New report aims to help Massachusetts put the “public” back in public utilities

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office just released a new report that EDF – and I – are proud to have helped create, titled Overly Impacted & Rarely Heard: Incorporating Community Voices into Massachusetts Energy Regulatory Processes.

The report details specific ways to make sure that energy regulatory decision-making processes in Massachusetts are more inclusive and more equitable, and that they align with recent legislation and policy initiatives.

The report is the result of a Stakeholder Working Group convened by the Office of the Attorney General to identify barriers to participation in proceedings at the Commonwealth’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), and to propose solutions. The DPU oversees investor-owned electric power, natural gas, and water companies in Massachusetts. The EFSB is an independent state board that reviews proposed large energy facilities including power plants, electric transmission lines, intra-state natural gas pipelines, and natural gas storage tanks. These agencies are little known to the public, but their decisions have an outsized impact on residents’ everyday lives.

I represented EDF on the Stakeholder Working Group, which also had representatives from community-based organizations and consumer advocacy organizations with expertise in environmental justice, climate, and environmental issues, and people with experience and expertise in proceedings at the DPU and the EFSB.

After a more than 18-month stakeholder process, our report recommends seven areas where improvements are necessary:

  • Advancing equity at the DPU and EFSB
  • Improving transparency and accountability
  • Improving information and knowledge accessibility
  • Reforming DPU and EFSB’s approach to public engagement
  • Reforming DPU and EFSB’s approach to intervention
  • Improving public and evidentiary hearings and public meetings
  • Recommendations related to adjudications

Our report found that DPU and EFSB must make changes to their regulatory processes to center environmental justice populations and impacted communities. Energy, climate change, and the environment are issues that affect all of us, and we all should have the opportunity to be meaningfully involved. Implementation of the recommendations in this report will bring better alignment between regulatory processes and recent equity policies and mandates in Massachusetts.

The report includes more than 30 specific short and long-term recommendations for consideration by the agencies. Here are a few highlights.

Centering Equity

DPU and EFSB must take tangible steps to advance equity concerns among environmental justice populations and other impacted communities. Stakeholder input, as well as a clear statement addressing how DPU and EFSB are going to center equity and environmental justice into their decision making and regulatory reviewing processes, are paramount to advancing overall equity.


  • Each agency should open a generic policy investigation with the goal of revising the agency’s approach to regulation based on recent climate legislation. Agency procedures and decisions should prioritize equity and affordability as it relates to environmental justice principles.
  • Agencies should recognize the value of lived experience by allowing non-technical experts, like community members, to provide testimony in proceedings.
  • The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs should establish an environmental justice advocate position to provide support for EFSB Proceedings. The environmental justice advocate would be the liaison to stakeholders and prospective intervenors by providing outreach and education in EFSB proceedings.
  • DPU should increase transparency and availability of information related to environmental justice, equity, affordability, energy reliability and accessibility, energy burden, energy insecurity, and energy poverty.

Improving Transparency and Accountability

DPU and EFSB’s work and decision-making processes should ensure there is transparency, accountability and legitimacy.

Our recommendations include:

  • Requiring that DPU and EFSB, as well as petitioners, respond to stakeholder comments and concerns.
  • DPU should consider issuing tentative orders and soliciting comments, even when that procedure is not required.
  • Creating a mechanism for EFSB to reassess decisions and to limit cost recovery when the evidence presented by a petitioner and relied on by the decision-maker significantly changes.

Reforming DPU and EFSB Approaches to Public Engagement

Our report highlights that many people view DPU and EFSB proceedings as too opaque and difficult to have an impact on, or to participate in. Increasing public engagement and input is the foundation of our recommendations. This level of inclusiveness will facilitate more transparency and a clearer understanding of the regulatory process.

We recommend:

  • Improving how impacted communities and environmental justice populations are made aware of DPU and EFSB proceedings.
  • Requiring project proponents and petitioners to conduct meaningful pre-filing outreach, and workshops or outreach sessions in certain proceedings, to provide detailed information relative to an upcoming case and to hear community concerns in time to incorporate such concerns prior to the DPU or EFSB filing.
  • Establishing an Office of Public Participation to provide support for community members to offer input.
  • Establishing clear and inclusive language access protocols. Limited English-proficient residents of Massachusetts should have the same opportunities to participate in DPU and EFSB proceedings.

Reforming DPU and EFSB’s Approaches to Intervenor Status

Our report recommends that DPU and EFSB expand the scope of intervenor status with the following recommendations:

  • Revise the applicable standard of review to be more inclusive and ensure that hearing officers effectively manage intervention by multiple parties.
  • Provide more materials and educational resources to prospective intervenors for capacity building.
  • Provide financial resources so that prospective intervenors materially contributing to a significant issue in the record can pay for attorneys and experts.

Our report’s recommendations center those who are most affected by the DPU and EFSB decision-making processes – environmental justice populations and impacted communities. The report’s recommendations are not an exhaustive list but are thoughtful and practical steps that can help reduce the disproportionate burden on those populations.

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