Boston mayoral rivals give environmental aims
Range of plans to boost recycling, curb emissions, adapt to sea levels
In hopes of improving air quality, City Councilor Michael Ross wants to authorize the city’s parking enforcement officers to issue tickets to drivers violating anti-idling laws, and City Councilor Rob Consalvo would require diesel-fueled municipal vehicles to mix in biodiesel.
To counter rising sea levels, state Representative Marty Walsh envisions floating buildings and a series of locks and dams ringing the city, while Bill Walczak, a former health care executive, would preserve marshland to build buffer zones for flood protection.
City Councilors Felix Arroyo and John Connolly want to boost the city’s recycling rate by making composting containers as common on curbs as recycling bins, while John Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, wants to hire youths to plant thousands of trees around Boston.
In response to questions submitted by the Globe, nine of the 12 mayoral candidates proposed a range of novel ideas about how to improve the city’s dismal recycling rate, realize ambitious goals to cut carbon emissions, and fight pollution, among other environmental issues the city will confront in coming years.
But one candidate, Charlotte Golar Richie, a former director of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s Department of Neighborhood Development, also advised residents to be wary of politicians promising too much.
“It is going to be tough to realize our ambitions,” the former state representative said in a written response to the questions, adding “we often fall short of achieving goals which seemed doable.”
The nine candidates said the city should comply with or exceed its current goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
They agreed Boston should do more to plan for rising seas, many of them noting the billions of dollars in damage wrought last year on coastal New Jersey and New York by Hurricane Sandy.
They also all support efforts to expand the state’s bottle law, which for decades has required a nickel deposit on soda, beer, and malt beverage containers, to include bottled water, juices, and sports drinks, which account for more than a third of all beverages sold in Massachusetts.
But the candidates differed on whether the city should ban residents from discarding food waste in the trash, which produces powerful greenhouse gases and uses increasingly limited landfill space; what should be done about the city’s elevated levels of diesel pollution, much of it spewed by construction equipment; and whether new building codes should require developers to put critical systems on higher, more valuable floors of new buildings to protect against flooding.
The candidates who did not respond to the questions were City Councilor Charles Yancey; Charles Clemons Jr., a local radio host; and David James Wyatt, the sole Republican contender.
To reduce emissions and encourage adoption of clean energy technology, Daniel F. Conley, the Suffolk district attorney and a former city councilor, said, he would introduce a program to allow homeowners and businesses to finance energy efficiency upgrades through a property tax surcharge they could pay over a long period.
Conley also said he intends to move up Boston’s target dates for cutting carbon emissions by doubling the city’s goals for solar power by 2020, more than tripling its recycling rate to 80 percent of all trash by the end of the decade, and pressing shipping companies to use low-sulfur fuel on large vessels that pass through Boston Harbor.
He and others promised to make the city more bicycle friendly and said all new city vehicles would either be hybrids or use alternative fuels. “As mayor, I’m going to be quite vocal about public transportation and the need to get it upgraded, updated, and on secure financial ground,” Conley said.
To address pollution, Barros said, he would reduce street congestion and unnecessary idling by better timing traffic lights.
While he and other candidates were careful about saying how much they would lean on developers with future building codes, Barros said he would appoint a senior adviser and form neighborhood-level committees to address the risks of rising seas.
“We must address our local vulnerabilities as well as remedy the environmental disparities that still exist in low-income neighborhoods,” he wrote.
Arroyo hopes Boston can do more to tap into wind power. Alone among the candidates, he said he wants the city to use 100 megawatts of wind power by 2020.
He and others said more needs to be done to reduce diesel pollution in Suffolk County, which had 300 times the amount considered acceptable by the federal government last year and more than 99 percent of the nation’s counties, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. He would seek an ordinance to require construction companies to replace or retrofit all their vehicles.
“I believe this can have a dramatic effect on the high asthma rates in the city,” he said.
All of the candidates said they would explore building anaerobic digestion plants in Boston, which convert food and other organic waste into energy. Connolly said such plants would be vital to helping the city achieve its ultimate environmental goals, but he said his administration would carefully review where they are built for impacts on traffic.
“Building new facilities like these are critical to meeting our economic and environmental goals,” he said.
Among Walczak’s chief environmental goals would be persuading the MBTA to provide train and bus service 24 hours a day, all week. He would also push the transit authority to electrify buses and commuter rail trains and create more dedicated bus lanes in congested areas.
“Climate change is the most serious environmental challenge facing Boston — and the world — so addressing this danger is my primary environmental focus,” he said.
Golar Richie emphasized her executive experience to build a consensus on many difficult environmental issues. She suggested holding recycling competitions to increase the recycling rate and promised there would be no loss of green space if she were mayor.
“I have the skills to successfully lead us to realizing our ambitions,” she said.
Consalvo wants to reduce energy consumption by 25 percent in public buildings and implement a “green curriculum” in schools. He said he would ensure that residents live no more than a five-minute walk to public transportation and would issue an executive order requiring recycling in all schools, parks, and streets.
“Every trash receptacle will have a recycle bin next to it,” he said.
Walsh promised “visionary responses” and said “nothing is off the table” in dealing with the city’s environmental challenges.
“We know there will be concerns from developers, because we’re setting a high bar,” he said. “Change is challenging but can be an impetus for innovation.”
Consalvo said he would seek money to plant more trees to achieve the city’s goal of planting 100,000 new trees by 2020. As of last year, the city had only planted 10 percent of the planned trees.
“We would dramatically expand the planting sites and the viability of the trees planted,” he said.
To promote recycling, Ross said he would slowly introduce a program that would require residents to pay for their trash based on how much they discard, similar to “pay as you throw” programs in cities throughout the country.
He would also push for new building codes that require future development in flood zones to use “resilient design standards”; install solar panels on Boston Housing Authority buildings; and ban the use of city dollars to buy bottled water, except for first responders.
“Efforts to reduce waste in our city also must be measured against core principles of environmental justice and must not place a burden on low-income families,” he said.