A great session for the environment

It ain’t over until it’s over.  The 2007-2008 legislative session ended in
the wee hours of August 1.  The final twists yielded stunning successes for
environmental advocates.

It had already been an outstanding session:  The energy bill incorporates
most of the best available thinking about how to conserve electrical power
and how to shift power generation to renewables like solar and wind.  It
also does a lot to save heating oil and gas in buildings.  The biofuels bill
will help us shift from fossil transportation fuels to renewable fuels that
don’t compete with food crops.  And the green jobs bill will help the work
force transition to support emissions reductions.  The oceans bill will help
rationalize siting of coastal energy facilities.

But many of us had been disappointed not to pass a carbon emissions cap for
the state.  A national environmental coalition had chosen goals of a 20%
reduction in emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050.  Several other
states have already committed to these goals and created regulatory
authority to help achieve them.

Senator Pacheco had filed legislation along these lines early in the
session.  Last summer, the Environment Committee, chaired by Representative
Frank Smizik and Senator Pam Resor, had reported it favorably.  The Senate
had passed the cap bill earlier this year.

In April, I circulated a letter which was signed by 109 of my House
colleagues urging adoption of the bill as a necessary complement to the
other energy legislation.  And on the strength of the letter, several of us
continued to advocate privately to the leadership team that we move the
bill.  Environment Massachusetts delivered thousands of post cards to
members calling for action.  Other environmental organizations lobbied on
multiple levels.

But the bill languished in the House apparently because of opposition from
some manufacturers.  As the session closed, advocates for the bill had begun
to lose hope of passage in this session.  In the final weeks, we even
discussed offering a weak compromise, but concluded that a weak compromise
might be worse than nothing because it would postpone stronger action.

The environmental organizations, together with Senator Pacheco and
Representative Lori Ehrlich, organized a press conference with only days
left in the session, calling for action.  They delivered a message from Al
Gore endorsing the bill.   They also mentioned publicly the letter of
endorsement from 110 representatives.  The news stories covered the letter,
and the next day, my office heard from House leadership asking for another
copy of the letter.

And things suddenly began to move.  The visible advocacy somehow meshed with
the final private negotiations between the House and the Senate leadership
about what bills would make it before the close.

Working with the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, House leadership
drafted a bill that major environmental organizations reviewed as very
strong — it allows the Secretary to set a 2020 target for reduction of
between 10 and 25% after appropriate study and gives the Secretary strong
regulatory powers.  It also sets aggressive longer term goals.  A few
details were adjusted and the act passed both branches just before midnight
on the last day.

With this final piece in place, long time observers see the 2008 session as
a landmark session for the environment.  I believe that because we have not
only set targets but also put in place substantial mechanisms (in the energy
bill and other bills) that will reduce emissions, Massachusetts may be
further along than many other states.

The global warming problem is only of several deep reasons to transform our
economy away from burning of fossil fuels.  Our economic dependence on
fossil fuels has been a causative factor in most of the major wars of the
last century.  The air pollution from fossil burning causes a host of health
problem.  The money we send abroad for oil funds terrorists who seek to
destroy our prosperity and freedom.  And, on a daily basis, we suffer from
the high prices that the oil barons are charging.  Our economy is at risk as
oil supply dwindles and emerging economies increase their demand for oil.

The task ahead of us is huge.  We will need to sustain a focus on economic
transformation that extends for decades.  But I think we can feel pretty
good about the start that we made this year in Massachusetts.

The final hours also yielded success in passage of the Environmental bond
bill which will help preserve and expand our parks and conservation areas.
The bill does include a process which may — if more lucky stars line up —
lead to acquisition of the Silver Maple Forest property in Belmont.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.