Feb 19th Roundup: Boston EPA Office Shrinks Staff, Sparks Concern

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-Legislative update
: After much anticipation, the House and Senate released committees assignments last Thursday. In the Senate, President Spilka’s pick for the powerful Senate Ways & Means Committee chair surprising fell to moderate Democrat Michael Rodrigues. Outside observers predicted Spilka to select a more progressive Senator, with some activist groups already criticizing Senator Rodrigues’ stance on issues like climate change. According to ELM’s Legislative Scorecard, Rodrigues ranks dead last among all 40 state senators in terms of support for their clean energy and climate change policies.

In the House, Speaker Deleo picked millennial Boston Democrat Rep Aaron Michlewitz to lead the House Ways & Means committee. Michlewitz is considered a progressive, but outside observers have noted that he is outnumbered by a mostly moderate House leadership team. Another significant change was with the leadership of the House Global Warming committee, which was previously chaired by long-time Brookline Rep Frank Smizik. Speaker Deleo selected Springfield Rep Michael Finn to lead the committee, someone not initially considered in the running for the position.

The leadership of the joint TUE committee (aka. the energy committee) will stay the same, with Sen Michael Barrett and Rep Thomas Golden continuing to co-chair the committee. See the full list of committee assignments here.

-“Gas companies could face hefty fines for service loss” (Christian M. Wade, The Eagle Tribune): “Gas companies could be fined to up $5 million a day for failing to restore service to customers in a timely manner, under the latest legislative proposal in response to the gas fires and explosions that ripped through the Merrimack Valley five months ago. The bipartisan proposal, filed by state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, and backed by a dozen lawmakers, would allow the state Department of Public Utilities to set a reasonable date for restoring service following an interruption, and gas companies could be fined up to $2 million per day if they miss that deadline. If the outage is caused by faulty or outdated infrastructure, regulators would be allowed to issue fines of up $5 million per day.”

-“Can Statewide Carbon Pricing Lead to a Carbon Free Boston?”
(Hannah Parks, Climate XChange): A statewide fee on carbon pollution would also help Massachusetts meet its target of reducing emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 and, partnered with the steps that have been outlined in this new report, can help Boston achieve carbon neutrality in that same time. State legislation is a significant influence for municipal policies, and a statewide policy such as the proposed carbon fee will provide legitimacy to Boston’s ambitious emission reduction goals. As the state’s capital and economic hub, Boston can be a leader within Massachusetts and demonstrate how a price on carbon is an opportunity for innovation and growth.

-“Boston’s EPA Office Is Shrinking, And Employees Are Speaking Out”
(Craig LeMoult, WGBH): “The number of employees at the Environmental Protection Agency is shrinking. A record number of EPA workers have been retiring in recent years and many of these employees are not being replaced. This is leaving behind demoralized employees with more work to do, and raising questions about whether the agency can continue to meet the demands of protecting the environment. Some current and former employees are now speaking out.”

-“Compressor Station Opponents To Meet With Baker Admin Officials” (Michael Norton, State House News Service): “Activist Andrea Honore has gained attention for hosting regular sit-ins in Gov. Charlie Baker’s office lobby to highlight opposition to a natural gas compressor station planned in Weymouth. On Tuesday afternoon, Honore and some of her allies will have the eyes and ears of Baker administration officials during a private meeting.”

-“Massachusetts eyeing more renewable energy-friendly future” (Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press): “With steps big and small, Massachusetts is moving toward a more environmentally friendly future in which the state will rely increasingly on renewable energy. One step came this week when Republican Gov. Charlie Baker announced more than $500,000 in funding for what he described as eight “early-stage clean energy companies.” The checks may be modest, but the goal is to help ensure Massachusetts remains among those states on the leading edge of renewable energy technology — in part by harvesting the brain power of local universities and entrepreneurs.”

-“Supporters Say Seabrook Nuke Protects Climate; Critics Worry About Cracks In The Concrete” (Annie Ropeik, NHPR via WBUR): “Federal regulators still appear poised to re-license Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, despite requests to delay. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing on the issue Wednesday night was packed with industry workers and residents from New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

-“DC eases 
path for renewable generators as it pursues 100% goal” (Robert Walton, Utility Dive): “The city of Washington, D.C., does not have significant generation within its borders, and largely works towards clean energy mandates through the through the purchase of renewable energy credits. But with a 100% renewables goal, regulators want to make the process for bringing clean energy online as simple as possible. The D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) says the new RPS portal will help reduce application processing times, improve data gathering and enable communications between the commission and applicants.”

