ONE COMMONWEALTH AGENDA
Imagine a Commonwealth fully powered by renewable energy with climate resilience for our roads, bridges, rail, water, and waste systems. Where we have acknowledged and accepted our shared vulnerability to climate change’s existential threat and redressed the disproportionate burdens borne by communities of color, low-income communities, and others on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Where all have access to green jobs and a healthy environment that supports biodiversity and the health of Baystaters. Where our children can be confident that we have laid a sustainable foundation for their futures and trust in the ability of our democracy to meet its challenges.
For too long, we have kicked the can on meaningful climate action. With global carbon dioxide levels at their highest point in human history and average temperatures in Massachusetts climbing by the year, climate change isn’t coming; it’s here. Already, people living in areas of our Commonwealth where fossil fuel facilities are located experience high rates of asthma, respiratory diseases and other health challenges. The coming decades will bring more severe weather events, hotter temperatures, and more flooding.
But we can meet our challenges. That is why my agenda will prioritize: achieving a 100% renewable energy economy and decarbonization by 2040; supporting climate resilience and climate justice; ensuring access for all to a healthy environment; and prioritizing infrastructure that supports and advances our climate goals.
The agenda below is the outcome of community collaboration at every level. It was developed in discussion with advocates and policy experts across the state. Most importantly, we listened to so many of our fellow citizens who are working tirelessly to advance the cause of climate justice. Thanks to their wisdom and insight, we have a climate agenda that will deliver a climate-resilient Commonwealth powered by renewable energy and delivering access to a healthy environment for all. But work to refine this agenda remains: we’ll continue to engage with communities across Massachusetts so that all voices are heard in our efforts to knit the Commonwealth together.
This agenda is just the beginning of the process. As we seek stakeholder engagement across the Commonwealth in the months ahead, the next critical ingredient we need is YOU. Together, we can ensure the growth of our economy and the shared, inclusive benefits of that prosperity.
In the fall of 2016 I was teaching a 9am college class that met on Mondays and Wednesdays. This meant that, the morning after Donald Trump was elected, I was the first older person my students would encounter. I knew everyone had a lot to process, so I chucked my usual lecture, and invited the students to share any thoughts, feelings, or questions they had about the surprising election result.
The classroom I taught in that fall was an older one, with awkward, fixed seating. As I started the conversation, I didn’t ask anyone to stand up. The space was too hard to move around in. But, even so, the first young man I called on did stand up.
He looked me in the eye and said, “You have all just abandoned us.” I was taken aback. I was thinking, “What? I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, and I wrote my heart out for a year in the Washington Post against his election. What can he mean?”
And my student continued. He said, “We have just loss the critical years we needed to change the direction on the existential threat of climate change.”
I was still processing, trying to understand how he meant that this was my responsibility, when he concluded by saying, “Your generation has abandoned our generation by letting the politics of this country get to such a point that the election of Donald Trump was the result.” Those words hit home, and I have been trying to answer his call ever since. To prove that we can deliver a politics capable of addressing challenges as significant as climate change.
ACHIEVING A 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY ECONOMY AND DECARBONIZATION BY 2040
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report makes clear that to avoid the worst of climate consequences, the world needs to limit average warming to 1.5 ℃ above pre-industrial levels.
As Massachusetts plays its part, an Allen administration will commit to surpassing the Commonwealth’s current goal of being net-zero by 2050. To meet the seriousness of the climate challenges, our goal will instead be to move Massachusetts toward 100% renewable energy and decarbonization by 2040.
- First, we will align five-year emission limits to achieve our 2040 goal and ensure rigorous accounting and accountability for those limits. The rapidly decreasing costs of wind, solar, and battery storage give us an opportunity to accelerate this effort. The Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs – appointed by the Governor – will achieve these more ambitious goals through the state’s regulatory process. Every five years state-wide emissions limits are set, and sub-limits are set for the sectors of electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service. We will leave no room for fossil fuel polluters to cheat or duck when it comes time for the nuts and bolts of carbon accounting.
- We will also work aggressively to accelerate the Commonwealth’s move away from its reliance on natural gas by increasing the rate of growth in the state’s renewable portfolio and greening the grid with renewable energy technologies of the future – wind, solar, and geothermal. To achieve this we will pursue regional design of the distributed energy system of the future, including in support of solving the interconnection problems currently hindering growth of the solar industry. We will continue the advance of the off-shore wind industry and assure that state infrastructure investments align with climate goals. We will use state leadership to encourage local governments to do the same.
