Despite solid marks for its efforts to promote energy efficiency, land conservation and the use of electric vehicles, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration for the second straight year received a middling, but passing grade from leading environmental and energy advocacy groups in 2016.
Seven of the state’s most active environmental advocates plan to release a report card on Thursday grading Baker’s environmental and energy team with an overall “C” – the same grade given last year.
Any improvements, according to the groups, were overshadowed by further budget and staff reductions, policies that support new gas pipeline construction and an “ineffective” response to last summer’s drought.
“It is time for the governor to prioritize building on Massachusetts’ record of environmental achievement and solidify our role as a true national leader. This will require a new level of vision and commitment from Gov. Baker – of a kind not yet demonstrated,” the report concluded.
The report card, which was published for the first time in 2016 by the environmental groups to evaluate the performance of the Republican governor’s first year in office, looked at energy, water, toxics, land protection, environmental justice, solid waste and the state budget.
The report come on the heels of the election of President Donald Trump, a turnabout the groups’ agreed could be “devastating for progress in protecting our natural resources and public health” if the White House follows through with budget cuts and relaxed environmental regulation.
Baker’s administration received its highest grade (A) for its work on a food waste ban and grades of “B+” for land conservation, electric vehicles and energy efficiency. It also earned a “B-” for global warming pollution reductions.
Its lowest grade (D-) came for solid waste data collection, and the groups awarded D’s for gas pipeline promotion, reducing emissions from the transportation sector, sustainable water management and solid waste reduction.
The governor’s inability to make progress on a 2014 campaign promise to increase spending in his first term on the environment to 1 percent of the overall budget also hurt his score. The report gave the administration a budget grade of “C,” and noted that by its calculations spending on the environment as a percentage of overall spending has actually decreased a tenth of point to 0.53 percent.
“The commonwealth and the administration should not be satisfied with a C grade. At a time when Massachusetts should be leading, we are falling behind,” said Nancy Goodman, vice president for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Inadequate funding and staffing continue to plague the agencies. That, combined with a lack of vision and leadership, is creating a crisis in terms of protecting our natural resources, enhancing public health and combating climate change.”
The Baker administration defended parts of its record against the report, including a budget proposal for fiscal 2018 that would increase spending at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs by 4 percent and allow the Department of Conservation and Recreation to retain more revenue for investment in parks, beaches, watersheds and dams.
“The Baker Administration is committed to ensuring that Massachusetts remains nationally recognized as a leader in combating climate change by securing clean, affordable energy and is pleased our state is on track to successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 through a collaborative approach across state government,” said Energy and Environmenal Affairs spokesman Peter Lorenz.
Lorenz also noted legislation recently filed by Baker “to take control over critical environmental protections from the Trump Administration” that would allow the state to administer a federal water quality protection program.
Some river protection advocates believe the pollutant discharge program would be better left with the Environmental Protection Agency to administer.
The report card was compiled by ELM, the Charles Rover Watershed Association, Clean Water Action, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Massachusetts, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and Massachusets Sierra Club.
Its release was timed to coincide with “Earth Week” and Saturday’s celebration of Earth Day.