Senate candidates air views on climate, energy

  • State Senate candidates, from left, Chelsea Kline, David Morin, David J. Murphy, Jo Comerford, Ryan O’Donnell and Steven Connor field questions during a forum on climate and energy Wednesday at JFK Middle School in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Claudia Lefko, left, and Mac Everett, both of Northampton, attend a forum on climate and energy in which state Senate candidates fielded a variety of questions Wednesday at JFK Middle School in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Published: 6/21/2018 12:24:45 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The six candidates for state Senate — five write-ins and one on the ballot — met for their second forum of the campaign Wednesday, this time to focus on climate, transportation and energy issues.

Answering a mix of previously submitted and audience questions at JFK Middle School, the candidates’ positions fell similarly on issues such as opposing biomass, except as a transition for low-income and rural areas to move to more renewable energy sources, disallowing expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the state and raising the net metering cap on solar energy.

Chelsea Kline of Northampton — whose name will be the only one on the ballot for the Sept. 4 primary — said climate change is a social justice issue and said she would push for more community solar and investments in electric vehicle infrastructure. She said she would ensure that people in low-income and rural areas are not overburdened by the effects of climate change and the costs of moving toward renewable energy.

On the subject of transparency and public accountability for the Department of Public Utilities, Kline said that the word the department uses for members of the public who want to speak up says a lot.

“They’re called ‘intervenors’,” Kline said. “The utilities’ interest is in their bottom line and they don’t want people ‘intervening’.”

David J. Murphy, an Amherst attorney who was former general counsel to two state senators, said he is running because he knows how to get things done on Beacon Hill.

He said he supports broad-based carbon fees, rebates to low-income and rural communities and converting the public transportation fleet to electric vehicles.

“The future is green and clean,” Murphy said.

Northampton City Council President Ryan O’Donnell said that on the whole, “we are not even close to doing what we need to do to solve the climate crisis facing our planet,” and referenced his work on legislation at the municipal level to address climate issues.

He advocated for resilient micro grids instead of a state utility grid, and said that with a mixed system of carbon pricing, rebates could be reinvested in green infrastructure. O’Donnell also spoke about the need for battery technology and storage options for renewable energy and said he would fight for local farms on their unique challenges related to climate change.

“We need to take the principles we want and codify them into law,” O’Donnell said.

The candidates all decried this week’s decision by the Supreme Judicial Court not to allow the so-called Fair Share Amendment question on November’s ballot that would have added an extra tax on income over a million dollars. They also advocated for a progressive tax system to help cover costs for renewable energy infrastructure and implementation.

For Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services Director Steven Connor of Northampton, addressing climate change is imperative to protect the planet for “precious” future generations, like his granddaughter.

One of Connor’s suggestions was to add expenses to fossil fuels to “make businesses realize it’s less expensive to use renewable energy.” He said he supports more electric buses, increased bus service to rural areas and smart design of towns to improve accessibility without cars.

He also said there is opportunity to provide training for green jobs at the many higher education institutions in western Massachusetts, and said there needs to be a focus on preparedness for low-lying areas of the state.

“One of the greatest effects of global warming, if I can use that phrase, is rising sea levels,” Connor said.

UMass Amherst graduate assistant David Morin said climate change is not his No. 1 priority, saying he’d focus more on economic justice issues, but said he would push for east-west rail, a fully funded bus service and more electric buses to combat the effects of climate change.

Morin is running a self-funded campaign, and said he won’t accept campaign donations because he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone.

“I would be someone to reckon with,” Morin said. “Someone sent by the people — not donors, not special interests, not fossil fuel lobbyists — directly from the people.”

Northampton resident Jo Comerford, a former campaign director for the progressive advocacy organization, spoke of her past work on climate change — working to get the Mount Tom coal-fired power plant closed, helping to block the Dakota Access Pipeline and risking arrest while protesting to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Comerford said there needs to be a “sweeping overhaul” of climate policy, including a mixed model of carbon pricing, creating energy security through diversification and redundancy, and working with the communities affected first by climate change to bring stakeholders to the table and find solutions.

“We all have a stake in our climate,” Comerford said. “We all have a stake in the work we need to do on climate change.”

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at
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