The city of Boston is a thriving metropolis best known for some of the finest academic institutions and healthcare centers in the country. However, something that may not come to mind right away when conjuring an image of the Massachusetts capital are the risks posed by climate change. According to a Harvard University study, Boston is the third most vulnerable city in the country for potential future flooding, behind the Miami and New York City metro areas. Additionally, the report goes on to explain that even the effects from a Category 1 hurricane could be enough to fill 80% of the city’s hospital beds. The study also depicts the effects from a Category 2 storm, which would flood major medical centers like Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts Medical Center. These impacts are just some of the plethora of issues the city will face because of the growing threat of climate change, and they exemplify why strong leadership is needed. That is why the people of Massachusetts went to the ballot box last November and elected a new governor who has promised to make the climate one of her top priorities.
For the first time in the state’s history, the citizens of Massachusetts have sent a woman and openly gay person to the state’s highest office, shattering two glass ceilings with one stone, so to speak. Growing up just over the border in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, Maura Healey started her state career in the Attorney General’s office, serving as the Chief of the Civil Rights Division. Eventually, Healey worked her way up to become Attorney General herself, becoming the first openly gay person to hold this position in the country. As the state’s top lawyer, Healey led many groundbreaking and first-of-their-kind cases holding large corporations accountable for their roles in fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
In 2019, a lawsuit Healey filed against ExxonMobil garnered national attention as the first lawsuit of its kind to sue a large corporation over the specific role they have played in the climate crisis. Healey’s complaint stated that ExxonMobil deliberately misled shareholders and investors to the true physical ramifications of the fossil fuel emissions produced by their company. Through factual misstatements and the refusal to disclose certain documents pertaining to fossil fuel production, ExxonMobil has a long history of misleading the public and private sector as to the devastating effects of climate change.
Healey discovered that since 1980, ExxonMobil has been aware of the damage they are doing to the environment by burning fossil fuels. However, the corporation covered up the findings and reported false data to investors. Additionally, it was found that in 2007, Exxon had calculated the cost of following environmental regulations established by the state of Massachusetts, but deemed the project too expensive and costly. Finally, although many big businesses in the state have contributed almost $1 trillion to climate related costs, Exxon hasn’t contributed a single cent. This is in violation of Massachusetts law. On May 24, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a bid by ExxonMobil to dismiss the lawsuit. Healey celebrated the court’s decision, stating it was a “resounding victory” in the state’s efforts to “stop Exxon from lying to investors and consumers.” Maura Healey has proven to her people that she is well equipped and qualified to fight the climate crisis head on, showing us the power of her leadership.
Just a few weeks before taking office, Healey named Melissa Hoffer as the state’s first Climate Chief. Massachusetts is the first state in the country to create a climate position at the cabinet level, which shows Healey’s commitment to the environment. Before her appointment to the administration, Hoffer served as the Environmental Protection Agency’s principal deputy general. From issues ranging from the power grid to transportation, many of the environmental promises Governor Healey made on the campaign trail will now fall under Hoffer’s jurisdiction. Healey received praise from many environmental activist groups in the state, including from the Acadia Center and the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM). Elizabeth Henry from the ELM went on to state that Hoffer’s “breadth of processional experience,” makes her a strong fit for what will undoubtedly be a difficult job. By creating this new cabinet office, Healey is setting a standard for all other states in the country on how to truly deal with the climate crisis, not just in the short term, but for decades to come. However, not all activists and environmental protection groups have been thrilled with the work done by the new governor.
On the morning of January 17, 2023, a group of protestors from the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion gathered outside the construction zone of an electrical substation in East Boston. Their goal was to physically block two of the entrances to the site to prevent construction from taking place. According to Jule Manitz who was with the group, Boston Police officers arrived on the scene within a few minutes of them unfurling their banners. Six people were arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct. Manitz says she was surprised to see people arrested on the sidewalk and in a nearby parking lot, where she stated that many have protested before without issue.
Extinction Rebellion called on the new governor to take executive action in the placement of this substation, and recommended moving it to Boston Logan Airport. East Boston is the city’s most vulnerable neighborhood when it comes to flood risk, sitting on an artificially constructed peninsula which has been filled in with tons of sand and dirt. Manitz called the placement of the substation an “environmental injustice.” Eversource, a major supplier of electricity in the state, has repeatedly affirmed that the placement of the substation at the airport site was never a viable option. Furthermore, the company insists that no such safety risk is posed to the residents surrounding the substation.
Despite taking nearly two days to respond to the arrest of the protestors, Governor Healey’s office released a statement regarding the incident the following evening: “I’m disappointed in the process, timing and siting of the East Eagle substation… We are committed to reforming the siting approval process and working with communities and stakeholders to ensure that environmental justice communities are no longer disproportionately burdened by these facilities.” There was no indication within the statement that she was able to act regarding the substation at the current juncture. The site approval process for electrical substations like the one in East Boston was last updated in 2019 under the administration of Republican Governor Charlie Baker. This process did not take in-depth consideration into alternative locations for substations serving certain communities, ruling out the Logan Airport location for the East Boston substation. However, with reformation of this process under the new administration, the location of future substations will be scrutinized more thoroughly for their impact.
Having taken office less than two months ago, and just over halfway through the first 100 days of her administration, Maura Healey is already showing Bay Staters that she is keeping the promises she made on the campaign trail to make Massachusetts the leading state in the country for environmentally conscious policies. Under Healey’s leadership, Massachusetts will become renowned for academia, healthcare, and now, environmental protection and climate change awareness.
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Miriam Wasser, WBUR and Sam Drysdale. “Gov.-Elect Healey Taps EPA’s Melissa Hoffer as State’s First Climate Chief.” WBUR News, WBUR, 19 Dec. 2022, www.wbur.org/news/2022/12/19/maura-healey-climate-energy-melissa-hoffer-cabinet.
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Wasser, Miriam. “6 Arrested While Protesting at an East Boston Electrical Substation Site.” WBUR News, WBUR, 17 Jan. 2023, www.wbur.org/news/2023/01/17/east-boston-substation-eversource-arrests-extinction-reb ellion-construction.