Earth Day Statement from Mayor Alex Morse Text Size

Mayor calls on halt of new natural gas supply, opposes new pipeline construction

(read reaction of support from and social justice organizations throughout the region, state, and country)

Forty-nine years ago today, on the very first Earth Day, more than 20 million Americans took to the streets to protest the negative effects of industrialization on the planet we call home. Thus the modern environmental movement was born. On this Earth Day, I’m thinking about the revolutionary spirit that moved those Americans to take action – and how that same spirit still informs the demands of our moment today.

In many ways, the situation we face today is even more perilous. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put the matter starkly in a recent report: Unless we keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialized levels, we will not be safe from the most severe impacts of climate change, some of which we’re already seeing. And we don’t have much time – about a mere decade – to significantly shift our course.

Throughout our country we’re seeing dramatic climatic swings, resulting in record droughts and heat waves, record cold and snow, floods that have drowned city and countryside alike, and major hurricanes that have displaced whole communities, including for some who have sought refuge right here in Holyoke over the past two years.

In the absence of bold, collective action, these trends will only worsen, and the human suffering will be great. We can’t afford the allure of quick-fixes or short-sightedness. What’s needed is a summoning of that same sense of common purpose that has propelled our country during past times of crisis. If we do that, I know we will come out stronger.  

We must consider our responsibilities on the local level. The work of caring for our environment should begin right here in Holyoke. That’s why, over the last few years, we’ve reduced the city government’s energy consumption by more than 20 percent. That’s why we’ve invested in hydroelectric and solar infrastructure, and have reached the point that 92 percent of our electricity now comes from carbon-free sources. We should all be proud of this track record.

But another reality must be acknowledged: as our city has redeveloped, our demand for more energy has increased. That growth in demand is particularly worrisome for our heating needs, where we primarily still rely on fossil fuels.

This brings me to an important matter, one that has already been the subject of much debate. In light of the constraints on natural gas available to us in Holyoke, and to meet the demand for more energy consumption, the Holyoke Gas and Electric has negotiated a deal with Columbia Gas. The arrangement would increase our natural gas availability through an expanded pipeline through West Springfield, while simultaneously increasing gas supply for neighboring cities and towns.

While the efforts of the HG&E are understandable, and I am mindful of the city’s recent energy demands, I cannot in good conscience support the building of this pipeline. It constitutes a short-term fix to a long-term problem, and falls short of the moral imperatives of this moment in history. The HG&E may be contractually obligated to support this project going forward, but I will not, and will use my position to advocate against it.

On this 49th Earth Day, let us summon that same audaciousness that brought Americans into the streets all those years ago. Let’s use this moment to work toward solutions that increase energy efficiency and shifts cities toward more modernized heating systems. We cannot break our addiction to fossil fuels by feeding the urge to consume more of them in the name of short-term extensions.

To that end, I invite federal and state siting and permitting entities, which will be considering this gas expansion project, to take into consideration the long-term interest of our cities and towns across the country, and see this Columbia Gas proposal as an expensive short-term fix to a long-term, structural problem. And even the short-term benefit would be minimal: at best, this pipeline wouldn’t provide any new supply until more than two years from now. It should be rejected in favor of more comprehensive approaches that focus first on efficient consumption, wean us off fossil fuels, and set us up for success in a world remade and powered by renewable energy.

The HG&E understands this issue well, and has already shown great leadership in moving our city forward. They know that any increase in gas supply would be short-lived, and they understand that reducing our consumption is the key to unlocking economic potential and reducing environmental impact. The planning work, currently underway, to plug 100% of our system gas leaks in the short term is one important step in that direction. I invite us to further work together to dramatically increase the resources dedicated to energy efficiency measures in Holyoke so we can lower our demand for natural gas rather than expand our current supply. We can make room for continued economic growth and success by upgrading how we keep our homes and businesses warm.

And I offer this challenge to Columbia Gas: Be part of the solution. The multi-million dollar plan to increase gas availability in the region is not sustainable – and it ignores the climate crisis of our time. Imagine what we could do to promote energy efficiency and reduce our need for more fossil fuels if that money were diverted. Imagine what Columbia Gas could do if its own powers of ingenuity were geared toward sound environmental solutions.

Finally, I urge national, state, and regional entities, as well as neighboring communities to consider larger questions of fairness and justice in our approach to energy. Today’s environmental costs are being borne by all of us, but they haven’t been created equally by all. The sad reality is that it is far easier for more affluent communities to navigate themselves out of the impacts of resource constraints than it is for places like Holyoke – just as the worst impacts of climate change are felt more acutely in poorer communities around the world.

Of course, local governments can only do so much. It is not enough for one community to resist the building of one pipeline. We can’t protect Holyoke from climate change on our own. The federal and state governments will also have to lead, just as they have during other times of crisis. That’s why we urgently need the Green New Deal: so that we may fundamentally reshape how our society consumes energy, and achieve a more prosperous, more just society. What the Green New Deal also recognizes is that climate change is, at its base, a moral issue – one concerning questions of social justice, and our treatment of the most vulnerable, and our care for the generation that is attending our schools right now. Think about it: the Holyoke High School class of 2030, the year by which we need to have achieved dramatic reductions in  our carbon emissions , is finishing up second grade today. The choice we face is whether we have it in us, faced with difficult odds, to overcome short-sightedness and achieve a better future for us all.

President Kennedy once famously declared a bold goal to go to the moon within a decade, not because it was easy, but because it was hard; because that goal would “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

That’s what’s called for today: the organizing of the best of our energies and skills; a sense of common purpose; an audaciousness in the face of of a challenge. We cannot postpone a day longer. Today I insist that we can win a better energy future, and I commit that the city of Holyoke will work to chart that better path forward.”

Posted on April 22, 2019 by