BOSTON – Just weeks after Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law an ambitious new climate plan, Democratic candidate for governor Ben Downing said Tuesday that if elected he would go further, pushing for Massachusetts to become the first state in the country to meet its full electricity demand with clean energy by the end of the decade and to run entirely on clean energy by 2040.
Downing, who was deeply involved in energy issues during his 10-year career as a state senator, focused on climate change for the first major policy rollout of his campaign. He said climate policy is where crises of public health, the environment and economic justice “all come together.”
“I think Massachusetts has the potential to solve these big problems. What we haven’t had from our leadership is a sense of urgency and maybe on no other issue is that urgency needed than on climate,” Downing said in a video posted briefly to Facebook on Tuesday afternoon.
The proposal calls for Massachusetts to speed up its transition to clean energy and to ensure that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color hurt by decades of pollution are positioned to take advantage of health and economic opportunities of the future.
He committed to having a full fleet of electric buses in at least 20 so-called environmental justice communities by 2024, and to supporting the divestment of all state-controlled pension funds from fossil fuel industries.
“The clock has been ticking and it is ticking and every day that we don’t act with that sense of urgency then the cost and the scale of what we have to do in a shortened period of time becomes that much tougher,” Downing said.
Downing’s climate agenda was presented less than two weeks after Baker signed an ambitious new climate and emission reduction law that requires Massachusetts to be carbon-neutral by 2050, setting interim reduction targets between now and then and requiring major new offshore wind purchases.
Rather than pursue a goal of net-zero emissions that would still allow for fossil fuel consumption to be offset by other policies, Downing said his administration would pursue 100 percent clean energy a decade sooner than the current law.
The plan would also require that at least 50 percent of all climate spending in the state benefit those communities disproportionately impacted by decisions about where to site fossil fuel plants and other energy policies. Downing said that means investing in the Clean Energy Center to lure renewable energy companies to Massachusetts and working with community colleges, unions and other groups to train workers in those neighborhoods for jobs in the clean energy industry.
Baker has not yet said whether he will seek a third term in 2022, but over the course of his first two terms he has also pursued the development of the state’s first offshore wind farm, the purchase of hydropower from Quebec and developed his own “roadmap” to reduce emissions to at least 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Downing is the only declared candidate on the Democratic side, though Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen is raising money and exploring a bid. Attorney General Maura Healey, another Democrat, has not made her plans for 2022 known.
Downing was supposed to release his climate plan on multiple social media channels on Tuesday morning, touting the launch of “BEN TV” as a communications tool that his team would use to roll out the campaign’s policy agenda moving forward. However, his team experienced technical difficulties uploading the video, and postponed the release until Wednesday.
The video, viewed by the News Service, posted briefly on the candidate’s Facebook page and featured Downing being interviewed by his former Providence College professor Tony Affigne, an expert in environmental policy and politics. His campaign subsequently shared the full plan that will be posted to Medium.
For six of the 10 years Downing spent in the Senate, the Pittsfield native co-chaired the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, working on issues like broadband expansion and the development of solar and other clean energy industries.
When he left Beacon Hill, he joined the solar development company Nextamp as a vice president for new market development and sat on the board of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
“We have proven you can grow your economy and you can do right by the environment. This is about taking that to the next level,” Downing told Affigne.
The East Boston resident said his experience with the State House debates over climate policy uniquely position him to navigate the politics of the issues and be ready to push forward and implement his plan.
“If we get this right, we have the ability to capture the next generation of jobs here in Massachusetts, but we have to be intentional about that,” Downing said.
To achieve 100 percent clean electricity by 2030, Downing said his administration would commit to producing 1.5 gigawatts of clean electricity a year for the next decade, increase requirements on utilities to purchase clean energy and make it easier to connect clean resources to the grid.
His plan also calls for the transition of all public fleets to electric vehicles, the use of electric vehicle purchasing incentives and the buildout of the infrastructure, such as charging stations, to support electric vehicles.
The Democrat said he would create a “Race to Zero” competitive grant program for municipalities to take part in efforts to rely 100 percent on clean energy by 2040, and would redesign utility rates to incentivize the transition to renewable energy resources.
Downing did not mention President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, but much of the spending in that plan would support the candidate’s clean energy ambitions, including funding that would help Massachusetts build electric vehicle charging stations and modernize the grid.
The “American Jobs Plan” sets a nationwide target of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, five years slower than Downing’s plan for Massachusetts.
Downing said his plan would also give every department in state government a mandate to reduce its carbon footprint and consider climate change in all that it does.