Three of the nine Democrats running to fill congressional seat currently held by Joe Kennedy III sounded off Tuesday afternoon on the coronavirus pandemic and off-shore wind development during a virtual candidates forum.
Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss, former Obama speechwriter Dave Cavell and epidemiologist Natalia Linos participated in the Environmental League of Massachusetts’ third and final forum for candidates for the 4th Congressional District. Last week, the league held sessions with the other Democrats: Jesse Mermell, Ihssane Leckey, Ben Sigel, Alan Khazei, Chris Zannetos and Becky Grossman.
Sessions can be viewed on Zoom or via Facebook live. More information is available on the league’s Facebook page.
The 4th Congressional district stretches from Milford to Brookline and includes Hopkinton, Franklin, Medway, Millis, Hopedale and most of Bellingham. The primary is set for Sept. 1.
Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will face either Julie Hall of Attleboro or David Rosa of Dighton, both Republicans, on Nov. 4.
Here’s how candidates responded to three key questions.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking and priorities around energy and environmental issues?
Linos: The reason i joined the race because as an epidemiologist I had started warning about the fact that we have such deep inequalities in our country and such a disdain and hesitancy around science, and climate is one of the issues where we’ve seen that. I was worried it was going to lead to the worst pandemic among wealthy countries… I decided to enter this race because I thought we needed more scientists, we needed more people who can look at data, who have a commitment over decades to fighting inequality. COVID is not going to go away, and this Congress has to have more people with an epi- background to be part of the solution.
Auchincloss: Although the core priorities of getting to carbon neutrality as a country, ensuring a more economically equitable growth for Massachusetts have not changed, we do have a fire in the house we got to put out. With unemployment now spiking past 20% and municipal budgets throughout the state cratering, my number one goal on the short term in Congress is we got to get federal relief for state and local budgets so they can prevent cuts to essential services… we have to ensure we have the testing and contact tracing regime in place that’s going to ensure we can open up schools and day cares in an responsible way so our economy can reopen while maintaining public health.
Cavell: There’s a whole bunch of short-term things we need to do immediately in this country, from supporting local city and town budgets in the midst of this crisis, particularly in the South Coast and elsewhere. Long term, this just underscores the urgency of investing in real action on the climate crisis. The urgency of all these issues is not going anywhere. It’s our best response. There are 50,000 coal jobs left in the whole country. There are 110,000 clean energy jobs in Massachusetts alone. As we emerge from this crisis, that’s the place to start.
How would you connect what we need to do for climate with racial equity?
Auchincloss: The single most important thing we could do for climate is carbon pricing. It sets the right incentives for the market, but it also creates a significant funding stream for the federal government to then invest in infrastructure. We can use the funds from pricing carbon appropriately that do two things that I believe are important for racial and economic equity. First we can directly transfer funds to American families, those who are hard-hit, through the rebate program. That’s an important way to sustain people’s standards of living and also to sustain broad based political support for what will be a challenging policy item to pass. Secondly, we can use the funds from carbon pricing to invest in infrastructure that allows for more economically equitable growth.
Cavell: There’s a few things, everything from investing in public transportation, mass transit, free pilot programs for buses, green retrofits, healthy public housing. This is history we need to teach as well: the history of climate injustice is something we need to be aware of. The intentional decisions to put polluting sources in communities of color, it’s something we need to grapple with and as a former school teacher I think we need to teach.
Linos: We could a lot better to improve the housing conditions of Black and other people of color, while also doing the retrofitting, the green, and ensuring that money is improving the quality of housing for poor families as well as moving us forward. The other thing is about really thinking about which communities are at greatest risk, which communities are at greatest risk directly, in terms of sea level or if there’s a catastrophe. At the New York City health Department, we were thinking about which individuals do not have access to air conditioning during a heat wave because that kills. Really thinking about racial justice along all those dimensions: transportation, housing, neighborhoods, even nutrition.
The Massachusetts 4th Congressional District could have more to gain from off-shore wind development than any other district in America. If elected, could you share your top priorities for harnessing the potential power of this resource?
Cavell: It’s really important to note here that sometimes we’re told the fishing community is opposed to this. The truth is, they see the collapse of fish stocks in their water because of climate crisis. They are ready for real solutions here, we just have to bring people to the table and make it happen. The federal government of the delaying of the Vineyard Wind project was a real mistake and I think this is where we need to lead. Fall River is the second deepest water port in New England… this is where we can put people to work. Create a pathway with tuition-free public higher education at a place like Bristol Community College right into good green union jobs on the South Coast.
Linos: Off-shore wind is a huge opportunity to produce locally our electricity and create jobs in Fall River, Taunton. It’s really an obvious thing we should be running towards. It’s something I will support, I will work with local leaders to get the permits, to move it forward quickly. I do want to touch on the bio-diversity consideration. I have been speaking with some environmental groups to make sure what are their concerns, they highlighted the Atlantic white whale to make sure we do not endanger that species. There seems to be a conversation around responsible off-shore wind and everyone agrees it can be done that way.
Auchincloss: In addition to talking to state and local officials who are involved in this process, I also had a conference call with senior leadership at Vineyard Wind to understand from their perspective what do they need to be successful. They need permitting to be unlocked from the Department of the Interior. I will pledge right now the Department of the Interior will be so sick from hearing from Congressman Jake Auchincloss about this issue. All day, every day. They have something that comes up for funding, I’m going to be right there to get this across the finish line.