Climate Change and Energy Priorities
As part of my Social Justice and Equity Audit Plan, I will audit relevant state agencies such as DPU to shine a light on whether Massachusetts is meeting its climate commitments, ensure the Commonwealth provides equal opportunity for working class and environmental justice communities, and set the stage for greater action on climate.
When it comes to climate change, I am proud of the votes and actions I have taken as a legislator to further our efforts to combat the climate crisis globally while fighting for environmental justice locally. Whether it is my enthusiastic support for both the recently passed Act Driving Climate Policy Forward and last year’s passage of An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, taking on Columbia Gas after the devastating Merrimack Valley Gas explosion, or fighting against a new natural gas plant in my hometown of Methuen - I have backed up my words with action that has made a difference in residents’ lives. But I know there is so much more our elected leaders can do to set the stage for a true clean energy future. I will be a dedicated partner to all of our environmental champions in this mission.
As part of my Audit Plan, I will ensure the Mass Save program is equitable by analyzing and reporting on disparities between services provided to low-income residents and underserved communities, and residents in more affluent communities. It is work I have already started in the Senate, where my amendment to bolster transparency, accountability and equity in the MassSave program was passed unanimously as part of 2022’s An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward.
The Mass Save program, for instance, too often benefits wealthier communities while low-income neighborhoods are overlooked and ignored. The utility companies should be held accountable, and we must ensure equitable access to the program for underserved communities. Mass Save’s stated goal is to help “residents and businesses across Massachusetts save money and energy, leading our state to a clean and energy efficient future.” These are laudable goals, however, we must ensure environmental justice is not taking a backseat to the well-intentioned stated priorities of the program.
I will also prioritize transparency and accountability to ensure funds dedicated to transportation projects reduce emissions and benefit all communities, regardless of zip code. That means auditing the state agencies – like MassDOT – that are spending billions of dollars in state transportation funds or receiving the new massive infusion of federal infrastructure investments to make sure they are meeting our emission and equity goals that are so pivotal.
Meeting our emission goals in our transportation sector has been a priority of mine in the legislature, with one recent example being my lead sponsorship of legislation to modernize the Rideshare program to reduce overall congestion and reduce emissions.
2. Offshore Wind
I support taking actions that would enable Massachusetts to have at least 14 gigawatts of responsibly-developed offshore wind under contract by 2035.
Massachusetts has significant potential for offshore wind, a technology that will be essential for meeting the state’s net-zero climate goals. For example, offshore wind can help function as baseload power and reduce Massachusetts’ reliance on fossil fuels imported from out of state, improving the state’s resilience.
As a legislator, I have a proven track record of supporting legislation promoting offshore wind, including An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy – legislation that authorized the Commonwealth to procure an additional 2,400 MW of offshore wind power – and 2016’s Act to Promote Energy Diversity that directed utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind. My commitment to offshore wind is one of the reasons I’ve earned the support of Senate colleagues like Marc Pacheco and Julian Cyr, who have played such a critical role in laying the foundation for climate policy and offshore wind in Massachusetts.
And now, it’s on all of us – including the State Auditor – to build upon that foundation and expand our efforts. We must do so much more than meet our current goals to ensure a true clean energy future for the Commonwealth. Potential routes include grid modernization, regional transmission, and more. We need to take full advantage of our unique location on the coast and position ourselves for a clean energy future.
I support legislation to ensure economic inclusion in the offshore wind industry.
As someone who was raised in Lawrence and Methuen and who has represented disenfranchised populations for a decade in the legislature, I am passionate about battling systematic oppression and have brought that passion to Beacon Hill. Offshore wind represents an enormous opportunity for economic development. However, it is critical that these benefits are distributed equitably across underserved and environmental justice communities. It is also important that minority-owned businesses play a key role in the offshore wind industry, and that diversity commitments in contracting are prioritized and monitored.
There is reason for concern. Massachusetts has consistently failed to meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals in state contracting. In 2020, the state spent $4.8 billion on contracting but only $23 million went to Black or Hispanic owned businesses — only 0.005% of total spending. The share of State contracts going to minority-owned businesses declined by 24% from 1998 to 2018. That is why in my Audit Plan, I will use the Auditor’s office to examine our State contracts and procurement processes to ensure engagement and fair treatment for women-, veteran-, LGBTQ-, and minority-owned businesses. As your next Auditor, I will tell you if your taxpayer money is spent equitably and hold the state government accountable to modernize its operations in the interest of justice and fairness.
