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Fall River Activists Voice Concerns Over 'Slow' Pace of State's Climate Action Plan

Eve Zuckoff
Nancy Lee Wood, director of the Institute for Sustainability and Post-Carbon Education at Bristol Community College, expressed deep frustrations to state officials over the pace of the state's climate mitigation plans.

Massachusetts residents concerned about plans to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions expressed deep concerns at a public hearing in Fall River on Tuesday about what several described as the state’s “slow” pace and “limited” goals.

“With all due respect,” Nancy Lee Wood, director of the Institute for Sustainability and Post-Carbon Education at Bristol Community College, said to representatives from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, “this is kindergarten compared to what we really have facing us.”

She was among nearly three dozen students, activists, and industry leaders who gathered at the school for the the second of seven public meetings about the state’s 10- and 30-year climate change plans.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker committed the state to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the energy, building, land use, and transportation sectors to reach a goal of net zero by 2050. That would mean emissions released into the atmosphere are equal to the amount removed.   

Baker’s net zero commitment follows the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which requires a 80 percent reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas levels in the commonwealth by 2050.  

Now the task is to decide: How aggressively should the state limit greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030 as it prepares to meet its 2050 goals? And what policies are needed to get there?

The state will be asking residents for feedback on this before setting a 2030 emissions goal by the end of this year as part of the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan. The goal will be informed by the 2050 Roadmap, which “is a nation-leading planning effort that will chart multiple technical and policy pathways” to achieve climate action goals, according to a state spokesperson. 

Stricter limits on 2030 carbon emissions will require more change in the transportation, building, and energy sectors.  

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Laura Gardner, co-chair of Climate Reality Massachusetts Southcoast, said while she appreciates the state’s intentions, she feared the state isn’t moving fast enough.

“I am terrified for our future as it stands right now,” she said. “You know, I am a librarian and I believe in research, but at a certain point I feel like we need to move past the studies and get into action.”

Others at the meeting raised questions about enforcement, asking what the penalties would be if the state didn’t reach its 2030 and 2050 goals.

As of 2017, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions were 22.4 percent below the 1990 baseline levels. State officials say they believe this means the commonwealth is “on track” to meet the 25 percent reduction by 2020 required by the GWSA.

Stephen Dodge, executive director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council, which represents oil and energy companies, said he worries about the price tag of the state’s plans.   

“There are going to be massive costs associated with transforming the transportation sector, building, thermal sector,” he said. “Will the modeling reflect the potential impediments to the huge costs that are ultimately associated with all of this?”   

The state will host five more public meetings this month. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, at 6 p.m. at Roxbury Community College.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.