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Gov. Baker Urges Massachusetts Lawmakers To Move On Climate Projects

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, at center, with State Sen. John Velis, at right, arriving at a press conference in Easthampton on Aug. 31, 2021. At far left is Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.
Don Treeger
The Republican / masslive.com
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, at center, with State Sen. John Velis, at right, arriving at a press conference in Easthampton on Aug. 31, 2021. At far left is Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.

Available federal resources create an opportunity for Massachusetts to undertake "transformational" work on climate and environmental issues, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday as he again pitched his plan for spending a portion of the state's American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

Visiting Easthampton to announce the latest round of awards through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, Baker brought up the bill he filed in June to spend $2.9 billion in ARPA money on what he identified as urgent priorities, including $1 billion for "critical infrastructure initiatives to deal with environmental challenges."

Of that $1 billion, Baker said, $300 million would go to climate-resilient infrastructure.

Baker's bill (H 3922) remains before the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee's chairman, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Michael Rodrigues, in July launched a series of hearings to help them determine how to spend the state's ARPA money.

After an August break, they plan to hold at least four more hearings sometime after Labor Day, including one focused one economic development, transportation, arts, and tourism, climate and infrastructure.

"There's a tremendous amount of interest and a lot of proven success associated already with this MVP program, and our municipal partners throughout the commonwealth have demonstrated that this is a program that works and that we should do much more of it as we go forward," Baker said. "There's a lot of work left to do here. We do have an opportunity to do some transformational work based on the federal resources that are available, and we hope and anticipate that our colleagues in the Legislature will see this as the big opportunity that we do and put a ton of resources to work from one end of Massachusetts to the other on it as we go forward."

Baker said the local projects supported through the MVP program "are exactly the kind of projects that we believe we need to do far more with across Massachusetts, and we need to do it now."

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said that 328 of the state's 351 cities and towns, or 93 percent, are participating in the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, which provides state money to local efforts to identify and mitigate potential climate hazards.

"Ninety-three percent is an A-minus. We're going to get an A-plus, because we've got to get all of the communities to participate," she said. "But we clearly have a lot of demand and need, and we have some dollars but we need more dollars. If we could put some of that special ARPA dollars, the federal dollars, to work with your dollars, we could see more of these kinds of projects done throughout the commonwealth."

Easthampton, Baker said, was awarded a $2 million MVP grant for a project around Cherry Street, which includes restoring the stream bank, reconstructing the Cherry Street roadway, and restoring an eroded slope and adjacent stream. He said the project will build resilience to increased precipitation, add tree cover and build new sidewalks.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said Tuesday that the project involves "beautiful" green infrastructure that will slow and filter rainwater before it flows into Brickyard Brook.

She said the city "has a strong, proud history of stacking state grants to maximize public dollars to the highest and best public use" and that she hoped to combine Easthampton's local ARPA allocation with the state's ARPA funds for future projects.

Easthampton's lawmakers, Rep. Dan Carey and Sen. John Velis, spoke during the event and did not discuss plans for allocating ARPA funds in their remarks.

Velis said he got a text message during the event from another mayor in his district, whose city is among the 7 percent of communities not yet participating in the MVP program, "and they said, 'You tell the administration we will be on that list.'"

Carey said climate change is a problem that requires "big-picture responses."

"We need to act big, but we also need to act small, and this is a way we can fight climate change on the local level, right here in the neighborhood," Carey said.

During an appearance with political analyst Jon Keller that aired Sunday morning on CBS Boston, a disappointed Baker acknowledged that some housing and flood control investments he's proposed using American Rescue Plan funding may not happen until next year, and urged lawmakers to act on an ARPA pending bill this fall.

"Just think about all the flooding we've seen since June," Baker said. "I mean it's happened all over the Commonwealth, and every time that happens businesses lose customers. In many cases they have to pay to repair their facilities and their operations. And this is not going away. We're going to be dealing with more storms and storm severity, and we really need to get real about this stuff and I would obviously like to see the Legislature move quickly on this. It's disappointing to me that none of this may start until sometime next year. I think that's a missed opportunity."

Michael P. Norton contributed reporting.

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