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Environmental groups criticize Baker for lack of long-term climate action

Environmental groups have been critical of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s policies, giving the state a “C” grade each of the past three years of the annual report. BRANDON SONG/ DFP FILE PHOTO

For the third year in a row, Massachusetts was given a C rating for environmental and energy commitments, according to the latest Massachusetts Energy and Environment Report Card.

The report, which is prepared by various environmental organizations, like the Environmental League of Massachusetts and the Conservation Law Foundation, evaluated Gov. Charlie Baker’s environmental policies and actions over the past year, stated that the Commonwealth is “lagging” in areas where it should be “leading.”

Although the report noted “some new initiatives and improvements” from the Baker administration, it cited “lack of leadership and action on other important fronts” as the reason for the overall C grade.

Specifically, the report applauded Baker’s $1.4 billion environmental bond bill that dedicates $300 million for necessary infrastructure and climate change prevention but criticized the administration’s lack of urgency in emission reductions.

Vick Mohanka, clean energy organizer for Clean Water Action in Massachusetts, another organization that contributed to the report, said that although Baker is “not as bad as he could be,” there are many ways he would like to see the governor improve in the future if he is reelected.

What I would like to see is executive officers chosen, cabinet level or agency level,” Mohanka said, “who have a background and disposition geared towards the transition to renewable energy.”

Mohanka also said he would like to see distributional analysis become a part of climate planning in Massachusetts. This kind of analysis is important, Mohanka said, because of the behavioral changes that new environmental policies require of residents. The residents most affected, he said, are often in the lower or middle class.

Despite finding some issues with the Baker administration’s policies, Mohanka said Baker’s willingness to talk about climate change and its effect on the Boston area has been positive.

“I think the Baker administration has talked about the how the environmental policy affects our housing policies and how it affects our transportation policies,” Mohanka said. “The messaging is there, but we want to see a lot more in terms of the regulations and the actual actions taken. And that’s gonna be the case with Baker or Gonzalez.”

Gabby Queenan, policy director for the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, whose group also contributed to the report, said that although she thinks Baker has made “strong progress,” she takes issue with the fact that he has not proposed a longer-term climate action plan.

“I would hope that both candidates would prioritize creating a long-term vision for water resources in the state,” Queenan said. “That both candidates would act to restore funding to state environmental agencies that are tasked with protecting our water bodies.”

Lack of funding, Queenan said, has been a major issue for groups like the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Division of Ecological Restoration and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“I would say that, in terms of water quality, over half of the state’s water bodies right now fail to meet federal clean water goals,” Queenan said, “primarily because of storm water pollution, so that’s a significant contributor that definitely needs to be addressed.”

Vignesh Ramachandran, digital organizer for 350 Mass Action, a statewide volunteer network dedicated to eliminating the influence of fossil fuels, said he thinks Baker could be doing more to combat climate change.

Governor Baker’s administration’s response on climate change has been incommensurate to the scale and urgency of the crisis,” Ramachandran said. “Baker’s eventual acceptance of climate science is not good enough and barely better than the Trump administration’s assault on federal environmental regulations.”

Ramachandran criticized Baker’s lack of compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires Massachusetts to be 80 percent below 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2050.

“We have called on Baker to show national leadership,” Ramachandran said, “and he has failed to step up.”

Elizabeth Casey, 20, of Norwood, said talking about climate change and pushing for better environmental policy is important, especially for politicians.

“I feel like with the political climate we have right now, [climate change] is definitely being squashed,” Casey said. “Obviously, in the White House, it’s being crushed, but our generation is bringing more attention to it, and other politicians are realizing they have to talk about it.”

Nicole Sandoval, 20, of Nantucket, also said she thinks politicians should be discussing environmental issues.

“[It is important] to bring awareness that it’s an actual problem and that our Earth is dying,” Sandoval said. “We need to be able to protect it so we can keep living here and generations after us can keep growing.”

Gerry McGovern, 63, who said he supports Baker, noted that over the course of his life, he has personally seen the impacts of climate change.

McGovern said he recently moved to Cape Cod, which experienced its first tornado in over 40 years over the weekend. He said that is evidence enough that something is amiss.

“It’s a world issue, so it has to be addressed by politics, the people who are our leaders,” he said. “I think that Charlie Baker is doing a phenomenal job.”

Aside from just climate policy, McGovern said he admires Baker’s willingness to stray from the Republican party when necessary.

“He’s getting the respect of both Republicans and Democrats,” McGovern said. “He’s not going strictly down party lines. He didn’t vote for Trump. He’s the ultimate leader.”

Baker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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