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– Our Exclusive Interview with the New House Climate Change Chair: 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.”
– “Karen Spilka seeks business help on ambitious agenda” (Jon Chesto, Boston Globe): “Spilka told the state’s largest employer group that she wants input as her team tackles the big ones: spurring housing production, reforming health care, pumping more money into schools, fixing public transit and road congestion, and addressing climate change… But Spilka didn’t offer many specifics during her Friday speech at the Westin hotel in Waltham. It’s early in the two-year session, her first full term as president. (She became the Senate’s leader last summer.) She said she wants to give her committee chairs time to vet the issues.”
– “On Climate, Does Gov. Baker Deserve An ‘A’ — Or An ‘Incomplete’?” (Adam Reilly, WGBH): “Charlie Baker’s trip to Washington to talk climate change earlier this year was a story with an irresistible plot: Here was a Republican governor, urging members of his own party to grapple with a threat some of them still don’t believe exists… Soon after, Baker’s D.C. visit was cited in a story published by E&E News, a website focused on energy and the environment, which suggested Baker might actually be America’s strongest climate governor. Here at home, though, Baker’s legacy on climate remains a work in progress, and the subject of some debate.”
– “Meet The Leaders Of Massachusetts’ Youth Climate Strike” (Miriam Wasser, WBUR): “Young people in Massachusetts — and around the world — will cut class on Friday to send a message to adults: Do something about climate change. The Youth Climate Strike is inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has been protesting regularly outside of the Swedish Parliament House for months. In Massachusetts, the main protest is at the State House in Boston, but strikers will also descend on Cambridge, Great Barrington, Worcester and Acton, among other municipalities.”
INSIDE THE BELTWAY
– “Can Climate Inaction Cost Republicans Elections?” (Maria Virginia Olano, Climate XChange): “In the midst of much talk and overwhelming public attention to the Green New Deal, Congressional Republicans announced a new bicameral caucus that focuses on prioritizing nature-based solutions to environmental challenges. Whether this is a step forward for Republicans in taking a serious policy stance on climate change, or simply a balancing act against the left, remains an open question.”
– “How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is being built” (Zoya Teirstein, Grist): “All that noise and heat have obscured precisely what the Green New Deal is — the deeper ideas that motivate it, and the people who are getting it off the ground. Is it simply a climate plan with a progressive wish list tacked on, as most have described it? Or is it something far more powerful — a bid to shatter a calcified political establishment and take the economy in a new direction?”
– “Dems introduce bill to protect science research from political interference” (Rachel Frazin, the Hill): “Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent political interference with public science research amid what they called “President Trump’s multi-agency assault.” The lawmakers said in a press release that political interference has been a “longstanding concern that has taken on newfound urgency” in the current administration.”
ALL POLICY IS LOCAL
– “EPA, U.S. attorney sues Quincy over polluting Boston Harbor” (Gintautas Dumcius, Boston Business Journal): “Federal prosecutors and environmental officials have accused the city of Quincy of dumping sewage and untreated wastewater into the harbor and its own beaches in a civil complaint filed in federal court on Friday. Decades after Quincy sued the state in the 1980s over Boston Harbor’s dirty water and played a key role in spurring its cleanup, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts allege Quincy sent sewage and wastewater into Dorchester Bay and Quincy Bay, in a violation of the Clean Water Act.”
– “State announces $10 million pool of climate change mitigation money” (Bera Dunau, Daily Hampshire Gazette): “On Thursday, the commonwealth announced the availability of $10 million in funding for Massachusetts communities to mitigate the effects of climate change. The announcement was made by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito during an event at [Northampton] City Hall. The $10 million will go to the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program, established by executive order by the governor in 2017 to help communities assess and adapt to the challenges of climate change. The money will specifically go to MVP Action Grants, which help cities and towns fund specific projects to address climate change issues identified by communities through their MVP planning processes.”
– “SE Mass. officials seek “tweak’ in wind policy” (Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine): “Nearly 50 elected and business officials from southeastern Massachusetts are urging the Baker administration to tweak the contracting process for the next offshore wind procurement to give a greater emphasis to onshore development investments. Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly marveled at the low bid Vineyard Wind made to secure the first wind farm contract in Massachusetts, but the South Coast officials say that low price came with minimal onshore investment.”
– “Massachusetts’ offshore wind price cap creates pressure to speed procurement”(Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network): “As Massachusetts gets ready to issue its second request for offshore wind proposals, the state is weighing whether to speed up its procurement process to allow developers to reap federal tax benefits. Energy developers and environmental groups are encouraging the state to launch the solicitation as soon as next month. This push comes as the state faces growing concerns that a price cap on offshore wind power could undermine the state’s burgeoning offshore wind industry if developers decide to seek friendlier markets in other states.”
BEYOND THE BAY STATE
– “Hawaii’s Carbon Pricing Bill Passes Senate with Unanimous Support” (Noa Dalzell, Climate XChange): “For the first time in Hawaii’s history, a carbon pricing bill has passed through one of its legislative chambers. On Tuesday, March 5th, “An Act Relating to Taxation” (Senate Bill 1463), introduced by Sen. Karl Rhoads and six others, unanimously passed through the 25-member Senate.” Learn more about the bill, the politics of its success, and the challenges it faces here.
