Columnist Marty Nathan: Massachusetts leads on renewable energy

Published in the Hampshire Daily Gazette March 1, 2017

I am sitting on my porch reveling in the glorious, sunny day. It is 72 degrees. I am in my shirtsleeves, my neighbor just biked by in shorts and my friend will soon bring her 6-month-old for a walk. So I should complain?

Well, yes. Last week’s high temperatures in Boston, Buffalo and Pittsburgh broke records. Weather is not climate, for sure, and a couple of days do not global warming make. But the trend, which is climate, is ever upward.

In February, almost 4,500 daily high temperature records were broken, and the winter of 2016-2017 is on its way to beating 2015-16 as the warmest in recorded history. Arctic sea ice decreased by 9 percent, but more shockingly, Antarctic sea ice was at its smallest for January since records began, down 23 percent.

As the ice melts, the ocean surface it covered absorbs solar radiation rather than reflecting it back to space as did the white ice. This is one of those feedback loops that at a certain point incur warming independent of human-derived greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet even as we hurtle toward climate disaster, never has the federal government so belligerently denied the problem nor so aggressively repositioned to increase greenhouse gas emissions in order to foster fossil fuel company profits.

 The cabinet members appointed and the bills and executive orders signed just in the first month illuminate the regime’s objective.

Scott Pruitt was narrowly confirmed to head the Environmental Protection Agency after Senate Democrats battled unsuccessfully in committee to postpone the vote till thousands of emails ordered released by a federal judge from Pruitt’s office of the Oklahoma Attorney General became available. That the nomination was shoved through without that information was a disgrace to the deliberative process. That the emails exist is a testament to corporate corruption.

Pruitt – the climate-denying EPA head

First, it should be noted that Pruitt used a private email server to conduct public business, something that he denied under oath at his Senate hearing. More importantly, though, he worked “arm in arm,” according to the New York Times, with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and Koch Industries-linked groups to roll back any and all environmental regulations.

Pruitt represented their interests in the most precise manner and in return received big dividends. Not just once did Pruitt transfer corporate-written complaints about federal restrictions on their pollution directly to his official stationery.

His ghost-written appeals protested controlling the belches of a coal-fired power plant, limiting the spewing of potent greenhouse gas methane from wells on federal land, and preventing smog-causing chemical release.

His closest buddies were Devon Energy, Oklahoma Gas and Electric and the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers. In return he was granted huge donations to his political campaigns, fundraisers at company expense and even the management of his reelection campaign by the Devon CEO.

As is now well known, Pruitt sued the EPA, the very agency he is now appointed to head, 14 times to prevent it from doing its job. Rachel Maddow calls him a puppet.

Even as Pruitt was being confirmed, Trump signed two of what can only be termed climate-change promotion bills. The first eliminated the requirement for US energy companies to report their payments to foreign governments in their dealings to extract fossil fuels. The bill was designed to prevent bribing of corrupt leaders for access to oil and gas (Exxon/Putin/proposed Siberian oil megadeal comes to mind).

The second reversed an Obama regulation restricting coal companies from toxic dumping in streams, a small step toward stewardship of the land they mine. Both bills made extraction and emissions easier and cheaper for big oil, gas and coal.

In late February, the administration released two executive orders. Both are focused on eliminating federal agency regulations. I am not alone in assuming they will be used to free corporations from all restraint based on public health, consumer and worker protection, and a sustainable climate. His proposed budget promises to cut funding of domestic agencies including the EPA and the Department of the Interior, even as military spending and the nuclear arsenal are expanded.

The intent is clear. Steve Bannon, Trump’s closest adviser, has admitted that their plan is to destroy domestic federal agencies. Be it by legislation, executive order, budget cuts or the likes of Pruitt, Rick Perry and Rex Tillerson, we will lose protection from corporate excess. There will be dirtier air and water, sicker workers and communities. The billionaires will be richer.

But we are being given a choice. This month, a statewide coalition of environmental groups led by Environment Massachusetts and including local Climate Action NOW, announced a legislative plan to achieve electricity powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. HD 3357 and SD 1932, submitted by state Sen. James B. Eldridge, D-Acton, and state Reps. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, and Sean Garballey, D-Arlington, would make the state a leader in solar and wind power and an example for the country in the fight against climate change.

Also firmly on the Massachusetts legislative agenda are viable bills for carbon pricing, grid upgrades, conservation measures and specific acts immediately to encourage wind and solar power production.

Trump has touted his actions as a job-creator, but this is a pile of alternative facts. Results are in and energy efficiency and renewable sources produce 2.5 to 9.5 times as many jobs as fossil fuels per dollar spent. Massachusetts’ course is not only the most beneficial to environment and humanity but to economic growth as well.

If this were a horse race, I would bet on little Massachusetts and all the other states that are bucking the corrupt tide. Unfortunately, it’s a race for our health and our future. All the more reason to bet the bank.

Marty Nathan, MD, is a mother and grandmother who lives in Northampton and works at Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield’s North End. She is a steering committee member of Climate Action NOW.