Happy New Year! According to the science, over the next 7 years we must focus on reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases significantly to halve emissions by 2030 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Getting there requires an all-of-society approach; getting there requires leadership at all levels of government.
We all settled in to work last week, state legislatures convened, and governors took their oaths of office. From January 3 to 6, I watched or listened to the inaugural ceremonies of each of the six New England governors. While inaugurations can be full of pomp and circumstance, all that is required at an inauguration is the swearing in (so that once a person takes the oath of office, everyone acknowledges the newly incumbent chief executive officer is now charged with presiding over their state).
Inaugural addresses are not required but they are important
Inaugural addresses present governors and their states with the façade of a fresh start, a new beginning. Rhetoric in these speeches is often used to unify, heal wounds from the campaign season and place markers down. While they may not offer policy specifics in their inaugural addresses, governors use them to lay out their vision and stake out their priorities.
Is climate change a priority for our New England Governors?
The six inaugural addresses hint at how our New England governors might confront climate change in their administration and how they might work with legislators and local governments to address the challenges people and businesses are facing today and will face from a changing climate. These ‘new beginning’ speeches are designed to offer many things to a diverse array of stakeholders: a path forward for the legislature; principles to the party faithful; solutions to people.
A common challenge for all people in our states is climate change; it is easy to see that climate impacts are society-wide and reducing emissions can have positive economic outcomes. Think of the wheels of commerce more frequently derailed by severe storms and people having more money in their pockets because their homes are buttoned up and insulated.
So what did the governors say?
Below is a state-by-state summary of how the New England chief executives included energy and climate in their first speeches as 2023 governors; links are provided for readers who wish to see the entire speeches.
Governor Dan McKee’s January 3 inaugural address made no mention of climate change, but in a reference as brief as the state is small, McKee did check one renewable energy box:
We have momentum. We’re bringing offshore wind to East Providence.
Governor Lamont’s January 4 inaugural acknowledges energy costs and points his finger at utilities. While he does not mention climate change, there is a brief nod to climate solutions through emissions reductions:
Come on electric utilities, don’t tell me you are just passing along those high natural gas prices to the ratepayer and at the same time ask the taxpayers to subsidize it more. Let’s together get control over our energy supply chain so Putin and the Saudis can no longer control our destiny and our wallets.
We have made a start by expanding our wind power, extending our nuclear power, pushing hard to get access to Canadian hydro power, and making our homes more energy efficient—that’s less costs and carbon free.
Governor Mills’ inaugural address January 4 reflected on the commitments she made four years ago as well as the follow-through she presided over in her first term:
You asked us to pay attention to what the United Nations scientists have called a “Code Red for Humanity” and the violent storms across the nation damaging homes, towns, fisheries, wildlife, everything our nation holds dear. So, with renewable energy, weatherization, efficiency, alternative heating sources, and a focus on resiliency, we have put Maine on a path towards carbon neutrality, with a plan to protect our precious farms, shorelands and towns from the ravages of climate change.
Some say Governor Sununu’s January 5 inaugural address sought a national audience as much as a Granite State audience (if this is true, he dissed three states offering a combined Electoral College count of 95 votes to the next successful presidential candidate should Sununu decide to run):
When it comes to energy policy we cannot follow the examples of states like Massachusetts, California, or New York.
The governor’s rhetorical flourish is at odds with policy and action:
When it comes to solutions to the energy crisis—we must have the courage to take politics out of the equation.
Long term renewable “options” combine with short term reactions to consumer costs:
We increased investments into our existing electricity and fuel assistance programs.
… in addition to these new investments, we continue to explore longer term options such as offshore wind, more hydropower out of Canada, and expanding renewable solar projects especially for our low-income families and municipalities.
Words matter when coming from a chief policy maker. Governor Sununu used the word, ‘option’, not ‘solution’, when listing renewable energy sources. One is permitted to assume this intentional choice reflects Governor Sununu’s opinion that climate change is not a problem that requires solutions. Indeed, he included in his 2023 inaugural address his 2019 opposition to a framework to reduce carbon pollution in the transportation sector, concluding:
And my veto pen has plenty of ink and will always be ready to protect our citizens from that kind of nonsense.
Maura Healey is New England’s new governor (all the others are reelected). Healey’s inaugural address January 5 was flush with the importance of significant climate action and the economic opportunities presented by clean energy.
Now we must devote ourselves to cherishing and protecting our shared future—and meeting the climate crisis.
Let me be clear about this. Where others may see hopelessness and resignation, I see
unparalleled opportunity. We can protect our climate and create jobs. It’s not too late to do either. It’s urgent that we do both. And I believe Massachusetts can lead the world.
Unlike the speeches of her peers, Healey used her inaugural address to offer specific commitments:
- double offshore wind and solar targets
- quadruple energy storage deployment
- electrify the public fleet, and put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030
- dedicate at least 1% of the state budget to environmental and energy agencies.
- triple the budget of the Clean Energy Center
- create a Green Bank to foster investment in resilient infrastructure and attract new businesses to Massachusetts.
Let’s commit to making climate innovation our next big investment, our next first, our next frontier.
We can see from Governor Phil Scott’s January 4 address an acknowledgement of working across the aisle:
…climate change…is an area where we share goals but may disagree on how to get there. Still, we’ve proven we can work together, devoting nearly a quarter-billion-dollars over the last two years. This is funding good work to reduce emissions, revitalize old homes, lower energy bills, improve health, and protect communities from flooding…let’s continue to build the foundation that will make it possible and practical for Vermonters to make this transition, so we can meet our climate goals.
This year, inauguration is a springboard to legacy.
The governors of Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts serve four-year terms and will exit more than half-way to the 2030 deadline. Vermont and New Hampshire governors serve two-year terms.
In December the Biden Administration released a clean energy and climate action road map for state and local governments:
Building a Clean Energy Economy: A Guidebook to the Inflation Reduction Act’s Investments in Clean Energy and Climate Action is more than a road map for governors—it’s a treasure map. How so? States are eligible for direct payments to pay for clean energy and clean electricity projects and for the greenhouse gas reduction fund, and for commercial/heavy duty trucks and vehicles—these are new and huge opportunities for state climate action through leveraging federal resources.
One of Johanna Chao Kreilick’s takeaways from COP 27 is that it’s up to each of us to make the future we want to see. We have personal choices to make, we have community responsibilities—including holding our governors accountable. To not aggressively take advantage of the climate and energy provisions and resources provided by Congress is irresponsible. All governors’ legacies will depend on how they address and manage the complicated issues surrounding clean energy and a changing climate on behalf of their constituents.