AHT, a coalition of over 160 groups around the state including such mainstream organizations as the League of Women Voters, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, has proposed several pieces of legislation, one of which, the Mercury Products bill, became law in 2006. For the last couple of years AHT’s legislative priority has been An Act for a Healthy Massachusetts – Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals.
This bill creates a comprehensive program to replace toxic chemicals in consumer products and industrial processes with safer alternatives when feasible alternatives are available. The bill has provisions to help industry find and make the replacements. It does not ban any chemicals outright, but provides a flexible approach which is actually quite friendly to business.
In 2007, through the grassroots activism of the broad-based AHT coalition, a majority of both houses of the state legislature signed on as co-sponsors of the Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals bill.
At a hearing for the bill in June, a representative of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO testified
We owe those who work in our state the safest and healthiest workplaces we can possibly provide. Where safer alternatives exist, there is no excuse for putting the health and welfare of workers at risk by making them work with completely avoidable toxic chemicals. This legislation takes the necessary step of protecting our workers, with the added benefit of creating jobs in green chemistry and other innovative industries that will lead to new, safe alternatives to toxic chemicals. In fact, in addition to helping us protect the quality of life of our workers, this legislation will help our Commonwealth catch up with many nations around the globe and open up expanded trading relationships with countries that demand products with these kinds of safer chemicals.
But the Patrick administration never came out and supported it, despite thousands of postcards, calls, and letters asking that they do so.
In November of 2007, the State Senate was about to vote on the bill, and would have passed it overwhelmingly, when Senator Tarr, one of the five senate Republicans, asked to delay the bill. At the next session Senator Tisei, the minority leader, again delayed the bill, this time until January. That kind of carrying water on behalf of business interests is what I expect from Republicans. But then, when the bill was about to come to the floor in January, we learned that the administration itself had asked to delay it! It appears that industry groups had asked the administration to do this, and some agencies in the administration had their own concerns about the bill. But earlier last fall, representatives of the administration refused to talk directly with representatives of AHT about potential solutions to their reservations about the bill. During all these delays, industry opposition has increased pressure on State Senators, putting this important legislation at risk.
So I am left wondering, what happened to the support for the public good and for grassroots democracy so eloquently voiced by Deval Patrick during “our campaign?” What is the message to the thousands of citizens who “checked back in,” when moneyed industry groups are heard more loudly and clearly than thousands of us who are asking to protect our public health?
Like many of you, I knocked on doors in searing heat and in rain; I made scores of phone calls to friends and neighbors, laying my credibility on the line asserting that this campaign was for a new vision of government, one where our voices mattered. I am feeling more than a little burned.
But the opportunity is still there for Governor Patrick to support a strong bill that protects public health.
I want to say to our Governor: your message resonated with us, and we yearned to believe in it. We still do! This is another area where your vision can become reality, where, just like you have said about renewable energy, the world will be our customer if we get it right. Come back to us, meet with us, work with us on this. Do you still believe in “together we can?”
Disclosure: I have been a member of the board of Clean Water Action since the spring of 2006, elected shortly after Clean Water Action endorsed Deval Patrick for Governor.