BOSTON - With the state's goal of significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in mind, Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday petitioned an arm of the Baker administration to formally assess the future of the natural gas industry in Massachusetts.

In an 18-page petition being filed with the Department of Public Utilities, Healey asks that the department "examine the gas distribution industry, regulatory, and policy changes needed to support the achievement of the Commonwealth's mandated [greenhouse gas] emission limits" and then use that information to "determine what near- and long-term adjustments are necessary to maintain a safe and reliable gas distribution system and protect consumer interests as the Commonwealth transitions from fossil fuels to a clean, increasingly electrified, and decarbonized energy future by 2050."

In January, Gov. Charlie Baker announced he would accelerated the state's decarbonization efforts.

The 12-year-old Global Warming Solutions Act required an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, but the new limit announced by the administration in April essentially puts the state on the path towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Under no circumstance, however, should the level of emission be greater than 85 percent below 1990 levels, the policy decrees.

"In order to combat the climate crisis and meet our clean energy goals, we must transition away from fossil fuels and change the way gas utilities do business in our state," Healey said.

"We want the DPU to take a close look at the future of the natural gas industry in Massachusetts and make the policy and structural changes we need to ensure a clean energy future that is safe, reliable, and fair."

Healey's argument hinges on the idea that the state needs to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the building sector (for heating homes and offices) in order to meet the 2050 emissions reduction mandates, and that the decline in fossil fuel demand will require gas distribution companies to make significant changes to their planning processes and business models.

The attorney general said it also will require DPU to develop new policies and structures to ensure reliability and to protect ratepayers. The administration has said it plans to release a roadmap to meet it carbon reduction goals by the end of the year. 

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