BOSTON – Climate activists gathered at the State House as the 2019 legislative work year wound to a close last week to remind the Legislature that they are eager for action on climate policy in 2020 — and that inaction could have electoral consequences.
A group that included Boston Climate Strikers, the Sunrise Movement, the Sierra Club and 350 Mass held a press conference Wednesday with a small group of lawmakers to voice frustration with the pace of policy action on Beacon Hill and to lay out expectations for the seven months of formal legislating to come in the new year.
“The eyes of all young people are upon you, scrutinizing your decisions on this issue,” Sam Draisen from Boston Climate Strikers said. “We challenge our elected officials to protect our planet, to fix the practices of our commonwealth.”
Draisen, 16, led a contingent of young people who are concerned that a state government they have no say in choosing is not doing enough to address climate change and that its inaction will disproportionately affect their futures.
“As a kid, I cannot vote. The vast majority of this student-led group also cannot vote. We cannot run for office, pass legislation, we cannot ensure the safety of our future through direct legislative action,” he said. “That is why we are here today asking our elected officials to do what we cannot.”
A clutch of lawmakers participated in or attended the press conference in the State House Library — Reps. Maria Robinson, Jonathan Hecht, Mike Connolly, Michelle Ciccolo, Jack Lewis, Joan Meschino, Tommy Vitolo, Denise Provost, Paul Mark and Lindsay Sabadosa, and Sens. Marc Pacheco and Jamie Eldridge.
“They recognize, as we do, that without any major change in climate policy, we won’t have an Earth to live on,” Robinson said of the student activists. She added, “I think it’s clear to all of us standing here that we need to throw everything in the toolbox at climate right now — we need mitigation, we need adaptation and we need a real sense of urgency.”
In July, the House approved a $1.3 billion bond bill and a plan to create a climate change resiliency grant program for cities and towns. Otherwise, the House has not acted on any other climate-related bills this year.
The Senate has not taken up the House bill, which is similar to a concept that Gov. Charlie Baker proposed earlier in the year, but Sen. Pacheco said recently that Senate President Karen Spilka has agreed to take up a climate bill by a “drop-dead date” of Jan. 31, 2020.
In recent years, the Legislature and the Baker administration have taken steps toward more renewable energy, including the pursuit of major offshore wind power and hydroelectricity projects, as well as efforts to grow solar energy. Activists, and some lawmakers, say the pursuit of clean energy is not moving ahead fast enough.
The advocates said they want to see the Senate bill include a rapid increase in the introduction of renewable energy, an increased commitment to energy efficiency in buildings, a widespread move to electric heat and heat pumps, and a “bold plan” for electrification of transportation.
“At the end of January, we will be taking account of how much of that agenda has moved from concept into law, at least on the Senate side,” Mark Dyen from 350 Mass’s Newton node said. “And we’re going to be working with people — if we need to bring a few more champions of climate change action into the Legislature in the fall of 2020, we are prepared to do that.”
Pacheco has been speaking up during sessions to lament the lack of action on climate and had been pushing for the Senate to take up a bill before the start of the legislative recess last week. Instead, he said he secured Senate President Karen Spilka’s commitment to debate a bill when the Legislature returns in January.
Earlier this month, Spilka said she was “looking forward to getting a bill on the Senate floor soon after the first of the year,” and Telecommunications, Utility and Energy Committee co-chair Sen. Michael Barrett said the bill would be a “major one” that addresses clean energy, clean vehicles, and buildings.
In September, thousands of people marched from Boston City Hall Plaza to the State House as part of a “youth climate strike” led by activists under the age of 20 and over the weekend a group of protesters delayed the second half of the Harvard-Yale football game in New Haven when they took the field after the Yale marching band to call on both universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies.
Climate and environmental activists for months have been fighting against a controversial natural gas project planned for Weymouth and have made their presence and voices known on Beacon Hill as activists warn that the operation of a gas compressor station runs counter to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
Alongside activists last week, Robinson said lawmakers in both branches need to press their colleagues to think big on climate policy.
“I think that we need to really demand from our leaders the opportunity to have a robust conversation on climate and ensure that we are doing every single thing in our power to make that happen,” the Framingham Democrat said. “I truly believe that history isn’t going to look kindly on legislators who do not take action and we can’t be complacent and we can’t be pleased that we’re doing better than most other states.”