Lawmakers talk environmental reform, hope for 2021



Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2021 3:27:18 PM
Modified: 1/19/2021 3:27:15 PM

NORTHFIELD — Environmental law reform, along with its political challenges and opportunities in 2021, were discussed in an online call Sunday night with Massachusetts lawmakers from the state and federal level.

The discussion, hosted by the Northfield Area Progressives, featured state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester.

As governments attempt to spur the clean energy industry, one of the key issues at both the state and federal levels is the fear that jobs associated with older forms of energy will be eliminated, all three legislators emphasized.

Because of that, there can be resistance in private industry. Building tradespeople are not necessarily confident in the idea of changing such a major piece of their livelihoods, Mark said.

And, Comerford said, other industries that are affected by the energy industry may also have concerns.

“People don’t want to be immediately boxed out of a job,” Comerford said.

So part of the political work toward environmental reform, Mark said, comes down to working with stakeholders who may have reservations, or who may have other priorities ahead of environmental reform.

“What we really need is, we need buy-in from communities,” Mark said.

In fact, the expectation is that expanding newer parts of the energy industry will create jobs, McGovern said.

“There are jobs, jobs, jobs here, in addition to preserving our planet,” McGovern said. “We’re going to have to provide a comfort level as we make these transitions, so people know we’re not just saying nice things — that we do care about their current jobs, and that their current jobs can be transformed into newer jobs that are better for our environment.”

Politically, the will for environmental reform exists in both the federal and state governments, all three said.

But they also agreed that the reforms currently being discussed may not be as ambitious as they could be.

Massachusetts has already set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050. Comerford said she would prefer a more ambitious goal, but that concerns about funding government projects may be in the way.

“We have to get to a much bolder 100 percent renewable,” Comerford said. “Our survival depends on it.”

Just last week, Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a 57-page climate change bill that had passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 145 to 9, and in the Senate by 38 to 2. Democratic lawmakers vowed to immediately refile and pass it again, should Baker veto the measure. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050.

According to the Associated Press, Baker’s press secretary said the administration supports many parts of the legislation but was unable to improve on it through the use of amendments because of how late it passed in the session.

“As currently written, this bill could increase the cost of housing, possibly prevent the construction of affordable developments and potentially impact large sectors of the economy just as the commonwealth is beginning to recover from the pandemic recession,” Sarah Finlaw, Baker’s press secretary, said in a written statement. “The governor hopes to address these issues quickly now that the Legislature is committed to revisiting the bill so soon.”

In the federal government, McGovern said, there has been partisan resistance to reforming environmental policy, especially during the administration of President Donald Trump.

This year, McGovern said, the election of Joe Biden may indicate that the political situation will become more favorable. Democratic Party majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate will probably support environmental law reform, he said.

A major infrastructure bill is expected later this year, McGovern said, which will likely become an opportunity to create new green economy jobs.

“We are going to start changing the way we rebuild America into something that is more sustainable and something that actually helps our environment, McGovern said. “I’m actually feeling good.”

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