Longtime climate champion Frank I. Smizik retired from the legislature in late 2018. He left behind a legacy that included serving as chair of the House Committee on Global Warming & Climate Change for almost a decade. His successor, Representative Michael Finn (D-West Springfield), agreed to sit down with me last week to answer a few questions and lay out his vision for the committee.
Representative Finn has been in the legislature since 2011, and before was a member of the West Springfield city council for 7 years. He has previously served as vice chair of committees dealing with tourism, transportation, and most recently financial services. This is his first assignment as a committee chair.
The following conversation was edited for length.
TIM CRONIN: Most in the climate & enviro advocacy space would not have pegged you as the next chair of this committee. Why do you think Speaker DeLeo selected you?
REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL FINN: When I got the call about becoming the chairman, at first, I was a little taken aback because it’s an issue that I’m not 100% familiar with. But in the same breadth it’s also an opportunity to really do something with this committee. I think that the reason why I was chosen is that I have the capacity to learn the issues, and to guide this committee in any direction that we really want to go in. When looking at the rules that set forth what this committee is supposed to do, it really has broad latitude and so we can really do a lot of good work with this committee.
CRONIN: Former Rep. Smizik was committee chair from its very inception in 2009. What lessons can you draw from his legacy? Which practices do you hope to continue or change?
REP. FINN: People respected all of the work that he did. I respect all the work that he did with the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Greenhouse Gas Initiative. He was the point guy on a lot of these things for a really long time, I know what the expectation is, and I hope that I’m up to the challenge of filling that role.
In the beginning, while I’m getting my feet wet, I’m going to highlight and draw attention to the issues. My intention is to get committee hearings going, have experts come in and tell us what the reality in Massachusetts is when it comes to global warming and climate change. The science is pretty clear, and we need to acknowledge our need to do as much as we can in dealing with this problem.
CRONIN: What are your thoughts on the Governor’s proposal to allow RGGI funds to be used in adaptation, and not just mitigation efforts?
REP. FINN: There are huge economic costs associated with a lot of the issues we talk about in global warming and climate change. Like rising sea levels and how that is going to impact the coastline of Massachusetts. I think one of the problems is that there are no intermediate goals, so I think you’re going to see a stronger push to set intermediate goals and to keep showing positive progress in getting where we want to be. But to be perfectly frank, there’s a lot I still need to learn about the issues before I can really have a position one way or the other.
CRONIN: Where should the state focus its efforts, on adaptation or mitigation of climate change?
REP. FINN: I think you have to do both. Quite honestly, I don’t see it as choosing one over the other. President Trump withdrew us from the climate accords so now it’s incumbent on individual states to do as best we can in both, so we need mitigation. But the reality is we’re already experiencing the effects of global warming, and we need to adapt to what is already happening. We can’t just pick one or the other I think we really have to go at both equally.
CRONIN: There’s a growing call for market-based climate solutions, like Rep Benson’s carbon pricing bill. Do you support this approach?
REP. FINN: I really like the idea of carbon pricing. I’m not 100% familiar with what Rep. Benson’s bill does. If we can find a way that reduces our emissions, while generating revenue to help mitigate the impacts, that makes a lot of sense to me.
CRONIN: Can you name any legislation you filed that deals with climate change?
REP. FINN: I helped create a pilot program for my town of West Springfield to create a carbon sequestration program. We have this big tract of land, four or five hundred acres, and we inventoried all the trees. Then we sold credits to companies in other states to offset their carbon production. We are about to be the first, and only, community in Massachusetts that has this type of program. The town will be generating revenue and preserving open space. It’s going to be a great program at the end of the day that other cities and towns might look to.
CRONIN: Imagine it’s August 1st, 2020. What do you hope to look back on as your accomplishments as chair of this committee?
REP. FINN: Generally speaking, I think drawing greater attention to the issues as they are currently impacting Massachusetts. I think there’s a couple different ways we can do that. My intention is to hold or host some sort of committee hearing in each committee member’s district so that they can highlight the issue in their community. At the same time, I think there’s an opportunity to have public hearings where we invite local experts and draw attention to this. Also, we are going to be working with municipal leaders, within the framework here in the legislature, to elevate the profile of this issue. I want to try to coordinate and bring to light where we are, what we are doing, and what’s important to know right now.
This interview first appeared in the March 19th edition of the CXC Climate Roundup, our weekly Massachusetts policy newsletter.