3. Decarbonizing Buildings
I support legislation that would raise significant revenue dedicated to retrofit existing buildings.
Energy efficiency and the electrification of buildings are important pieces of the puzzle for reducing carbon emissions. We need bold policy, and we need to do a deep dive into the lived environment. It’s just one reason I supported An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy. It put a renewed state focus on our building codes as a way to reign in this major source of greenhouse gas emissions – but I am also well aware that so much more needs to be done. It is why I have prioritized reforming the Mass Save program – as I have detailed above - to ensure that it is equitably implemented. It is critical that the benefits of electrification be extended to all residents of the Commonwealth, not simply those residents who are most easily able to afford them.
In the longer term, we must explore bold solutions for our Commonwealth and, in particular, our urban centers. Buildings in Ithaca, New York are undergoing complete decarbonization. The State Auditor can and should use her position to center public discussion on opportunities like this to ensure we are spreading best practices as far and as quickly as possible. We need to be thoughtful here: the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.
I support a ban on fossil fuel hook-ups in new buildings.
The Massachusetts stretch code currently adheres to the 2018 International Energy and Conservation Code. As code requirements become stricter, it will be more challenging to meet the demands of the code through the use of gas. It is important that Massachusetts policy lay the groundwork for electrification to ensure that new buildings do not lock-in the use of fossil fuels for generations to come. New buildings should be built for the future, taking into account the Commonwealth’s climate goals out to 2050 and state-of-the-art best practices in the building industry. I absolutely believe it is important for municipalities to be able to make such decisions on their own behalf, as well. In the Senate, we took an important step towards this goal with the recently passed Act Driving Climate Policy Forward that allows up to 10 communities to implement local bans on natural gas hookups in new construction.
The danger of these natural gas hook-ups hits close to home for me. Communities that I have represented were rocked by the devastating Columbia Gas explosions of September 13, 2018. It turned residents’ lives upside down, as restoration of service not only proved slow but communication with those affected was unreliable. With lackluster assistance from the gas company, residents turned to social media for help and called daily for assistance from my office as they went from insurance adjuster to insurance adjuster getting less than they were promised – and far less than they deserved. While I fought to ensure that Columbia Gas was held accountable, I also worked to ensure it didn’t happen again by working with my Merrimack Valley delegation colleagues to include tough new gas safety measures in climate legislation.
In addition, in 2014, LS Power Group planned a new $400 million, 451 MW gas power plant in my hometown of Methuen. As a state representative, I fought against this proposal, and working with concerned citizens and local elected officials the project was stopped and ultimately abandoned. As State Auditor, I will partner with others statewide to fight other, similar proposals in the future. They are contrary to our goals as a Commonwealth and to the needs of our climate and of our world.
I support policies that electrify publicly owned vehicle fleets and transit by 2035.
This represents a concrete way to improve public health, reduce emissions, and reduce costs for Massachusetts in the long term. It is work I have already started in the legislature as a co-sponsor of Sen. Brendan Crighton’s successful amendment to An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward requiring the MBTA to begin the process of electrifying the Commuter Rail network.
Public green procurements also help set an example for others to follow. With transportation accounting for a significant percentage of statewide emissions, electrifying publicly-owned fleets and transit would mark a small step toward helping to meet the state’s climate goals. These procurements should be written in an "open" manner, allowing other government entities – regional as well as local – to participate. The Commonwealth must do everything possible to make it simple and easy for every vehicle to electrify; opening all State electric vehicle procurements to everyone will reduce the cost and difficulty of greening other, non-State fleets. This will allow even our smallest towns to experience the benefit of the Commonwealth's purchasing power without the time, cost, and difficulty of developing and issuing their own procurements.
I support raising new state revenues for transportation investments throughout the Commonwealth.
I was proud to vote to place the Fair Share question on the ballot - the fourth time that I have voted in favor of the amendment as a legislator. I was also thrilled to stand with Raise Up Massachusetts at a rally in my district to publicly endorse the campaign and urge my constituents to talk to their families, friends and neighbors to get the vote out in support of the amendment. Raising revenues for transportation investments will help reduce the Commonwealth’s reliance on cars and increase opportunities for communities across the state. It is important that new revenue sources not place a burden on disadvantaged communities, and that these benefits extend to areas beyond greater Boston, such as the Merrimack Valley, Worcester, Springfield, the Berkshires, and Cape Cod.
