Mass Power Forward Letter to Governor Baker

On Wednesday, 9/13, Mass Power Forward initiated a "stand-in" to urge Governor Baker to lead on climate change. The coalition is calling on Governor Baker to issue an executive order to do all in his power through statewide and regional initiatives to move us toward clean energy and reject new fossil fuel infrastructure. Read our letter to the Governor at the link or below.

13 September 2017

Dear Governor Baker:

As a network of over a hundred organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents who are members of environmental, public health, climate justice, community development, business, faith, and other community organizations fighting for our future, we write to you with an earnest request for your engaged leadership on a critical issue facing the Commonwealth and its people. Climate change is the single greatest threat to our society. While we appreciate recent steps your administration has taken to advance climate regulations under the Global Warming Solutions Act, the continued expansion of fossil fuels threatens to frustrate these efforts and the purpose of the law itself, and it is within your power to do much more to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

You govern a state whose residents unambiguously see climate change as a real threat deserving of focused leadership. We call on your office to issue an executive order directing all of your state agencies to do everything in their legal authority to avoid the construction of new gas infrastructure such as pipelines and power plants, and instead maximize and facilitate the availability and ability of energy efficiency, conservation, demand response, and renewable energy to meet the energy needs of Massachusetts.

Every day that passes is another day that the climate gets worse, and we face a bleak future with increasing droughts, storms, heat waves, spreading tropical diseases, and sea level rise. At a time when we must be redoubling our efforts to address climate change and embrace 21st century renewable energy technologies, the United States President is actively working to undermine our nation’s climate leadership and recommit our nation to the economically uncompetitive and environmentally devastating 19th century coal industry, pulling us out of the Paris Climate Accord, and working to fast track dangerous and destructive pipelines like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access.

Furthermore we know that the negative impacts of climate change and fossil fuel extraction are not born equally. People of color, indigenous people, and the working class all bear disproportionate impacts. From federal land grabs on tribal property for gas exploration, to the increasing heat islands and heat related health impacts in neighborhoods such as Roxbury, the impacts of fossil fuels have clear disparate racial impacts.

Massachusetts needs inspired leadership so that we can inspire the nation with a cutting edge clean energy economy. Our state has a long and proud history of leadership, from the American Revolution in the 1700s to more recent first-in-the-nation steps forward on marriage equality and health care. We believe our state can and must power forward with local, renewable, affordable, and reliable energy and a thriving economy for all, and provide that same level of leadership on climate action and climate justice. As world leaders gather in Germany in November to decide how to advance the global effort to combat climate change, they will be looking to states like Massachusetts that have pledged to uphold the Paris Climate Accord to understand the future of American climate action. For that we reason, while time is of the essence, we especially request you to demonstrate this leadership prior to the beginning of those meetings on November 6th.

Right now, natural gas is far and away the largest source of energy in the Commonwealth and New England (approximately 50% of our energy) - we do not need more of it. And at a time when we should be accelerating our shift away from gas toward safer, cleaner alternatives, the fracked gas industry has their eyes set on our region, and hopes to seize the common wealth of the Commonwealth for their private gain. We call upon you to join us in standing up for our Commonwealth and its future.

The Attorney General, Massachusetts’ ratepayer advocate, has said that new gas projects are unnecessary to keep the lights on  -- and that they will be more expensive for ratepayers than energy efficiency and renewable energy. We should be investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency -- industries that already employ nearly 100,000 people across Massachusetts and have lowered demand for fossil fuels significantly. We cannot and should not be investing in or permitting new pipeline projects. Instead, we should invest any available funds in equitably growing the clean energy economy.

Aside from the worrisome climate impacts, residents near these pipelines, compressor stations, metering stations and more are also concerned for their health and safety. Not only is gas explosive, but new research shows a strong association with headaches, nausea and nosebleeds for people living close to oil and gas facilities. These symptoms raise concerns for long-term health impacts of nearby populations.

As you know, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the Commonwealth must reduce pollution as mandated by the legislature in the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. Recent studies cast doubt on gas being any better for the climate than coal; regardless, the large climate footprint of burning gas means that building new gas projects would sink our efforts to fight global warming, as required by law. The United Church of Christ, led by its Massachusetts affiliate, voted this year by a massive 97% majority on a resolution to oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure. Law, science and ethics demand we shift away from fossil fuels.

