Climate Change Action

There are only a few ways I can think of to take action against climate change. One way is to educate others about the real and immediate threat of climate change. But the only action that will ultimately affect how much carbon goes into our atmosphere, and how soon, is burning – or emitting – fewer “greenhouse” gases (ghg). It means using (and wasting) less conventional energy, and being more sparing and efficient about what we do use.


A side benefit of reduced emissions, whether from smokestacks or tailpipes – is improved air quality.  Cleaning up our fossil fuel use habits can also benefit water quality – whether it’s making less plastic, or phasing out hydraulic fracturing of natural gas and oil. Admittedly, there are other water pollutants, but I’m going to keep all “environmental health” topics here as an organizational principle. And while there are other contaminants in our soil, food supply, and generally around us, many common toxins are, or are made from, petrochemicals.

Meeting the Climate and Energy Challenge

At the end of March, I hosted a presentation at the State House by Somerville's own Dr. Juliette Rooney-Varga, director of the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative and associate professor of environmental biology. Dr. Rooney-Varga demonstrated to legislators and staff a groundbreaking new participatory tool she and her team have developed. This online tool can help anyone fromhigh school students to lawmakers navigate the complexity of climate and energy policy through interactive simulations  - which I invite you to check out for yourself.


Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh was enthusiastic to the point of gushing over Dr. Rooney-Varga's excellent presentation. Oddly, he describes the briefing as if it were something that spontaneously appeared one day in the State House. Still, it's press coverage about an impressive effort to educate decision makers about one of humanity's great existential crises, so that's worth something by itself.

May 31, 2017

Prioritizing Our Environment

I've been meeting with executives and staff from the Executive Office of Environmental and Energy Affairs at the State House, during educational seminars put together by advocates from the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM), the Nature Conservancy, Mass Audubon, Clean Water Action, and the American Farmland Trust. Representatives from the Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP), Agricultural Resources (DAR), Fish and Game (DFG), and Conservation and Recreation (DCR) gave presentations about the work of their agencies, and answered questions. One question they didn't answer was how they actually planned to do "more with less," a persistent them of presentations.


On September 30, I attended a "Walk and Talk" along the banks of the Mystic River, organized by ELM and the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA.) It's always delightful to spend time by the river, but it's clear that less isn't more, when heavily used natural resources in urban areas are concerned. I want to see Massachusetts invest more in its grimy, run down urban parks - people who live in cities need nature, too, and volunteer cleanups by citizens can't make up for indifference and disinvestment over the years by the stewards of the state's public lands and waters.

October 04, 2016

The "Deforestation of Somerville"? Threat of Infestation, and Destruction by Gas Leaks

I've heard from many of you about your unhappiness over the removal of seemingly healthy trees from Somerville's streets and parks;  about a seemingly high rate of damaged, dying, and dead street trees, and about the lack of replacement trees, even when they have been requested. Lately, there have been a flurry of questions about a spate of "tree removal hearing" signs posted on yet more trees. Looking into the situation, I learned something as disturbing as the signs themselves.


The planned removals are part of a preventative program designed to combat the Emerald Ash Borer: . This invasive insect has appeared in Boston now, and is spreading, much as the Asian Longhorned Beetle did from its Worcester County epicenter, about a decade ago. The City of Somerville had an arborist inventory and evaluate the city's ash trees; the ones slated for removal are the weak and damaged ones most susceptible to infestation by the destructive Emerald Ash Borer.


There is a plan to replace trees which are being removed - but not all of the trees. I encourage those who are interested in this subject to attend the public hearing on Wednesday, May 25, at 5:30 pm, at the DPW Building, at 17 Franey Road (behind Trum Field) to advocate for a robust program to plant replacement trees. I would also encourage interested residents to call or email their Aldermen, and raise the matter of tree planting generally.


Private property owners should also be aware of the risk to their own trees, as well as the risk of harboring destructive insects harmful to the whole community. There are online resources (like the first link above) that can help you spot and infested tree - but it helps just to be aware whether you have an ash tree, so that you can monitor it. I encourage you to help spread the word,


Interestingly, the number one killer of Somerville's street trees now is leaks from natural gas distribution pipes. Natural gas is practically pure methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which is also lethal to trees. Residents of St. James Avenue have told me that the city has replaced dead trees more than once on the site of an often-reported gas leak - only to have the new trees die, in turn.


