the June 23, 2010 deadline. According to reports, sponsors turn in about 18,000 signatures. City and town clerks had until July 2, 2010 to validate those signatures. The certified signatures must then be turned in to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office by the July 7, 2010 deadline.

See also

External links

Additional reading