Report back: Climate Town Hall with Rep. Jeff Sánchez

Last Thursday, July 12 a crowd of constituents filled the First Church in JP for a “Climate Town Hall with Jeffrey Sánchez,” to urge Representative Sanchez as the House Ways and Means Chair to support passage of a strong climate action bill. The forum had been arranged by a coalition of local climate groups, including JP Forum, 350MA-Boston Node, Boston Climate Action Network, Mothers Out Front, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club Massachusetts, Our Climate, MA Interfaith Power & Light, and the Environmental League of Massachusetts.  

The assembled constituents were not in a happy mood to begin with. While the House had actually passed a climate bill, many were disappointed by its relatively weak language and the omission of important amendments in comparison to the Senate’s climate bill. Plus, Sánchez was busy with budget reconciliation and had to send his chief policy aide, Collin Fedor, to speak in his place.

Fedor did his best to defend Sánchez’ record on climate and his stand on various provisions of the bill. A particularly contentious point concerned the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The Senate bill called for an increase from 1% to 3% in the rate of increase in renewable energy in our basic electricity mix, bringing the New England grid to 100% renewables by 2049. The House bill provision on the RPS, in contrast,  would only reach 100% renewables by 2095, according to an analysis by Better Future Project.

Sanchez 1

To voice their frustration many attendants held signs like “RPS WTF?” “Not Good Enough” and  “EJ FAIL”, the latter relating to the lack of action on environmental justice amendments. The fact that a low-income solar bill apparently was still sitting in Sanchez’ committee was called a “despicable situation.”

One of the highlights of the forum was when a sophomore from Brookline High handed Fedor a pile of petition signatures in support of carbon taxation. Eli from SunRise Boston put his finger right on one of the big problems of environmental legislation, nationally and locally: the political donations by the fossil fuel industry. He asked whether Sánchez will sign the no fossil fuel money pledge. In the same vein, a representative from the League of Women Voters asked whether Sánchez wanted to side with the energy industry or the renewable energy industry.

BCAN joined other organizations in asking Fedor questions. Dick Clapp from BCAN asked if the Rep. had supported the provision to more strictly regulate competitive electricity supplier, which often prey upon people who want either cheaper or greener electricity supply. Pastor Price from Second Church in Dorchester asked if the Rep. supported expanding solar net metering options. Price explained that the current restrictions on net metering resulted in his church being able to put up only one-third of the solar panels that it had hoped to install. The same restrictions similarly limited solar for Bethel AME and the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, both in Boston.

Fedor often deflected or went to some boilerplate statements about Sanchez’ past and his priorities. To his credit, when he encountered points he hadn’t heard before, he said he would look into the issues and pass the concerns and arguments along. He also gave out his business cards when requested.

For now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Conference Committee can achieve a compromise. Committee members are Reps. Golden, Haddad, and Jones and Sens. Barrett, Pacheco and O’Connor. Contact these legislators through the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000. For detailed background on these bills, please read the Better Future Project analysis.  And join us in person for the Emergency Climate & Immigrant Justice Rally and Vigil this Thursday at the State House from noon till 1:30.

National Grid Suing City to Allow Continued Pollution

Natural gas utility National Grid has chosen to sue the City of Boston. The purpose of the suit to protect National Grid from having to conform to the gas leak ordinance passed by the City Council and signed by the Mayor in 2016.  The ordinance was passed in the wake of a multi-year campaign kicked off by BostonCAN in 2013.  You can see a video of our gas leaks street theater here.

“Unfortunately, utilities have filed suit to prevent the implementation of our gas leaks ordinance. National Grid has filed suit,” said O’Malley to Jamaica Plain News. “It is incredibly disappointing because it is something that was worked on and got to the heart of fixing the 4,000 to 5,000 gas leaks in the city. Instead of working to address these public health and safety issues the utility company has chosen to prevent its implementation by filing suit.”

The decision by the utility is short-sighted and clearly driven by “business over community welfare” thinking.

BostonCAN on the News

BNN News interviewed members of BostonCAN as part of a larger piece on climate readiness in Boston in the wake of two recent “Once in a Generation” storms that caused so much flooding.

Storm Prompts Call for Climate Action from Chris Lovett on Vimeo.

BNN interviewed Boston University professor Nathan Phillips, who discussed the need for Community Choice Energy to be acted on more urgently as a critical part of the climate plan for the City of Boston.

Rising Seas Rally in the News

BCAN’s Rising Seas Rally made a splash.

We got picked up by multiple news outlets.  The Boston Globe interviewed our campaign coordinator Andy Bean:

Bean said he hopes the city this year implements the Community Choice Energy plan that Boston’s City Council approved in October 2017, which would increase the amount of renewable energy residents and businesses use without raising costs.

