Massachusetts, Act Now on Environmental Justice and Climate Action

July 28, 2020 | 4:45 pm
Tony Hisgett/Flickr
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Update, 7/31/2020, 11 a.m.: The Massachusetts 2050 Roadmap bill is on the move — the House is voting today! Call your representative right now to ask for the strongest possible version — including voting yes on amendment #51, which is the House’s environmental justice bill.


The two-year Massachusetts legislative session is down to the wire, scheduled to end this Friday. Some key environmental justice and climate bills are in play, and now is the time to ramp up pressure and get them across the finish line. We can’t afford to wait till next year on either of these issues. If you live in Massachusetts, now’s a great time to let your legislators hear that you want action, and you want it now.

What’s at stake

Time is short, so here’s the quick background. Your important part is at the end.

Environmental justice – The environmental inequities in our society—exposure to air pollution, proximity to power plants and road traffic, access to open spaces, and so much more—should have been plenty clear to all before 2020. But in case anybody needed an even brighter spotlight, the disproportionate impacts from COVID-19 should have made them completely unmissable. Here’s how the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Legislation Table coalition has put it:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the dangers of allowing pollution to concentrate in EJ communities. Rates of infection are much higher in EJ communities than wealthy and white communities, and all of the top ten municipalities with the highest number of COVID-19 cases are EJ communities.

The Massachusetts Act relative to Environmental Justice, a bill in the Massachusetts House (H.4264) and Senate (S.453/S.464), hits these issues head on. It would protect already burdened communities from added pollution from new projects—a new power plant, for example—and require a focus on community benefits. It would require greater attention to the possible public health impacts of proposed projects. And it would increase community access to information about project proposals by requiring translation and public meeting times that work for community residents.

This shouldn’t be a tough call.

[More information from the EJ Legislation Table is in this letter (on the issue of including race as a criteria) and in this great Twitter thread from the coalition’s briefing last week.]

Climate progress – Like the environmental inequities in our society, climate change is already plenty visible. But the intense heat many of us have been feeling plenty already this summer might serve as a useful reminder. What we should also remember is that global warming, too, is something we can do something about.

And that includes our legislature. As I spelled out earlier in the session, the 2050 Roadmap bill (H.3983) in the Massachusetts House would strengthen our state’s climate goal to net-zero by mid-century at the latest, and require interim goals for 2030 and 2040, among other important provisions. Another strong climate bill has already passed the Senate.

It should be crystal clear that Massachusetts needs to take its climate leadership to the next level.

Now is the time

A recent letter to House leadership from our Massachusetts business-and-advocates clean energy coalition, the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions, pushed for both the environmental justice and Roadmap bills, and connected the dots between the two, and with the ongoing public health crisis:

Far from reducing the need for climate action, the ongoing pandemic and ensuing recession have underscored the need for us to make meaningful progress this session. Climate legislation offers us an opportunity to look at clean energy’s relationship with the economy as a whole with a new, broader lens.

Environmental justice communities experience disproportionate impacts of pollution and climate change and often lack the resources to adequately participate in environmental decisionmaking. We support the environmental justice bill, H.4264, because it is essential to recognize that the Commonwealth’s transition to a low-carbon economy must be achieved both justly and equitably. Frontline communities and low-wage workers must benefit from the transition spurred by climate commitments, and environmental justice communities must be fully protected.

You can make a difference

And this is where you come in. Our state legislators need to understand that addressing these two big issues is a priority for their constituents. Calling your state representative and your senator today is a simple, quick way to add your voice to the push for environmental justice and climate action right here in Massachusetts.

  • Tell your senator you want to see environmental justice move now on Beacon Hill, and push for S.453 and S.464. And thank them for the Senate’s climate action, while encouraging them to help get climate legislation across the finish line.
  • Tell your representative we need the environmental justice progress represented by H.4264, and the climate progress in H.3983.

Let them know we won’t wait. We want action now.

About the author

More from John

John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.