Mass. citizens point the way on climate change

State leaders and policymakers need to get on same page as voters

WE LIVE IN a time when the way we power our lives is literally putting our survival at stake. We’re seeing an increase in deadly natural disasters, glaciers melting at a worrisome rate, and American states and territories at risk of disappearing from the map due to rising sea levels.

Yet the Trump administration seems deeply committed to exacerbating the destructive impact of climate change. Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced earlier this month that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Act, an Obama era climate policy to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Massachusetts residents know better, and demand action. In a recent WBUR poll, 88 percent of voters in the Commonwealth said climate change is real and caused by humans; a majority of voters are concerned about coastal flooding, extreme heat waves, sea level rise, and more powerful storms.

Our fears are based on facts. A recent Union of Concerned Scientists report named Winthrop as the single most vulnerable community in the state when it comes to sea level rise; under a “high sea level rise” scenario, by 2030, 11 percent of the town will experience flooding at least twice a month. Revere, Chelsea, Hull, and Nahant were not far behind. And we know from Super Storm Sandy and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria – which devastated the American South and the Caribbean – that it is the poor, the elderly, and minority communities that bear the brunt of these climate calamities.

While Massachusetts residents get it, their sense of urgency is not always reflected in the actions of our state leaders. At a time when our power grid is disproportionately reliant on natural gas – a fossil fuel – Gov. Charlie Baker has supported a cap on net metering, which is the mechanism through which solar projects are funded. Net metering caps have slowed the growth of solar in our state, an industry that employs 15,000 Massachusetts workers. Baker also supports a “pipeline tax” on all electricity customers to cover the $6 billion required to construct additional – and unnecessary – natural gas pipelines.

State and local action has become more important than ever in the Trump era. As the Senate chair of the Green Economy Caucus, and Massachusetts Director of the Sierra Club, we have been working to advance multiple bills that would protect the environment and increase the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

But there is also work to be done at the local level. Municipal officials have a major impact on laws and funding decisions made on Beacon Hill. Their priorities, ideas, and concerns shape the state budget, as well as policies on education funding, health care, affordable housing, public safety, zoning reform, and yes – the environment and energy.

That is why the Sierra Club has created the Mass. Local Climate Leadership Project in order to educate and empower local elected officials to take action in their own communities and on Beacon Hill, to protect our air, our water, and our lands. Protecting the environment means protecting communities, and safeguarding public health. This initiative will provide training and guidance to local elected officials about what more they can do.

Meet the Author

Jamie Eldridge

Senator from Acton, Massachusetts Senate
Meet the Author

Emily Norton

Executive director, Charles River Watershed Association
From implementing community choice energy, to divesting from fossil fuels, to setting aggressive 100 percent renewable energy mandates, local officials can give the people what they want: clean energy, climate justice, and a livable planet. If you are an elected or appointed municipal official that would like to join the Mass. Local Leadership Project, visit CleanEnergyMass.org.

Sen. James Eldridge, Democrat of Acton, is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change and the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Green Economy Caucus. Emily Norton is a longtime environmental activist and Massachusetts director of the Sierra Club.