Mass. must lead in combating climate crisis

What state does could be a blueprint for others to follow

SIX MONTHS into President Biden’s first year in office, we are witnessing a profound reversal of the anti-environment legacy that his predecessor left behind. Our federal government is poised to make meaningful progress toward combatting climate change. Indeed, the Biden administration recently committed to reducing US greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by 2030. With bold climate action from our federal leaders, it is tempting to overlook the role of state governments in this fight. Doing so fails to recognize that much of the federal government’s broad vision and funding to combat the climate crisis will be delegated to states, who will be tasked with devising and implementing innovative solutions.

Massachusetts has amassed a long track record of developing and implementing nation-leading policies. We established the first public school, were the first state to guarantee marriage equality, and the first to implement single-payer health care. Massachusetts is a small but bold state that has outsized potential to innovate around climate solutions. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan includes significant funding for state and local government and investments in green infrastructure. Massachusetts has the opportunity to pilot solutions that help to build a sustainable economy and serve as models for other states and the federal government.

Offshore wind is one such opportunity—it will bring a wave of massive economic development and workforce deployment. According to multiple projections, the offshore wind industry is poised to grow rapidly to comprise half of the power in the New England regional grid by 2050.

Over the next 20 years, the industry could drive over $100 billion in capital investment across the six New England States and create many tens of thousands of jobs. The Environmental League of Massachusetts launched the New England for Offshore Wind Coalition in order to center offshore wind in driving a green economic recovery throughout our region. Specifically, the league views this as an opportunity to build an inclusive industry from the ground up, learning from our past to create a better future. The Baker administration should adopt a proven model for economic inclusion and diversity in offshore wind procurements, allowing developers to compete in creating outstanding diversity and inclusion plans in their projects. This model of minority economic participation could be easily exported to other states to jump-start an equitable offshore wind industry across the country.

Another opportunity is the transportation sector, which is responsible for 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it critical to address in responding to the climate crisis. In addition to ensuring effective and equitable implementation of the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative, Massachusetts should electrify public transit, fleets, and personal vehicles. In particular, electrifying public fleets presents a unique opportunity for Massachusetts to lead by example. These highly visible, publicly-owned assets could spur technology improvements and catalyze market growth if electrified. This would eliminate harmful tailpipe pollutants, improve public health, save millions of dollars in healthcare costs, and help drivers save on fuel and maintenance costs. Bold, decisive action on electric vehicle policies would accelerate this transition across the rest of the country.

Finally, we must make environmental justice a top priority in the Commonwealth. Many environmental justice communities in Massachusetts are overburdened by polluting energy infrastructure located in their neighborhoods. Historically, the process for siting these energy facilities has been flawed, with residents not being heard and suffering the health impacts from these siting decisions. Massachusetts can model a solution to this problem by reforming our Energy Facilities Siting Board so that cumulative impacts are considered, and members of environmental justice communities are included in the decision-making process.

Climate change is an existential threat to the Commonwealth. It is at the heart of the Environmental League’s  agenda for the next generation. Our priorities are grounded in science and scaled to match the challenges we face. In the years ahead, we will advocate for policies that help Massachusetts achieve our carbon neutrality goals, grow our clean energy economy, and empower historically overburdened and underserved communities.

Meet the Author

Gordon M. Burnes

Chair of board, Environmental League of Massachusetts
All of these policies can provide a blueprint for other states and the nation in combating the climate crisis while ensuring that our economic recovery is green and equitable. With strong advocacy and partnerships, Massachusetts can lead the way.

Gordon M. Burnes is the chair of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.