Gov. Maura Healey has unveiled what she's touting as two "groundbreaking" new policies aimed at protecting the Massachusetts coastline.
The governor spoke about the policies during the keynote speech to a panel on ocean conservation at the Clinton Global Initiative's meeting in New York City on Monday. She announced that, later this week, she'll sign an executive order directing the state to create new biodiversity conservation goals for 2030, 2040 and 2050, as well as strategies for meeting them. Those targets, which will include coastal and marine habitats, will be "the strongest in the nation," Healey vowed.
In addition, Healey said, she'll sign another executive order that immediately bans the purchase of single-use water bottles by state agencies, a step she described as unprecedented among U.S. states.
"In our coastal state, we know climate change is our biggest threat," Healey said. "We also believe that taking action is our greatest opportunity — to secure a safe, prosperous and sustainable future."
Karissa Hand, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the state annually purchased about 100,000 single-use plastic water bottles. She added that while the ban will apply to state agencies including the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, it won't affect individual school districts, which are controlled by municipalities.
Healey has positioned herself as a national climate leader since taking office in January, and she used her remarks to review previous steps she's taken, including creating the nation's first cabinet-level climate chief position — a role filled by former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Melissa Hoffer — and moving to fill 25% of the state's annual electricity needs via wind energy.
Local environmental activists were especially bullish on Healey’s announcement of new biodiversity targets Monday.
Chris Powicki, who leads the Sierra Club of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and Islands group, said the biodiversity push has “transformative potential."
“That’s the most exciting part of today’s announcement,” Powicki said.”The idea that we can start to focus state policies and programs and investments and industries on protecting ecosystems is a really novel one, and one that has been a long time coming. And if the government actually succeeds in adopting it, I think there’s potential for really significant change.”
David O'Neill, the president of Mass Audubon, said he and his colleagues were "thrilled" by Monday's announcement.
"The commitments that they are making, we hope. are hard and fast targets to protect land around our biodiversity hot spots around the commonwealth," O'Neill said. "We'd love to see a commitment of resources to be able to protect more land, and to restore and manage land."
Amy Boyd Rabin, the vice president of policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the push for new biodiversity targets will prove to be the more significant initiative. But she also praised the immediacy of the ban on water bottle procurement, noting that single-use plastics create new demand for fossil fuels, spread forever chemicals, and clog waterways.
"Doing things that can have immediate impact has a lot of significance, because the climate crisis and our ocean pollution crisis are not getting better with each passing day," Boyd Rabin said.