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A Couple A's, One F: Again, A Mixed Environmental Report Card For Baker

Six of the state's leading environmental organizations gave Gov. Charlie Baker mixed grades on environmental issues.

Each year, the groups release a report card assessing the administration's performance in nine categories. While Baker enjoyed two A's and two B's in this year's report, he also earned two C's, two D's and an F.

"The takeaway is a mixed record on environmental issues," said Nancy Goodman, vice president for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

As the Baker administration finishes the first year of its second term, "we're seeing some improvements in certain areas and some stagnation," she said.

In a statement Tuesday, the governor's press secretary for Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Katie Gronendyke, said the administration was:

"... proud of its nation-leading work on important issues like diversifying the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio through the procurement of clean and affordable energy resources, working with communities to maximize recycling, composting and waste reduction programs, and prioritizing the pressing challenge of climate change by authorizing over $2.4 billion in capital allocations for investments in safeguarding residents, municipalities and businesses from the impacts of climate change, protecting environmental resources, and improving recreational opportunities."

The Honor Roll

Baker received high marks for making climate change and energy policies top priorities.

"Kudos to the administration for recognizing the need to get started on climate adaptation," Goodman said.

The report cited the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program as a success. Launched in 2018, the program has helped more than 240 communities develop climate resiliency plans. In order to raise more than $1 billion to pay for the program, Baker has introduced legislation that would increase the deeds excise tax.

Baker was also credited with making Massachusetts a national leader in the development of offshore wind projects. However, the report recommended he lift the cap on solar energy development.

Baker received high marks for developing a regional plan to reduce auto emissions, which account for 40% of the climate changing gases in the region, but the report said the administration could do more to promote the use of electric cars. The state's tax rebate for e-vehicles ended in September.

Baker also increased the budget and added staff to protect the state's water resources.

"We're really glad to see progress in those areas," Goodman said.

The report also noted Baker added state funding to deal with emerging concerns over PFAS contaminination in drinking water. PFAS are human-made "forever chemicals" widely used in products that can persist in the environment and have been linked to a wide variety of medical problems including cancer, liver damage and thyroid disease.

Needs Improvement

The six organizations that published the report were critical of a Baker administration proposal that would increase incentives to burn wood to generate energy.

"Governor Baker should say 'yes' to big goals for clean energy and 'no' to dirty fossil fuel infrastructure," said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts, one of the six organizations that issued the report card.

The report said Baker's handing of the air quality permit for the controversial proposed Weymouth natural compressor station was "deeply flawed and raised serious questions about the state’s commitment to environmental justice and meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets."

The report gave the administration its only failing grade for its efforts in addressing environmental justice.

"Frankly, the Baker Administration has been neglecting health and justice to an unacceptable degree," Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts director of Clean Water Action, said in a statement. "We urge the Governor to take his responsibilities, for protecting everyone's health from toxics and ensuring environmental justice in every community, more seriously in the next 3 years."

The annual report is complied by the Charles River Watershed Association, Clean Water Action, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental League of Massachusetts and Massachusetts River Alliance.

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Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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