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Environmental advocates optimistic over Baker’s choice of Beaton


By Gintautas Dumcius


STATE HOUSE — Governor-elect Charlie Baker on Monday turned to a sophomore legislator and energy efficiency consultant to become his energy and environmental affairs secretary, a choice activists saw as a potential positive step toward furthering their agenda on Beacon Hill.

Baker’s pick of Matthew Beaton, a relatively unknown, 36-year-old Republican lawmaker from Shrewsbury, was considered an optimistic start to the new administration by George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and a former Democratic state senator.

Bachrach pointed to Beaton’s experience in the private sector as co-owner of a construction company, Beaton Kane Construction LLC, that is focused on energy efficient building. “We’re looking forward to working with him. He clearly has a background in energy efficiency, particularly residential energy efficiency, which is important,” Bachrach said.

Bachrach said that Baker, while on the campaign trail, was supportive of trying to steadily increase state funding of environmental agencies back to 1 percent of the state budget, which currently stands at $36.5 billion budget, after they took a “disproportionate” hit. Spending on environmental agencies currently sits at 0.6 percent of the overall budget, according to Bachrach, down from 1.3 percent in 2000.

Baker is also a proponent of importing Canadian hydroelectric power, telling reporters in October that he was the “most enthusiastic supporter” of the issue.

Beaton, speaking to reporters after attending an informal House session on Monday, called energy and environmental affairs a “passion of mine my whole life.”

Asked if he had any initial top priorities, Beaton said, “We’re so early on into this, we still have to get our transition team together. We’re not talking major policy things yet. And you know, there’s plenty of time, we’ve got a couple of months to work everything out and work with the entire administration to figure out where we want to take things and continue the legacy of Massachusetts as a leader in clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Beaton was also asked if there was anything he would do differently from the Patrick administration. “Like I said, we’re so early in the process here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to talk policy just yet because I need to sit down with Governor Baker and determine where we want to take things.”

Considered to be the House GOP caucus’s go-to person on energy issues, Beaton has been actively involved in Beacon Hill debates on energy policy, including renewable energy proposals that are expected to re-emerge as a priority in the next legislative session.

Beaton, who was re-elected to his House seat without opposition on Nov. 4, serves as a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Committee on Ethics.

He also served as one of six negotiators on a conference committee for an environmental bond bill earlier this year.

Beaton will take over a secretariat that underwent significant changes with Gov. Deval Patrick in the Corner Office. Patrick created the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in April 2007 and placed the Department of Public Utilities and the Division of Energy Resources within it.

The secretariat also includes the Department of Agricultural Resources, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Fish and Game, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office (MEPA), the Office of Coastal Zone Management, the environmental police, a technical assistance office and a division of conservation services.

The secretary also chairs the boards of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

“I wish him well,” said Ian Bowles, who served as Patrick’s environmental affairs secretary from 2007 to 2011. “It’s a big job.”

Added Bachrach: “It’s a big portfolio and we’re happy to help.”

The Massachusetts Audubon Society has given Beaton a “100 percent” rating, based on roll call votes on the budget and energy issues, according to Jack Clarke, the group’s director of public policy and government relations.

“We look to him as an advocate for these things,” he said.

In a statement welcoming Beaton’s appointment, the head of the New England Clean Energy Council, a regional nonprofit that represents clean energy companies and entrepreneurs, said the sector has experienced a 47 percent increase in jobs over the last four years.

Council President Peter Rothstein said the state’s energy policies and thousands of clean energy companies have “come together to show that Massachusetts can lead the nation with a strong and balanced approach to making clean energy a driver to job and overall economic growth, to regional competitiveness, and to more reliable, predictable and cost-effective energy.”

“Efficiency, renewable energy, competition and a modern grid are needed to help Massachusetts keep more of its energy dollars in the region, grow our economy and allow energy customers to secure stable energy bills that are not subject to the price volatility of fossil fuels,” Rothstein added in a statement. “The policies set by the new administration and legislature are crucial to expanding the clean energy sector in Massachusetts, which delivers significant economic, energy and environmental benefits to the Commonwealth’s citizens, businesses and industry.”

Patrick’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, Maeve Vallely Bartlett, congratulated Beaton in a brief statement.

“My team and I are prepared to assist him and his team in any way we can to ensure a smooth and successful transition,” she said.