Legislature Misses Opportunity for Climate Justice & Equity

Thanks to guest blogger Andrea Nyamekye, of Neighbor to Neighbor, for co-authoring this post.

The Massachusetts legislature just concluded its 2-year law-making cycle. While it did succeed in making some progress on climate change policy, the state legislature severely missed the mark on justice and equity legislation. The climate change policy that passed was full of contradictions. And the bills that carried our hopes for climate justice — for addressing the ways communities of color and low-income communities have been considered sacrifice zones for pollution from landfills, gas compressor stations, pipelines, toxins in our homes, schools, and playgrounds — those bills were abandoned by legislative leaders in the process of finalizing energy and climate policy change.

BostonCAN is a member of the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), which has worked tirelessly over the past two years to promote equity in our state’s energy and environmental policies. This legislative session, GJC has prioritized environmental justice and access to solar energy as critical issues facing our communities, right now. The Environmental Justice bill would have addressed the fact that Massachusetts scored on the failing end of a scale created by the Center for Effective Government in 2016 to rate states based on the exposure of people of color and residents below the poverty line to hazardous facilities. Ours was one of just two states with an “F” grade.

The Solar Access bill would have encouraged developers to build solar energy in low-to-middle income communities, and environmental justice communities, and provide meaningful savings for these customers. We’ve already seen how current statutes limit the potential for community solar to benefits our Boston neighbors. Three churches in Boston — Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain, Second Church in Dorchester, and St. Augustine and St. Martin in Roxbury — all planned to use their roofs to generate affordable electricity for their congregants, but had to curtail their projects due to restrictions on the amount of electricity they could put into the grid at fair prices.

The State legislature has fallen short in its ability to push for effective climate and environmental legislation, leaving our black and brown communities left out, once again, in not only clean energy legislation, but in immigrant rights legislation, and wage theft as well. As Khalida Smalls of Community Labor United noted after the session closed, “This country, this state, and this city have a history steeped in racism and discrimination, and it continues to be true today. Moving these two legislative bills could have been major stepping stones in ensuring that all communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably.”

While legislators boosted the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) annual increase to 2 percent (doubling its effectiveness), that change only continues through 2030, when it drops back to 1 percent. We had been pushing for an indefinitely increase to 3 percent. The law also set the goals for 1,000 megawatt hours of energy storage and 1,600 additional megawatts of offshore wind, and expanded energy efficiency, but it also created a new precedent that allows energy production from the burning of trash and biomass to be deemed “renewable.”

In an article published in Commonwealth Magazine, Khalida Smalls wrote, “inaction has consequences.” We will not rest as we seek to build a strong enough base to demand urgent and just climate change policy in the 2019-2010 legislature. And speaking of which, the deadline for registering to vote in time for the Sept. 4 primary is today, August 15. Voting may be far from sufficient, but it sure is necessary!