In addition, to ensure that the Commonwealth is not being cheated of tax revenues it so desperately needs for transportation and other priorities, as part of my Audit Plan I will advocate for rigorous oversight of corporate tax breaks. Right now, so-called economic development incentives are handed out with little oversight and even less transparency. I will work alongside colleagues in government to pass legislation empowering the Auditor’s office to monitor corporate tax breaks. Government needs to ensure all businesses have equal opportunity to access these incentives, which should be awarded based on need and merit — not political connections and access to power. I will continue our current Auditor’s fight for increased accountability and expanded “clawback” provisions. The Auditor’s office should have the power to analyze the tax returns of corporations receiving these incentives, in order to determine whether this is the best use of taxpayer dollars. Every dollar lost is a dollar that could have been invested in our schools, our public transit system, our roads, and many other worthy causes. Therefore, it is essential that there is accountability to ensure these taxpayer dollars are used fairly and wisely.
I support prioritizing existing and any new revenues to enhance and expand public transportation, walking, and biking investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Investments in transportation, especially improvements in public transportation, walking, and biking infrastructure, will not only reduce emissions, but also improve public health and safety. I was proud to vote last year for the $16 billion Act Authorizing and Accelerating Transportation Investment that included critical investments in public transportation, biking, and pedestrian improvements. I have been a strong advocate for public transportation and believe we need to invest much greater resources in the MBTA, the commuter rail and regional transit authorities to ensure that residents across Massachusetts have access to reliable and affordable public transit. That is why I am a proud supporter of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) that serves my district. I am thrilled that the MVRTA is piloting fare free buses and am excited to see other public transportation systems doing the same. In addition, as an avid hiker myself, I have continuously supported our state parks and the expansion of rail trails throughout the Commonwealth.
I support dedicating state and federal funds to make sure environmental justice communities receive their fair share of service and projects
I grew up in environmental justice communities, I currently live in an environmental justice community and, for 10 years, have represented environmental justice communities at the State House. I know the challenges they face becauseI have seen them first hand in my neighborhood. As I detailed earlier, I know what it takes to fight the powerful interests trying to take advantage of these communities, whether taking on Columbia Gas regarding their mistreatment of Lawrence or fighting against a new natural gas plant in my hometown of Methuen.
In addition, the Next Generation Roadmap legislation we passed made environmental justice a top priority — defining environmental justice populations for the first time in our general laws and ensuring that State agencies are engaging with environmental justice communities in all of their decision making processes.
Investments in transportation, in particular, should prioritize low-income communities and communities of color to ensure that service is affordable and accessible for all, and that the benefits of improved public health reach environmental justice communities.
I support legislation that would reform the energy facilities siting board to add climate, public health and equity into the decision-making process, expand the board’s membership to include a representative from an environmental justice community and ensure environmental justice communities are able to meaningfully participate in the process.
I believe there should be fewer power plants and fuel storage facilities in environmental justice communities and elsewhere. It is why I was proud to fight against the siting of the gas power plant in Methuen. For the facilities that remain, I believe it is crucial that environmental justice communities not bear a disproportionate burden from such polluting facilities, and that communities that may be affected by new infrastructure have a strong voice in the decision-making process.
Legislatively, with a distinct eye towards our environmental justice communities, I supported the Next Generation Roadmap that requires an environmental impact report for any project located within a one-mile radius of an environmental justice community, and a five-mile radius for those affecting air quality. This was a big step in protecting our communities from harmful energy policy. It played a part in the Department of Energy Resources’ revised biomass regulation proposal in 2021 related to energy subsidies and the Baker Administration’s air permit revocation for the controversial biomass plant in Springfield. But let me be clear: there is more to be done. With the news that the Commonwealth is walking back the environmental justice protections it suggested last year, I am committed to protecting our environmental justice communities and holding the Commonwealth accountable to its statutory and moral requirements.
In addition, the Baker Administration was required to appoint members to the Environmental Justice Council through last year’s legislation. To this day, one year after its passage, no members have been added. We needed implementation of the statute yesterday, and this work must begin now. Without this body, we are missing crucial voices in the discussion of new infrastructure in environmental justice communities. I have been keeping an eye on this, and as Auditor, I will use the power of the office to boldly push for action.
I will include energy and environmental agencies in my shortlist of budget priorities.
As State Auditor, I will wholeheartedly support efforts to ensure that state energy and environmental agencies have the necessary funding to enable them to address climate change, protect public health, and tackle environmental justice. Not only do we need an increase in staff, but we need an increase in staff with the appropriate experience. We cannot subject these crucial agencies – charged with the massive task of protecting and safeguarding our Commonwealth – to sub-par salaries and a revolving door. As Auditor, this is absolutely something I will be looking at.
