Sierra Club Director Rains On Charlie Baker’s Climate Change Parade

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BOSTON — The state’s Sierra Club director arguably stole the show during a rally Tuesday at the foot of the Massachusetts State House, which had been organized by a Falmouth lawmaker looking to drum up support for a bill that would enter the state as a non-party stakeholder into the United Nations’ 2015 Paris climate change agreement.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Woods Hole, had plenty of positive words for Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who earlier this month entered Massachusetts into a climate alliance previously reached by other states. Baker’s announcement came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Philip B. Duffy, president and director of the Woods Hole Research Center, likewise had nice things to say about Baker, noting at one point that “Massachusetts has forward-looking leaders, like the folks that are here today, like [Boston Mayor] Marty Walsh and Charlie Baker.

“If Trump thinks it’s too difficult, we’ll do it without him,” Duffy added.

Recently-elected state Representative Solomon Goldstein-Rose (D-Amherst), a 2016 Brown University graduate, also thanked Baker for his actions, remarking that while “at the national level we’re seeing such denial and inaction from Republicans, it’s refreshing.”

Emily Norton, a Newton alderman who also serves as the director for the Sierra Club’s Massachusetts chapter, however came down hard on Baker — for reasons unrelated to the legislation at hand.

“It took him a couple days, but he did make the announcement,” Norton acknowledged regarding Baker’s entrance into the stateside agreement. “That’s great, but you know what?

“I would personally be more impressed if at the same time the governor was not fighting so hard to make Massachusetts more reliant on fossil fuels.”

Norton continued to harangue Baker over the governor’s apparent support of the $6.6 billion Access Northeast natural gas pipeline. She later accused him of “pulling every string in the book” in an effort to push the pipeline project through. Norton also accused Baker of “severely underfunding” the state’s environmental programs.

“You’ve heard of extreme sports, well this is extreme underfunding, but when you watch it on TV, it’s way less entertaining,” she said at one point, during a rant that appeared to leave some rally-goers scratching their heads. “Rather than snowboarding, skateboarding, mountain-biking, when you watch extreme underfunding on TV, you see parks and skating rinks that are closed, you see beaches that are full of trash, and my personal favorite — the Boston Globe reported a few weeks ago, one of the things we’re not doing anymore is testing rivers for illegal dumping of sewage and fecal matter.

“Now we can argue over the proper role of government, but I think we can all agree that keeping poop out of our rivers and streams is the appropriate role for government.”

Norton continued:

“Why? Why is Governor Baker doing this? Well I hate to let you in on a little secret and pop a bubble, but there is a problem with money in politics — it is not just Washington D.C., we have fossil fuel corporate interests right here in Massachusetts.”

Norton’s speech then crossed over into a lesson on civics, as she argued that elected officials fear voters “more than donors” only to later tell the crowd “another little secret — no one votes, when it is a local official, state rep or state senator, no one votes.”

Norton questioned whether Beacon Hill lawmakers actually know their constituents, “because if they don’t, you are not acting on climate, my friends.”

She concluded her remarks by offering a soccer-based analogy.

“My last point — my kids play soccer — when you’re down, it’s a tournament, and you’re down 2-1 with 30 seconds left in the game, the goalie comes out of the goal! Everyone’s on the field! The coach is like ‘just kick the ball! Run!’” she shrieked. “That’s where we are folks, that’s where we are right now, everyone needs to be on the field.

“To get the governor to give up these pipelines and get your legislators to pass bills to move the needle on climate change.”

Fernandes followed Norton’s remarks, electing this time to withhold from making any references to the governor.

“As a millennial, and I know I said it earlier, there’s no issue that’s going to have a greater impact on my generation, my children’s generation, than that of climate change, and it’s already having a devastating effect across our state, especially with the impact of stronger storms and higher waters on our coastal communities,” Fernandes said. “So I’m personally invested in this.

“As someone who represents Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, I might not have a district unless we address the sea levels rising due to global warming.”

Fernandes’s legislation, which he introduced with Cape Cod-based state Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro), received a favorable report from the Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. It now heads to the Committee on Ways and Means for a final review, after which it will likely land on the House floor for a full vote.

Fernandes and Cyr introduced the proposal in January.