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On October 11th Clean Water Action, along with 14 other environmental organizations coordinated by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, invited current Governor Charlie Baker and his opponent in his bid for re-election, former Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez, to the Museum of Science for a public forum on current environmental issues. Each candidate appeared individually on stage where they had 45 minutes to answer prepared questions asked by sponsoring organizations. The questions focused on a range of issues from funding to transportation to clean energy to environmental justice.  

Governor Charlie Baker
Governor Baker issued a full-fledged apology for not delivering on his promise to direct 1% of the state’s budget to the environment and re-upped his promise for a second term while Secretary Gonzalez asserted his own promise do just that if he becomes Governor. Both candidates mentioned the need to ramp up the use of electric cars and emphasized the importance of improving the public transportation system. Gonzalez expressed his support for carbon pricing and his disapproval of net metering caps for solar energy while Baker highlighted the success of deepwater wind energy and the need for clean energy storage.  The recent tragedy of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions provided a somber backdrop for a conversation about natural gas pipelines.  Baker asserted that the focus needs to be on inspecting the existing infrastructure yet did not decisively answer whether or not he would support the expansion of new pipelines. When asked the same question about adding to the existing gas pipelines in the state, Gonzalez vehemently positioned himself against any expansions.                            

Clean WaterAction’s question was asked by Vick Mohanka, Clean Energy Organizer: Please name 2 specific examples of current environmental INJUSTICE in communities in Massachusetts and what your administration will do to relieve the burden on those communities. Through this question we asked for more than just a solution to a problem, we asked for each candidate to show us that they are truly present in all communities of Massachusetts and that their awareness can and will lead to change for our more vulnerable citizens.

Governor Baker highlighted the Green Line Expansion (GLX) as a very important environmental justice project and his administration’s program for building parks and planting trees in gateway communities. Baker pointed out that 17 of 20 completed park projects were done in environmental justice communities during his administration. He also noted that he wants to make green technology such as solar panels, more accessible to low-income and public housing communities.

Jay Gonzalez
When the time came for Gonzalez to answer, he named two communities specifically: Chelsea and Pittsfield. He spoke about Chelsea being a majority minority community with various industrial sites and a jet fuel storage site and noted the city’s vulnerability to rising sea levels. As a solution, under his administration, Gonzalez would appoint someone whose job it would be to monitor these types of issues and ensure that they are put on the larger government agenda. As for Pittsfield, Gonzalez talked about the GE-caused contamination of the Housatonic River and how, as Governor, he would hold GE responsible for the pollution as well as its offsite disposal.

Baker’s closing statement reflected on the sense of urgency that surrounds climate change and how it affects everyone. He called for Massachusetts to be a leader in proving that environmental and economic benefits go hand in hand. Gonzalez ended with the promise of making climate change a top priority for his administration. The room was lively after the forum as people hung around to chat with one another about the important conversations that had just happened.

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