My commitment to supporting the clean-up of the Merrimack River enabled me to see first-hand how important it is for State agencies to have sufficient resources to protect the environment. In a multi-year effort, I successfully led efforts to secure funding for Greater Lawrence Sanitary District to prevent sewage discharges during power outages and create a pilot program to implement a pre-notification alert system for CSOs in the Merrimack River – leading to successfully passed legislation and the creation of the Merrimack River District Commission. The Commission brought together a variety of stakeholders along the river – including environmentalists and elected officials – to address issues around pollution of the river, advise on next steps, and develop a plan to clean and maintain the River moving forward. This work eventually became a statewide model for the Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) Notification Bill that I was proud to champion alongside my colleagues in the Legislature. I was invited to speak at the bill signing for my work on this bill’s passage. We have a long way to go to realize infrastructure updates and ensure our mission of clean rivers across the Commonwealth. That’s why, as your State Auditor, I am committed to auditing ARPA and making sure that our recovery funds are spent the way they were intended, and that our policies are being fully implemented by relevant state agencies.
I support the creation of a Massachusetts public bank and/or a green bank.
As shown by Connecticut’s success with a Green Bank, creating a similar bank in Massachusetts would jumpstart new investments in clean tech in the Commonwealth, and ensure an equal playing field for a diverse range of entrepreneurs.
I support policies that incentivize energy storage to significantly increase its role in our energy system.
As a legislator, I have consistently supported policies to increase deployment of clean energy in the Commonwealth. Specifically, through the passage of last year’s climate bill, we require benchmarks for a multitude of clean technologies, including energy storage. I look forward to its implementation. But while I am thrilled that we were able to secure passage of this in statute, I know that our Commonwealth’s current storage goals are weak. We can’t rest on our laurels. We need more aggressive strategies for storage in every aspect of clean energy infrastructure because we know that energy storage, along with offshore wind, energy efficiency, solar energy, and electric vehicles, are key technologies to enable Massachusetts’ transition away from fossil fuels. Given the impact of winter storms on the state, it can improve the grid’s resilience and reduce the potential for power outages.
But we’re only just scratching the surface. Energy storage is a new frontier of sustainability, job creation and power. I’m particularly interested in balanced renewable energy siting to better unlock our potential. There is ample room for us to swiftly implement renewable energy resources by cutting red tape and, simultaneously, supporting improved conservation outcomes.
I support significantly expanding responsibly-sited solar on our grid.
Increased deployment of solar energy will be critical as Massachusetts takes steps to meet its climate goals. That is why I have been a proponent throughout my time on Beacon Hill for efforts to expand the use of solar in the Commonwealth – from my support in 2016 of legislation that raised the cap on solar net metering to the recent climate bill that creates new opportunities for low-income residents to access solar. While the 2016 legislation made some progress, it is not nearly enough. We must keep pushing.
I support committing Massachusetts to a path of 100% clean electricity by 2035.
Given the need to electrify other sectors, achieving 100% clean electricity by 2035 represents a crucial first step toward meeting the Commonwealth’s climate goals. As State Auditor, I will audit relevant state agencies to shine a light on whether Massachusetts is making necessary progress in meeting its commitments.
In addition, one crucial issue in this area is how we expedite emissions reporting. As it stands now, the slow pace of reporting makes it very difficult to understand our standing and plan for the long term. We need to measure progress clearly and quickly in order to live up to our statutory requirements. The recent climate law is a major step forward in this mission, as it requires the Commonwealth to report emissions results within 18 months. I was proud to support it. As Auditor, ensuring that we are meeting our climate goals – and have the necessary data to uncover our emissions realities – will be a major priority of mine as we set the stage for a true clean energy future.
I support policies that ask product manufacturers to pay into a fund that supports programs to reduce solid waste.
It is important that Massachusetts hold manufacturers accountable for waste by implementing policies centered on extended producer responsibility. The experiences of states like California, Washington, and Maine show that this is possible for a number of products, from paint to solar panels and plastics. We need to get serious about reducing waste, which is why I voted in 2019 for S. 2410, An Act relative to plastic bag reduction, which would have implemented a statewide ban on all carry-out plastic bags at checkout from retail stores.
Moving forward, we need aggressive strategies for waste reduction and sustainable materials management. We now rely extensively on trucking trash – most of which is reusable, recyclable material – out of state for disposal in landfills as far away as South Carolina.