- An Allen administration will take concrete steps to achieve decarbonization. We will not approve any fossil fuel infrastructure construction projects. An Allen administration will also seek to end state subsidies of polluting fossil fuel energy and exercise oversight over state programs such as Mass Save to ensure that when it comes to residents’ energy procurement, we are investing in renewable sources and not in dirty fuels of the past. We will also work closely with residents of Weymouth in their longstanding efforts to shut down the compressor station sited close to residents and schools. We will also work to ensure gas utilities fix their big methane leaks while not building out the natural gas infrastructure to be a stranded asset and a burden on ratepayers. One way to do this is by supporting the direction and scope of the pending Future of Heat legislation.
- To achieve these ends, an Allen administration will prioritize appointing experts in renewable energy to leadership roles on the key task forces and commissions designing our future energy infrastructure. Utilities currently reliant on natural gas will be included as stakeholders but not as commission and task force leads.
- An Allen administration will also immediately fill outstanding appointments on key commissions necessary to achieve the goals of the Next Generation Roadmap. We will prioritize a diverse set of field leaders — with an eye towards ensuring that young people, people from communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and people from all regions of the Commonwealth have meaningful roles in advancing our climate agenda.
- An Allen administration will also work closely with the legislature, state treasurer, and others concerned to divest pension and other state-held funds from fossil fuels. This will protect the financial interests of the Commonwealth and its citizens while holding accountable the companies most responsible for worsening our climate crisis.
- We will also use the financial muscle of the Commonwealth to push financial institutions away from fossil fuel investments and towards climate solutions. We will work with the state Treasurer to steer our public dollars and financial relationships towards those financial institutions most aligned with our climate needs.
ACHIEVING CLIMATE RESILIENCE WITH CLIMATE JUSTICE
Climate change is already bringing substantial challenges to health and well-being. The burdens are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color. While accurately predicting how the climate will change at a level as granular as one state is difficult, projections, despite their large ranges, are still informative: Days with temperatures over 90℉ – which cause an increase in deaths, illness, and workplace injuries, and a decrease in learning – are expected to increase from an average of 5 per year to 12 to 31 days by 2050. Precipitation is likely to increase, especially along the coast, bringing with it the risk of disruptive flooding. Sea levels are expected to rise between 4 to 10.5 feet by 2100 – challenging coastal areas and threatening to cause billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure and ecosystems. Damage and risk will increase as the seas rise over those decades. And extreme weather events, like hurricanes, winter storms, and tornadoes, are likely to increase in intensity and frequency.
An Allen administration will pursue climate resilience alongside mitigation efforts – ensuring the burdens of climate change are not borne disproportionately by communities of color, low-income communities, and others who reside and work on the front lines of the climate crisis. Instead, we must work as One Commonwealth to correct for inequities by including everyone in adaptation plans. Solutions will typically involve bringing to bear both private and public sector tools, in different combinations, depending on how economic and climate factors interact from place to place.
We will bring our public sector tools to bear alongside private-sector efforts to keep resilience for environmental justice communities front and center.
- To start, an Allen administration will move forward with the 2018 Massachusetts State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (SHMCAP), which offers a thorough overview of climate threats in Massachusetts and lays out a plan for coming up with solutions. Importantly, it promotes the use of nature-based solutions such as landscaped berms, tree canopy cover, preservation of forests and wetlands, and promotion of regenerative agricultural practices as well as building on the state’s new Healthy Soil program.
- Yet an Allen administration will prioritize three notable improvements to SHMCAP including adhering to dynamic adaptive principles. These provide a planning structure for dealing with uncertainty, by aiming for the best outcome while preserving optionality to address potential worse outcomes and revising climate resilience goals every 5 years.
- We will embed equity into our adaptation plans and actions by combatting green gentrification. An Allen administration will ensure that environmental justice communities are actively involved in the resilience planning process, that adaptation processes work to support strengthening communities, not displacing people, and that principles of greening communities and designing in affordable housing are integrated with one another.
- Additionally, we will increase our understanding of where and when climate adaptation needs government intervention. Given the localized effects of climate change, many climate resilience efforts will need to happen at the local level, with the state playing a key guiding role. Due to resource and time constraints, prioritizing government actions that both streamline overall resilience and help vulnerable communities adapt is key. An Allen administration will work to identify areas where climate adaptation is unlikely to happen without state government interventions and then focus on removing any roadblocks preventing adaptation (e.g. informational and financial roadblocks or those resulting from incentive structures).
- Finally, to achieve historic strides on energy, emission, and adaptation, we will build on and extend the considerable academic and industrial expertise present in the state, including providing support for research and development.
ENSURING A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL
Sustainability and climate justice also require environmental protection. The G7 environment ministers had it right at their May meeting:
“As we continue to address the ongoing pandemic, we acknowledge with grave concern that the unprecedented and interdependent crises of climate change and biodiversity loss pose an existential threat to nature, people, prosperity and security. We recognize that some of the key drivers of global biodiversity loss and climate change are the same as those that increase the risk of [diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals], which can lead to pandemics. . . . We recognize that climate change and the health of the natural environment are intrinsically linked and will ensure that the actions we take maximize the opportunities to solve these crises in parallel.”
