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Opinion

Governor Patrick’s environmental legacy is at risk

Patrick has a good track record on environment, but there is still a lot of work to be done

Governor Deval Patrick spoke at the dedication of the Berkshire Wind Power Project in May 2011.

Nancy Palmieri for the Boston Globe

Governor Patrick spoke at the dedication of the Berkshire Wind Power Project in May 2011.

THE PATRICK administration and the Legislature take pride in their environmental and energy record, and they should. But we are one year into the second term, and the State House is quiet, too quiet.

Passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act and Green Communities Act, both in 2008, gave Massachusetts the opportunity for national leadership in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and job creation. The good news is Massachusetts is now first in the nation in energy efficiency, and the governor and Legislature deserve great credit. But as we take pride in our energy efficiency, our work has only scratched the surface. We need to accelerate “building labeling,’’ by applying “energy star’’ ratings on buildings, just as we do with cars and appliances, allowing consumers to know what they’re buying. We need to ramp up weatherization programs, starting with those families least able to afford skyrocketing heating bills. And we need to create efficiency incentives for oil heat, much as we have for gas heat.

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Beyond energy efficiency, our hope for leadership in renewable energy and the jobs that come along with it remains uncertain.

Cape Wind will soon make history as America’s first offshore wind farm, elevating Massachusetts as a national leader in renewable energy, new technology, and green jobs. The Patrick administration deserves great credit for negotiating the recent merger agreement with NStar that will both protect ratepayers and make Cape Wind a reality. Cape Wind is critical, but it should be only the beginning as we look to much larger, deepwater wind projects, in areas recently designated by the federal government, further offshore.

In addition, the Wind Siting Bill is critical for the development of onshore wind farms. It would create new standards and expedited permitting for much-needed, low-cost, onshore wind-energy. It would preserve home rule while avoiding parochial obstruction. It overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate last year, but the clock ran out prior to final enactment. It may merit further revision, but the Legislature should make the changes quickly and resolve this issue.

An expanded bottle bill would add juice, water, and energy drinks to beer and soda bottles that require a five-cent deposit. The current bottle law has succeeded for 30 years, substantially reducing litter and waste-hauling costs for municipalities and tax-payers. Expanding the bottle law is supported by 77 percent of Massachusetts residents and over 200 municipalities, including the City of Boston. Opponents argue it’s a “tax.’’ If all taxes were this voluntary, the Tea Party wouldn’t exist. Legislative leaders must call for a vote.

The MBTA is on the verge of bankruptcy, and may be forced to raise fares and cut service. In his first term, Patrick proposed adding pennies to the gas tax to preserve mass transit, as well as repairing roads and bridges. It was shot down, and the governor has yet to try again. But he should. A great city and a great commonwealth need a transit system that works.

Casinos are now on center stage. We need economic development and jobs. The question is where? Foxwoods was built in the middle of nowhere, in the Connecticut countryside. Forty thousand cars a day make the pilgrimage, adding to our pollution. When Massachusetts builds casinos, they must be accessible to an existing infrastructure without putting endless cars on parade, poisoning the air we breathe and despoiling the open spaces we value.

Finally, the promise of the two landmark pieces of legislation of 2008, the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Green Communities Act, remain unrealized. The Global Warming Solutions Act would reduce the Commonwealth’s carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020, but regulations have not been drafted. The Green Communities Act is under assault by a small but powerful group of businessmen. They cite the cost of renewable energy but ignore the multiple return on investment and the stimulus to our economy, employing more than 60,000 citizens at 5,000 green businesses, growing six times faster than the state’s economy.

There is much unfinished business. The governor and the Legislature need to work together, and seize the future. Massachusetts can be a national leader on energy, the environment, and job creation. But a legacy requires completing the task.

George Bachrach is president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
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