Why supporting sustainability is good for the economy

by Kate Enderlin

Kate Enderlin, a SAFE advisory board member, along with several other SAFE members, recently met with Representative Paul Tucker to discuss environmental issues. Kate offered her perspective on the environment and the economy. Rep. Tucker found her remarks so insightful, he suggested she publish them — and that’s what we’re doing.

I am a member of SAFE & 350 Mass. As a child, I had a serious asthma problem — it felt like I was allergic to everything. In the 1950s, there were no inhalers so I know how scary it is when you cannot breathe. That health issue is one reason that I am committed to clean energy. I hope you’ll consider my experience when you vote on H.2230, “An Act to Improve Outdoor and Indoor Air Quality for Communities Burdened by Transportation Pollution.” [H.2230 would require expanding air monitors in environmental justice communities and collecting data on targeted goals to reduce pollutants.]

Transitioning to Renewables Is Good for the Economy

The fossil fuel industry (coal, gas, oil) is a sunset industry. Despite its importance, it is in decline. By contrast, the renewable energy industry (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal) is a sunrise industry. It is relatively new and growing fast. It is expected to become important in the future and will bring new local job opportunities.

From an economic viewpoint, supporting sunrise industries makes sense. There are areas where transitions are feasible now: for example, natural gas. (I never really understood why they call it natural gas which makes you think of taking a walk in the woods — when actually it is a fossil fuel that leaks methane.)

Natural Gas can transition to geo grids — which are networked ground source heat pump systems that can be installed by gas companies. Instead of throwing time and money into developing systems for using hydrogen — an explosive gas the gas companies should be looking for more of these types of transition opportunities. (The first Earth Day was over 50 years ago so they have had plenty of time to move away from poisonous gasses). Instead, the gas companies want to spend $40 billion to upgrade their gas pipes. That makes no sense. I guess they figure with that much money invested, it will be harder to stop what they consider the ideal future fuel: biomethane and hydrogen.

Hydrogen is Not Green and Not Safe

No matter how it is produced, hydrogen is not good because it is not safe. Nor is it likely to reduce CO2 emissions because you need electricity to make it. The utilities claim green electricity will be used to make hydrogen, but we can use the green electricity directly in our homes. Green electricity is cheaper and safer (no home explosions or poor-quality air). When you add the cost of health issues and gas leaks, hydrogen does not make sense financially.

The Attorney General’s office requested that the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) do a study on how gas companies can meet mandatory emissions reductions. Consultants paid by the gas utilities wrote the Future of Gas Report, hardly an independent report that can be trusted. It is like the tobacco industry telling us that cigarettes were safe. The gas companies have determined that hydrogen is now safe even though it is invisible, has no odor, and is highly explosive. Whoever pays for the report states their desired outcome. 

We have a solution: off-shore wind. In Europe, off-shore wind is not new. They have already found solutions to problems that were not expected. Knowledge is already available and cost of parts decreasing. In 1983, the first cell phones cost $4,000; today they are far less expensive. Wind technology will be the same: perfect timing for off-shore wind in the US.

Peabody Peaker Plant

In Peabody, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) is building a gas- and oil-fired peaker plant at a cost of $85 million, about 1 mile from my home. The Massachusetts Decarbonization Road Map, which charts a transition to renewables, would not allow for such a plant, and just because it was permitted before the bill passed does not mean it should be built. This plant will add more pollution to local environmental justice communities, while becoming a stranded asset. Supposedly a lot of money has already been invested so it is hard to stop construction—but the entire project is a waste of time and money.  

The Fair Share Amendment

The Fair Share Amendment, which is on the ballot in November, will bring money into the Commonwealth for education and transportation. Both of these areas are in desperate need of funds. Today’s students are our future. Helping students to keep up with changing technology is a major issue. For transportation, a weather analogy: the state’s roads and bridges are beyond the watch” stage and elevated to the “warning” stage, meaning there is immediate danger to life and property. Investing in mass transit will encourage more people to use public transportation resulting in fewer cars on the roads – which is better for our climate.