A couple of weeks ago, as Massachusetts endured serial nor'easters, some of the state’s environmental vulnerabilities became painfully obvious. The absence of a comprehensive climate adaptation management plan in statute – passed by the Massachusetts State Senate and currently being looked at by the House of Representatives – was palpable. A few days later, in response to community crisis and outcry, Governor Baker decided to release an environmental bond bill that would include “strategic investments” and funding authorizations for climate, deferred maintenance and recreation, environmental protection and community investment. While such funds are important, we would be doing our communities a severe disservice by characterizing this bond bill as a comprehensive management plan in response to climate change – this legislation falls remarkably short of that.  

On the morning of the bond bill’s public release, I was finally able to read and analyze the administration’s language. What I found was a watered-down version of the Senate’s bill for a comprehensive climate adaptation management plan. This legislation is being misconstrued as a comprehensive piece of climate adaptation management planning when it is only one step of many. A climate adaptation management plan, even in its best form, is only our foundation. 

For the protection of our environment, economy and public safety, we cannot rely on funding authorizations. We must make development on vulnerable coastlines consistent with a climate adaptation management plan. We need to ensure the protection of people’s investments. We need to guarantee consistency across state agencies instead of a piece-meal approach. To be called “comprehensive,” a climate adaptation management plan should be consistent across state agencies and various departments should collaborate for climate readiness. Announcing investment without accountability for industry provides a large loophole that will allow developers to take advantage of customers. Permitting procedures need to be part of any climate preparedness strategy, and that why I, along with my House counterpart, Representative Frank Smizik, made sure such language was included in our comprehensive climate adaptation management planning bill.  

The Governor’s bond bill also does not include a coastal buyback program, which would allow the state to economically acquire certain vulnerable properties and use that property as a protective barrier in the worst of times, and recreational space in the best of times. There are certain areas of our coast that continue to get hammered with severe weather and flooding, receive insurance payouts and rebuild. Then, when the next storm hits, the process begins again. Not only is this trying for the homeowners, but it is a strain on taxpayer funds and insurance costs throughout the state. Something must be done. 

Another serious concern with this bond bill involves the administration’s language on energy resources. As it stands now, the bill’s new “clean peak standard” would allow the administration to define natural gas or dirty fuel as a “clean peak energy resource.” This is an alarming development, one that flies in the face of true proaction, protection and transparency. Fossil fuels are what got us into this mess in the first place, and we should not use them as a pillar of our climate strategy. If we leave this language on the table, it is a clear win for the fossil fuel industry. 

Make no mistake about it: the funds within this bond bill are important. $170 million will be used to fund improvements and repairs to dams and seawalls and to implement diverse coastal resiliency strategies; $50 million will provide planning and action grants to communities through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program; and $60 million will be invested in implementing the Commonwealth’s Integrated State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan. These authorizations are to be applauded, and I hope they are actually released. Given what I know from 2014’s environmental bond bill process, however, many of our communities are still waiting for authorized funds to be dispersed. We’re on year four. 

If we are to be truly proactive, we need to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, implement a comprehensive climate adaptation management plan and pass comprehensive clean energy legislation. Massachusetts doesn’t have time for “feel-good” funding authorizations disguised as all-inclusive protection. The Senate passed the latest climate planning bill, S.2196, in November, which carried Representative Smizik’s language as well, and it is now before the House Committee on Ways and Means. All indications are that the House is looking very seriously at this issue. 

And not only does this legislation focus on the coast, but it also focuses on inland communities, giving the Berkshires just as much vulnerability planning as the Cape. In keeping with a holistic approach, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change Committee submitted bill S.2302, An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future, which is a bi-partisan, unanimously supported piece of clean energy legislation that focuses on renewable energy, energy storage, our renewable portfolio standard and more. It is now in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, and I look forward to it being on the Senate floor very soon. 

In 2017, 16 weather and climate disaster events resulted in losses exceeding $306 billion across the United States. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 362 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted. Our communities, our cities and towns, are facing serious financial risks. Homes are being destroyed, properties are being ravaged. Comprehensive action must be taken to protect Massachusetts, and it must be taken now. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton) is founding chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. He authored 2008’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which was enacted into law to put in place an economy wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions and to implement comprehensive, sustainable solutions in Massachusetts.