Friday, March 21, 2008
Forum hears how state laws support green energy
Nearly 75 Carlisleans flocked into Union Hall Monday night to exchange ideas and hear State Representative Cory Atkins and Massachusetts Climate Action Chair Rob Garrity answer the question: “Green energy legislation: what’s new on Beacon Hill?”
While citizens enjoyed refreshments provided by the Carlisle Climate Action Committee and the First Religious Society’s Climate Action Committee, who co-sponsored the evening, Garrity kicked off the program with a quick survey of the history of environmental regulation in Massachusetts since the early ’90s. A decade or more ago, he said, energy legislation primarily dealt with automobile emissions. Since then it has expanded to address carbon emissions permitted in power plants and industry, and finally led to former New York Governor George Pataki’s greenhouse gas initiative just a few years ago. Today in Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick’s administration has, on the one hand, welded together the offices of energy and environmental affairs and on the other, as Representative Atkins added, begun a new initiative to make our state “the center of the world for innovation and new energy sources.”
Four recent pieces of legislation launch this movement, Garrity said. They are:
1. Massachusetts Environmental Policy Green Energy) Act
All of these initiatives attempt to provide tax credits, loans and other incentives to fund clean energy initiatives in industry and residences, and help communities fund clean energy programs.
The Global Warming Solutions Act, Garrity said, resembles similar legislation in other states, but has more “teeth” because it mandates an 80% reduction (below 1990 figures) in carbon/greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is, he said, one of the “toughest bills in the country.”
Atkins declared, “This is a moment in history, because the environment, education and economic development have converged in a public way.” She said that Speaker DiMasi’s new “Green Jobs Bill” provides for the creation of new jobs in the clean energy industry. Funded by existing revenue in the Bay State Competitiveness Fund and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to the tune of $50 million, the bill provides for a seed grant program to award funds to startups; a fellowship program to train Massachusetts business people to enter the energy sector; and a Green Jobs Initiative to coordinate local universities and community colleges in the development of environmental academics aimed toward “green collar” careers. The significant factor here, said Atkins, is “that there is no longer a war between the environment and economic development,” but the two are joining forces.
Atkins reiterated several times the statement that “we cannot look at this as a return to our past. We have to learn to live differently.” It is not enough, she said, to adopt clean and renewable energy policies and use these methods in our homes. We need to “learn to live in clusters, take public transportation,” and change the way we think about using energy individually and in groups.
Questions and statements from the audience followed the speakers’ presentation: the first of which was: “How will we remain competitive?” Garrity’s answer to this query was that by converging our efforts at energy-efficiency and renewal with economic development, Massachusetts can become the center for the production of energy efficient products. “We can keep young scientists here,” he said, and create jobs in the production industry as well as in research and development. “This is something we are going to have to do [as a nation],” Garrity asserted. “Better we should do it here than let this opportunity go somewhere else.”
Another Carlisle citizen mused that the National Highways Act of 1956 may have been responsible for “the trouble we’re in,” and asked how we can remedy that situation when we are so dependent upon our automobiles. Atkins answered that the new “smart growth” policies will help to bring us closer together and into proximity with public transportation and commercial centers, and recommended as well a concerted movement toward hybrid and more energy-efficient cars. Both speakers praised the “near food movement,” which advocates buying locally-grown food. “It is ridiculous,” Garrity declared, “that now a single peach travels an average of 3,000 miles before it is purchased and eaten.” He added, “Technology got us into this, and I have to believe that technology can get us out.”
Another resident who offered to hand out information on a new National Security and Prosperity Agreement which allegedly provides for “supercorridors,” or 18-lane highways through the U.S. between Mexico and Canada wondered why “our politicians and media have been silent” about this project. Atkins, who appeared to have little or no knowledge of these “supercorridors,” commented that it was interesting that none of the presidential candidates have been talking about this or other environmental issues either.
What contingencies, asked another audience member, are in place to deal with the fact that science is now moving very fast, but legislation is not? Laughing, Atkins answered that the nature of politics is slow, and the legislature lacks environmental leadership, so this is a problem. She urged concerned citizens to keep in close touch with their house representatives. “They are closer to their constituencies,” she said. “Talk to them about money. Let them know that [clean energy policies] will save money.”
One listener wondered whether anyone on the Hill is talking about “connecting 40B with energy?” Garrity answered that the new Chapter 40B (affordable housing) regulations have addressed zoning and energy efficiency with a checklist that must be approved for each project. “Local boards need to be proactive,” he said, in enforcing these regulations.
Other questions tended toward issues addressed in the new legislation, such as funding, education, “green” building incentives, and the like. In the course of their answers, Garrity and Atkins mentioned changes in policies to reflect the growing need for careers in environmental engineering and other energy sciences, noted that a regional bus program is in the works to transport Carlisleans to the Concord commuter rail station, and parried a question on nuclear energy by maintaining that it is an issue fraught with emotion.
Atkins stated firmly in response to a question about funding that, “We have been playing the no-new-taxes game for too long. We have a $27 billion budget. We have before us a $20 billion bill for the repair and reconstruction of our state highways alone.” She gestured toward the crowd as if to say, “You do the math.”
Both Garrity and Atkins insisted that although the environmental problems we face often seem “overwhelming,” there is good news as well. These pieces of legislation, they said, are different from earlier efforts, because they create new partnerships and extend farther than earlier bills ever attempted to do. In addition, education about the issues is spreading, and, as Atkins concluded, “It is meetings like this one, all over the state and the nation, that can get the ball rolling.” ∆
There is a wealth of information on renewable energy news in Massachusetts available on-line. Below is a sample:
• Green energy tax incentives: www.masstech.org/cleanenergy/cando/financing.htm#MATincentives.
• A variety of information on renewable energy projects is available on the web site of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. There are entries tailored for individuals, businesses, non-profits, developers and educators: www.masstech.org/renewableenergy/index.html.
• A summary of the Green Communities Act of 2007: www.mass.gov/legis/house/ht04365_summary.pdf.
• The Massachusetts Green Jobs Act is described at: www.bizjournals.com/masshightech/stories/2008/03/17/daily10.html.
• The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act can be found at: www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/185/st00/st00534.htm.
• University of Massachusetts Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: www.ceere.org.
• Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources: www.mass.gov/doer/.
• The state Department of Environmental Protection has information on renewable energy and energy conservation at: www.mass.gov/dep/energy.htm. ∆
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