As Gov. Deval Patrick watches his poll numbers tank, he may be counting on at least one major constituency to stand by him. Environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters, have cheered the governor for his many environmental initiatives.
Indeed, Patrick has proposed so many "green" bills, it's hard to keep track of them all. A great number of his proposals are already law: last May, he signed the Oceans Act of 2008, an overarching policy for a wide range of ocean activities including wind farms, ocean fishing, even whale watching. In July, he signed the Clean Energy Biofuels Act to encourage the growth of the "advanced" (read: non-corn-based) biofuel industry in the state; in August, Patrick signed the Green Jobs Act, intended to increase employment in the "green economy" and funnel millions into the new Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center, and the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
As enthusiastic as environmentalists may be about their apparent legislative gains under Patrick, the governor isn't exactly surrounding himself with tree-huggers. Last month, Ian Bowles, Patrick's Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, announced the creation of the Climate Protection and Green Economy Advisory Committee—a new, "green" advisory board that will help Bowles "identify the lowest-cost, most job-creating measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." The advisory board includes members representing commercial, industrial and manufacturing and transportation sectors, low-income consumers, energy generation and distribution, environmental protection, energy efficiency and renewable energy, local government, and academic institutions. Bowles prefaced his announcement by saying, "Global climate change is the environmental challenge of our time, but it's also an opportunity for Massachusetts to capitalize on the transition to a clean energy economy for jobs and economic growth."
In other words, Patrick's environmental initiatives are more ambitious than mere efforts to stop environmental degradation and save the planet. The governor hopes also to rebuild the state's economy, create jobs and stimulate new industries.
The obstacles to Patrick's ambitious plan are likely to come in two forms. The first is the broad accusation, one that's gained traction in recent weeks, that Patrick is busy padding state government with patronage jobs. On the heels of the Marion Walsh controversy, in which Patrick tried to place one of his top supporters in a previously unfilled $175,000 job in an obscure state agency, the Boston media have begun looking at the new, high-paying jobs springing up in other state agencies. This week's spotlight turned on Energy and Environmental Affairs, where, according to the Boston Herald, "secretary Ian Bowles, who's known around the Golden Dome as Patrick's squash partner, has padded his payroll with 10 workers making $100,000-plus and another 10 making $90,000-plus."
While the administration will likely say the new positions are needed to handle the work of implementing the state's voluminous new environmental initiatives, Patrick's growing chorus of critics have had recent success painting the governor as a spendthrift who has violated his campaign pledge to end gubernatorial patronage.
Meanwhile, the governor can expect a fight from environmentalists who are growing fearful of Patrick's dual environmental and economic development strategy—the idea that there's money to be made by being green—and who are aggressively parting ways with established environmental groups.
In recent weeks, a group called Massachusetts Forest Watch has publicly criticized the Patrick Administration for quietly implementing new forestry management plans that increase logging on state forest and park land by more than 400 percent. MFW founder Chris Matera said the dramatic increase in logging, including the use of "clearcutting," is designed to supply a network of proposed biomass plants with a dependable source of fuel.
In an interview in Northampton last week, Matera showed me photographs of state forestland where huge swaths of woodlands have been leveled. "The state doesn't call it clear-cutting, but that's what it is," Matera said. "They prefer euphemisms like "shelterwood" and "aggregate retention," but clear-cutting is what they're doing."
In a 50-page report (http://www.maforests.org/Report.pdf) MFW squares off against some of the environmental groups now supportive of Patrick's plans for industrial scale logging on state-owned land: "While these groups were originally formed and run mostly by environmentalists, nowadays their governing boards may contain many directors with corporate backgrounds and some pay hefty CEO salaries."
Speaking of Patrick and some of his "green" supporters, Matera said it bothers him that the move to increase logging is coming from "people who pretend to be defenders of nature."