Sunday, June 5, 2011

Democrats and Greens vote for coal phase-out and beat-back-fracking bills

The Massachusetts Democratic Party has voted in favor of two measures that would move Massachusetts beyond coal toward a clean-energy, green-jobs economy.

At their annual convention in Lowell, on Saturday, June 4, the Democrats agreed to add a commitment to phasing out coal-burning and to regulate hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to the party's official Action Agenda.  The nationwide organization Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) led the effort.

Tim Carpenter, PDA's director, said he was delighted at the result. "Today the Massachusetts Democratic Party showed its determination to combat global warming and to building a post-carbon economy for Massachusetts," said Carpenter. "One step forward on the jobs front and another step forward in the struggle against climate change."

The following day, Sunday, June 5, Greens in Western Massachusetts also voted to endorse the bills. By a unanimous vote, the Pioneer Valley Green Rainbow Party declared its support for the coal phase-out and fracking proposals.

The bill to phase out coal burning in Massachusetts, HB 2612, filed by Representative Lori Ehrlich (D: Marblehead) would set 2020 as the deadline for the state's remaining coal plants to either repower to cleaner energy or retire. If a power company chooses to retire a facility instead of converting it, a Community Repowering Fund would help the affected workers and their communities in the transition.

Peter Vickery, a volunteer with the Massachusetts Sierra Club, which sponsored the bills, said that the proposal would help Massachusetts prepare for the inevitable: "This bill offers a clear, step-by-step approach to transitioning away from coal to clean energy. Coal's days are numbered and coal-plants are closing down across the country." Referring to the leaked news of plans to close the coal-fired power station in Salem he added, "We don't want any more communities blindsided. So let's start planning now."

The second measure that the Massachusetts Democrats added to their Action Agenda was HB 3055, the bill State Representative Sean Garballey (D: Arlington) filed to regulate fracking, the process energy companies use for extracting natural gas from shale formations. It involves pumping chemical-laced water underground at high pressure. Recent news reports disclosed that thousands of internal documents from the EPA, state regulators and drillers showed that the fracking process creates dangers to the environment and health that are greater than previously understood.

"Most of the electricity we generate in Massachusetts comes from natural gas," said Tim Carpenter. "We just want to be able to switch on our lights without poisoning someone's drinking water. Is that asking too much?"

The so-called Beat Back Fracking Bill would require energy utilities that generate electricity from natural gas in Massachusetts to disclose the chemicals their suppliers used during the natural-gas extraction process.  It would also require them to certify that the process did not contaminate drinking water.

"In 2005, Congress decided to exempt fracking from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act," said Peter Vickery. "Why? Because industry lobbyists persuaded Congress that fracking should be a matter for the states not the federal government. If Congress and the energy companies already agree that the states should step in, what are we waiting for?"