Cleaner Air, Cleaner Water, Healthier Communities: An Agenda for the Environment and Public Health

Harvard’s School of Public Health recently published a study proving what those of us living in Revere, Chelsea and Saugus already know – that even small increases in air pollution lead to dramatically higher risks from COVID-19. This is part of why working-class neighborhoods like ours are the hardest hit. 

Even before this pandemic, air pollution has been linked to tens of thousands of deaths annually – a toll that has only increased as the Trump administration has rolled back critical air quality protections.

Revere, Chelsea and Saugus are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards. 

From the Wheelabrator plant in Saugus, to the continued unchecked expansion of Logan Airport without proper mitigation, to escalating tailpipe emissions due to underinvestment in public transportation, to proposed new fossil fuel infrastructure, working-class communities like ours bear the brunt of environmental burdens. 

As such, the next State Representative for the 16th Suffolk District must push for an aggressive agenda to make Massachusetts cleaner, greener, and more sustainable – for the sake of the environment, and for public health. 

If elected, you can count on me to fight for cleaner air and public health, through these important priorities:

Clean, renewable energy: Massachusetts must move rapidly to 100% clean, renewable energy. By doing this, we can make our air and water cleaner, combat climate change, protect coastal communities, and create thousands of good jobs. 

The manufacturing and installation of solar panels is already one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and we can strengthen it locally by removing unnecessary caps on solar net metering incentives in Massachusetts. We can also become a global leader in offshore wind by improving the permitting process to get those projects online. We need to kickstart these industries and hasten the transition to clean energy by opposing any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Right now, Massachusetts is only on track to reach a standard of 100% clean energy by 2095. This is not acceptable. Our lungs and our coastline can’t wait until 2095.

Stronger environmental enforcement: When the Wheelabrator plant keeps residents of Revere and Saugus awake at night, remember that these risks increase due to understaffing of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

After the last recession in 2008, DEP was hit by a round of staff retirements, and these employees were never properly replaced. We now have the lowest staffing level in 12 years at the agency whose job it is to make sure our air is clean and our water is safe. This trend continues across other environmental agencies, which receive $50 million less in funding annually now than they did in fiscal year 2001.

We are about to enter into another challenging period with the state budget. But when we get to the other end of this – and we will – we cannot repeat the same mistakes we made after the last recession and keep up austerity budgets. We need to properly invest in environmental protection, and make sure we dedicate at least 1% of the state budget to the environment.

Zero-waste: Massachusetts must pursue zero-waste policies, so there’s less of a need for facilities like a trash-burning incinerator in the first place. There are several tools we could use to do this, such as policies that promote producer responsibility, and those that encourage reuse and recycling. 

Reforming land use and transportation: The average resident of Massachusetts drove 30% more miles per person in 2017 than they did in 1981. Between underinvestment in public transportation, poor land use policies, and the explosive expansion of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, pollution from tailpipe emissions is escalating around the state. Smarter land use policies and proper investment in transportation will help make our air cleaner and reduce carbon emissions while making Greater Boston more livable and economically productive. We need reliable regional rail, more frequent and reliable bus service, and repairs to the core subway system.

Defining environmental justice: The state constitution declares that all residents have the right to be protected from environmental pollution. But in reality, low-income communities are likelier than wealthier ones to be home to environmental hazards. We need to define environmental justice in state law, ensuring that lower-income communities aren’t overly burdened by environmental hazards compared to wealthier ones. 

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By taking these steps, we can create a new generation of well-paying jobs, fight against the impacts of climate change, and make our communities more resilient to public health hazards – from pandemics like COVID-19, to everyday challenges like asthma. 

Unfortunately, the failure to properly fight for environmental justice is a bipartisan one. We have a Democratic supermajority legislature, and they’ve not moved aggressively enough toward a fully clean energy future. We will change that only by electing leaders who put environmental justice and public health front and center.

This plan is more important than ever now in the wake of COVID-19. We’ve always known that air pollution is terrible for kids’ academic performance, for rates of asthma and cancer, and for a score of other public health and safety challenges. Now we’re seeing clearly that living in polluted areas puts you at higher risk from COVID-19 – something people in Revere, Chelsea and Saugus know all too well.

If elected on September 1, you can count on me to be a leader on environmental issues. When I worked at the State House, I worked for one of the Legislature’s leading environmentalists, Lori Ehrlich, and I was part of the team that worked to move Massachusetts away from coal, shut down a polluting coal plant in Salem, and hold utility companies accountable for gas leaks.

I will keep up that fight if you send me to the State House as your next State Representative, and work with other environmental leaders around the state to push for cleaner air, cleaner water, and a healthier Massachusetts. 

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