The Cambridge-based organization Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) has systematically measured gas leaks in Cambridge and Somerville - and our city has more, and worse, leaks: . An expert working with HEET estimates that the climate damage from leaks in our two cities is greater than the impact of every automobile in Cambridge and Somerville:


As you may be aware, all natural gas customers pay for the gas lost to leaks, in our monthly bills - and, by the way, Brookline is currently suing its gas distribution company for $1 million, for tree damage the town has suffered, due to gas leaks.

May 16, 2016

Our Energy Policy for the 21st Century, and the Long-Anticipated Energy Bill

Many of you have emailed or spoken to me about what should - and should not - be in the "omnibus" energy bill which is now being prepared by the legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE.) Since there seems to be considerable uncertainty about my position, I want to make it clear that I have been deeply involved in energy policy discussions, even before this 2015-2016 legislative session. I have been a consistent advocate for renewable energy, especially from solar, off-shore wind, and geothermal sources.


I have consistently voiced opposition to the construction or expansion of natural gas pipelines, which are manifestly unneeded. I have particularly opposed proposals - such as ones now pending before the MA Department of Public Utilities (DPU, against which I have testified) - to allow electricity consumers to be charged for the cost of pipeline expansion. I am utterly against any provision in the upcoming energy legislation which would authorize the electricity distribution companies to make such charges.


I've been advocating that the TUE bill include a strong mandate for repair of natural gas leaks. Efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to assure reliable supply, while meeting carbon emission goals - and as the HEET maps show, our gas distribution infrastructure is far from efficient. Also, we're barely scratched the surface of efficiency and de-carbonization in our transportation sector - a subject on which the House and Senate Committees on Global Warming and Climate Change will be holding an Oversight hearing on Thursday, June 7, 2016 - please contact my office for further details.

May 16, 2016

Failing to Raise the Cap on Solar Net Metering

The Background:

 In 2008, our legislature adopted laws committing MA to lower its carbon emissions (the "Global Warming Solutions Act"), through actions that would increase our use of renewable energy (the "Green Communities Act"). To optimize the production of electric power through solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, our legislation required electricity distribution companies to purchase surplus solar energy from producers at the retail rate (what consumers pay for electricity.) The ability of solar producers - including homeowners with rooftop solar - to pay a "net" electric bill (the cost of the power you purchased, minus cost of power you sold back to the grid) is how "net metering" works.


Since 2008, solar energy has taken off in Massachusetts. For a while, we were the number three solar producer in the nation -+ though we've slipped to fourth place. While our net metering law unleashed demand for solar PV installations, it also set caps on the amount of solar energy that electricity distribution companies would have to buy back from solar energy generators in their geographic areas.


When caps are reached, it can become impossible for solar generators to sell electricity back to the grid, squandering the many benefits of distributed solar power generation. Besides being free from carbon emissions, solar power allows us to diversify our energy supply, making us less dependent on expensive spot market energy when demand spikes. As storage battery technology continues to improve, the benefits of solar  will only multiply.


Where we are now - and how we got here:

In July of 2014, the legislature raised the net metering cap by a small amount, to avoid reaching caps and allow the continued expansion of solar. On March 31, 2015, the cap was reached for commercial-scale solar projects in National Grid's territory of 171 cities and towns. I spoke personally to Gov. Baker on that day about the need to raise the cap; he was noncommittal then, but subsequently took a public position opposing the raising of net metering caps. In July, 2015, the Senate engrossed a Climate Change Adaptation bill  with an amendment eliminating net metering caps. The House but took up the Senate net metering amendment (disposing of Climate Change Adaptation in the process), and released its own net metering bill on November 17, 2015.


Why I voted against the House bill:

House members (myself included) filed 27 amendments to the net metering bill; adopting even a few would have improved the House bill in important ways - but no such amendments were adopted, and I voted against the bill. The House bill proposed a tiny increase (2%) to the cap, which would have likely been used up in just a few months. Worse, the bill would have changed the payment for solar power from the retail rate to the wholesale rate - a difference of approximately 13 cents per kilowatt hour - undermining the economics of solar generation. Although the Senate, in conference committee, quickly agreed to lower the cap increase to 2%, no agreement could be reached between the branches, and the net metering cap remains in place.


