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On environmental issues, candidates agree on core issues, disagree on specifics

Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley now agree on core environmental issues, but they disagree on such questions as whether the state should rely on nuclear power and whether voters should approve a ballot initiative to expand the state’s bottle law.

In written answers to questions posed by the Globe, both gubernatorial candidates expressed support for the state’s goals of cutting carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050; both support providing tax credits to promote renewable energy; and both view natural gas as a bridge to a future when the state can rely more on renewable energy.


Both remain open to expanding existing pipelines, though both said they would be reluctant to approve projects such as one controversial proposal that would extend a pipeline from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania to Dracut.

RELATED: Environmentalists recall changes in Baker’s position on climate change

Baker, like Coakley, also has promised to commit no less than 1 percent of the state’s operating budget to environmental issues.

Baker said he now believes humans are causing climate change, after saying in 2010 that he did not know the answer. He also said he no longer opposes Cape Wind, which in the past he has argued would drive up electricity costs and hurt the economy. He called it a “done deal” and said, “I have no plans to undo the progress made on the project.” Coakley for years has supported Cape Wind.

There are still differences between the two candidates’ approaches to the environment. Coakley’s website lists environmental concerns and proposals; Baker’s does not.

Baker opposes the ballot question voters will decide in November that would expand the state’s bottle law to include water, sports drinks, and other noncarbonated beverages, calling it “essentially a tax increase.” In written answers to the same questions sent to Baker, Coakley called passage of the ballot measure as “critical to promoting recycling and keeping millions of bottles out of landfills every year.”


They also differ on nuclear power. Coakley noted how her office two years ago fought “aggressively” against relicensing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth. “It’s a safety issue,” she said. “A little bit of risk can create a huge problem.”

In a telephone interview, Coakley said the real difference between the candidates is in who would make environmental issues a priority. She pointed out that she has been endorsed by the Sierra Club and Massachusetts Clean Water Action. Baker has not been endorsed by any environmental groups.

“After he questioned in 2010 whether climate change is a real thing and now changed his position, it’s not clear at all that it’s a priority for him or that he really believes that it’s a man-made problem,” she said. “That’s a huge, huge difference about where we would start on prioritizing solutions to this problem.”

Her environmental priorities, she said, would be to ensure the state meets its 2020 and 2050 goals of cutting carbon emissions, which scientists say are heating up the planet at a dangerous rate. She would seek energy audits for every home and business over the next eight years; invest more in public transportation and alternative vehicle fuels; promote clean-energy use; increase funding of environmental agencies; and set a goal of making all new state buildings energy self-sufficient.


Some environmental advocates have raised concerns about Coakley’s record.

They say she filed a lawsuit last year against the federal government after regulators limited the catch of cod by nearly 80 percent. She argued those cuts were based on “flawed science,” even though repeated assessments have shown that the cod population has plummeted to historic lows in the Gulf of Maine.

They also said she focused too much on the costs of Cape Wind as a ratepayer advocate for state residents, rather than potential long-term benefits of the wind farm. “She took a short-sighted view of pricing in her testimony [to the Department of Public Utilities], which was very disappointing,” said Jack Clarke, director of public policy at Mass Audubon.

Baker said he supported the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision on Pilgrim, which let it operate another 20 years. He said he recognizes the safety concerns but sees it as part of a “balanced approach” to the state’s energy needs.

Baker questioned Coakley’s ability to plan effectively for the future, citing how the state’s energy prices have risen sharply in recent years, and said he hoped to follow the example of previous Republican governors he has served.

“I was proud to be part of the Weld and Cellucci administrations, which had a strong record of protecting water supplies, conserving land, promoting recycling, and fighting pollution,” he said.

He blamed Coakley for supporting the closure of the state’s coal power plants without securing other deals that would keep energy costs down. Last month, the state’s largest utilities said electricity prices would increase for the average homeowner in the state by 37 percent over last winter.


“I worry about the state’s ability to plan,” he said.

But he provided few specific plans of his own. “As governor, I will pursue a balanced approach that includes natural gas, wind, solar, and hydroelectric generation, with a strong emphasis on efficiency to reduce the cost of energy and reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.