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State inquiry eyes more participation in energy facility sitings

BOSTON MA. – JUNE 23: Gov.Charlie Baker makes an announcement relative to the Fiscal Year 2021 during a press conference at the State House on June 23, 2021 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
BOSTON MA. – JUNE 23: Gov.Charlie Baker makes an announcement relative to the Fiscal Year 2021 during a press conference at the State House on June 23, 2021 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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BOSTON – A state board has launched a formal effort to assess ways to boost public awareness of energy facility siting proposals, describing it as a step toward a “more just and equitable clean energy future.”

The Energy Facilities Siting Board voted last Wednesday to issue a notice of inquiry and the Baker administration on Thursday publicized the decision and said it would supplement a companion order issued in the spring by the Department of Public Utilities.

“Through these investigations, the EFSB and DPU will explore opportunities to boost stakeholder engagement and ensure that all people have been provided with the same opportunity to participate in EFSB and DPU proceedings, regardless of English language proficiency,” the siting board said. Written comments are due by Sept. 10.

A climate change law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in March expands Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act reviews to require an environmental impact for all projects that impact air quality within five miles of an environmental justice neighborhood, according to the administration, and requires the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a cumulative impact analysis as a condition of permitting certain projects.

The change, officials say, would require MEPA for the first time to evaluate not just individual project impacts but also historic environmental pollution throughout the community through the permit process.

The siting board expects to ultimately establish an environmental justice strategy that state officials say may include the promulgation of rules, and the issuance of guidelines, procedures and/or regulations.