As State House News Service has reported, "[c]ome January the pressure will ratchet back up on conferees to strike a deal. The disagreement over solar is serving as a prelude to a broader debate next year over energy policies. Offshore wind and Canadian hydroelectricity interests are angling for a piece of the energy mix as lawmakers weigh price, reliability and demand issues that will be exacerbated with the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant shutdown."


What can individual voters do?

I know that many of you support renewable energy, and the use of net metering - many of you have contacted me about this issue.  Here are some things you can do:


  1. Stay informed - the MassSolar website, is a good resource, where you can sign up for its email list for updates; many environmental organizations also provide good information.

  2. Continue to let me know where you stand and what you're thinking.

  3. Contact people you know in other districts, explain why this is important, and ask them to contact their legislators.

  4. Let Governor Baker know you support solar and other forms of clean energy. 

January 26, 2016

Who Cares about Climate Change?

by State Representative Denise Provost for Science First


First of all, what is climate change – does it even exist? Often linked with – or hidden behind – the expression “global warming,”  “climate change” refers to a set of measurable, related phenomena which greatly increase the likelihood of unusual and even violent weather. The main driver appears to be increasing amounts of certain gases, particularly carbon dioxide, in the earth’s atmosphere.


The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in earth’s atmosphere has risen from 290 parts per million (ppm) around the time of the American Revolution, to    ppm in the early years of the Industrial Revolution (circa 1850), to 394 ppm in 2012 – a 41% increase. These increasing amounts of CO2, methane, and certain other gases trap increasing amounts of the sun’s heat in our atmosphere, with the expected overall effect.


Here’s what the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) says about the effects of these increasing levels of “greenhouse gases” in earth’s atmosphere:


“The global average temperature increased by more than 1.4°F over the last century.[2] In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest on record, and 2010 was tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record. [3] Rising global temperatures have also been accompanied by other changes in weather and climate. Many places have experienced changes in rainfall resulting in more intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes: oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. [4] All of these changes are evidence that our world is getting warmer.”


There’s widespread consensus on the science, based on world wide data, from multiple sources. If you’re interested in the consensus science, there are many sources of information.  Right now, though, I’m taking the consensus science as a given – as do most of the governments in the world – and returning to my original question: who cares?


Caring about Climate Change, and Combating Climate Change


Most governments in the world both understand the science of climate change, and are experiencing, to some extent, its real-world effects. For one poignant example, look at the 2009 report of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, and think about its implications in light of the subsequent damage inflicted there by Hurricane Sandy. Generally, however, governments have been slow and cautious in their legislative reaction to climate change, and there has been little progress in the realm of international agreement.


There are exceptions, however, to the slow rate of government response. Massachusetts, for instance, enacted two historic pieces of climate change legislation in 2010: the Global Warming Solutions Act, and the Green Communities Act. Both pieces of legislation passed with overwhelming and bi-partisan support.


The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions bill, however, was modeled on the groundbreaking Climate Change Act adopted by Great Britain in 2008. This first-in-the-world, national-level legislation set caps on emissions of greenhouse gases, and required that growing percentages of the nation’s energy supply be supplied from renewable sources. Although the bill was filed by a Member of Parliament from the Conservative Party, it was adopted with wide support, across political party lines.


 Why Does Great Britain Care about Climate Change?


 Great Britain’s 65 million people live in four countries, on two large islands in the North Atlantic. There are smaller islands in the South Pacific which are simply disappearing as sea levels rise.  While Britain is being buffeted by changing weather patterns, it at least has the expertise, economic, and political resources to do something about its predicament.


What is that predicament? In early January, 2014, most of Great Britain was either under flood warning or flood alert – and significant parts of it were flooded. In some places, people were being evacuated by boat; in others; supplies were being brought in by boat to villages which had become islands. Exceptionally violent winter gales washed away parts of the coast of Wales, and of the southern coast of southwestern England. The Thames barrier had to closed for eleven successive tides (as of January 8, 2014) to keep London from flooding.


