Did state enviro official say anything that outlandish? 

Poorly worded comments seemed to explain state policy 

STATE ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS undersecretary David Ismay has made outrageously reckless claims, and is in serious hot water. At least if you read the Boston Herald

The paper has been pummeling Ismay — and his ultimate boss, Gov. Charlie Baker — ever since the conservative Mass. Fiscal Alliance shared a video last week of Ismay speaking to the Vermont Climate Council about Massachusetts efforts to reduce carbon emissions. 

In talking about the effort to reduce carbon emissions in Massachusetts, Ismay told the group that one central fact facing policymakers is that 60 percent of carbon emissions come from residential heating and passenger vehicles. “There is no bad guy left, at least in Massachusetts to point the finger at, to turn the screws on, and you know, to break their will, so they stop emitting,” he said, apparently referring to big industrial sectors that can be targeted. 

The reductions have come from “you and me,” he said, from “the person across the street, the senior on fixed income.” “We have to break your will,” said Ismay. 

Baker wasn’t happy with the remarks. “No one who works in our administration should ever say or think anything like that, ever,” he said.

Ismay’s wording was less than politic. He seemed to admit as much when he closed his remarks — made publicly to a state panel in a recorded Zoom conversation — by saying, “I can’t even say that publicly.”  

But stripped of their blunt language, Ismay’s comments were more a matter of fact than a strong statement of environmental ideology. 

Bank robber Willie Sutton, when asked why he robbed banks, famously said, “because that’s where the money was.” 

There is a version of that going on with efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and Ismay’s misstep may have been to say the quiet (but obvious) part out loud — with some added harsh language that is a gift to opponents of the administration’s policies. 

The Transportation Climate Initiative the state is pursuing, for example, would lead to some increase in retail gas prices — though there is debate over how large the bump would be. 

For Herald columnist Howie Carr the Ismay video has been every holiday he can imagine all rolled into one. He has eviscerated Ismay in two columns in recent days. And it was not enough to dig out records of speeding tickets Ismay got 20 years ago as smoking-gun evidence of his fuel conservation hypocrisy, Carr somehow decided a speeding ticket Ismay’s wife evidently received 21 years ago was relevant here. (Is an investigative story far behind on whether their kids leave the water running while brushing their teeth?) 

Today’s Herald, which features the second installment of Carr’s all-out assault, also carries an op-ed by Mass Fiscal’s Paul Craney that urges Ismay’s firing

In another story, just posted the Herald website this morning and tagged “still developing,” the paper says Ismay is also now being “called out” for “questionable comments” about the fishing industry. The apparent scandal — which CommonWealth actually reported on five days ago in a story on the Ismay dust-up — involves Ismay also talking to the same Vermont panel about the challenges and opportunities in developing the state’s offshore wind energy sector. 

“We can’t have no offshore wind, no transmission, no solar, and have clean energy,” Ismay said. “Something has to give. There has to be some mechanism we trust to find a place to site a transmission line.”

Mass Fiscal says the comments are “fishy at best” in terms of their implications for the state’s fishing industry. 

You could argue that we should not take any steps to reduce residential or automobile emissions that could affect consumer costs. Or that the state should not pursue any offshore wind projects — and leave it to other states to build out this huge energy sector.  

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

But if the policy premise is that we should take action on both fronts, Ismay’s greatest sin seems to have been speaking truth to power (sources).