BOSTON — Fixing leaks on natural gas lines, capping power plant emissions and providing consumer incentives to switch to electric vehicles are among new regulations aimed at reining in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The new regulations, which don’t require legislative approval, target two of the state’s biggest emitters — the energy and transportation sectors — with a goal to reduce emissions by 7.2 percent over the next three years.
Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order in September directing the state Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a plan to lower emissions as mandated by the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
Baker’s directive followed a Supreme Judicial Court ruling which sided with environmental groups that sued because Massachusetts was falling behind in complying with the act.
The rules, which will go into effect in mid-August, set strict emission limits for the state government’s fleet of vehicles, require methane emission reductions from natural gas systems and require power plant operators to boost the amount of renewable energy they purchase.
George Bachrach, executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, praised the new regulations as a “good first step” to meeting the state’s obligations to lower emissions.
“They’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said. “But we need to move quickly.”
Bachrach said President Donald Trump’s pledges to rollback federal environmental policies means the task of combating climate change will fall increasingly to states.
“We can’t look to Washington anymore for leadership on climate issues,” he said.
Still, the new regulations face opposition from power plant operators who say they will drive up costs for the region’s energy consumers and ultimately increase emissions.
Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, said the mandates on power plants will lower output that will have to be filled with increased generation by other states that are part of New England’s regional power grid.
“So plants in Connecticut, Rhode Island and other states that are less efficient and higher emitting will run more,” Dolan said at a public hearing on the new regulations in Boston on Monday. “The intent of the Global Warming Solutions Act could not have been to increase global emissions. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows the state’s power plants have cut carbon emissions by 58 percent since 1990, Dolan pointed out.
Jack Clarke, director of public policy for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, also praised the new regulations and urged the Baker administration to “stand firm.”
“The power plants will always complain that they’re being pushed too far, but they won’t do it on their own,” Clarke said. “They need to be required to do so by public policy.”
The global warming act requires greenhouse gas emission reductions of 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and mandates an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Ed Coletta, a spokesman for MassDEP, said the state has reduced emissions by 19.7 percent from 1990 levels, leaving 5.3 percent remaining to achieve the 2020 goal.
Roughly half of Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions come from burning oil and natural gas to heat buildings, according to state environmental officials. Another 45 percent of emissions come from transportation — trucks and personal vehicles.
The Baker administration recently pumped $14 million into an electric vehicle rebate program that pays consumers between $750 and $2,500 for buying low-emissions including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles.
The regional program aims to put 3.3 million zero-emission cars on the road by 2025.
Baker also is pursuing contracts for more hydropower, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gases and meet the state’s benchmarks.
Massachusetts is one of eight states participating in the regional cap-and-trade program, and it has drummed up $252 million in proceeds from the sale of carbon credits since 2007. It has put that money toward energy efficiency and clean technology programs which, in turn, reduce the state’s carbon emissions.
Methane seeping from aging natural gas pipes complicates state efforts to curb carbon emissions. The new regulations would require publicly regulated utilities to fix them and set strict new limits on how much methane can be released into the atmosphere.
Environmentalists are also pushing for a new tax on businesses and individuals for the production, distribution or use of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and gasoline.
Lawmakers are considering several proposals for the carbon tax, including one which would start at $10 per ton of carbon dioxide and rise $5 per year.
Supporters say a carbon tax makes using dirty fuels more expensive and encourages energy users to reduce consumption and increase efficiency.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.