Earth Day 2010

Today is Earth Day, the day we take each year to appreciate our natural environment and raise awareness of ways we can all help to preserve and protect that environment.

Last year around this time, I blogged about some of the great work being done in local communities to combat global warming, as well as steps I was personally taking to reduce my carbon footprint. This year, I’d like to talk more about what the Massachusetts Legislature can do to protect our earth.

The unfortunate truth is that the Legislature this year has yet to pass any environmental legislation of any significance – despite the many good proposals with broad support that are out there. Although it is my hope that we will see some environmental victories before the session ends on July 31st, time is growing short and there is much work to be done.

Some of the good environmental bills that still have a chance of being passed this year include:

  • The “E-Waste” bill, otherwise known as An Act to Require Producer Responsibility for Collection and Recycling of Discarded Electronic Products. This bill would make it easier for the public to recycle products such as computers, televisions and printers, which often can’t be recycled through normal municipal pick-ups.  As a result, they often end up in landfills, where they leach hazardous chemicals into the soil. It would also require the producers of this waste to be financially responsible for their proper disposal, removing the burden from municipalities.
  • The Expanded Bottle Bill, otherwise known as  An Act to Improve Recycling Rates in the Commonwealth, which will expand our container deposit system to include drinks such as non-carbonated beverages, water, iced tea, juice, and sports drinks. This would add $15-20 million to state revenue through projected unclaimed deposits in addition to decreasing litter and increasing recycling.  At a time when the state has had to cut important state programs, including those protecting the environment and encouraging recycling, it is frustrating that the Legislature has not yet passed this legislation, which would help reduce the cuts to these or other programs.
  • The Safer Alternatives Bill would ensure that if an economically feasible safer alternative to a toxic chemical is found, for a particular use, and the chemical presents a high hazard to Massachusetts residents and workers, programs exist to assist businesses in making a transition to the safer alternative.  Not only does this measure reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for everyone in Massachusetts, it does so in a way that supports economic growth and even saves the Commonwealth money – upwards of $100 million annually, according to one report.
  • A PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy Program) would give towns interested in promoting energy conservation and green energy the legal mechanism to set up a revolving fund to offer loans to property owners for renewable energy improvements. This is one of the many ways we can reduce our carbon footprint and provide incentives for individuals to use more renewable sources of energy.
  • The “No Net Loss” bill (An Act Protecting Natural Resources of the Commonwealth), which I have sponsored, would provide  protection for our public lands. In 1972, the Massachusetts voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution, Article 97, granting the people of the state the right to clean air and water, and other “environmental” benefits.  However, the pressure to convert public land protected by Article 97 is growing as development pressures increase, as vacant land becomes more expensive, and as the demand for land to be used for schools, easements, parking lots, utilities, and other services grows. This bill would require that other sites be evaluated before Article 97 land is developed and require that if Article 97 land is taken for development, open land is purchased to replace it.

Although it is important and understandable, given the economic crisis, that so much of our time has been spent on large-scale reforms and economic development proposals, we can’t — as a legislature or a society — ignore the growing problems our environment is facing. And, many of these bills I’ve highlighted would actually help create jobs — and more sustainable ones at that.

Finally, in this season of reform, I’d argue that many parts of our environmental protection laws remain in need of reform, too. If we don’t take action, the continued destruction of the earth – including our open space, clean air and clean water — will only continue. What better reform is there than reforming the way we interact with our planet?

This Earth Day is a good day to focus our attention on some of these problems, and things we all can do to help. I’ll be working hard over the next few months to try and pass some of these important environmental bills, and I hope you’ll lend your support as well.

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