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.

Green Minga Barnraising: Big Success

(En Español Abajo)
When was the last time you hosted a party and saved hundreds of dollars in fuel costs and thousands of pounds of global warming pollution? Yolanda Gonzalez and family did that just last week at the Green Minga barnraising!

Yolanda

Three generations of the Gonzalez family were joined by about 40 BostonCAN volunteers for the Green Minga barnraising, or community work party. Key among these were local professionals Victor Guillén of Carpentry Services Boston, Wilbert Seoane of Co-op Power, and Next Step Living’s Carl Lowenberg, who donated both time and materials to make the day a success. These three were joined by Manuel Gonçalves of Co-op Power, Loie Hayes of BostonCAN, and Matthew Schriener of Home Energy Efficiency Team as team leaders who taught volunteers ways to block cold air from sneaking in through windows and doors, and to keep heat in where it’s needed and not where it isn’t.

Spanish and English conversations echoed throughout the building, with more than a third of the participants being native Spanish speakers. Media professionals José Massó from WGBH’s Con Salsa and independent filmmaker Carla Pataky interviewed participants to document the event and discuss more broadly Latino efforts to address climate change. Jose and WilbertFreelance photographer Gretjen Helene took photos throughout the day and created a wonderful slideshow of highlights. Whole Foods donated a bounty of sandwiches and snacks to get volunteers fueled up for the four-hour work session.  Catalina Justiniano, the Green Minga organizer, commented afterward, “It was an exciting and beautiful experience of a community working together to improve the living conditions of these JP residents. Most impressive was how most of the volunteers were willing to come back again if anything else could be done beyond the possibilities of a four-hours work session.”

As in a traditional Minga, the homeowners offered food to thank their community after the work was done, Yolanda thanked the volunteers with a wonderful supper of chicken, rice, red beans and a delicious salad jointly prepared by the family. Volunteers took a break from work to enjoy this meal and share their joyful sense of accomplishment. Yolanda never stopped smiling throughout the day and days after she said “I feel blessed with all the work that was done, as it was something I really needed. What I like most was that there was a family-like feeling in the air and also that I’m positive I will save energy. Now I need to get the insulation and I hope that will happen soon.”

During supper, people had the opportunity to hear presentations on job openings in the weatherization industry. Jubeth Nuñez representing Renew Boston and  Next Step Living, Eunice Yu from Mass Energy, Mela Bush from Co-op Power, and Stephan MacPhee fromjob info session Solar City all discussed the types of positions that are currently open at their workplaces. Just the fact that so many more companies are now providing energy efficiency services to Boston residents, compared to even 4 years ago, is a testament to the potential of community development through investment in energy efficiency.

Victor Guillén and Co-op Power both donated planning time before the barnraising and Co-op Power came back after with a blower door test to measure how much our work had reduced the draftiness of Yolanda’s home. Based on that evaluation, we project that the building’s residents will save a combined $438 in energy costs every year going forward. That also means that there won’t be any of the global warming pollution that would have been created by burning that $438 worth of energy: a savings of more than 3895 pounds of CO2, which is equal to about a fifth of Yolanda’s household’s energy pollution footprint.  And all from do-it-yourself projects!

Green Minga organizer Catalina Justiniano is saying goodbye to BostonCAN as she moves out of the area. Thankfully she has created some wonderful precedents that our next barnraising organizer can use going forward. Please contact BostonCAN Coordinator Loie Hayes if you’re interested in helping to organize our next barnraising!

We’ve posted more photos on-line.

End the Era of Coal!

We have a huge opportunity to speed Massachusetts to a coal-free future!

Dominion, the owner of the largest coal-fired power plant in the state, Brayton Point, is putting the plant up for sale, along with two more coal plants in their portfolio. This could be the nail in the coffin for coal in our state, and would echo loudly beyond our borders, but only if we speak out for what we know our communities need.

The Commonwealth’s leaders need to hear from us about our vision for a clean up the site, retraining of the workers, and new economic investments to “make whole” the communities that have borne the brunt of the plant’s pollution and that have depended on the plant’s tax payments to maintain the roads, schools, and hospitals that have been the foundation of Dominion’s profits.

