Guest column Sen. Adam Hinds: Trees and transportation: building on recent climate action

  • The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston. AP

  • A Northern Red Oak is shown in mature second growth forest Aug. 2, 2018 in Florence. file photo

Published: 2/4/2020 7:00:22 PM

The Massachusetts Senate passed landmark legislation to confront climate change last week. The Next Generation Climate package of bills includes important leaps forward that now await House approval and Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature. But even this legislation is just the next step; we will continue to do more in key areas, especially in transportation and carbon sequestration.

The science related to climate change has been clear for 30 years. We are now dangerously close to setting off irreversible chain reactions in our climate beyond our control.

Yet precisely at this moment of crisis, our national government is reversing progress made to date. The president has begun formally pulling out of the United Nations Paris Agreement, dismantled the 2015 Clean Power Plan, repealed rules intended to reduce methane leaks and more. Federal actions demand states and municipalities respond quickly and forcefully.

Last week’s action in the Senate aimed to continue reductions in our state’s use of fossil fuels to power the electric grid, our vehicles, homes and buildings. It is estimated Massachusetts will emit close to 25% less carbon this year than in 1990. Importantly, this legislation commits in statute to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with meaningful benchmarks along the way. If the House and governor follow suit, we will be just the third state to commit in law — which is more sustainable than executive action — to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Multiple measures make this legislative package meaningful. It requires the state to adopt carbon pricing across multiple sectors. We know we won’t meet future carbon emissions targets unless we determine the true cost of fossil fuels to our climate, economy and public health, and only then if we make sure carbon emissions are properly paid for.

Additionally, a provision allows cities and towns to adopt net-zero “stretch” energy building codes. It changes the mandate of the Department of Public Utilities to include not only energy reliability and affordability, but also reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, when making decisions on the state’s energy supplies.

The transportation sector demands serious attention. There are 5 million cars and light trucks on Massachusetts roads and transportation accounts for some 40% of the state’s overall carbon emissions. This package requires the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bus fleet to become zero emission by 2040, with transition benchmarks along the way.

My amendment was adopted to require electric vehicle charging stations at every exit on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The more we invest in green transportation infrastructure the more we will change individual calculations when buying cars and choosing how we move around.

There is a genuine rebirth in rail taking place in western Massachusetts right now that will contribute to moving people away from a reliance on cars. Four new rail services are under consideration or underway and identifying funding is a priority. These include west-east rail from Pittsfield to Boston, the Valley Flyer from Connecticut to Greenfield, the Berkshire Flyer from New York City to Pittsfield and for northern tier service from North Adams and Greenfield to Boston. In a hearing last week on Capitol Hill, Congressman Richard Neal said west-east rail should be a priority in a multibillion dollar federal infrastructure plan initiated in the Ways and Means Committee he chairs.

Another potential source of funding for major investments in our transportation infrastructure could be the Transportation Climate Initiative that Massachusetts is pursuing with Northeast and mid-Atlantic states. It would take revenue generated by a new emissions cap system and invest payments in transportation and climate change. We anticipate it could bring hundreds of millions of dollars per year to the commonwealth. Investments in rail and cleaner transportation will be steep, but they are a necessary part of the transition away from fossil fuels.

Reducing fossil fuel consumption alone will not be enough. We need to actively remove carbon from the air as well. The good news is we have a natural climate solution right here in our backyard: trees. Trees play one of the most significant roles in removing and storing carbon.

Several amendments, including one I filed, were combined to ensure we understand how much carbon we sequester in state forests and work to enhance storage. Sen. Jo Comerford spearheaded an effort to ensure sequestration progress is included in our regular climate reporting. Nature is a tool we must use to repair our broken climate.

A Boston Globe article last month on the death of noted Harvard oceanographer and climate expert James McCarthy reminded us that delaying action is costly. Professor McCarthy once said to an interviewer, “If you lose a day working on this problem now, it’s not like you work an extra day later and catch up. The carbon dioxide we’re putting in the atmosphere now, a portion of that will be in the atmosphere hundreds of years from now. So everything you can do to slow it today makes tomorrow easier.”

We need to make the right choices, quickly.

Adam Hinds is the state senator representing the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District that includes the nine western towns in Hampshire County.


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