A string of legislation being introduced in the new legislature could impact Cape-wide efforts to protect the environment and promote the development and use of clean energy.
The bills mirror a stated commitment by Gov. Deval Patrick to place the environment and energy as a top priority for the new administration.
At the state and regional level, newly installed Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles said the governor wants to “restore Massachusetts’ leadership position on the environment.”
Bowles, a Cape Cod native, said Patrick wants to protect the environment and do so in a way that promotes economic growth in the state.
“[The governor wants to] make clean energy one of the hallmark industry clusters of Massachusetts,” said Bowles.
Patrick also said he would rejoin and sign the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a decision supported by environmental organizations. The initiative would reduce by 10 percent green house gas emissions produced by energy generating facilities in New England by 2009.
“The biggest thing is what are we going to do about global warming?” said Frank Gorke, energy advocate for MASSPirg. “The good news is New England was among the first to reduce greenhouse emissions.”
Bowles said each region in the state, such as Cape Cod, has its own unique environment and energy use challenges.
On the Cape, wastewater management, alternative energy development and use, smart growth, and the managed use of coastal waters are issues that could see important developments this year.
Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O’Leary introduced several bills in the new year that seek to promote and encourage environmental initiatives.
O’Leary will re-introduce the Oceans Management Bill that seeks to create a framework for the planned use of Massachusetts waters from the coast out to three miles. The Senate unanimously passed the bill last year and O’Leary hopes to have similar success in the House. The act would regulate such use as recreation, commercial fishing, and water based energy platforms such as wind turbines and liquefied natural gas facilities.
Wastewater management is a concern on the Cape and O’Leary said each town is in various stages of designing and implementing a plan, but added a regional approach is needed.
O’Leary filed a bill to create a Cape Cod wastewater collaborative that towns could elect to join and would give the region access to the state revolving fund and zero interest loans for the building of wastewater infrastructure.
“We need to face up to the fact that we have a lot of growth and development [on the Cape] and we need to start building appropriate development,” said O’Leary. The act would also allow for checkerboard zoning and is viewed as critical tool towns can use when decided where to install sewers or alternative wastewater disposal facilities.
“All of the towns need to integrate and use zoning,” said Margaret Geist, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. She would like to see a map with planned development zones be created at the county level to use when planning wastewater infrastructure and areas that are going to grow.
Around the Cape towns are making forays into wind energy. Brewster, Orleans and Eastham currently have proposals to erect wind turbines to provide power for their water departments and wastewater treatment facilities.
Two bills proposed by O’Leary would encourage towns to invest in alternative energy technologies.
The first bill would enable municipalities to own power generating facilities. Currently municipalities can only build and lease the facility to a third party. The second bill would enable municipalities to sell any excess power generated back into the power grid.
“We need to open this door so that municipalities can go and build a wind turbine,” said O’Leary, and that future energy production could be done on a much smaller scale instead of building big power plants. “Encourage communities to build power plants not just for the community but also for the grid.”
He expects opposition to be strong from the power companies to the bills.
Alternative fuels usage is expected to get some focus this year on Beacon Hill, and Gorke said an alternative fuel vehicles bill would be introduced.
“Developing an alternative fuels vision for the Cape is what we need to do,” said Gorke.
While newer cars are capable of running on a high fuel mixture containing ethanol, Gorke said there are few stations on the Cape that carry the fuel that can be more expensive than regular gasoline.
O’Leary said he would introduce a bill to provide a tax credit for bio-diesel used as home heating oil which is cleaner burning but costs more than regular home heating oil.
Gorke added there is not a single solution for alternative fuels and each one has its pros and cons.
Robert Prescott, executive director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, is encouraged by the pro environment message from the new administration. However, he said what is also needed is an infusion of money into the state parks and preserves.
“The parks have gone down hill because of a lack of funding,” said Prescott, adding, there has never been enough money for land and water conservation.
By Matthew Belson
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