Please read the press release from the Coal-Free MA coalition below. We don’t yet have a specific action in response to this news but you can demonstrate your support for a speedy and just transition to a coal-free MA by signing on to two e-actions from coalition member groups Toxics Action and Clean Water Action:

1) ask Governor Patrick to make aggressive carbon reduction a condition of the plant’s future operation:
https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=6309

2) ask our federal Senators to tighten regulations on coal ash
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2155/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=11381

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 9/06/12

Coal Free Massachusetts responds to Sale of Brayton Point

Today Dominion Resources, Inc. announced the sale of three coal plants as they divest from their merchant fossil fuel plants in de-regulated states. Included in the sale announcement are the Brayton Point coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts and two plants in Illinois.

In response, the following members of Coal Free Massachusetts stated:

“Certainly we know that coal-free is the future, and Dominion’s plans to sell Brayton Point only reinforce our message,” said Pauline Rodrigues, a leader of the local group Coalition for Clean Air South Coast. “The Town of Somerset has to make arrangements now for how to prepare for this economic transition, to bring in good new jobs and replace lost municipal revenues. We need to plan ahead so we’re not left holding the bag.”

We hope that Dominion will be a better neighbor on the way out of Somerset than they were for us here in Salem,” commented Pat Gozemba, Co-Chair of Salem Alliance for the Environment. “A legacy fuel and a legacy mess are what we have had on hand, and we want better for our neighbors on the South Coast. The redevelopment of Dominion’s sites into productive and healthy economic centers for our communities relies on full cleanup and accountability for any mess left behind after years of profit-making.”

“Let the buyer beware,” said Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney with Conservation Law Foundation. “Dominion’s retreat from the merchant coal plant business is a clear indication that they see the writing on the wall for coal power. Coal’s share of the nation’s energy mix and New England’s has been steadily declining while clean energy like wind and solar is becoming cheaper. Coal power’s days are numbered, and we will continue to work to hasten the retirement of these aging, polluting plants in Somerset and beyond.”

Cindy Luppi of Clean Water Action said, “After years of working on these issues, you can’t help but wonder what the ‘For Sale’ sign at this plant will read. ‘Wanted: Clean Energy Future?’ Even at minimal capacity, Brayton Point—New England’s largest polluter—is toxic to our health, communities and pocketbook. Let’s hope this marks the shift to a more innovative future. We need a new paradigm for power.”

Sylvia Broude of Toxics Action Center said, “Somerset deserves a better neighbor. We urge whomever chooses to purchase the dirty and aging Brayton Point coal plant to be a good neighbor by working together with the Somerset community and plan for a responsible transition away from dirty coal and a smart, beneficial re-development for the site.”

“Dominion’s attempt to sell Brayton Point signals a recognition that Massachusetts and New England are rapidly building toward a coal-free future. We congratulate Dominion on trying to dump their toxic assets, and encourage them to use the funds they receive to invest in safe, healthy, and renewable energy,” said Craig Altemose of Better Future Project.

Jay McCaffrey with the Sierra Club said, “This should also be a signal to Governor Patrick that it’s more important than ever to make Massachusetts a coal free state. We need a plan to responsibly transition away from the dirty coal plants that have been a toxic burden on Massachusetts families too long and invest in clean, renewable energy that will mean healthier air, good-paying jobs and an economy that’s built to last.”

“It’s heartening to see Dominion getting out of the coal business in Massachusetts. But make no mistake, a new owner doesn’t mean the plant will shut down. This is the perfect opportunity for Governor Patrick to demonstrate his leadership and call for retirement of all of our coal plants,” said Ben Wright, advocate with Environment Massachusetts.

“We know that burning coal has serious impacts on our health and contributes significantly to global warming. For the sale of Brayton Point to be a complete win, we need a robust plan for helping Brayton Point workers transition to new jobs and for keeping the town of Somerset whole,” said Nancy Goodman of Environmental League of Massachusetts.

“Dominion’s actions indicate they are aware of the dim future for coal in the United States. As the rest of the country follows New England’s lead and phase out dirty power sources, plants like Brayton Point will become more and more rare. We look forward to working with the new owners of the Somerset plant to ensure a clean alternative to the region’s power needs,” commented Rob Garrity, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network.

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