Democrats competing to represent Plymouth and Barnstable in the state Senate emphasized the need for urgent action to battle climate change during a forum Wednesday night.
The five Democrats, who will face off in a March 3 primary prior to a March 31 special election, spoke passionately about renewable energy, mass transit and water quality to a packed room of nearly 100 people at the Wildlands Trust in Plymouth.
The two Republican candidates did not attend the forum.
The event examined the high risk to the region posed by rising sea levels and intensifying storms, and the growing concern of voters who list climate change as a top priority.
In a lightning round of questions, all five Democrats agreed to support additional offshore wind procurements. They also all said the state should increase funding for environmental agencies, divest pensions from investments related to fossil fuels, and increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires a certain amount of electrical power be generated by renewable sources.
John Mahoney, a Plymouth selectman, was the only candidate to hesitate on a question over whether he’d oppose new infrastructure for natural gas pipelines.
“It depends on the situation,” Mahoney said. He added that he “probably” wouldn’t support that kind of development.
Earlier, in response to a question about recycling, most candidates called for state and regional funding for local processing plants, but Becky Coletta, a lawyer from Pembroke, stood apart.
“We don’t have a good solution,” she said, referring to the vast amount of plastic that ends up in landfills despite being recyclable. Recycling, she said, can create false eco-confidence, so the best solution is to “reduce and reuse.”
Overall, the Democrats expressed few distinctions over the kinds of climate policies they would support if elected to the state Senate, and spent much of the night highlighting their differences in tact and personal narrative.
While several focused on statewide climate change preparedness plans, Susan Moran, a Falmouth selectwoman and the town’s representative to the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, called for more support for individual towns.
“They need expertise,” she said. “They need… coastal action professional planners. That would give a springboard for many communities to do a myriad of things.”
The other Falmouth candidate, Thomas Moakley, a student at Suffolk Law School, struck a different chord, calling for a “Massachusetts Green New Deal” that would help create jobs in the blue-green economy.
Becky Coletta also took aim at the state’s goals, saying ongoing legislation to reach net zero in carbon emissions by 2050 doesn’t go far enough.
“We don’t even start to go to electric buses until 2030 [under that legislation],” she said. “We don’t have that kind of time.”
Stephen Michael Palmer, who served as a Town Meeting member in Plymouth and Braintree, said, if elected, he’d focus on conservation and preservation.
“Woods, water, freshwater [are] the way to go,” he said.
Beyond politics, the candidates made personal pitches.
Moakley, who is 25, said his vision as the youngest person in the race uniquely positions him for the role.
“I think when we’re talking about something like the next generation of climate policy, then we need to have the next generation, young people, having a voice at the table,” he said.
A campaign representative for Republican Jay McMahon III said in an email that the Bourne-based lawyer had a previously scheduled speaking engagement, but is “committed to protecting the environment.” Multiple attempts to reach the other Republican candidate, Jesse Brown, a business owner in Plymouth, were unsuccessful.
The seven candidates in the race are competing for the Plymouth/Barnstable state Senate seat recently vacated by Republican Vinny deMacedo.
The event was sponsored by Wildlands Trust, South Shore and Cape Citizens Climate Lobby, 350 Mass Action Cape Cod, Association to Preserve Cape Cod, Clean Water Action, Environmental League of Massachusetts, and the Sierra Club.