Last Thursday the Environmental League of Massachusetts hosted a Gubernatorial Forum on Energy and the Environment. This took the form of a consecutive Q&A session — not a face-to-face debate. Just as well.
Here’s the Globe’s summary, and here’s the event video on Facebook:
You’ll notice that Baker always has a lot to say, and always seems to be fluent in the details that he wants to talk about. But given the looming catastrophe of climate change, which will continue do hit home with increasing fury, we have to hold our leaders to very high standards. So-so won’t cut it. Under the circumstances, Baker’s not close to being an environmental governor:
- He won’t even meet with constituents about the compressor in Weymouth
- He’ll show up for a Green Line ribbon-cutting ceremony, but he won’t ride the T.
- He boasts of being able to talk “all day” about the T, but won’t provide funding for a 21st century MBTA, a la TransitMatters’ regional rail white paper; Greater Worcester’s plans for rejuvenating that city via transit is a pipedream without funding. Will this administration advocate for the funding necessary for 21st-century rail transit? There’s never been any indication of that.
- He won’t commit to no new pipelines, deflecting by saying “we’re going to focus on the safety of existing infrastructure” — ie. a non-answer. His actual record is that he tried to make us pay for pipelines, stopped only by the Supreme Judicial Court of MA.
- He stuffed the Department of Public Utilities with utility and fossil industry operatives, who have acted in sadly predictable ways.
- His (and the legislature’s) refusal to lift the cap on solar electricity crippled the solar industry, to the tune of 20% job losses. This never should have happened — maybe that’s turning around, finally.
- He did not come out for 3% Renewable Portfolio Standard increase, as was passed in the Senate bill …
- … nor a carbon tax — either refundable or invested in bringing down carbon emissions à la Washington state’s ballot bill.
- He and his energy and environment secretary Matt Beaton insist on “clean peak” planning, ie. replacing oil-fueld electricity at peak demand times. Our own commenter, future State Rep and energy expert Tommy Vitolo has called clean peak “junk planning”: More useful to replace gas-powered electricity with renewables. Clean everything, not just the peak!
- He is not going to provide funding for the MBTA to function; we have to choose between on-time service and infrastructure that doesn’t crumble. Should that even be a choice?
Baker always talks a good game. I’m sure he’s very interested and invested in the details, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the big picture: We are in deep trouble, in harm’s way; and it’s only a matter of time before a hurricane Sandy or Michael tears apart Massachusetts. We’re not ready. As David Cash, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston, and Rebecca Herst, director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston, wrote in the Globe:
Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Maria were devastating. Through wise planning and bold transformative governance in a world of climate change, we can avoid the most significant impacts of hurricanes, sea level rise, and extreme weather. But that transformation needs to start yesterday.
I’m old enough to remember that in 2010 Governor Baker ‘was not smart enough” to know whether climate change was caused by humans, so you’ll pardon me for being skeptical that he understands how critical the situation is now. (No, I won’t ever forget that — that’s how he tried to get elected the first time.) Governor Baker shows interest but never any political urgency on climate or energy; he’s always been dragged along. He has a handful of small scale accomplishments to point to; and many areas where he has actually forestalled progress that would have been made without him — certainly with a Democratic governor. You’ll forgive me for not being grateful that he can talk his way around a few things with a rhetorical pat-on-the-head.
So let’s not downplay the difference between the candidates. On pipelines, for example, Jay Gonzalez says with great emphasis and no hedging (see 1:19:03 in the embedded video, above):
I want everyone to listen closely … I will do everything in my power to stop the expansion of natural pipeline infrastructure in this state. We don’t need it … it just will further our dependence on fossil fuels, which is the exact wrong direction to go; and as we were reminded very recently: This is dangerous … We have 20,000 leaks in our natural gas infrastructure all across the state. And it is contributing to climate change … it is costing ratepayers money … and it’s in some instances unsafe.
… This is a huge difference between Governor Baker and myself. He does not oppose the expansion of natural gas pipeline infrastructure; in fact, he supports it, and enables it. I know this isn’t totally under the state’s control, but we’re going to use every lever at my disposal, and I will yell as loudly as I can at the federal government, and advocate for the values and interests of this state.
Energy and climate deserve great urgency and bold action. That means voting for Jay Gonzalez.