Environmentalists wary of Baker’s energy pick

Matt Beaton’s home is one of the most energy efficient in the state.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff
Matt Beaton’s home is one of the most energy efficient in the state.

Maeve Vallely Bartlett spent more than 20 years in government overseeing environmental policy before becoming secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, including stints as the state’s undersecretary for environment and assistant secretary for environmental review.

Her predecessor, Richard K. Sullivan Jr., oversaw 450,000 acres of land as commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and served as president of the Massachusetts Mayors Association. His predecessor, Ian Bowles, served as senior director of global environmental affairs on the National Security Council, among other high-profile positions.

Governor-elect Charlie Baker’s choice for a job overseeing an $800 million budget, six powerful agencies, and 2,700 employees is Matt Beaton, a 36-year-old state representative in his second term. The little-known Shrewsbury Republican, who has never overseen a significant government body and cited building his own home as among his bona fides, said he will bring “unique perspective” to the position.


“I have had boots on the ground, being a person that was impacted on a lot of the policies that my secretariat oversees,” Beaton said in a telephone interview. “I like to think I have a vast understanding of all the issues. I find it quite interesting that some folks might question my experience.”

Get This Week in Politics in your inbox:
A weekly recap of the top political stories from The Globe, sent right to your email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

He said his qualifications for the job include a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in energy and environmental analysis from Boston University; running a three-person green building and energy efficiency consulting company; and serving as a member of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in the State House.

In an interview with the Worcester Business Journal before being elected to the House, he described his biggest professional achievement as becoming the state’s first contractor to receive two certifications for a specialized kind of green building.

Asked what he now considers his most significant professional achievements, aside from his election as a state lawmaker, he pointed to the design and construction of his home, a so-called passive Colonial in Shrewsbury that he described as “one of the most energy-efficient structures in the Commonwealth.”

In a statement accompanying his recent appointment, Baker said Beaton has “the right experience to carry out our administration’s green energy initiatives and to protect the Commonwealth’s open spaces.”


Baker added he will look to Beaton to cut the cost of energy and reduce the state’s carbon footprint. “Representative Beaton’s leadership will be vital to accomplish these ambitious goals and all of the office’s charges,” he said.

Beaton, a self-described conservative who was elected in 2010 to the seat vacated by Lieutenant Governor-elect Karyn Polito, declined to comment on what he intends to make his priorities as secretary.

“It’s going to take time to develop a firm set of priorities,” he said. “At this point, it’s not the right time to opine on big policy initiatives.”

Environmental advocates have been trying to discern Beaton’s positions.

“We don’t know enough about him,” said Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. “He hasn’t played much of a role in the conversation about the environment in the state.”


Mahoney added: “I don’t think that disqualifies him from the position. I’m sure he’ll be subject to a thorough evaluation.”

‘We have a clean slate here and want to give him the benefit of the doubt.’

Elizabeth Saunders, executive director of Clean Water Action in Massachusetts, said neither she nor other environmental advocates were consulted about Beaton’s appointment, as they had been with previous secretaries.

“I think it’s fair to raise questions about his experience,” she said. “But we have a clean slate here and want to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Environmental advocates have privately raised questions about Baker’s choice — one called the appointment “stunning” — but they were loath to do so publicly, as they regularly interact with the agencies that Beaton will administer.

Beaton will oversee the state 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, the Office of Coastal Zone Management, and the environmental police. As secretary, he will also chair the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center boards.

Jack Clarke, director of public policy at Mass Audubon, noted that in its legislative report on Beaton’s first term, the conservation group gave the lawmaker a “100 percent” rating for four roll call votes he took on energy and budget issues. The votes were not controversial, and the average score in the House was 98 percent.

“We don’t have that much experience working with him,” Clarke said. “But he was on the right committees and knows his way around after four years in the Legislature. I think a breath of fresh air is good.”

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said Beaton’s challenge is that he comes from “an antiregulatory background and faces a complex, highly regulated portfolio.”

He and others raised concerns about Beaton’s opposition to expanding the state’s bottle law — which has long been supported by nearly every environmental group in the state — linking the state’s gas tax to inflation, and the Sustainable Water Management Initiative, which seeks to protect the state’s drinking water supply.

“We may not have been on the same team in the past, but tomorrow is another day,” Bachrach said.

He and other environmental advocates said they’re mainly concerned about how Beaton balances the increasingly difficult task of curbing rising electricity prices in Massachusetts — rates this year have spiked 37 percent for many homeowners — while enabling renewable energy projects to remain competitive.

They worry Beaton will push to increase the capacity of natural gas pipelines. Significantly expanding the flow of natural gas could make it harder for wind and solar energy projects to be financially viable.

“The question is whether he has a completely conservative, business, laissez-faire view or whether he feels government has a role in advancing renewable energy,” Bachrach said.

Beaton said he wants to cut rates and promote renewable energy, but he said he worries that it’s increasingly difficult for businesses in Massachusetts to be competitive because of the state’s utility costs. He hopes to boost energy efficiency as a means of accomplishing both.

“There’s a fine balance,” he said. “But we need to keep Massachusetts competitive.”

On opposing the expansion of the bottle law, he said he agreed with Baker and called it a “money grab” from bottling companies. He said he supports a pay-as-you-go model for public transportation and roads — rather than linking gas taxes to inflation as a source of revenue — and said he opposed the water management initiative because of complicated local issues that he said would have a negative economic impact on his district.

Asked how he might differ from his predecessors, he said he hopes to speed the building of renewable energy projects.

“We want follow through,” he said. “I have seen a lot of wasted opportunity.”

He added: “I’m going to do things my way, taking the best part of what [my predecessors] did.”

Charlie Baker's cabinet appointments

Governor-elect Charlie Baker has begun appointing members of his administration. Click the boxes to learn more about the positions that have been filled and which ones are still open.


Patrick Garvin/ Globe Staff

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.