An Allen administration will commit Massachusetts to contributing to the national 30×30 goal of protecting 30% of land and 30% of ocean by 2030. We will also accelerate our work on pollution control, zero-waste targets, and land and water management in support of climate resilience and biodiversity.
- To achieve this, we will increase acres protected and will set ambitious goals for clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration, resilient wildlife, and quality of life. To do so, we will move forward the recommendations of the Resilient Lands Initiative and commit the resources necessary to achieve these priorities. We will also continue to accelerate use of the Conservation Land Tax Credit and the Greening Gateway Cities program to support underserved communities. And we will tie investments in solar panel installations in built areas to conservation goals in other parts of the state, through innovative approaches to subsidies.
- We will invest in regional approaches to environmental protection and pollution control. Water does not respect municipal boundaries, and as climate changes impacts water resources regional planning will be key. We will empower the state’s watershed associations to coordinate regional efforts to ensure our water sources are healthy and our water infrastructure resilient.
- We will also adopt a Zero Waste strategy for the Commonwealth, empowering MassDEP to work with regional planning bodies to develop and phase in Zero Waste programs and principles while aggressively phasing out landfills and incinerators. The goal will be to expand deposit return systems and to replace single-stream with dual and deep sort recycling.
- Finally, we will fully implement the Toxics Use Reduction Act, re-establish the interagency task force on nanomaterials, and protect the Commonwealth from PFAS exposure by supporting municipalities in bringing their water supplies into compliance with new state standards. To address industry polluters’ responsibility for the contamination, we will work to identify companies that introduced toxic PFAS chemicals into the water supply and hold them accountable for all incurred costs of treatment required to provide Massachusetts communities with clean and safe drinking water.
- In support of all these efforts, we will strengthen our public health infrastructure, with an Office of Resilience in the Department of Public Health, empowered to support clean air, clean water, food security, and heat illness prevention. This will be an opportunity to take the efforts of the existing Bureau of Environmental Health to the next level via integration with the broader climate agenda.
Reimagining Infrastructure that Supports and Advances our Climate Goals
The greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth are transportation and buildings, and many people currently depend on jobs in the fossil fuel economy. In other words, our basic infrastructure of housing, transportation, and jobs needs transformation in directions that support a renewable energy economy.
We need to make infrastructure investments designed to advance a renewable energy economy and deep decarbonization. This means making investments in good homes, rides, schools, and jobs that reinforce and advance our climate goals. We have a set of building block agendas in each of those areas. The climate-related policies in those building-block agendas include:
- Achieving an abundant supply of energy-efficient housing throughout the Commonwealth. Our agenda prioritizes accelerating investment in and community outreach for home retrofitting; making it easier for municipalities to incorporate climate provisions (such as gas bans) in zoning laws; initiating, mandating, and funding a municipal and/or regional strategic planning process designed to increase affordability, livability and sustainability; streamlining pathways for residential homeowners to transition to electric heat and cooling with use of heat pumps and induction stoves; continuing to advance transit-oriented development; and cultivating a culture of beauty and sustainability in density.
- Developing healthy and green school buildings by accelerating school building upgrade schedules.
- Building affordable and electrified regional and Commonwealth-wide transportation networks through investments in high-speed, high-performance, decarbonized and renewable energy transportation systems, linking Western and Eastern parts of the state; advancing regional public transportation systems with subsidized fares; implementing congestion pricing; developing electric vehicle infrastructure and electrifying of school bus fleets and other public vehicle fleets; and replication of innovative transportations initiatives such as the successful Salem Skipper public sector ride-sharing service; equipping existing transportation infrastructure for climate resilience; and increasing safe transportation options for bicycles, electric bikes and scooters.
- Developing a good green jobs plan for workforce growth in renewables, clean vehicles manufacturing, energy efficiency, and more, with tools to target green jobs opportunities towards the communities most impacted by environmental and social injustice.
Housing, health, transportation, schools, jobs, justice, community, sustainability, and empowerment. These are the building blocks of a livable life, and they have to fit together for life throughout our Commonwealth to be livable. What’s more, every person in Massachusetts deserves not just a livable life but opportunities to create their best life. These building blocks are what every single one of us needs to have a foundation to stand on to live a healthy life. These are also the building blocks of an inclusive and dynamic economy that will support growth throughout the whole of the Commonwealth, a transition to just sustainability, increased prosperity for all, and access to nature, outdoor recreation, and a healthy environment for all.