A joint meeting around climate bills at the Massachusetts State House

Several climate groups targeted a key Massachusetts State Representative, Aaron Michlewitz, this past Tuesday. Michlewitz is chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, a Democrat, and an advisory board member of the progressive Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. Our goal was to push Michlewitz to support efforts within the legislature to institute carbon pricing in the state.

Carbon pricing, originally suggested by political conservatives as a solution to global warming that bypassed more intrusive, hands-on regulation, has been widely embraced by economists and ecologists alike as the best incentive to institutions of all types--energy producers, energy consumers, individuals, governments--to save energy and turn to renewable energy sources. The three representatives visiting Rep. Michlewitz were Jordan Stutt of the Acadia Center, W. Ted Wade of Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light, and Andy Oram to represent both JALSA and the Jewish Climate Action Network of Boston. Jordan resides in Michlewitz's district--a key detail, because this was the reason the representative and his aide were willing to meet. We certainly appreciate that Rep. Michlewitz granted us his time, heard us out, and shared his views on the topics candidly.

We had numbers at our finger tips regarding the clean energy jobs expected to be created by carbon pricing, the stimulus to the economy, and other economic benefits created by such things as improvements to health in urban areas. Michlewitz himself noted that that the fastest growing job sector in his own district was in renewable energy, and that a number of JALSA activists lived and were politically active in his district. Ted pointed out that one bill introduced by Jennifer E. Benson (H1726) would return a nice chunk of change to the city of Boston for projects in public transportation and clean energy: an estimate 22 in the first year, increasing over five years to 44 million dollars a year. Her bill was routed into one of the House's many channels for avoiding support for it, but Benson is looking for a way to re-introduce this carbon pricing bill this year.

Andy filled Rep. Michlewitz in with the grass-roots support for climate action at JALSA. The organization's environmental justice team started a couple years ago from pressure by activists. Andy also left a JCAN brochure, explaining that we have 39 congregations signed up in Massachusetts to implement energy reductions, solar power, and other goals.

So this meeting would be a slam-dunk resulting in a firm promise to support our cause, right? In no shape or fashion. Michlewitz expressed general support for climate action and said vaguely that carbon pricing would happen "eventually" in some form. But he offered several reasons for holding back from a commitment, which we didn't find particularly persuasive. For instance, he said that he wants to remain neutral on bills that might come before the committee he chairs, and wants to see the final wording before making a commitment to support a bill.

He asked us not to be disappointed if action failed to happen in this session, or the next...This of course is common for most legislative bills, which move very slowly and require sustained activism over many years from the public.

This meeting, like others we have held, showed the inertia presented by the legislature in the state hailed as the leader on climate change in the United States. Michlewitz does not hear of climate change as a priority from most of his constituents, and he can't afford to act on the merits of the cause. Perhaps if the streets of his district in Boston end up under a few feet of water (as has happened in other parts of our region), more constituents will put pressure on him. All we can do is continue to educate the people around us and insist that people who care about our future put this issue near the top of their agenda.

Meanwhile, there is progress in the Senate: this year's version of their Energy Omnibus Bill includes a new "market-based compliance mechanism" in section 67 for carbon reduction efforts. Although the new clauses are not explicitly labeled as carbon pricing, they would probably be implemented in that manner. The House hasn't stepped up with similar language, but we can hope (and demand) that one of the carbon pricing bills introduced previously in the House will be folded in. Taking some or all of Rep. Benson's bill would be a simple way to meet the state's commitment to climate reduction.