Environmental justice designation coming under scrutiny
Environmental justice communities, marginalized areas of the state overburdened with pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and highways, are turning out to be more commonplace in Massachusetts than you might think.
Earlier this year, when the Legislature passed a sweeping climate change bill containing language defining an environmental justice, or EJ community, advocates said the measure was needed to protect areas of the state with high populations of people of color, low-income residents, and other marginalized groups that face disproportionate environmental burdens.
But as the definition is being applied, the number of EJ communities is turning out to be larger than expected. According to a state analysis of Census data, close to 200 of the state’s 351 cities and towns contain some EJ neighborhoods.
There were municipalities containing EJ neighborhoods you would expect, including Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, and Randolph, where the entire city was an EJ community. Others high on the list included Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lowell, Malden, New Bedford, North Adams, Quincy, Springfield, and Worcester.
The state’s EJ designation is based on income, minority, and language metrics in a particular neighborhood, or Census block. According to the state’s definition, a neighborhood is considered an EJ community if its annual median household income is less than 65 percent of the statewide annual median, if minorities comprise at least 40 percent of the population, if at least 25 percent of households lack English language proficiency, or if minorities represent at least 25 percent of the population and the annual median household income of the entire municipality does not exceed 150 percent of the statewide annual median income.
Last week, state environmental officials showed just how powerful the EJ designation could be. In setting regulations for the construction of wood-burning power plants, the officials said the facilities would not qualify for essential ratepayer subsidies if they were located in an EJ community or within five miles of one. That ruling meant that 89 percent of the state was essentially off-limits to biomass plants and someone looking to build such a facility in Massachusetts could only locate it in 35 of the state’s 351 cities and towns.
Needham, Dover, Weston, Wayland, Lincoln, Concord, and Carlisle have no EJ neighborhoods, but they were largely off-limits to biomass plants because they are near EJ neighborhoods in adjacent municipalities.
Needham and Dover, for example, border two EJ neighborhoods in Wellesley. While the individual neighborhoods in Wellesley are considered EJ based on their minority population, the population overall in Wellesley is 77 percent white, with Asian as its largest minority group at 12 percent. The median income overall in Wellesley is $197,132.
Much of Cohasset, Scituate, and Marshfield would be open to wood-burning power plants under the new regulations because they have no EJ communities and they are surrounded by other communities that lack EJ populations, including Hingham and Norwell.
Lawmakers representing some of the 35 communities where a biomass facility would qualify for ratepayer subsidies are grumbling that their constituents are unfairly being singled out for possible exposure to soot and other air pollution from wood-burning power plants.
“If we’re going to regulate biomass out of 90 percent of the Commonwealth, we might as well make it ineligible for [incentive programs] across the entire Commonwealth,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who represents 17 western Massachusetts towns where biomass would remain eligible.
Rise in violence: A Department of Youth Services facility in Springfield experienced a sharp rise in assaults on workers in the months preceding an attack that resulted in the death of an employee. According to records, there were six youth-on-staff assaults in the first six months of this year; the average was seven each year between 2016 and 2020.
— An official with the Center for Human Development, the company that operated the facility, said statewide data indicate assaults were up in the first half of 2021 at all DYS facilities across the state.
— James Hillman died in the recent attack at the Springfield secure living facility. David Burgos, a teenager living there, has been charged with murder. Read more.
Eviction moratoriums urged: President Biden urged states to approve eviction moratoriums for at least August and September, but Massachusetts appears unlikely to do so, in part because the Legislature is taking its summer recess. Read more.
TRAUMA ON CAMPUS: Nicholas Covino, the president of William James College in Newton, says colleges and staffs need to be prepared as students return to campus this fall carrying lots of trauma from the coronavirus pandemic. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Acting Mayor Kim Janey says she’s leaning toward requiring all Boston municipal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but city officials say they’re not tracking worker vaccinations and so don’t know how many employees have received shots. (Boston Globe)
Marty Walsh, in his first public appearance in Boston since leaving the mayor’s post to become US labor secretary, says he feels “bad” about the police commissioner mess that was left on Janey’s plate to deal with. (Boston Herald) Walsh says acting Mayor Kim Janey handled the situation properly. (GBH)
Nine Massachusetts counties now have a “high” or “substantial” COVID-19 transmission rate. That means the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike will need to mask up when indoors in most areas of the state. (WBUR)
New Bedford is asking people to follow CDC guidance issued earlier this week and mask up when indoors in public spaces. (South Coast)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who received his COVID-19 vaccine in December, tests positive for coronavirus and says he has mild symptoms, the first known “breakthrough” case among senators. Graham says he is “very glad” he was vaccinated and is sure he’d be doing worse otherwise. (Washington Post)
Gig companies are poised to file language to put a question on the 2022 statewide ballot that would preserve their right to treat workers as independent contractors, not employees. (Boston Globe)
Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey gets to take credit for lots of things happening in the city — but she seems loath to give credit to others, including some of her election rivals, who came up with the ideas, says Joan Vennochi. (Boston Globe)
The Globe profiles Boston mayoral candidate John Barros, pegging him as a “bridge-builder” whose activism started as a teenager.
A gym in Boston is now asking all clients to be fully vaccinated before working out. (MassLive)
Former Hull superintendent Michael Devine filed a $5-million lawsuit against the town, claiming it issued a “scarlet letter” that precludes him from ever working as an educator again. Devine was fired after texting a 21-year-old former student living in Florida. (Patriot Ledger)
Teachers’ unions are calling for a statewide mask mandate for elementary school students. (Salem News)
The Massachusetts Maritime Academy is spending $50 million expanding into the renewable energy field with the construction of an energy, engineering, and science laboratory building and a new conference center and hotel. (Cape Cod Times)
Fall River’s annual Day of Portugal festival is on—tentatively—despite rising COVID-19 cases across the state. The festival typically draws over 20,000 people and features international performers. (Herald News)
An MBTA Green Line trolley was going 30 miles per hour in a 10 mile per hour zone when it struck a second trolley on Friday, sending 25 people to the hospital. (Associated Press)
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has been part of police training in Weymouth for a year and a half. Sergeant Kevin Malloy says the practice could help avoid use of force in police encounters. (Patriot Ledger)The Supreme Judicial Court agrees to consider an appeal filed by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who is fighting a 2018 city ordinance that calls for the resurrection of a five-member citizen commission to oversee the Police Department. (MassLive)
Lanesborough Police Officer Brennan J. Polidoro is fired for using a criminal justice database to look up women he dated or wanted to date. (Berkshire Eagle)