House takes baby steps on climate change

We need to commit to 100% renewable energy

WE ARE WRITING as Mass Power Forward, a grassroots coalition of over 200 environmental groups, community development organizations, clean energy businesses, faith groups, neighborhood health and safety advocates, and Massachusetts families fighting for our future.

We believe our state and region can power forward with healthy, clean, affordable, reliable energy and a thriving economy. Since January 2019, we have been asking the Legislature to take urgent action in three areas: (1) environmental justice protections for historically marginalized and impacted populations in Massachusetts, (2) a rapid statewide transition to 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2035, and for that to extend to heating and transportation by 2045, and (3) equitable investments of state revenues in green infrastructure to immediately reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Last week we saw the results of our advocacy work with the House’s decision to study and plan to address a problem we have known about for decades in a year when we should be taking immediate action. The state is continuing to miss the mark on a critical infrastructure commitment: getting Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy. The current legislation would get the Commonwealth to 100 percent renewable electricity by roughly 2090. Without action towards a clean energy future, we risk relying on fossil fuels indefinitely.

To say that 2020 has been characterized by unprecedented crises is perhaps the understatement of the century. We are truly living at a historical crossroads. And we recognize that the Legislature has been under immense pressure to handle a slew of pressing issues including, but not limited to, responding to the coronavirus pandemic and addressing systemic police violence while still remaining responsible for passing a balanced budget. With a global pandemic and systemic racism at the forefront of our minds, action on climate change takes on a new context. Evidence show that black and brown communities are most impacted by pollution and have historically worse health outcomes. Although everyone will be affected by climate change, never has it been more apparent that in times of crisis, black, indigenous, low income, and communities of color will always bear a disproportionate share of the impact.

Without change, we can expect that many of the same communities with high COVID infection rates per capita, such as Chelsea, Brockton, and Springfield, will continue to be overburdened with pollution and subjected to further dangerous climate impacts in future years. It is critical that this unequal impact is addressed now, as we begin to consider the realities of a someday post-COVID world.

We are now in a position where the only way forward is to address these issues holistically. Yet the House of Representatives has failed to show leadership. House leaders waited until the last possible moment to address the climate crisis. In fact, advocates and legislators only had five hours to read, analyze, review, and propose amendments to the long-awaited climate roadmap bill released on Tuesday.

Although the bill represents a small step forward on carbon pollution reductions, it includes almost no immediate action to address the crisis. Late into the night, hundreds of climate justice activists and organizers across the state, isolated by the pandemic, united in a joint effort. We sat hunched over laptop screens, feverishly emailing legislators, demanding, cajoling, and pleading to add in the missing pieces: for pollution protections for vulnerable communities and a statewide commitment to transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

After two long days of remote debate and voting, a glimmer of hope emerged with support around an amendment filed by Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston. This small but significant amendment would codify the definition of environmental justice into law and provide additional protections for vulnerable communities. As votes for the amendment were cast, advocates cheered across the state. These reforms, which have been in the works for six years, are the result of hours of advocacy by organizers at Greenroots Chelsea, Neighbor to Neighbor, and Alternatives for Community and Environment; and legislative leaders like Rep. Michelle DuBois of Brockton and Rep. Liz Miranda of Boston. These protections will be absolutely critical as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis and must remain in the final version of the bill.

The Senate in January passed a package of legislation that included some positive measures to reduce the use of fossil fuels, including a timeline for the MBTA to switch to electric buses and updating energy efficiency standards for household appliances. Yet neither chamber has come close to what is needed to encourage the rapid expansion of renewable energy. Even a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is insufficient to meet the targets set out in the 2018 UN IPCC report.

The House and Senate are working together to develop a compromise bill, but the final product will not commit the state to a path of 100 percent renewable energy. To protect the health of every community in Massachusetts and ensure a safe, livable climate, we need to transition fully off of fossil fuels as soon as possible. The climate bill passed by the House falls far short of that.

Meet the Author

Jacob Stern

Deputy director, Sierra Club, Massachusetts chapter
Meet the Author

Claire B W Müller

Climate justice director, Community Action Works
Meet the Author

Sarah Dooling

Executive director, Masachusetts Climate Action Network
Meet the Author

Cabell Eames

Legislative manager, 350 Massachusetts
Renewable energy policies will be critical as we move towards a green COVID recovery focusing on public health and bringing safe, good-paying jobs to the Commonwealth. In fact, there is growing evidence that much of the climate-friendly legislation, such as a proposed net-zero energy code for new buildings, can create significant health and financial opportunities for communities. By transitioning to healthy renewable energy, these policies will also make resident’s homes–where people are spending most of their time lately– comfortable and affordable. We can’t wait for another legislative session to move on life-altering policies. and we fear that we are already too late.

Jacob Stern is the deputy director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club, Claire B.W. Müller is climate justice director at Community Action Works, Sarah Dooling is executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, and Cabell Eames is legislative manager of 350 Massachusetts .