Hope and Springtime in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is fortunate to be home to many high quality environmental leaders and groups that help move the state in the right directions regarding climate change. In this context, the legislature is expected to create and vote on a comprehensive energy bill soon. What exactly will be in the bill and whether it will become law are unknowns. However, some recent developments encourage hope that the bill may be good, and might even be excellent.

For one thing, last week 97 of 160 State Representatives signed and delivered a letter to the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, urging him to “omit any public support for gas pipeline expansion from omnibus energy legislation.” Pressure from power companies and other interests has been building to allow Massachusetts electricity providers to tack $5 to $8 billion onto ratepayer bills to finance new natural gas pipelines, despite the fact that reputable studies have found that the state does not need new pipelines. The fact that more than 60 percent of House members are clearly saying ‘no’ to funding new pipelines is a victory for everyone concerned about reducing carbon emissions resulting from the state’s use of electricity.

Days later, Kinder Morgan, the company that had been proposing to build the biggest new gas pipeline (called Northeast Direct, or NED), announced that they were suspending work on that project, ostensibly for lack of interest from potential customers. It is hard not to draw a straight line between the letter to Speaker DeLeo and the announcement by Kinder Morgan. In any event, whatever the cause of the company’s change of heart, it is welcome news.

But, as Yogi Berra said, it’s not over until it’s over. There are still many uncertainties about what will be accomplished during this legislative session. For one thing, Speaker DeLeo is reported to have “an aversion to conflict, and a cautious, go-slow approach to the business of law-making.” Yet bold action is needed, not caution; in fact, bold action 40 years ago would have been better. And through the years, power has apparently become more centralized in the House. “The reality is,” said one Representative, “the House leaders are making laws in the Commonwealth. The members are more spectators than participants.” Therefore much about the pending energy bill hinges on Speaker DeLeo.

As they wait for details to emerge about the energy bill, many environmental advocates are concerned that doubling the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is not a prominent issue, especially for typical voters, and thus might be overlooked in whatever legislation emerges. That would be a shame and would represent a major missed opportunity.

Spring is the season of hope. The community concerned about climate change has not stopped working, lobbying, or being realistic—but it remains hopeful.

(Note: For those interested in reviewing this blog in its entirety, it is available as a single document in the “About” section of the blog.)