BOSTON (SHNS) – Last year’s climate roadmap law set the stage for a wide variety of projects, policies and plans that officials hope will lead to cleaner energy and reduced emissions, but implementing that law will also require more than a dozen new jobs in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
During a budget hearing Friday morning, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides detailed the portions of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $48.5 billion fiscal year 2023 budget bill (H 2) that are related to the chunk of state government she oversees. She said the spending plan includes $337 million in funding for EEA, a $14 million or 4 percent increase over the current year’s budget.
Theoharides said the governor’s recommendation “will expand land stewardship, conservation and public access to recreational resources, and secure the reliable low-carbon and lower-cost energy future that the commonwealth’s residents deserve.”
And she told lawmakers that the budget will put her secretariat on a solid footing to pursue the mandates baked into last year’s climate roadmap law, which requires various efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades to become net-zero by 2050.
“The budget recommendation seeks to position the office of the secretary to meet the increased role that EEA plays in meeting our climate responsibilities under the 2021 roadmap act and also works to establish an office of offshore wind, which will serve as a center for coordination for offshore wind issues that arise from the construction and operations of offshore wind energy generation. This includes everything from the procurement process itself to fisheries and environmental permitting issues to economic development and supply chain,” Theoharides told members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
Most of the increase proposed for EEA’s budget would come in Theoharides’ office itself rather than in the agencies under her umbrella. She said her office would see $54 million in funding, a $9.6 million increase, including $300,000 for the office of offshore wind and $2.3 million to pay for her office’s responsibilities under the roadmap law.
“I think this points to the seriousness with which we take our obligations here to ensure that we are putting ourselves on the best path forward to implement that act,” the secretary said.
Theoharides said the roughly $2.3 million outlay reflects an increase of seven full-time positions across EEA agencies as well as consultant work to establish the required emissions sublimits for various sectors, set emission standards for environmental justice communities, analyze economic and employment implications, and to do forecasting related to greenhouse gas emissions.
She said the budget would also slot in two new full-time positions at the Department of Public Utilities to support environmental justice outreach, four full-time positions at the Department of Environmental Protection and one full-time position at the Department of Energy Resources to support natural gas decarbonization regulation development.
“So in total, we’ve estimated that, at a minimum, the climate law will require 14 additional FTEs above and beyond the FTEs we already have working on climate change all across all six of our agencies and have at EPA itself,” the secretary said. She added, “The Baker administration takes very seriously our role in implementing the act and put in healthy numbers to support 14 new staff dedicated to this mission in addition to the full climate team we have at EEA.”
Theoharides said her secretariat is “hiring as fast as we can find people” and pointed prospective applicants to the MassCareers website for more information on open positions.
Energy and environment workforce issues were top of mind Friday for Sen. Michael Barrett, who chaired the hearing for the Senate and encouraged his colleagues to probe Baker administration officials for more information on their plans to address them.
“How are we going to staff adequately everything from the regional transportation authorities’ bus drivers rosters to important jobs involved in the climate transition at a time when every entity public and private seems to be lacking for adequate person power?” Barrett asked rhetorically.
Barrett also highlighted the fact that Baker’s budget plan, if adopted, would be in place when a new governor takes office early next year and asked Theoharides and other officials to be blunt “with respect to the things that will need to be done next.”
“This is a rich budget in every sense of the word, which also means that there’s more uncertainty than there would ordinarily be,” he said. “There’s going to be a break in terms of continuity and we want to make sure that the Legislature serves to bridge the transition in the executive branch.”