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Beyond Gas

Massachusetts Legislature Must Challenge Gas Utility Plans, Residents Urge


Time is running out for the Massachusetts legislature to pass climate bills this session, which ends in July. During this May’s Climate Action Call, eighty-eight Massachusetts residents gathered to email and tweet at their state representatives and to encourage friends and family to help. Their goal: to urge the chairperson of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy to push back on the plans of the state’s gas utilities and to fight for a livable future.

Mothers Out Front’s monthly Climate Action Calls give participants information about critical climate issues, time to take meaningful action, and the chance to connect with fellow advocates, all in less than an hour. Massachusetts residents can keep reaching out to their state representatives and networks using tools provided by Mothers Out Front. This event continues the Burning Question legislative campaign, which is supported by Mothers Out Front, the Sierra Club, 350 Massachusetts, and 12 other climate advocacy organizations. Recent Climate Action Calls have focused on this burning question: who gets to decide our climate future?

“Should it be National Grid, Eversource, and Berkshire Gas?” asked Diane Sokal of Mothers Out Front. “Should it be these gas companies that have profited off the sale of fossil fuels while the climate crisis has accelerated? We believe the answer to that question is a resounding ‘NO’, and we want our elected officials to take action now.”

The Many Dangers of Gas

Christine Dobbs from Belmont shared the experiences that sparked her climate activism and involvement in Mothers Out Front. From a young age, she heard her father, a physicist, stress the urgency of the climate crisis. A former New York resident, she experienced firsthand the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which flooded homes and subways, blacked out streets, and killed more than 50 people in New York City alone. She moved to Belmont a year ago in the midst of a project for which she interviewed leaders of climate organizations to develop a strategy for a philanthropy. Through her work, she has learned more about the dangers posed by methane, which is 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and also poses health risks in our homes. “You can raise the indoor air pollution levels in your house to levels that would be illegal outside just by baking a cake in a gas oven,” she noted.

During walks in her new neighborhood, Dobbs could smell natural gas seeping from the ground, even near her local playground. She began researching the Boston area’s ancient gas infrastructure and was encouraged by the progress Mothers Out Front has made with the state legislature to help Massachusetts move beyond gas. She also acknowledged the remaining work there is to do.

“I reached out to my local legislators–both my state rep and senator–and I was amazed by how open they were to talking with me about this and by how personally invested they were and on board with these issues,” she said. “But at the same time, my state senator just voted against amendments supported by Mothers Out Front.”

Pushing Back on Gas Utilities’ Alternative Fuels

Barbara Parmenter of 350 Massachusetts explained that the “alternative combustible fuels” that the state’s gas utilities want to use to achieve net-zero emissions will exacerbate climate change. What the utilities term “renewable natural gas” is in fact methane. Meanwhile, hydrogen is an expensive fuel that is produced using fossil fuel power. It is also more explosive than natural gas and more flammable–too dangerous for use in homes and kitchens. Parmenter said that gas utilities have used marketing savvy to convince the public that these fuels will address the climate crisis, and that they should “pay no attention to the emissions hidden behind the big green curtain.” Meanwhile, gas industry lobbyists have been successfully killing bills and regulations that would support building electrification in Massachusetts.

“We’ve seen language about gas stoves disappear from bills aimed at improving air quality,” she said. “The proposed ‘net zero stretch code’ will allow developers to continue installing gas furnaces, water heaters, and other appliances. We’ve seen cities and towns hit roadblocks again and again when trying to pass local ordinances preventing new homes from being built with fossil fuel systems.”

While Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has recently joined climate activists in calling for the state to reject these gas utility plans, more pressure is needed, and the clock is ticking. “Over the next 10 weeks, the House and Senate will be hammering out the final climate bill for this year,” said Mary Boyle of Mothers Out Front. “If this bill does not address our state’s transition away from gas, we will have to wait until 2024 for our next chance at a legislative solution. Two years is too long to wait.”

Reaching the Linchpin for Climate Legislation

Boyle explained that the Burning Questions campaign now seeks to put pressure on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy–and its chairperson, Representative Jeffrey Roy–to stop the gas utilities’ plans. She identified him as the “linchpin” when it comes to climate policy in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, as he will get to shape the final bill. For residents outside of the 10th Norfolk District, which Representative Roy serves, the best approach is to urge their state representatives to tell Roy to ensure that the climate bill blocks utilities from pumping more methane into the atmosphere and hydrogen into homes.

“We want legislators to stop him in the halls and say ‘Hey Jeff, I am getting emails, letters, tweets, and handmade superhero masks from constituents,’” Boyle said. ‘They’re scared about climate change and they’re worried the utility companies are going to lock us into decades more of gas. What is your committee going to do to stop them?’”

Attendees spent the remainder of the call tweeting at their representatives, writing them emails expressing their concerns about the gas utility plans, and asking their networks to join in. Their efforts echoed the commitment and hope that Dobbs expressed at the end of her personal climate story.

“One of the reasons I am excited about working with Mothers Out Front is that we can get something done here in Massachusetts,” she said. “Our legislators care about this issue, and they want to do something about it, but they need help from us to inform their agenda and to spur them to take action. We need them to be our climate heroes for us and for our kids.”

Join us in taking action for the climate!

Join Mothers Out Front on Thursday, June 16, 12:00-12:45 pm to take action for a livable climate! No prior experience or knowledge is necessary—Mothers Out Front organizers will provide the background and tools needed during the event. Register here.

Michelle Scott is a volunteer with Mothers Out Front in Medford, Massachusetts. She is a transportation planner and mom to an energetic two-year-old explorer.