The city has a Climate Action Plan, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and be carbon neutral by 2050, but Bean said it is overdue for an update.

We were also in the North End Waterfront neighborhood news and Universal Hub.  Attendees were also interviewed by Boston Neighborhood Network News.

Carbon Free Boston, mostly Content Free

Last Wednesday, 2/8, many of us attended the City’s “Let’s Talk Carbon Neutral” program. Presenters included Environment, Energy and Open Space Chief, Austin Blackmon; Director of Climate and Environmental Planning, Alison Brizius;  Professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University and lead researcher on the Carbon Free Boston project, Cutler Cleveland; and Boston University Sustainability Director, Dennis Carlberg.

This was the first time the public was welcomed to hear presentations about Carbon Free Boston, a research initiative designed to quantify the choices that Boston must make in its efforts to reduce our collective contribution to global climate change. The data will be used to shape the 2018 iteration of the City’s Climate Action Plan. We were told that our opinions would be important in helping City officials make “tough choices.” Unfortunately we weren’t offered anything concrete about what options the City is considering, or even an overview of where we stand now on achieving the goals identified in Boston’s 2014 Climate Action Plan.

Climate action advocates we spoke with after the event generally shared our sense that the program conveyed very little information about how the City is defining “carbon free” or “carbon neutral,” what metrics Carbon Free Boston researchers are using, and what the process will be for community engagement in shaping the plan. This is especially disappointing given the extensive outreach and community education that influenced the writing of the City’s 2011 and 2014 Climate Action Plans.

Boston has set a goal of being “carbon free” by 2050.  Tough choices demand more detailed understanding of the assumptions underlying the options.

Flooding in Boston

Boston began to feel the toll of sea level rise during last week’s winter storm.  The waters came up all over city – in the Seaport, Atlantic Avenue, the South Shore, Neponset, and the North End.

The pictures are pretty astounding.

We’re starting to see these “once in a generation” events several times a year now.   Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the devastation in Puerto Rico, endless wildfires across the west.

In recent interviews with Mayor Walsh and EEOS Chief Blackmon, both officials discussed the storm floods last week, and emphasized the importance of building infrastructure to be able to withstand increased sea levels during winter events.  But neither mention Boston’s role in cutting emissions to help prevent sea level in the first place.

The City will clearly need to prepare for the new reality of higher sea levels – that reality is already here now.  But it will get much worse – too much to handle with bigger sea walls – if we do not act to curb our emissions.

Mayor Walsh and Chief Blackmon must implement Community Choice Energy, as the quickest way to cut greenhouse gases and help stop sea levels from rising past the point of no return.

Joel Wool of Clean Water Action says:

Remember to call, email, vote, tweet, stand up, protest, obstruct, whatever else you can, to keep up the political urgency to fight climate change, to adapt to it. It’s going to take continued action and massive investment. Without your active involvement, the investment that happens is going to protect the 1%. Seriously – be the squeaky wheel. Tell other people to speak up, too.

Back Bay Pipeline Delayed

On November 2, 2017, Boston’s Public Improvement Commission (PIC) held a public hearing on a pipeline proposed by National Grid. Transporting fracked natural gas, the pipeline would go through the Back Bay and South End.  Approximately 60 Boston residents attended the hearing in protest.  Organized by the Boston Clean Energy Coalition (BCEC), the hearing’s protestors included members of the Boston Climate Action Network (BCAN), Mothers Out Front, 350.org, and the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

According to Jom Michel, a Steering Team Member of BCEC, “In the Back Bay, a few activists are trying to wake up their fellow citizens,” most of whom oppose the pipeline. He said that National Grid has not been open at all.  “The planning process was behind closed doors.  Before that, you could call it a rumor.”

To reduce Boston’s carbon emissions, BCEC advocates energy efficiency and clean energy for the City’s buildings, with the goal of making them net zero in terms of their carbon footprint. Jom stated that it doesn’t make sense to construct buildings powered by natural gas.  He said, “The pipeline is going to feed luxury condos so they can have their gas fireplaces and their gas stoves . . .  It’s not passive housing; it’s not what it needs to be.”

For the time being, the City Council has placed a moratorium on the decision-making process to allow National Grid to proceed with its pipeline. This is thanks to BCEC asking Councilor Josh Zakim to introduce a resolution calling for the moratorium.  PIC will hold another hearing regarding the pipeline on November 16, 2017.  The Mayor’s office has also asked National Grid to hold a public hearing, so residents will have a chance to voice their concerns.  Thus far, no date has been set for this hearing.