ORLEANS – Climate change was very much in the foreground at Saturday's town hall on environment and energy issues at the Nauset Regional Middle School auditorium.
Some 130 people heard the latest updates on actions being taken to adapt to or mitigate climate change from government and non-government leaders who in turn called on the audience to become more actively involved in efforts to make the towns, institutions and residents of the Cape green.
The event was hosted by two of Cape Cod’s state legislators, Senator Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and Representative Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and co-sponsored by 13 environmental advocacy and activist organizations. The first hour was devoted to presentations by Peake and Cyr regarding current or proposed legislation related to climate change, followed by a question and answer session focused on inquiries submitted by the audience.
Peake mentioned bills that would reduce carbon footprint by preserving natural carbon producers in the Commonwealth, implement aspects of the climate management report by requiring the assessment of potential climate risks for projects submitted for state approval and permitting, and the enhancement of off-shore wind projects to further energy diversity. While believing that Massachusetts is doing a lot in this area, Peake urged a more robust federal partnership in addressing climate change.
In his comments, Cyr named community empowerment as a goal, allowing towns to have a greater say in entering into local municipal contracts for the purchase of renewable energy. He acknowledged the potential conflict between the desire for more environmentally sensitive sources of energy and other social goals, leading to an effort to update existing historic preservation laws. While calling for greater funding of state environmental initiatives to insure “climate resiliency,” Cyr also mentioned the other primary ecological issue facing Cape towns, “degradation of water quality,” which is being addressed through the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund, paid for by a 2.75 percent short-term rental tax in all Barnstable County towns. He called this a “significant accomplishment.”
In the Q&A period following their presentations, Cyr and Peake addressed “carbon pricing,” a tax on existing carbon discharge emissions, and the need for “meaningful revenue discussions” related to the environment. They pointed out the economic advantages of renewable energy, stating that in the United States more people are now employed in that industry than in the coal business. Both affirmed that the environment is key to the economic viability of Cape Cod.
The second hour was devoted to a panel discussion featuring representatives of four of the program’s sponsoring organizations. Maggie Downey of the Cape Light Compact discussed its ongoing efforts to make Cape homes more energy efficient while offering electricity generated by renewable resources. Applying a concept called “strategic electrification,” the Cape Light Compact is seeking to create “resilient, self-generating, renewable homes” heated by stored or generated electricity, while creating a special provision for low income people who may not benefit from the plan.
Nate Mayo spoke on behalf of Vineyard Wind on its plans to create a wind farm that he said will produce renewable and less expensive electricity for Cape Cod, the Islands, and southern Massachusetts as a substitute for existing commercial electrical generation. Mayo expressed the belief that the wind farm will combat climate change, lower energy costs, and add to the local economy through new employment.
Andrew Gottlieb of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod addressed the key environmental issues facing the Cape, water quality and climate change. He encouraged members of the audience to educate local leaders, calling on them to address the issues locally in order that “local decisions can be made by local people.”
Finally, David Fox of Outer Cape Energize spoke about the success of his organization and recent regional developments. “Let’s be a green Cape – a green country,” he said. In support of the initiatives of Cyr, Peake, and others in government, he encouraged a “comprehensive approach to actions that mitigate the effects of climate change.”
In their final comments during the Q&A session, all four urged those attending to become actively involved in local efforts to address climate change, whether by town governments, the organizations that sponsored the town hall or their own actions.