Oil, gas exec sees energy landscape changing
Clean energy advocates and environmentalists would be quick to point out that Mike Sommers is not exactly a neutral observer when it comes to energy policy. As CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, Sommers is paid to advance the interests of the fossil fuel industry that is held up as a prime driver of climate change.
But with no secret about his angle on the issues, Sommers paid a visit this week to Boston and offered up what he might call an inconvenient truth: He said the nation’s rapid transition away from fossil fuels has been “mugged” by the energy reality of high gasoline prices and the war in Ukraine.
Sommers, who met with local energy industry officials and House Speaker Ron Mariano on Wednesday, said President Biden’s visit this week to Saudi Arabia dramatically illustrates the changing landscape.
When he campaigned for president, Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia pay the price for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi “and make them in fact the pariah that they are.” But now, with world oil markets tight and prices high at the gas pump, the president is going to Saudi Arabia to make nice.
The American Petroleum Institute executive says he believes climate change is real and needs to be addressed. But he also believes the United States needs an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy as it transitions away from fossil fuels. Sommers said the president should focus more on developing energy resources here at home – he has a 10-point plan — than going to the Saudis to ask them to do so.
“Most Americans think, yeah, we’re going to need this for a while and we should be getting it from our own backyard rather than begging regimes that may not have the best interest of our country at heart,” he said.
There is a local angle to the Sommers message. He said natural gas has backed coal-fired power plants out of New England and driven down costs and greenhouse gas emissions. He said the use of home heating oil could also be eliminated if only additional pipeline capacity could be built connecting the region to the vast gas reserves in Pennsylvania.
He also warns against efforts on Beacon Hill to let individual communities ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction, saying that approach will drive up costs.
Sommers says New England and the rest of the nation need more energy, not less, as they transition to a clean energy future. He says natural gas is needed as a backup for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
Asked how his meeting with Mariano went, Sommers said it was productive. “He’s a really practical lawmaker and he understands the importance of an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” he said.
Mariano’s office issued a statement saying “Sommers was in the building and stopped by the speaker’s office for a brief meet and greet. As you know, the House passed a transformative offshore wind bill that will help end our reliance on fossil fuels, creates jobs, and modernizes our grid in preparation for increased sources of renewable energy.”
Rural school challenges: A lot of attention has been focused recently on the challenges facing urban school districts, particularly Boston, but smaller, rural school systems are grappling with their own unique issues, including population decline and transportation struggles. A state commission is recommending a large infusion of cash to help deal with the crisis.
– In the Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District, a shortage of teachers is a big problem. With its small tax base and lack of affordable rental properties, the community cannot offer salaries high enough to lure teachers to the area.
– Declining enrollment is also a concern, as families leave for jobs elsewhere but the costs of running the school keep rising. “If we have three students leave third grade, [only] a nominal part of our costs goes away,” said Todd Stewart, the district’s superintendent. “I’m not eliminating a teaching position, I still need to run lights in the classroom, buses.” Read more.
Abortion bill nears finish line: The Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would erect new legal shields for those providing abortion services and expand access to emergency contraceptives. The one hitch is that the Senate bill doesn’t include a provision included in the House version of the legislation expanding access to abortion beyond 24 weeks. The question now is whether the differences between the House and Senate can be resolved and the bill signed by the governor before the session ends at the end of the month. Read more.
Altman leaving Health Policy Commission: Gov. Charlie Baker appointed retired health care executive Deborah Devaux chair of the Health Policy Commission, replacing Stuart Altman, a Brandeis University professor who has headed the agency for its first 10 years. Read more.
Golden opportunity on climate: Joe Curtatone, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, asks what it will take for blue Massachusetts to go green. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The House and Senate are at loggerheads over the issue of ensuring the right to obtain a later-term abortion. (Boston Globe)
Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin raises concerns about the cost and complexity of a new remote notarization process that is advancing through the Legislature. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Advocates seek approval for a controversial bill that would set standards for sex education. (Eagle-Tribune)
Salem has long celebrated Negro Election Day, which is now on the verge of becoming a statewide holiday, commemorating the day Blacks united to select a lobbyist/ leader amid colonial slavery. (Salem News)
The Boston City Council approved $367 million in allocations with federal pandemic aid funds. (Boston Herald)
Springfield sends $1,400 “household grants” to 60 low-income households using federal ARPA money. (MassLive)
A police sergeant in Plainfield is let go and his wife suggests her husband was squeezed out because the police chief hit on her. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
US Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren urge Beverly Hospital to delay closing the North Shore Birth Center. (Gloucester Daily Times)
The US housing shortage is no longer just a coastal problem. (New York Times)
Worcester Mayor Joe Petty’s state Senate campaign accuses the Massachusetts Women for Progress PAC of campaign finance violations. (MassLive)
Acting Boston Schools Superintendent Drew Echelson told the city’s school committee he is “completely confident” that the district will meet the first deadlines in its improvement plan agreement reached with the state. (Boston Globe)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren pushed the head of the Federal Transit Administration to get the MBTA “back on track” in the wake of a series of safety mishaps. (Boston Herald)
A federal judge reinstates a ban on lobster fishing gear in a 1,000-square-mile area off the New England coast in order to protect whales. (Gloucester Daily Times)
River herring and American eels are slowly disappearing and experts are unsure what to do. (WBUR)
Michael Cox, a 57-year-old Black Boston police veteran best known as the victim of a beating from fellow officers that highlighted racism in the department and the “code of silence” that pervades its ranks, was named the city’s new police commissioner. (Boston Globe) Former Globe reporter Dick Lehr, who authored a book on the episode that saw Cox severely beaten on a Mattapan Street, takes stock of the news, as does Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham. (Boston Globe)
President Biden nominates state Ayer District Court judge Margaret Guzman, a former Worcester public defender, to serve on the US District Court in Massachusetts. (Telegram & Gazette)PASSINGS
Shawn Drumgold, who spent more than 15 years in prison on a wrongful conviction for murder in the high-profile case of a 12-year-old Roxbury girl caught in gang crossfire, died unexpectedly at age 57 in Bridgewater, where he was quietly living. (Boston Globe)