In Washington D.C. Wednesday, the U.S House’s Committee on Natural Resources held its first hearing on climate change in more than eight years. It comes as newly emboldened Democrats take the majority and lead the committee. Among the first to testify before it was a Republican, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. WGBH Radio’s Craig LeMoult discussed Baker’s testimony with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard.
Barbara Howard: So why did the Democrats choose Baker?
Craig LeMoult: I think it was in large part because Baker is a Republican who's been vocal about the challenges of climate change, and is taking steps to address them. In his opening comments, Baker said “In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue. While we sometimes disagree on specific policies, we understand the science and know the impacts are real, because we're experiencing them firsthand.”
Howard: We have experienced flooding, of course, in Boston. We have coastal communities, and we worry about that. But did he describe the impacts that we've been feeling?
LeMoult: Yeah, he talked about some of the extreme weather events we’ve been having. He talked about the snow of 2015 that just wouldn't stop. He also talked about the impact that the warming of the Gulf of Maine is having on the state's fishing industry, saying, “That cod fishery is moving north, and the lobster fishery is moving north as well. We're all very concerned that as the water continues to warm in the Gulf of Maine, it could have huge implications for the shellfish industry as well.”
Howard: Did Baker talk at all about what Massachusetts is doing to address climate change?
LeMoult: He did. He boasted about the commitment that Massachusetts has made, about being one of the first states to set a goal of reducing carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. He talked about the state's efforts to get energy from clean sources, including hydropower, and the current effort to build an offshore wind farm.
Howard: Did he make any requests in front of this committee that he was testifying before?
LeMoult: He asked for more federal support for resiliency efforts. He pointed out that too often, he said, that's only really available to us after a disaster happens. He asked for strong federal leadership on climate change. He wanted more investment in research on emissions reductions and adaptation. Also, he wants to incorporate climate risk and resilience in future federal spending, and in planning.
Howard: How did they react to all those requests?
LeMoult: The reaction really came down partisan lines. Democrats were very supportive of what they were hearing from Baker, but he did get some pushback from his fellow Republicans — Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of California, especially. He talked about an editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that used a failed wind turbine project in Falmouth, Mass., as sort of a cautionary tale about the Democrats so-called “Green New Deal,” which focuses on clean energy infrastructure.
McClintock said, “A small town went deeply into debt to finance them. The townspeople couldn't bear the noise, the constant flickering light as 400-foot windmills turned ... Property values plunged 20 percent ... And I wonder how that squares with the bright picture that you painted.” Baker responded that the Falmouth project was well-intentioned, but it failed because they didn't make the right decisions about siting those wind turbines, saying, “Sometimes when something doesn't go the way it should go, everybody blames the concept. Well, sometimes we just screw up the way we actually implement it.” He said the state is being far more cautious in its current effort to site offshore wind.
Baker also got some pushback from Republican Congressman Garret Graves of Louisiana, who made a point of saying that Massachusetts really doesn't produce any oil or gas itself, and we get our energy from other states. Graves said it's all well and good for Massachusetts to focus on reducing emissions, but he added, “I also think it's important to recognize that states in some cases are fundamentally differently [sic] ... Years ago, I calculated the amount of energy that Massachusetts consumed, and I think it was 24 times more energy than they produced.”
Baker agreed with Graves’ point that basically, there can't be a one-size-fits-all solution for all of the states. At the same time, here at home in Massachusetts as Baker does try to reduce emissions, that reliance on fossil fuels that the Louisiana congressman talked about, particularly the expansion of the state's natural gas infrastructure, is something that environmentalists in the state are really busy criticizing Gov. Baker for.
Howard: How brave is it for Baker, a Republican, to stand there and take a position that goes contrary to many Republicans' views?
LeMoult: It's not a new position for Baker. He's been saying this for a long time, and he just got reelected, making this perfectly clear that climate change is a priority for him. So in Massachusetts, this is not a controversial thing, as he said. And states like Massachusetts have been trying to go off on their own, separate from the federal government, in leading on these issues.
Howard: And this can fly in this blue state of Massachusetts.
LeMoult: In Massachusetts it does.
Howard: That's WGBH Radio's Craig LeMoult, telling us about Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's testimony on Capitol Hill today before the House Natural Resources Committee. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.