-“Solar advocates look to repeal Maine’s ‘fundamentally unjust’ solar rules”(Bill Opalka, Energy News Network): “The Maine Public Utilities Commission established gross metering in March 2017… State regulators far underestimated the cost of implementing the policy, though, according to solar advocates. The system requires the installation of a second meter, the cost of which is spread out over all ratepayers. The policy also reduced metering credits by 10 percent annually for those signed up in the first year. Customers who signed up in the second year after the rule change saw their credits reduced by 20 percent.”

-“Mass. at forefront of national climate change forum”
(Brianna McKinley, BU Statehouse Program via MetroWest Daily News): “As proposals for global warming legislation gain traction on a national level, several Massachusetts officials have emerged as key players in the conversation. Sen. Edward Markey has joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in announcing the Green New Deal, a sweeping policy bill that aims to drastically reduce carbon emissions in multiple sectors of the economy while also creating clean energy jobs.”

-“Move over, Ocasio-Cortez. The Green New Deal’s got some competition.” (Benjy Sarlin, NBC News): “The Green New Deal has always been a plan to make a plan. It sets an ambitious goal to move the economy toward net-zero emissions by 2030, but as supporters in Congress eagerly work to build out those plans into real legislation, they’re going to face stiff competition from politicians, activists and think tanks working on their own proposals from a different set of assumptions. Even among backers of the nonbinding resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., its broad strokes could sow disputes about what the Green New Deal means in practice. Ocasio-Cortez herself described the resolution as a “request for proposals” designed to elicit legislation from multiple lawmakers.”

-“Schumer slams ‘stunt’ Green New Deal vote as moderates fret” (Anthony Adragna, POLITICO): “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would not be intimidated by the “cynical stunt” of voting on the Green New Deal resolution, even as moderate members of his caucus distanced themselves from the sweeping climate change goals. Schumer said the “amazing irony” of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bringing up a resolution Republicans intend to vote against is a sign of why the American people hate Congress. He demanded the Kentucky Republican acknowledge the scientific consensus around climate change and commit the chamber to tackling the problem.”

-“Senate Passes a Sweeping Land Conservation Bill” (Coral Davenport, New York Times): “The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures. The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.”

-“EPA announces plan to limit cancer-linked chemicals, critics say it’s not enough” (Coral Davenport, the NY Times via Boston Globe): “The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said it will start work by the end of the year on a long-awaited plan to set national drinking-water limits for two harmful chemicals linked to cancer, low infant birth weight, and other health issues. But environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers criticized the plan, saying it in effect delayed desperately needed regulation on a clear public health threat from chemicals that are commonly used in cookware, pizza boxes, stain repellents, and fire retardants.”

-“Amherst College announces 
plan for a carbon neutral campus by 2030” (Will Mallas, Daily Collegian): “In an attempt to fight global climate change, the Amherst College Board of Trustees announced on January 29 the adoption of a Climate Action Plan designed to make the campus carbon neutral by 2030… According to Chief of Campus Operations Jim Brassord, the college, which currently uses fossil fuel as its energy source, plans to switch to a “geothermal based heat pump system,” as an early project within the initiative. This system is designed to generate low-temperature heat and distribute it throughout the campus through a piping network.”

-Evaluating the State of Solar in Massachusetts: Ensuring an Equitable Transition 
(Tim Cronin, CABA): Last week during CABA’s Annual State of Solar event, a panel of experts evaluated where the solar industry stands in our state,  and what the future looks like for this cornerstone technology of the clean energy transition. Included in the discussion of solar jobs and the new SMART program was a priority all panelists agreed should be top of mind: ensuring an equitable solar transition.

-“MIT study: Climate change could mean more stagnant air in summers, thunderstorms” 
(Martin Finucane, Boston Globe): “Climate change could both boost the power of thunderstorms and bring more stretches of hot, still days, in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, a new MIT study suggests. With temperatures rising globally, and particularly in the Arctic, the energy in the atmosphere is being redistributed. The result is that more energy will be available to fuel thunderstorms, while less energy will go toward summertime extratropical cyclones, researchers said in a statement.”

-“The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like” 
by Jedediah Britton-Purdy, via the New York Times.

-“The right is slamming the Green New Deal, and Democrats need to react fast”by Dean Obeidallah, via CNN Opinion.

-“Energy transition: Carbon capture is clean energy, too” by Brad Page, via Utility Dive Opinion.

-“Letter: Time to prepare for climate change” by George P. Smith, via Gloucester Daily Times.

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