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Testimony to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications,

Utilities and Energy


September 19, 2017


To: Chairman Barrett, Chairman Golden, and members of the Joint Committee on

Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy:

Thank you for the opportunity to offer these comments in support of An Act transitioning Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy (S.1849, H.3395).

MASSPIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. Using the time-tested tools of investigative research, media exposes, and grassroots organizing, MASSPIRG delivers concrete results for the citizens of Massachusetts.

We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of our dependence on dirty energy like oil and gas. Fossil fuels are polluting our air and water, leading to asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems in our communities.

Global warming, driven by emissions from fossil fuels, is making extreme snow and rain storms more frequent and increasing the severity of droughts. Unless we move quickly to reduce pollution, sea levels could rise by more than 7 feet in the Boston area by the end of the century, while residents could experience up to 90 days of temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit each year by 2070.

To protect our communities from the dangerous impacts of dirty energy, we must move quickly to repower Massachusetts with 100 percent clean, renewable energy from sources like the sun and the wind.

Importantly, the bill requires us to tackle one of the biggest challenges the Commonwealth is currently facing: our broken transportation system. This bill will help accelerate the transition to a clean and accessible 21st transportation system, where walking, biking, and public transit options are robust, where there are fewer cars on the road, and where the air is cleaner and the people are healthier.

The Massachusetts transportation system has emerged as the Commonwealth’s Climate Enemy #1. It accounts for 39% of greenhouse gas pollution, more than any other sector. Light duty cars and trucks bear the majority of the blame. People who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease. Boston, which has notoriously bad traffic, has poor air quality that is significantly harmful to the public health. But it’s not just Boston, traffic is bad all over the Commonwealth. From the Berkshires to the Cape, cars are our primary mode of travel.

There is hope, however. New technologies and emerging social trends, from the resurgence of interest in walkable neighborhoods to advances in electric vehicles – create new opportunities to move the Commonwealth toward a zero-carbon transportation system, and to do it in ways that improve our health and well-being and support a vibrant economy.

To get there, the Commonwealth must reimagine our transportation policies and empower cities and towns to implement effective solutions. That is what this bill does. It would require the Department of Transportation to conduct a study identifying pathways towards 100 percent renewable energy for the transportation sector and the policies necessary to power the transportation sector with at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. It specifically prescribes that the study give preference to transportation options that increase access to mass transit, especially in and around major employment centers. Finally, it also requires that the Department of Transportation study important statewide transportation options, like high speed rail between Springfield and Boston, that would create new regional connections while getting cars off the road.

Reaching a zero carbon transportation system is an achievable goal. We have the tools to move to a zero carbon transportation system, we just need to make it a priority. To do so, we need to invest in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, improve existing bus and rail lines, and expand mass transit service to reduce the need for people to travel by car. Gas powered vehicles should be replaced with models that run on electricity, and that electricity should be generated from clean sources like solar and wind.

Other parts of the country are already making significant progress in the transition to 100% renewable energy transportation systems:

  • Chicago and nearby communities have pioneered the inclusion of electric vehicles across the public fleet, including buses and garbage trucks.

  • Sacramento recently announced plans to introduce 29 electric school buses in Sacramento County, the largest deployment of electric school buses in the country to date.

  • Portland, Oregon has simplified the process to acquire home electric vehicle charging stations and has made public charging stations widely available.

  • In May of 2017, the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors adopted a goal of sourcing 50% of the system’s electricity from renewable energy by 2025, and 100% by 2045, making it the first in the country to commit to a 100% renewable electricity target.

  • Cleveland has implemented two bus rapid transit lines, increasing ridership by 67 percent on the first and longer line, and by 38 percent on the second. The corridors also included dedicated bike lanes.

Specifically, in Massachusetts, there are several steps we can take right away to accelerate the transition to a 100% renewable energy transportation system:

  • We can leverage the $75 million the Commonwealth is receiving as part of the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement to create a network of public electric vehicle charging stations on our highways and to help transit authorities begin to transition their bus fleets to all electric vehicles.

  • We can implement rebate programs and simplify the process to acquire home and workplace electric vehicle charging stations to increase the market share of zero emissions vehicles.

  • We can electrify the commuter rail system and increase the percentage of renewable energy the MBTA uses in its electricity supply.

  • We can implement bus rapid transit in highly traveled corridors to encourage transit ridership over driving. The city of Boston has already proposed several bus rapid transit lines in its Go Boston 2030 plan. A coalition of civic and business leaders called Boston BRT is working to bring “Gold Standard” BRT service to Boston and is providing  funding for BRT pilot programs throughout the Commonwealth.

This bill sets us on a path towards a better Commonwealth. One where it is more convenient to use an improved public transit system and to drive less, so most households only own one car. There are fewer traffic jams because fewer people travel via automobile. There are more sidewalks and bike lanes, so many people walk or bike to their jobs, schools, and other destinations. People feel a little richer with extra money in their pocket, due to less spending on gasoline, parking, and auto maintenance. Bay Staters are healthier as a result of reduced pollution and increased physical activity.

For all of these reasons, I respectfully ask on behalf of our organization and members throughout the Commonwealth that the committee report on this bill favorably. Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments in favor of this legislation.

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