The Massachusetts gubernatorial election is just under a year away, but climate policy is already shaping up to be a key part of the race, with Democratic hopefuls issuing climate plans long before voters head to the polls.
Harvard professor and gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen last month released an eight-page climate agenda that pledges to reach 100 percent renewable energy and decarbonization in Massachusetts by 2040, outpacing the state’s current target of net-zero emissions by 2050. In the plan, Allen also promises to divest Massachusetts’ pension fund and other public dollars from fossil fuels and halt all new fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, while planning to “embed equity” into each of her climate schemes.
“The disproportionate burdens of climate change are borne by communities of color, low-income communities, and others on the frontlines of the climate crisis.” she said in a statement. “We must secure access to green jobs and a healthy environment and create a sustainable future for our children.”
Allen isn’t the only candidate making big climate promises. Days before Allen’s announcement, her leading Democratic rival, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, released “A Green New Deal for Massachusetts.” The agenda calls to scale up renewable power and battery storage to reach a fully clean-powered energy grid by 2030, and to eliminate carbon emissions from new buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2045.
Cabell Eames, political director of 350 Massachusetts and Better Future Project, a Massachusetts-based climate organization, said that in the lead-up to the 2018 gubernatorial election only one candidate, Bob Massie — for whom Eames campaigned — had a climate plan. The focus on environmental policy so early in the current race indicates that there’s been a political “sea change,” she said.
Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, agreed. “How great that all of these candidates, in December, a full 11 months before the general election and nine months before the primary, [had] already laid out their climate plans,” she said.
Turnbull Henry said she was “struck by the similarities” of the candidates’ climate platforms. Both Allen and Chang-Díaz state that Massachusetts must accelerate its climate efforts and also call for environmental justice to ensure that poor communities and people of color see the benefits of environmental policies.
“They acknowledge the urgency, and they [both] address the intersectionality of climate with everything else, like housing and public health,” said Turnbull Henry.
There are, however, key differences between the two candidates’ proposals. For instance, while Allen wants to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide within two decades, Chang-Díaz aims to achieve a completely renewably powered regional grid for New England by 2030. And while Chang-Díaz wants to make public transit free across the Commonwealth, which studies show would lower greenhouse emissions, Allen stops short of that proposal. Her climate plan calls for “affordable and electrified” regional transit, while her jobs agenda calls for free MBTA access for only “low-income workers.”
Perhaps more important than the differences in the policies themselves, said Turnbull Henry, will be how the candidates explain how they can enact their plans.
“I’m looking to hear from the candidates about their willingness and ability to actually implement these things,” she said.
Among the clarifications she is looking for are specifics on how the candidates will work across state lines to achieve their stated targets. Both candidates’ agendas include regional climate goals.
“Massachusetts alone cannot really achieve our climate goals without significantly deeper collaboration among the six New England states that share a regional grid,” she said. “I’ll be looking for candidates to really get into the details on how they intend to work with [the regional transmission organization] ISO New England and intend to lead fellow governors in the region.”
Eames said she’s also looking for candidates to get specific about plans to fund their proposed policies. Massachusetts is due to see some $9 billion in funding from the federal infrastructure spending package. She said candidates should explain how those funds can be used to carry out their plans.
“That means making sure the grant programs funded by the bill are set up for success, and making sure the agencies overseeing them are staffed,” she said.
Eames would also like to see the candidates hold listening sessions with potential voters to get feedback on their environmental proposals. This would give them the opportunity to specify how they will ensure vulnerable communities are protected while policies are rolled out.
“For example, if you’re retrofitting homes, what happens if there’s a gut rehab and someone is displaced? Where are they going? Who’s taking care of them? What if they are in a situation where they don’t have a car and so they need to be close to home,” she said. ”Implementation with care is really important to me.”
Though questions about implementation remain, both candidates have committed to more aggressive climate agendas than the one that current Republican Governor Charlie Baker is pursuing.
Henry believes this ambition was driven by constituents.
“We’re seeing voter attitudes and public perception of the urgency of acting on climate shifting in really remarkable ways,” she said.