Baker moves on quickly from Ismay
‘The substance of what he said is 100% true’
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER quickly moved on Wednesday after the resignation of his top climate change advisor, declining to even thank him for his service.
At a press conference at the East Boston Community Health Center, Baker said his secretary for energy and environmental affairs will need to find a replacement for David Ismay, the undersecretary for climate change. “We’ve done a lot of great work on climate over the course of the past six years here and we hope to and anticipate that we’ll do a lot more going forward,” he said.
Ismay got himself into hot water with remarks he made to the Vermont Climate Council last month suggesting that the state had no big polluters left to turn the screws on and break their will to make them stop emitting greenhouse gases. Instead, he said, the state has to focus its attention on breaking the will of ordinary citizens. “I can’t say that publicly,” he said, even as he did.
In a resignation letter addressed to Kathleen Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Ismay apologized for his comments. “Although my comments were interpreted by some as placing the burden of climate change on hardworking families and vulnerable populations, my intent was the opposite,” the letter said. “In the entirely of my remarks, and as I have elsewhere, I was urging caution in order to minimize such impacts out of a sincere concern that overly aggressive emissions targets may have unintended and harmful consequences on those we most need to protect.”
Ismay’s comments prompted angry pushback from the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which unearthed the Zoom video of the Vermont gathering, and eight lawmakers, seven of them Republicans, who called for his resignation. Baker didn’t stand by his undersecretary, twice condemning his remarks.
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said on Thursday that the undersecretary’s comments were unusual in their bravado but were generally reflective of the Baker administration’s stance on climate change. Craney said Ismay spoke clearly about what the administration intends to do, while the governor and other officials use vague terms like “market-based compliance systems” that add up to the same thing.
“The substance of what he said is 100 percent true,” Craney said. “Ismay’s comments were completely in line with the administration’s goal to reach its [climate change] benchmarks.”
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance opposes the regional Transportation Climate Initiative, which seeks to place a price on the carbon in vehicle fuels to both discourage fuel consumption and fund emission-reducing initiatives. Baker is a lead supporter of the Transportation Climate Initiative.
Craig Altemose, a climate activist who works as executive director of the Better Future Project, said he doesn’t agree with Ismay on everything but called him a committed public servant who worked hard to achieve the state’s clean energy goals.“The misinterpreted point he was — albeit clumsily — trying to make, contained parts that I agree with (a lot of our remaining emissions come from consumers) and disagree with (to address those emissions we need to directly change consumer behavior as a primary lever),” Altemose said in an email. “But it is unquestionable that Ismay joined the Baker administration out of a sincere desire to really dive down and figure out how to get Massachusetts off of fossil fuels, and he was a big part of laying out the state’s detailed 2030 clean energy and climate plan. Ismay’s reluctant resignation points to Baker seeming to care more about the optics of addressing climate change than actually addressing it and his removal will ultimately make the Baker administration less effective in tackling the climate crisis.”
Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, the president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, called Ismay a talented professional and a deeply dedicated public servant. “His comments were poorly chosen – and then intentionally misrepresented by those who consistently oppose addressing climate change,” she said in an email. “His resignation shouldn’t be read as a weakening of the Baker administration’s resolve to tackle climate change. Rather, it is a reflection of toxic patterns of harassing organizations and individuals that are dedicated to climate and environmental protection. The public should know that MassFiscal and others’ tactics degrade public discourse and discourage good people from being willing to enter – or remain – in public service.”