Guest Op-Ed: Cleaner Air, Cleaner Water, Healthier Communities: An Agenda for the Environment and Public Health

 By Joe Gravellese

Harvard’s School of Public Health just published a study proving what those of us living in Revere, Chelsea and Saugus already know – that even small increases in air pollution lead to dramatically higher risks from COVID-19. This is part of why working-class neighborhoods like ours are the hardest hit. 

Even before this pandemic, air pollution has been linked to tens of thousands of deaths annually – a toll that has only increased as the Trump administration has rolled back critical air quality protections.

Revere, Chelsea and Saugus are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards. 

From the Wheelabrator plant in Saugus, to the continued unchecked expansion of Logan Airport without proper mitigation, to escalating tailpipe emissions due to underinvestment in public transportation, to proposed new fossil fuel infrastructure, working-class communities like ours bear the brunt of environmental burdens. 

As such, the next State Representative for the 16th Suffolk District must push for an aggressive agenda to make Massachusetts cleaner, greener, and more sustainable – for the sake of the environment, and for public health. 

If elected, you can count on me to fight for cleaner air and public health, through these important priorities:

Clean, renewable energy: Massachusetts must move rapidly to 100% clean, renewable energy. By doing this, we can make our air and water cleaner, combat climate change, protect coastal communities, and create thousands of good jobs. 

The manufacturing and installation of solar panels is already one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and we can strengthen it locally by removing unnecessary caps on solar production in Massachusetts. We can also become a global leader in offshore wind. We need to kickstart these industries and hasten the transition to clean energy by opposing any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Stronger environmental enforcement: When the Wheelabrator plant keeps residents of Revere and Saugus awake at night, remember that these risks increase due to understaffing of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). After the last recession in 2008, DEP was hit by a round of staff retirements, and these employees were never properly replaced. We now have the lowest staffing level in 12 years at the agency whose job it is to make sure our air is clean and our water is safe. 

We are about to enter into another challenging period with the state budget. But when we get to the other end of this – and we will – we cannot repeat the same mistakes we made after the last recession and keep up austerity budgets. We need to properly invest in environmental protection, and make sure we dedicate at least 1% of the state budget to the environment.

Zero-waste: Massachusetts must pursue zero-waste policies, so there’s less of a need for facilities like a trash-burning incinerator in the first place. There are several tools we could use to do this, such as policies that promote producer responsibility, and those that encourage reuse and recycling. 

Reforming land use and transportation: The average resident of Massachusetts drove 30% more miles per person in 2017 than they did in 1981. Between underinvestment in public transportation, poor land use policies, and the explosive expansion of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, pollution from tailpipe emissions is escalating around the state. Smarter land use and proper investment in transportation will help make our air cleaner and reduce carbon emissions while making Greater Boston more livable and economically productive.

Defining environmental justice: The state constitution declares that all residents have the right to be protected from environmental pollution. But in reality, low-income communities are likelier than wealthier ones to be home to facilities like Wheelabrator, fossil fuel infrastructure, and other environmental hazards. We need to define environmental justice in state law, ensuring that lower-income communities aren’t overly burdened by environmental hazards compared to wealthier ones. 

By taking these steps, we can create a new generation of well-paying jobs, fight against the impacts of climate change, and make our communities more resilient to public health hazards – from pandemics like COVID-19, to everyday challenges like asthma. 

When I worked at the State House, I was part of a coalition that successfully fought to hold utility companies accountable for natural gas leaks. I was also part of the long-running battle to hold the old Salem coal plant to tough environmental standards, before it eventually shut down – much to the benefit of residents’ lungs all over the North Shore.

If elected, I will be a leader you can trust to lead on environmental and public health issues.

Joe Gravellese is a candidate in the Democratic primary for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea and Saugus) on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. You can visit his website to learn more at www.joegrav.com.Ê

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