– Deep Dive: “As US solar expands, states increasingly tackle compensation and community project complexities” (Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive): “U.S. installed solar capacity grew by about a third from 2015 through 2018, but solar policy actions grew by over 50%, according to two recent reports. In particular, there has been increased policy action in two critical areas: developing more equitable solar compensation and establishing growing community solar programs. As the solar market continues to grow — estimated to reach 4.3 GW of new utility-scale solar capacity and 3.9 GW of new distributed solar capacity by the end of 2019 — its perceived threat to the utility business model is producing new debates about how to make solar work better for all power sector stakeholders.”
TRANSIT EMISSIONS MATTER
– “On Beacon Hill, talk again turns to transportation revenue” (Associated Press, via Sentinel & Enterprise): “With another MBTA fare hike looming this summer, talk on Beacon Hill and beyond is again turning to additional ways to help pay for the state’s aging transportation system.
– “T notes: DeLeo open to tax hikes” (Colin A. Young & Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine): “Opening the door for a near-term debate over transportation and transportation financing on Beacon Hill, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Tuesday that he is open to tax hikes or just about any other prescription to address the state’s critical needs — but he first wants to know what businesses will support. Speaking at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, DeLeo said congestion on the roads and unreliable public transportation service are problems that “impact every employee and every business” in Massachusetts. He said he wants the business community to weigh in on what policies it could get behind.”2020 CLIMATE
– “On the campaign trail, climate change can no longer be ignored” (Elvina Nawaguna, Roll Call): “Democrats hope they can use climate change to distinguish themselves from Trump, whose administration has unwound several environmental protections, including measures to curb greenhouse gases, and has weakened regulations in order to boost domestic energy production from fossil fuels. Trump has also rejected his own administration’s findings and warnings that climate change could decimate the U.S. economy if quick action is not taken.”
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
– “Here’s To The Women Leading In The Climate Movement” (Maria Virginia Olano, Climate XChange): “Even climate change has gendered impacts, and that sucks. What very much doesn’t suck though is seeing women and girls as agents of change and key leaders in the fight against climate change all over the world. Women play a critical role as managers of resources, as consumers, as entrepreneurs, as policymakers, and leaders in the transition towards clean technology. For this women’s history month we’ve put together a list of incredible women leading the way towards the future and working on solutions to the climate crisis. There are hundreds of women who should be on this list, but here are some of the few I admire most, and think you should know about.”
– “Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air Pollution And Who Breathes It”(Jonathan Lambert, NPR): “Pollution, much like wealth, is not distributed equally in the United States. Scientists and policymakers have long known that black and Hispanic Americans tend to live in neighborhoods with more pollution of all kinds, than white Americans. And because pollution exposure can cause a range of health problems, this inequity could be a driver of unequal health outcomes across the U.S. A study published Monday in the journal PNAS adds a new twist to the pollution problem by looking at consumption. While we tend to think of factories or power plants as the source of pollution, those polluters wouldn’t exist without consumer demand for their products. The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.”
– “Judge Declines ExxonMobil’s Motion To Dismiss Case Set To Put Climate Change And Corporate Responsibility On Trial” (Bruce Gellerman, WBUR): “A judge in Boston federal court will allow a first-of-its-kind climate change lawsuit against a major corporation to move forward. Judge Mark Wolf declined a motion by ExxonMobil to dismiss an amended lawsuit filed by the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), which claims the oil giant has failed to safeguard its Everett oil storage facility against the impacts of climate change. ExxonMobil faces nine counts in the federal lawsuit originally filed in May 2016. It alleges residents living near the company’s oil terminal along the Mystic River have been at risk of being inundated by toxic chemicals from the facility as storms intensify and sea levels rise.”
– “A Future Without Fossil Fuels?” (Bill McKibben, the New York Review of Books): “It asks an interesting question: At what point does a new technology cause an existing industry to start losing significant value? This may turn out to be the most important economic and political question of the first half of this century, and the answer might tell us much about our chances of getting through the climate crisis without completely destroying the planet.”
EVENTS & WEBINARS
– The Conservative Case for Climate Action (April 2, 2019, 3:00 – 4:00 pm ): Join Climate XChange’s State Carbon Pricing Network for a webinar on the best practices for bipartisan engagement on the issue of carbon pricing. Featured guests include Alex Bozmoski from RepublicEn, Nader Sobhani from Niskanen Center, and Josiah Neeley from R-Street Institute. All three represent right-leaning think tanks that support carbon pricing, and are eager to share their insight on bipartisan engagement with the carbon pricing community. Click here to register for FREE for this webinar.
– Jewish Climate Change Conference: The Time Is Short, The Task Is Great (March 24, 2019, 12:30 – 7:30 PM): Hosted by the Jewish Climate Action Network of Massachusetts (JCAN-MA), the Second National Jewish Climate Change Conference features more than 30 presenters on over 20 topics will provide actionable responses and technical actions for homes, synagogues, and other organizations, as well as spiritual responses, organizing techniques, and basic messaging around climate issues. See the schedule and register for this event here.
– “Climate-proofing our communities” by Ban Ki-moon and Patrick Verkooijen, via the Boston Globe.
– “The devil’s in the details: Policy implications of ‘clean’ vs. ‘renewable’ energy” by Lee Beck and Jennifer T. Gordon, via Utility Dive.
– “I see how climate change will lead to conflict in my home country, Nigeria” by Nnimmo Bassey, via the Guardian.
– “Blockchain could help track progress on Paris Agreement goals” by Alzbeta Klein, via Axios.