Deval Patrick is finishing up his second term as Governor of Massachusetts this year, but instead of fading into the role of a lame duck, he said something on Friday that it’s possible no sitting governor has said before.
Speaking to the UMass Amherst’s boisterous graduating class of 2014, Patrick detailed how “Massachusetts should finally end all reliance on conventional coal generation” in four years, and called for “a future free of fossil fuels.”
While Patrick began his speech with the importance of citizenship, he devoted the majority of his time to climate change and clean energy. He highlighted the recent National Climate Assessment and how climate change was affecting New England. He then laid out the steps Massachusetts has taken over the last decade and a half to cut carbon emissions, invest in clean energy, and adapt to a changing climate.
“Between 2000 and 2012, the electricity generated from coal in New England dropped from 18 percent to 3 percent; electricity generated from oil is down from 22 percent to less than 1 percent,” Patrick said.
“Three of the so-called ‘filthy five’ coal burning power plants in Massachusetts have been retired in the last few years. Two remain: Brayton Point in the South Coast region and Mt. Tom, just down the road. Within the next four years, both should shut down and Massachusetts should finally end all reliance on conventional coal generation.”
Coal power has been waning in Massachusetts, replaced by renewable energy and natural gas. The coal-fired Salem Harbor Power Station will shut down in June, though the operator is trying to convert the old facility to natural despite local opposition. Patrick made clear that natural gas, though, was not a perfect bridge fuel, saying “we should be mindful of the hazards of pipeline leaks” and calling for passage of legislation to crack down on methane leaks.
Fellow climate hawk Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) directed his administration to work with utilities to get his state off coal-fired power in an executive order last month. Patrick took his position a step further, calling for a future free of all fossil fuels. He described the pathway to this transition via a Clean Energy Standard that moves Massachusetts “from good to better to best”:
In fact, the time has come to set a new standard that ensures that, at every point in time, at every moment, we are getting the cleanest energy possible. It means energy efficiency first. It means zero-emission electricity next – solar, wind, and hydro. It means lower-emission electricity last – natural gas, an imperfect choice but best of the fossil fuels. And it means high-emissions sources never.
This is what we call a “clean energy standard,” and we should set one for our state that puts us on a path to reduce our emissions by fully 80 percent by mid-century. It’s not the ideal today, but it will get us there tomorrow. It’s how we move from good to better to best.
What’s the best? The best is a future free of fossil fuels. It’s an economy driven by homegrown, independent sources of renewable energy, cutting edge technology, and hyper-efficient cars and buildings. It’s a future within our grasp. We don’t have to wait for disaster: the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone, but because humankind imagined a better way and then reached for it.
Our clean energy future won’t happen overnight, because it can’t. But it will happen, because it must. And it will be up to you.
A week before his speech, representatives from the Better Future Project/350 Massachusetts and Students for a Just and Stable Future met with Governor Patrick to, in their words, “discuss his remarkable climate record and our call for him to further build upon it by banning the worst, building only the best, and beginning to price the rest.”
After Patrick’s speech, Craig Altemose, Executive Director of the Better Future Project, told ClimateProgress that “Governor Patrick’s historic acknowledgement that the future can, should, and will be a future free of fossil fuels has set the bar for what climate hawks should expect from their champions.” He said he had not heard of any other governor saying something similar.
Altemose said that “clear policy proposals” have to follow these statements in order to actually make the transition.
Patrick’s successor will necessarily have a lot to say about how much of that vision can translate into reality. All of the Democratic candidates believe climate change is a serious issue, yet it is unclear if they would commit to a fossil fuel free future. None of the campaigns immediately responded to a ClimateProgress request for comment on Patrick’s speech.
It remains to be seen whether the legislature will turn Patrick’s vision into reality this year. The state is still behind his goal for wind power generation. Last year, there was movement in the Massachusetts State Legislature to try to ban fracking or wastewater disposal in the state before it had a chance to start. That effort is still waiting for another push. Earlier this year, Patrick unveiled a $50 million plan to help his state adapt to the impacts of climate change by strengthening electrical, transportation, and coastal infrastructure.
Patrick made waves during his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention where he said “it is time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe. … We are Americans. We shape our own future.”
Video of the speech, via MassLive:
Joe Avellone’s campaign responded to Governor Patrick’s speech, saying, in part:
“I’ve long maintained that Governor Patrick had the right vision for Massachusetts and the next Governor needs to continue that vision. … In my administration, we will pursue a three part strategy that takes an aggressive control approach to carbon emissions, promotes and supports the development of the alternative energy industry here and the development of a revenue neutral carbon tax. … I was the first candidate to come forward with the Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax that puts a higher price on carbon.”