Despite the obvious economic challenges confronting the Bay State, Gov. Deval Patrick sounded as optimistic as ever during a telephone interview Tuesday with the Times.
“I am very, very excited about the second term,” said the former kid from the south side of Chicago.
Jobs, education, health care costs and youth violence top his list of issues, he said.
On those near and dear to Cape Cod residents, the governor’s positions remain much the same, he said.
“Wind energy is a part of the agenda and should be, but it’s not a central part of the agenda,” he said of his administration’s plans on energy and environmental issues.
“Energy efficiency is first,” he said.
The blustery winds around Cape Cod and the Islands have drawn the state’s attention as Patrick looks to renewable energy projects to create jobs, combat climate change and stabilize electricity rates. This combination of the environment and energy has been a mainstay of his administration’s first term, leading to some of its most controversial battles.
Under Patrick, Massachusetts was the first state in the country to combine energy and environmental agencies under one Cabinet secretary, a position filled by Woods Hole native Ian Bowles until his announced departure at the end of 2010.
Patrick has been a strong supporter of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm which, during his first term, won state and federal approval, survived challenges before the state Supreme Judicial Court and signed a contract with National Grid, approved by the state Department of Public Utilities whose members were all appointed by Patrick.
But his support for Cape Wind drew fire from project opponents, including his political challengers who called it a “sweetheart deal” done behind closed doors.
During Patrick’s first term, the state also passed climate change legislation – the 2008 Green Communities Act – and the state’s Ocean Management Plan, which set the stage for offshore wind energy projects in state waters.
At the end of 2010, Patrick’s administration also joined the federal government in announcing the start of a leasing program for wind energy projects in 3,000 square miles of federal waters south of the islands.
Patrick said Tuesday that he would continue to push for passage of the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, a law meant to streamline the process for locating wind energy projects onshore. The bill stalled in the Senate after failing to reach Patrick’s desk before the end of the formal legislative session last year.
Opponents of the bill, including many on Cape Cod, argue that the measure would take away local control, a perception Patrick said he hopes to dispel.
“That bill is totally about respecting and focusing on local control and local decision making,” Patrick said.
Proponents of wind energy projects over 2 megawatts covered by the legislation can appeal a decision by a locally appointed board to the courts. Opponents of a wind energy project can appeal decisions of the local board first to the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board. Decisions of the siting board can be appealed to the state Supreme Judicial Court.
“I think that’s fair for local people,” Patrick said.
Gaming in the state is further down on his to-do list, Patrick said.
“It’s not at the top of my agenda,” he said. “I still think there’s a right way and wrong way to do this.”
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has struggled to make headway in opening a casino in the state and state lawmakers and Patrick do not agree on what form gaming should take.
“This issue sucks all the oxygen out of the building,” Patrick said about the legislative stalemate.
“I’m not going to pursue it unless we can find common ground on the front end.”
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