Lawyers representing four teenagers and an environmental advocacy group are asking a judge to order Massachusetts regulators to begin adopting strict limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Lawyers for the Conservation Law Foundation and the Boston and Wellesley teenagers argued Monday in Suffolk County Superior Court that the state has failed to live up to its 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
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The group said the law requires the Department of Environmental Protection to set greenhouse gas emissions limits to help the state meet its goal of reducing those emissions by 25 percent by 2020 — and by 80 percent by 2050.
"The DEP has completely failed," said Dylan Sanders, the lawyer representing the teenagers.
A focus of the lawsuit was a portion of the 2008 law that requires the DEP to create "regulations establishing a desired level of declining annual aggregate emission limits for sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gas emissions."
Sanders said that the section of the law — by using the word "limits" — requires the DEP to create specific limits, not simply outline more general targets or goals.
"There is no such thing as an aspirational limit," Sanders said. He said he is representing the four teenagers because they will have to live with the consequences of the failure to address climate change.
A lawyer representing the state instead focused on the portion of the law calling on the DEP to set "a desired level of declining" emission limits.
Assistant Attorney General Jo Ann Shotwell Kaplan said the law requires the DEP to set up regulations that help track the emissions — which she said the department already has done — but doesn't require the DEP to create strict limits on each specific source of greenhouse gas.
"We think it's very clear," she said.
During the court hearing, Judge Robert Gordon asked whether the stricter reading of the 2008 law would essentially require the state to put some kind of ceiling on the manufacture of cars since tailpipe emissions are a major source of greenhouses gases.
Jennifer Rushlow, a lawyer representing the Conservation Law Foundation, said they aren't pushing for a ceiling on the number of cars — and said an increased use of alternative fuel and hybrid cars could help the state meet the emissions limits.
Kaplan said it would be impossible to meet the stricter limits envisioned by the lawsuit without limiting the number of cars in Massachusetts.
The meaning of the 2008 law is being debated as the state continues to hash out its renewable energy goals.
Last month, Gov. Charlie Baker joined with the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island to look for ways to increase the region's reliance on renewable energy.
Under the plan, electric distribution companies in the three states will collaborate with local agencies to begin a competitive bidding process to seek proposals from suppliers of clean energy resources including wind, solar, small hydro, biomass, fuel cells and other non-carbon emitting sources.
The Baker administration said Monday it is committed to the installation of at least 1,600 megawatts of solar energy in Massachusetts by 2020.