The simple truth is that building new gas projects would only dig the hole deeper when we desperately need to be climbing out. Add our requirements to act under Massachusetts law, your public commitment to hold up the Paris Climate Treaty, and our moral obligations to current and future generations, this decision is a clear one: stop building new gas infrastructure.

We expect that this executive order will clarify our energy priorities across countless decisions in state government, providing state officials the clarity they need to unambiguously drive forward the shift from dirty energy to clean energy. Among the many decisions we expect the executive order will add clarity to, we specifically expect it will do the following:

1. Hold state permits to the highest standards, not federal “Trump standards”

Your administration is and will continue to be asked for state permits on these projects such as the MassDEP Air Quality Plan and the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management (CZM) decision for the Weymouth Compressor Station. Our state agencies should not be permitting the construction of infrastructure that pose a real threat to the health and well-being of the residents of the Commonwealth, and state regulators should be clear that they should reject such permits.

2. Publicly oppose a pipeline tax of any kind.

Your administration has and will continue to be asked to weigh in on a “pipeline tax” where greedy pipeline industry tries to pass the business risk on to the Massachusetts ratepayers. As you know, 39 Senators and 97 Representatives went on record last session against such a mechanism and our own Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court struck it down as illegal as it conflicted with the 1997 Restructuring Act. Thus far, your comments about the pipeline tax have been neutral or positive. We need you and your agencies to make clear that this is an irresponsible use of funds in the 21st century, and neither advance such a policy internally nor support such a policy externally.

3. Urge the Grid Operator to build the electric grid we need, and make Massachusetts a model

As you also know, about 50% of New England’s ratepayers live in Massachusetts. Your administration has significant influence on and responsibility for energy policy in our region. We expect you and your staff to make clear to ISO New England and other regional bodies that Massachusetts will vigorously oppose any and all efforts to charge the ratepayers of the state for wasteful, expensive, and harmful pipeline projects, and that they should instead focus their energies on facilitating the growth of truly clean and renewable energy, energy efficiency, and demand response. In Massachusetts, you can model this process by advancing grid modernization proceedings at the Department of Public Utilities with robust protections for low-income residents, launching a comprehensive value of solar study in the vein of states like New Hampshire, New York and Minnesota, establishing and sustaining a low-income electric vehicle rebate and continuing policies to deploy energy storage.

In addition, in solidarity with frontline communities across the state, we call upon you to advance the implementation of the Executive Order 552 on Environmental Justice:

4. Promote Environmental Justice

Environmental justice (EJ) is the right to be protected from environmental pollution and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment regardless of race, income, national origin or English language proficiency. For years, Massachusetts governors, whether Republican or Democrat, have endorsed action on Environmental Justice, but progress has been slow. We are glad to see an updated EJ policy emerge under your administration, and urge you to accelerate full implementation of Executive Order 552, appoint an EJ director, and require public health impact assessments of new projects in or near EJ communities. As part of this implementation, we urge you to direct each agency within EEA to issue formal guidance to their staff and to the general public by the end of 2017, and for agencies within MassDOT to issue formal guidance by March 1, 2018, on how each Department, Division or Office will integrate environmental justice considerations into their operations, protect communities from pollution, enable access to government and promote access to open space, green infrastructure, clean energy and sustainable transportation.

Such guidance should reflect how agencies will consider Environmental Justice in specific instances, for example, within a Department of Public Utilities proceeding or a Rulemaking at the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Energy Resources, as well as in the aggregate. If such a guidance would be redundant, we welcome communication on how the individual Department, Division or Office is implementing EO552 and the EJ policy, what if any resources are being expended to facilitate implementation and which staff persons or staff positions will serve as points of contact for EJ issues.

You have the enviable position of being the Governor of a state that has some of the brightest minds in technology and science. Please continue on Massachusetts’ forward-looking path and lead our state and country with the creation of renewable energy innovations, not anchor us to out-dated and wasteful dirty technology infrastructure for multiple decades.

We hope to be able to celebrate your leadership upon taking this step, and stand ready to meet with you at any point to explain our concerns around gas expansion and our hopes for a 21st century clean energy economy.

Sincerely,

Mass Power Forward