Faced with destructive changes in its weather patterns, and aware of the underlying science,   Britain has gone beyond enacting its own legislation, to help drive climate change and energy policy for the European Union, an entity composed of [41?] countries with a combined population of       . It has participated in the ongoing meetings aimed at negotiating international climate change agreement. And in January, 2014, Britain for the first time, and at the expense of its taxpayers, invited state legislators from the USA to talk about climate change.


 The Global, the National, and the Local


 In January, 2014, I joined legislators from Maine, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon for a week’s worth of meetings and briefings, mostly in London. We met with officials from Britain’s cabinet-level Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), to learn about Britain’s programs and policies, as well as with officials from the Climate Change and Energy Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We met with officials from the cabinet-level department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), and executives from businesses both global and local, and from business organizations, including Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the nation’s largest such organization.


Both the national government and the private business sector in Britain see the transition to a low-carbon economy as an engine of tremendous economic growth, as well as a change essential to maintaining the nation’s security and quality of life. This message was repeated time and again. Nor is it merely the top-down policy of the national government; it is being embraced by local government on its own initiative.


Our US delegation traveled by train to the Bristol, a port city with a population about the size of that of Boston, Massachusetts. (As it turned out, our journey took us through shockingly flooded parts of the county of Somerset; while the flooding had not yet taken place when the trip was planned, it provided us with some indelible visuals.) Bristol was our destination because it had recently voted by the EU to be its next European Green Capitol, and it showcased the many ways that local government can save money and become more attractive to its residents and to business through a variety of “green” initiatives.


It’s worth noting that Britain’s climate change laws are more than well-intentioned aspirations. It has an aggressive energy efficiency program which is both creating savings on energy bills and is projected, by 2020, to have saved enough energy to equal the output of 22 power stations. It has the world’s sixth largest offshore wind energy production sector, which has created 32,000 jobs in 150 supply chain manufacturing companies.

Britain has managed to cut its own carbon emissions by more than 25% over 1990 levels, and generates about one third of its electricity from low-carbon sources.


 Legislative Responsibility: A Call to Action


 Returning to London, the US delegation met with representatives from another sector of government – fellow legislators. Parliamentarians from both houses and across parties generously spent hours speaking with us about their efforts, domestically and internationally, to combat climate change. This group of parliamentarians included founders and members of an organization called Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment - GLOBE International.


One of GLOBE’s initiatives is to make an annual world-wide inventory of national and state level climate change legislation. Even as international negotiations have stalled, this arena is one where real progress is taking place. It may not be making the news in the US, but governments all over the world are taking legislation action in the face of climate change.


Mexico has just enacted comprehensive climate change legislation; Columbia is very interested (Why? The cool areas conducive to coffee production are moving further up their mountains; farmers who can no longer grow coffee will plant coca.) South Korea, among other Asian nations, is concerned about climate change (Why? For every degree of increase in average temperature, rice yield drops by 5%). Although the national government of China has remained non-committal about international climate change agreements, some of its provinces are taking action.


 Where do State Legislators Fit In?


 It’s well known abroad that some US states – Massachusetts notable among them – have much more advanced climate change laws than the US as a nation. Nations concerned about climate change view this kind of state-level leadership as a global asset. Positive action by enough states in a nation can go far to counteract inaction or vacillation at the national level.


“After all, some  US states have larger populations and gross domestic products than many of the nations of the EU, “ remarked the Right Honorable John Gummer, the Conservative peer who is President of GLOBE International. “It makes sense,” he said, to engage legislators from the US states in international efforts to combat climate change. “After all, we represent the will of the people,” he concluded, speaking generally of all legislators elected by constituencies everywhere.


My own constituents, like most folks in Massachusetts, are interested in having a healthy economy – and the innovations required to adapt to climate change offer great economic benefits, especially for early adopters. My constituents would like to have their part of the world continue to be habitable; not underwater, or rendered intolerable through extremes of temperature or storms. To do justice to my constituents, I’m going to continue taking action against climate change – locally, at the state level, and internationally.

November 03, 2014

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