Massachusetts’ first climate chief, Northeastern graduate plans to make the state a model for reducing carbon emissions

headshot of Melissa Hoffer standing outside
Melissa Hoffer, has been appointed as Massachusetts’ first ever Climate Chief. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Massachusetts’ first climate chief Melissa Hoffer is a 1998 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law.

Hoffer, who was appointed by Gov. Maura Healey, talked with Northeastern Global News about her job, her experience at Northeastern and how Massachusetts will serve as a model for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The climate office is really here to inject climate change into the DNA of the other state agencies,” Hoffer says.

The secretary of every state agency—from economic development to public safety—will establish a climate officer to make sure the agency understands the mission to reduce emissions and promote clean energy goals, she says.

Healey’s administration is establishing a new climate change cabinet consisting of agency secretaries who will meet monthly to talk about their goals, says Hoffer, who most recently was acting general counsel and principal deputy general counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan is to check in with state leaders 180 days into the Healey administration, around the end of June, to see what is working well and where changes need to be made, Hoffer says.

“We want to make sure that we are tracking things appropriately and that we are meeting our goals.”

Having a plan in place will also make it easier to attract federal funding for greenhouse gas reduction projects including the expansion of electric charging structures, Hoffer says.

Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008

In 2008, Massachusetts became one of the first states in the U.S. to sign into law a regulatory program to address climate change with the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The law requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to work with other agencies and the public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

One of the big moves forward is to electrify the transportation sector, including the public transportation sector.

Another goal is to move away from heating homes with fossil fuels such as oil and propane and from carbon-emitting wood burning to using clean electricity for heating and cooling, Hoffer says.

Heat pumps that operate on electricity have proved an efficient way to heat homes, she says.

But “we have a lot of work to do,” Hoffer says.

To decarbonize half a million of Massachusetts’ approximately 3 million units of housing by 2030 would require installing 70,000 heat pump systems a year, Hoffer says.

“That’s a huge job.”

Green energy bank could be the answer

Statistics from the Mass Save energy conservation program show that 33,000 heat pumps have been installed since 2020.

A green energy bank could be the answer to financing conversions for low income and moderate income households, Hoffer says.

“This is a way we can have a just energy transition. We want to make sure nobody is left behind.”

“Keep in mind that electric sources of energy are only as clean as the grid that’s powering them,” Hoffer says.

Burning coal and natural gas to get electricity to feed heat pumps undermines emissions reduction efforts, she says.

Hoffer says the state is looking to renewable, wind, solar and geothermal energy to make sure electrification makes sense.

Working with schools on green jobs

Another barrier to meeting greenhouse gas emissions goals is the lack of a skilled workforce, Hoffer says.

“Like many states, Massachusetts is facing a shortage of workers in many sectors,” she says.

An estimated additional 30,000 to 40,000 workers are needed for the renewable and green energy fields in the Bay State, Hoffer says. 

She says a coordinated effort across state agencies, including secretaries of education and higher education, will address the need for training programs in high schools, community colleges, colleges and universities.

Northeastern women hold top environmental posts

Hoffer isn’t the only Northeastern graduate making environmental history in the past few months.

Yana Garcia, who also graduated from Northeastern’s School of Law, in 2011, became secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency in September.

And Kate England, who earned her undergraduate degree from Northeastern in 2008, this summer was appointed Boston’s first director of green infrastructure.

Hoffer says her law professors at Northeastern inspired passion and creativity.

The late Don Berman taught that knowing how to apply the law was just as important as knowing the law.

“He would hold up an imaginary kaleidoscope and say that when you turn it, the problem looks different. It really stuck with me. There was this invitation to bring creativity to our work.”

Looking to have an impact that was structural

As a public school teacher, Hoffer saw firsthand how lower-income and marginalized people suffered more from environmental problems, diminished access to health care and fewer educational opportunities.

The first attorney in her family, Hoffer says she decided to go to law school because “I was looking to have an impact that would be a bit more structural.”

Recent floods, fires, droughts and heat waves show the time for arguing about the reality of climate change is long past, Hoffer says.

Delaying action for 40 years due to the denial of the fossil fuel industry means “we have a big job,” she says.

“The window for action is closing, and it’s closing very dramatically.”

Inspire youth to become engineering experts

“A lot of young people are anxious and depressed and very worried about what’s going to happen,” Hoffer says.

“I would say to them that we need them.”

She says she tells young people worried about climate change to become electricians, train and bus drivers, and coastal engineering experts who will help the world navigate extreme weather events.

“We have an obligation to try and fix this problem,” Hoffer says.

A growing number of states have appointed climate czars or resilience chiefs, but Massachusetts showed an early commitment to green energy with the Global Warming Solutions Act, she says.

“We are part of a living system, and our own human thriving depends on the health of that system. The good news is we know what needs to be done.”

Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at or contact her on Twitter @HibbertCynthia