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.

Massachusetts Green Energy Bill is Down to the Wire

With a 35–0 vote, the Massachusetts Senate passed a comprehensive bill on June 14 that would “promote a clean energy future” across the state. Here are some of the bill’s most important provisions:

  • Raising Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by three percentage points a year. The RPS is the minimum percent of the electricity sold by utilities and competitive suppliers that is required to come from local renewable sources. Currently, the annual increase is one percentage point. Raising the RPS faster would stimulate the development of new renewable energy projects in our region.
  • Eliminating the net metering cap. Net metering means that when solar panels produce more energy than the owner uses immediately, the extra goes into the grid and the owner gets a credit on his or her bill. Not limiting the amount of electricity that can be credited makes “going solar” affordable for more people.
  • Getting more specific about reducing statewide carbon emissions. The Global Warming Solutions Act had already mandated 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. The new bill sets interim targets for 2030 and 2040, and it instructs the state administration to produce specific plans for meeting all the goals.
  • Encouraging further development and use of offshore wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles. All of these technologies would reduce fossil fuel use.
  • Regulating competitive electricity suppliers more strictly. Allowing independent suppliers to compete for the business of individual residents was intended to help people save money. However, a study by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office shows that it does the opposite, and that vulnerable populations are hurt the most.

The next stop for the energy bill, now numbered S. 2545, is the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, time is tight: the current legislative session ends on July 31, and any bills that are still pending by then must start all over again next session.

Please contact your state representative now and ask him or her to pass the energy bill. If you can’t recall your rep’s name, here are three options:

  • Call (617) 722-2000, dial 2 for the House of Representatives, and speak with the operator.
  • Go to the Action Network website and compose an e-mail.
  • Go to the Massachusetts Legislature’s “Find My Legislator” page. Enter your address, then click on your rep’s picture to get contact info.

And while you’re at it, consider contacting your state senator, too, and thanking him or her for passing this important bill.

Join us for a Gas Leak Safari!

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There are more than 3,300 natural gas leaks in the City of Boston, where miles of old corroded cast-iron pipes are badly in need of replacement with newer pipe material. The leaked natural gas is expensive for ratepayers who bear the costs. The methane in the gas is also a more potent greenhouse warming gas than CO2, meaning that the leaks represent a significant part of our collective carbon footprint. Natural gas leaks also harms trees and plantings, which has been documented along the Boston’s famed Arborway.

At 1pm, Sunday, Nov. 17, we will gather for a short briefing on the issue, and then depart to bike and caravan through Jamaica Plain, led by Boston University scientists, a professional detection team, and neighborhood leaders from Boston Climate Action Network and Clean Water Action. Please bring a bike or car, or plan to join a carpool. We will return to the Brewery by 3pm.

Who:  Concerned residents of Boston

BU scientist Nathan Phillips and his son Julian measuring gas leaks in Dorchester.
BU scientist Nathan Phillips and his son Julian measuring gas leaks in Dorchester.

What: Bike and car tour of natural gas leaks in Jamaica Plain

When: Sunday, November 17th at 1pm

Where: Meet at Bikes Not Bombs at the Jamaica Plain Brewery Complex

284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, MA02130

Entrance to Bikes Not Bombs is to the left of Ula Café entrance

RSVPs welcome or  to get involved in organizing this action and the on-going “Stop the Gas Leaks” campaign, contact: Becky Smith, Clean Water Action: bsmith<at>cleanwater.org, 617-314-2347 or Boston Climate Action Network: BostonClimateAction<at>gmail.com.

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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