Ban natural gas fracking in Massachusetts. Retire all coal plants while creating a Just Transition Initiative to prioritize clean energy investments in regions currently dependent upon coal and ensure new economic opportunities for workers and communities. Keep tar sands oil out of our region by creating a Clean Fuel Standard in MA and bringing other New England states on board.
Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is an extreme drilling technique that blasts holes in underground rock formations, allowing the extraction of hard-to-reach natural gas deposits.
Fracking has been allowed for several years in some parts of the country, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and Ohio. In those regions, the dangerous chemicals used in the process have polluted drinking water, killed livestock, and spread sickness in the host communities. There are also serious concerns about the disposal of the radioactive and toxic wastewater produced in the process. In Ohio, studies have linked fracking to earthquakes.
Fracking also poses severe risks to the climate from methane leaks. Methane (the chemical compound that makes up natural gas) traps 21 times as much heat as the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The exact amount of methane leaking from fracking operations is uncertain, but a November 2013 Harvard study– the most comprehensive study of methane leaks yet– found that the EPA was underestimating leaks by 50%.
2. Coal emits the most greenhouse gases per unit of energy among all fossil fuels, making it one of the worst climate culprits. It also takes a direct toll on human life through air and water pollution, sickening the Massachusetts communities in the shadows of our three coal plants as well as the West Virginian and Colombian communities near the mines that source our coal.
Only three coal plants continue to operate in Massachusetts: the Brayton Point plant in Somerset, the Mount Tom plant in Holyoke, and the Salem Harbor plant in Salem. Low natural gas prices and air quality regulations have pushed these plants towards closure. The owners of the Brayton Point plant have announced that the plant will close in 2017, while the Salem Harbor plant will close by June 2014. The Mount Tom plant has been delisted by the regional electrical grid operator for 2016-17, the first step towards the plant’s retirement.
Governor Patrick can prevent millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions by speeding up the retirement of these coal plants. Furthermore, by implementing a ban on coal-fired electricity, Governor can set a bold standard for the rest of the country and prevent the return of coal if market economics change in the future.
3. Coal plants in Massachusetts currently employ a few hundred workers and provide a tax base to host communities. To ensure that the transition beyond coal does not endanger these workers and communities, Governor Patrick should create a Just Transition Initiative that would be responsible for:
convening green and high-tech business leaders to invest in ex-host communities
researching, designing, and promoting incentives for clean tech and green economy investments in ex-host communities, including as-of-right siting and tax breaks.
creating, supporting, and widely promoting investment into instruments like Community Development Financial Institutions that support ex-host communities
researching and supporting other transition policies
4. The tar sands are an extreme carbon-intensive source of oil found in northern Canada and some western states. In addition to the severe climate danger posed by tar sands, there are serious human rights concerns surrounding tar sands extraction. Communities near tar sands mines in Canada, often First Nations, face high rates of rare cancers, polluted water, destroyed land, and disrupted livelihoods. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation has even filed lawsuit against the Canadian government for treaty rights violations perpetrated by tar sands companies.
Governor Patrick has the power to effectively ban tar sands from Massachusetts, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and standing strong for human rights. He can do so by establishing a Clean Fuel Standard, a limit on the carbon content of fuels sold in Massachusetts. A CFS would immediately make high-polluting fuels like tar sands oil unviable, and progressively ratcheting down the CFS over time would shift Massachusetts to lower-carbon fuels and other sustainable modes of transportation.
The 2008 Clean Energy Biofuels Act committed Massachusetts to leading the creation of a Clean Fuels Standard across the New England region, but the effort has stalled in recent years. Governor Patrick should put the CFS back at the top of his priority list for his final months in office, and lead as many other northeast states as possible to sign on before the end of 2014.