SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT ENERGY REFORM AND CLIMATE MATTERS

ayanna

^ Congress-woman Ayanna Pressley : signing onto a climate and energy proposal that way overshoots the mark, in my opinion. A little caution here seems warranted.

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You may be hearing, during the coming months, about a Federal climate and energy proposal, signed onto by our City’s new Congress-woman Ayanna Pressley, which some call “Green New Deal.” Included in this proposal are some features that I cannot sign onto. I’ll analyze the proposal now and make some suggestions of my own:

First : the proposal would create a Congressional Committee tasked specifically with enacting its precepts and then, presumably, overseeing them. This is a bad precedent. If we create a congressional Committee for every proposal, we’ll import into law the single-issue narrowness that already damages our electoral process.No thank you.

( second ) the proposal asks Congresspeople to pledge not to accept donations greater than $ 200 from fossil fuel people. To me this seems needlessly restrictive. Why should a Congressperson not accept donations from any constituency that has a legitimate interest in policy going forward ? The obvious import of this directive is that Congresspeople should cut fossil fuel interests entirely. I don’t see that as a need immediate or long-term.

( third ) some who sign onto this “deal” want to connect rising sea levels challenges with natural gas pipeline problems. The two have no connection, however. Gas leaks do not result from rising seas. If we are to reform our reliance upon natural gas, and maybe we should, it isn’t because there is climate change but because the natural gas infrastructure needs a ton of repair.

( fourth ) One “Green New Deal” activist whom I know wants a “carbon tax” imposed on all cars other than those belonging to “residents.” Such a proposal contravenes the equal protections clauses of our state Constitution and the Federal; and do we really want every municipality to create a parking permit bureau and hire the people to enforce it ? Am I really going to be taxed if I choose to visit my friend in Southie or Roslindale — or in Shrewsbury or Dracut — by driving rather than taking the bus or commuter rail ?

( fifth ) Some “Green New Deal” supporters want the state and Feds to prioritize high speed railways. I defer from this. Railways can help transport commuters, yes, but they also limit a person’s freedom. I spent five months without a car, and it was horribly frustrating having to wait for a bus to come, or to be limited to only the routes on offer; and if you have several destinations to go to, how do you bus from one to the other without wasting huge numbers of hours waiting for the train or omnibus ? Moreover, how to build a high-speed rail system without confronting these problems : acquiring a right of way; satisfying environmental regulations; funding the construction of weatherized stations ? Decades after first proposal, we still do not have a South Coast rail line, largely because of competing environmental jurisdictions whose regulations must be satisfied. This rail line probably should be built, but by no means should it be seen as a substitute for automobile roads. The freedom to move, individually — in this case, by a car — is as bedrock a liberty as any; it should not be compromised for any but emergency reasons.

One also sees, behind the front of this proposal, an unstated call for higher taxes. It’s not said, for obvious reasons, but it is there. How could it not be ?

( sixth ) The challenge of rising seas certainly impacts every coastal City right now. There is important innovative work being crafted, on a community basis, toward funneling excess seas, very much in line with what has been done for centuries in the Netherlands. Much of this local innovation looks to structural defense that depends upon community agreement. I see much more promise in these innovations than in radical infrastructure rules requiring enormous public expenditure, higher taxes, and serious limitations on individual liberty.

( seventh ) fossil fuels : certainly I can agree that oil and gasoline use should take a back seat to electric (cars and buses too) and that solar and hydro power should supplement our growing natural gas demand. We have seen, tragically, that our gas delivery infrastructure needs significant repair; the explosions in greater Lawrence and the numerous reports of gas leaks throughout metro Boston require immediate attention. But this work is the responsibility of the private companies that deliver and service natural gas; they are not funded by tax dollars or manged by a state agency (although they must proceed according to state and Federal regulations and oversight). Until the private firms are in place and fully funded to deliver reliable energy on a state-wide basis, natural gas will have to be our primary energy source.

There’s also the matter of jobs. The gas and oil industries, and their delivery and service adjuncts, employ millions of Americans and give rise to thousands of enterprises. Phasing them back — not to mention replacing them — means job loss for many. Until we can transition oil and gas workers into clean energy employment — which will be extraordinarily difficult — we cannot proceed to comprehensive energy reform.

( eighth ) I also question why energy policy should be primarily Federal. Every state has different energy mixes and needs. Let energy reform arise locally first.

Finally, as I see it, the proposal reads enormously hurried. Hurry breathes in every sentence of it. But haste does make waste. Energy reform and climate challenge are not the work of a moment or a year or a decade. Transition is involved, not abolition. Let’s hear what cooler heads have to say as we tackle the climate and energy colossus.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere