Last night, in keeping with the long and rich tradition of Massachusetts political debate, the candidates in this fall’s gubernatorial election appeared at Boston’s Old South Meeting House to discuss the most pressing environmental issues facing the Commonwealth. Several hundred people attended the Gubernatorial Forum on Energy and the Environment, which was sponsored by CLF and a coalition of other local environmental organizations. Governor Deval Patrick (Democrat), Dr. Jill Stein (Green-Rainbow Party), State Treasurer Tim Cahill (Independent) and State Representative Brad Jones (appearing as a representative for Republican Charlie Baker’s campaign) appeared in succession, each presenting opening remarks and then answering questions from panelists and audience members. The forum was moderated by George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, and panelists included Beth Daley of the Boston Globe and Steve Curwood of Public Radio’s “Living on Earth.”
Governor Deval Patrick appeared first, highlighting his administration’s environmental achievements on climate change mitigation and land conservation, among other programs, and voicing his continued support for the Cape Wind project to put offshore wind turbines in the Nantucket Sound. Dr. Jill Stein spoke next, presenting herself as a Beacon Hill outsider and charging the current administration with not taking sufficiently strong action on issues such as greenhouse gas reduction and funding for environmental programs. Treasurer Tim Cahill took the podium third and struck an honest tone, explaining that while his lack of party affiliation would allow him to consider all sides of a debate, in a conflict between protecting the environment and growing the economy, he would take a pro-growth stance. Finally, Rep. Brad Jones appeared on behalf of Republican candidate Charlie Baker, who was absent due to a prior commitment. The audience was keen to hear Rep. Jones’s response to questions about Baker’s previous remarks that some interpreted as skeptical of climate change. Rep. Jones explained that while Baker does not believe he has the technical knowledge to discuss the science of climate change, he does support renewable energy projects.
The overtones of a struggling economy were heard throughout the forum as candidates disucssed such issues as green jobs, a dwindling state budget, and of course, the economic viability of renewable energy. While Governor Patrick defended his decision to offer tax incentives to companies to create green jobs, Dr. Stein argued that the money spent on tax breaks should instead be used to close the funding gap for state environmental programs. While the Governor discussed the future economic and environmental benefits of Cape Wind, Treasurer Cahill declared offshore wind to be a prohibitively expensive technology.
The audience, for its part, was respectful but responsive, asking detailed questions and frequently interrupting candidates’ statements with supportive applause. While the event was capped at two hours, there’s no doubt that it could have gone on much longer. All in all, it was a successful airing of the candidates’ environmental views. Thanks to the groups, candidates, moderator, and panelists who made it possible and to all of the concerned citizens who attended the event!