Report Identifies Solutions to Barriers to Public Participation in Department of Public Utilities and Energy Facilities Siting Board Proceedings
BOSTON – Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell, in collaboration with the National Consumer Law Center, GreenRoots, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Vote Solar, Massachusetts Climate Action Network and the Regulatory Assistance Project, today announces the release of a report making recommendations to improve opportunities for public participation in proceedings at the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB).
The AG’s Office brought these organizations together in the summer of 2021 and tasked the group, known as the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG), with identifying barriers to meaningful participation in proceedings at the DPU and EFSB. The DPU is charged with overseeing utility rates, safety, reliability, and spending, and the EFSB is charged with siting energy infrastructure and facilities. The recommendations in the SWG’s report are focused on ways to improve historically underserved and over-burdened populations’ access to and participation in DPU and EFSB proceedings that affect energy siting and development across the Commonwealth.
“For far too long, structural inequities have prevented our underserved communities from participating in these important conversations. It is critical that all our residents have a voice in decisions that stand to impact their health and wallets,” AG Campbell said. “I am very grateful for the Stakeholder Working Group’s hard work over the last year and a half, and I am hopeful that this report will spark a much-needed conversation on how we can ensure that everyone is heard, regardless of income, zip code, or language.”
Today’s report, Overly Impacted and Rarely Heard: Incorporating Community Voices into Massachusetts Energy Regulatory Processes, was informed by the expertise of the SWG members and their respective organizations, as well as by community outreach that included interviews, a survey and focus groups. The report includes specific recommendations for the state energy regulatory agencies to adopt that would improve public engagement and ensure that agency proceedings, deliberations, and decisions reflect the voices of the public – especially residents in underserved communities who may be most impacted by the agencies’ decisions.
“Infrastructure and facilities that pollute our air, land, and waters are disproportionately sited in communities with environmental justice populations,” the report states. “The disproportionate environmental, health, societal, and financial impacts that environmental justice populations experience are significant, even deadly. Beyond the human toll, our energy system’s unequal economic burdens have resulted in many Massachusetts families experiencing a disproportionately high energy burden, energy poverty, and the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma.”
The report identifies a broad range of barriers to public participation at the DPU and EFSB. For example, the report argues that DPU and EFSB processes are too technical and complex for the public to effectively participate in and, even when individuals and groups are able to participate, agency decisions often do not respond to their concerns. The report also identifies language access and the timing and format of hearings and proceedings as barriers to participation.
To remedy these deficiencies, the SWG’s recommendations include:
- The DPU and EFSB should open generic policy investigations with the goal of revisiting their approach to regulation in response to recent climate legislation;
- The DPU and EFSB should provide plain language executive summaries of decisions for long and technical orders and orders on proceedings of particular concern to stakeholders;
- The DPU and EFSB, as well as petitioners, should respond to stakeholder comments and concerns;
- The DPU and EFSB should provide more educational resources on their websites in a variety of formats and on a variety of issues to help decode agency policies, regulations and proceedings;
- The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs should establish an Office of Public Participation to provide support for community members to provide input;
- The DPU should increase transparency and availability of information related to energy affordability, energy burden, and energy reliability; and
- The DPU and EFSB should ensure that transcripts of hearings are free and easy to access.
With the issuance of today’s recommendations, the SWG members are committing to collaborating with the DPU and EFSB, as well as legislators and the Executive Branch to implement the report’s recommendations.
The AG’s Office is similarly committed to advocating for improved public participation at the agencies. AG Campbell’s Office recently made several similar recommendations in comments filed in March on the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Draft Environmental Justice Strategy, as well as in ongoing proceedings that the DPU and EFSB opened to improve public participation in their proceedings. Last month, AG Campbell led a multistate coalition urging the federal government to meaningfully engage communities in distributing grant funding.
By statute, the AG’s Office of Ratepayer Advocacy represents the interest of ratepayers in proceedings at the DPU. As the ratepayer advocate for Massachusetts, AG Campbell is committed to advocating for an equitable and just transition to a clean energy system for all Massachusetts residents. In her inaugural address earlier this year, AG Campbell pledged to create safer and healthier communities across Massachusetts by fighting to protect the environment and ensuring that marginalized communities who have been disproportionately and directly impacted by environmental injustices have meaningful opportunities to participate in the proceedings that affect their lives and communities.
The report, and additional information pertaining to the Stakeholder Working Group, can also be found online here.
Statements of Support from the Stakeholder Working Group
“Everyone deserves to have a say in what takes place in their neighborhood,” said Caitlin Peale Sloan, Vice President of CLF Massachusetts. “The impacts of the climate crisis are hitting first and worst in historically underserved communities, which are too often left out of the decision-making process. It’s time for state energy officials to center the voices and needs of those most impacted.”
“For far too long environmental justice populations have borne the brunt of inequitable and unjust siting of Massachusetts energy infrastructure,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director of GreenRoots, an environmental justice organization based in Chelsea. “Those shouldering the disproportionate burdens have been excluded, shut out and rendered voiceless at the hands of the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board. As we move towards a greener future for Massachusetts, we must prioritize environmental justice populations; and that starts by ensuring they have a seat at the table and equitable access to information. The recommendations we propose must be implemented fully and swiftly.”
“This report outlines ways to make sure that the energy regulatory decision-making process in Massachusetts is more inclusive, more equitable, and aligns with recent Massachusetts legislation and policy initiatives. The report has specific, comprehensive recommendations that would allow a better pathway for all citizens of the Commonwealth to get involved in making decisions that are important for their future – and for a clean energy future for all of us,” said Jolette Westbrook, Director & Senior Attorney of Equitable Regulatory Solutions at Environmental Defense Fund.
“MCAN is grateful to the Attorney General’s Office for convening this Stakeholder Working Group and for supporting this thorough process to identify necessary reforms that will make Massachusetts’ energy policy and energy facility siting more just, more accessible to impacted communities, and better aligned with our legally binding climate goals. We urge decision-makers at the DPU, the EFSB, and in the Legislature to use this report as a roadmap to make changes that will enable our institutions to better serve the needs of low-income communities and communities of color who continue to be the most impacted by our energy siting decisions,” said Logan Malik, Interim Executive Director at Massachusetts Climate Action Network
“The utility regulatory agencies have placed high entry barriers to proceedings that environmental justice and community groups should be encouraged to participate in,” said Charlie Harak, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “These proceedings include determinations of how much ratepayers will pay for energy facilities and where new facilities will be placed, and community members need to be allowed into agency proceedings, and provided technical and financial support to ensure their voices are heard.”
“Centering equity and accessibility is essential,” said Elena Weissmann, Northeast Regional Director, Vote Solar. “We’re urging the DPU and EFSB to take action on these recommendations, so we can have an energy system that is just and benefits all Bay Staters, especially folks that experience the highest burdens and heaviest impacts of our polluting fossil fuel system.”
“An important common goal of these recommendations is to lower the historical barriers to entry for participating in the regulatory process,” said Nancy L. Seidman, senior advisor with the Regulatory Assistance Project. “By integrating environmental justice into agency structures, making meeting schedules and digital tools more accessible, and undertaking other initiatives to address these barriers to entry, Massachusetts’ utility regulators can model a leading-edge approach to advancing equity in the energy transition. And all citizens of the Commonwealth will benefit.”