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Gov. Baker gets 'C' in environmental report card

Environmental groups want the Republican governor to do more when it comes to protecting the environment.
charlie baker
Gov. Charlie Baker was criticised by environmental groups for not taking enough action. Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS

A coalition of environmental groups, for the third year in a row, has awarded the Baker administration a passing but average grade for its environmental protection efforts, knocking officials for not moving the needle from year to year.

Grades in the report card, issued by six groups, range from As for the "unmitigated success" of a food waste ban program and for culvert and dam repairs, to an F for delegation of water pollution control programs, which reflects the administration's attempt to transfer water permitting authority from federal to state environmental agencies.

"It's deeply disappointing that we are not seeing the administration up their game and do better as we near the end of the Governor's first term," said Nancy Goodman, vice president for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "Each new administration takes time to set priorities and get up to speed, but after three years, the lack of movement on issues like solid waste and environmental justice, just to name two, is unacceptable."

Many of the individual grades in the report card have remained the same or similar since the first report card in 2016, including a C+ in renewable energy and a D for gas pipeline policy.

The D grade for "reducing transportation emissions" earned in 2016 and 2017 was bumped up to a C this year, and the land conservation grade rose from a B to an A- over the three years, while an environmental justice grade fell from a B- to a D over the same period.

"The Baker-Polito Administration is proud of its nation-leading work on important issues like climate change, energy efficiency and conservation, in addition to recently securing the largest single procurement of offshore wind by any state in the nation," Katie Gronendyke, press secretary for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement.

Gronendyke said the administration looks forward to working with lawmakers and other stakeholders to pass a $1.4 billion environmental bond bill, which is teed up for consideration in the House Wednesday, "so that the Commonwealth can remain at the forefront of energy and environmental policy."

The bill, which Gov. Charlie Baker originally filed in March, aims to help coastal communities prepare for climate change and also includes money for tree planting and forest land protection, water and air quality protection, river and wetland restoration, and other initiatives. Representatives have filed 121 amendments to the bill.

The report gives a failing grade in the category "protect environment from dangerous facilities," citing a Department of Environmental Protection decision to allow the Wheelabrator Ash Landfill in Saugus to continue operating.

Cindy Luppi, the New England director of Clean Water Action, said the Wheelabrator decision "is a true violation of environmental justice and slap in the face to neighboring communities who have felt this burden for decades."

The report is put out by Clean Water Action, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, Environment Massachustts, Sierra Club Massachusetts, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance.

Noting that Massachusetts spends 0.55 percent of every state dollar on environmental protection, this year's report dropped the environmental budget grade from a C to a D.

When running for office in 2014, Baker said he would increase spending on environmental programs to 1 percent of total state spending by the end of his four-year term.

Gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, a Needham Democrat who served as Gov. Deval Patrick's budget chief, criticized Baker over the rankings, which he said reflect the Republican incumbent's "general leadership style -- status quo, duck and cover, avoid taking a stand."

"Refusing to act to protect our land, air and water is failing to protect our future generations," Gonzalez said. "As Governor, I would act decisively and deliberately to protect our planet and make Massachusetts a leader again. That's why I would accelerate our transition to renewables, oppose new gas pipeline infrastructure and make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to adopt carbon pricing. It's time our government stand against the fossil fuel industry and stand up for the people of Massachusetts."