Climate advocates stress role of Berkshires, downplay Baker’s concerns with bill

Protestors backed by the Sunrise Movement gathered to rally inside the Boston's State House on Friday Dec. 6, 2019. Photo by Anna Stjernquist/BU News Service

By Christian Metzger
Boston University News Service

BOSTON — Berkshire County will play an essential role in helping Massachusetts meet climate goals in the Legislature’s 2050 carbon neutrality bill, climate advocates say, downplaying concerns expressed by Gov. Charlie Baker about possible economic impacts.

Baker returned the bill with amendments, proposing to lower the 2030 emissions-reduction minimum to 45 percent below 1990 levels. As proposed by the Legislature, Baker’s administration estimated that reaching a 50 percent reduction would cost the state $6 billion more. Baker also warned of additional costs to the state in the construction and real estate sectors.

But, climate experts say the bill will positively impact the Berkshires long-term.

Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said existing trends seen from the Global Warming Solutions Act, which he sponsored in 2008, could indicate job growth for the Berkshires under the new bill.

“Years ago, I was told that if we pass this bill, we would ruin our economy; it would cost us billions of dollars — all the same, we’re hearing right now,” Pacheco said. “We can actually look back and see what did happen. We created over 110,000 or 115,000 private-sector jobs in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We’ve lowered climate emissions; we’ve improved public health. We’ve done that all under the [guidance] of the science that we had in place.”

John Cleveland, executive director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, questioned the impact of Baker’s $6 billion figure.

“When stretched out over 10 years, it’s like a 1 percent increase in the state’s budget,” Cleveland said. “At least, as I understood it, a big chunk of that cost difference is what they expected.”

Pacheco said rural areas of the Berkshires have an essential role in helping Massachusetts meet its carbon neutrality goals. Processes like regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration could preserve the region’s green spaces while also reducing the state’s carbon output.

He also suggested that some areas of the Berkshires could operate independently from the state power grid through renewable energy sources.

“There are sections of the state, in particular some of the rural sections of the state, that could actually come off the grid almost entirely because they could be self-sustainable with the right amount of solar and storage,” Pacheco said.

Cleveland explained that separation from the regional grid could be accomplished through improving power storage infrastructure.

“That technology, I think, is just pretty well proven out,” Cleveland said about the feasibility of the venture.

It remains untested as to how widely this technology could be implemented in the Berkshires at large. But, Cleveland said it could potentially decrease power bills over time.

Cleveland said residential buildings will be easier to fold into the state’s new climate policy and can pay themselves off in several years. Larger commercial buildings — which are responsible for a large amount of Massachusetts’ carbon output — face greater challenges, as they are not built to handle more renewable energy systems efficiently.

Having implemented carbon-neutral technology in multiunit residences through the E+ Green Building Program, Boston already has begun requiring all affordable housing developments to be zero net carbon going forward — a step toward a more statewide initiative.

Groups like Environment Massachusetts continue to press for an acceleration of the state’s climate action plan, noting how inaction poses a threat to the Berkshires’ natural environment — and, as a result, its tourist economy.

“If you think about the tourist economy, people come to the Berkshires to see the mountains, to go skiing [and] to see the snow in the winter,” Ben Hellerstein, executive director of Environment Massachusetts, said. “So, all these things are at risk if it gets too warm, so we may see less snow. We may see some of our tree species and animal species driven further north out of our state.”

“The cost of inaction here is far greater. If we don’t meet our timelines, if we do not get aggressive and bold in solving the climate crisis, the outcome of that will simply be unaffordable for society in general,” Pacheco said, citing the recent collapse of three homes along the coast of Sandwich on Cape Cod, which fell away because of accelerating soil erosion, after a storm this month.

Cleveland remains concerned about what the state plans after the passing of the climate change bill. He emphasized that Massachusetts should cement programs that provide retraining to those who might lose their jobs through the phasing out of nonrenewables, noting that auto mechanics are at significant risk in the face of the rise of affordable electric vehicles.

This article was previously published in The Berkshire Eagle.

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