Sierra Club of MA – Candidate Questionnaire

The Sierra Club of MA recently sent a candidate questionnaire to all Town Council candidates. Below are my responses.

Energy and Global Warming

1. Municipal Reductions in Greenhouse Gases: Local governments have a clear mandate to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and advance green initiatives. The United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, despite a growing problem. We are not anticipating federal support in the next few years. Many communities around the country are adopting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement – and doing even more. In light of this, the Sierra Club is interested in the policies and actions that you are proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally.

(a) Specifically, how do you propose to decrease greenhouse gas emissions within your municipality? Please include emissions from public facilities, vehicles, homes and businesses, power generation, and solid waste incineration.

Amherst’s Town Meeting recently adopted a resolution supporting the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. I support this resolution and will work to make it happen. This would include supporting installing solar panels on capped landfills, purchasing, where practical, electric vehicles, and continuing to support the goals of the recently adopted Zero Energy bylaw that requires new municipal buildings be energy-use neutral.

(b) In upholding the Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, would you push your municipality to power all publicly owned or operated facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2025?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

(c) How would you improve efficiency of usage of water and power in public facilities by 2025?

Unfamiliar with the issue

(d) Would you support the construction and installation of clean power generation (such as solar, wind, small hydro, heat pumps) in your community, whether on public or private lands?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

(e) What actions would you undertake to eliminate natural gas leaks (i.e., principally methane) in your municipality?

Unfamiliar with the issue

(f) Would you oppose construction of new oil and gas pipelines through your community and fossil fueled power plants or compressors in your community?

[ ]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [X]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

(g) What steps will you take to have the state’s five-minute idling law aggressively enforced?

I would work with our local police forces, including those at UMass and Amherst College to enforce this law at the locations where it is most abused – facilities where buses and cars queue up in line to drop-off or pick-up teams in individuals.

(h) How would you achieve your municipality’s energy use reduction and global warming goals in the event of significant reductions in state or federal EPA funding to your community?

I would work to achieve these goals by encouraging the Town Manager to seek public-private partnerships and leases for the installation of solar farms.

Waste, Recycling, Incineration

2. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the recycling rate varies significantly by community across the state.

 (a) How would you increase your community’s recycling rate? Please give a target timetable for your answer.

One way to increase the recycling rate is the move to single stream recycling and to mandate that all trash haulers pick up recycling at no cost. Further, by charging individuals and businesses for the amount of trash they throw out, instead of charging for recycling, residents would be more likely to recycle the items that can be recycled. I would work to require all businesses and public entities place recycling containers immediately next to trash containers. Too many times I have purchased a drink in a recyclable container only to find that the business has only trash receptacles for me to dispose of it. This creates a lot more waste than is necessary. Requiring these businesses to recycle these containers and have a receptacle for me to place them in for recycling would help.

(b) Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) systems for non-recycled waste have been proposed as methods to reduce trash and increase recycling. This system has been highly successful in communities where it has been implemented.

Does you municipality currently utilize a pay as you throw system?

[ ]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [X ]other (please describe below)

I believe some trash haulers utilize this system and that the Transfer Station does a type of this.

If not, will you advocate for implementing a PAYT system?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

3. Solid Waste: The Sierra Club supports getting to zero waste. This can be done through a combination of increasing diversion and recycling. In addition, our landfills are nearing capacity and are failing. Incinerators require strong oversight.

 (a). What efforts will you support and fund to reduce solid waste?

Pay-as-you-throw systems, increase composting availability (including curbside composting), and mixed recycling, so that consumers do not have to sort.

(b) Will you support increasing the budget of Mass DEP to protect communities impacted by waste disposal?

[ ]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [X]other (please describe below)

This question falls outside the scope of the municipal office for which I am running.

4. Plastic Bags and Other Plastic Pollution: Low-value, single-use plastics are generating a high volume of solid waste and litter, and are degrading our environment. These include microbeads, plastic bags, food packaging, and bottled water.

 (a)    Have you supported state and local efforts to ban plastics and to promote sustainable alternatives to plastics? Please describe.

Amherst has already banned single-use plastic bags from being used in retail establishments.  I supported it at the time and continue to support it.

(b) Plastic bags blow away and become a visible eyesore as litter and can also be dangerous to wildlife, killing an estimated 1 billion animals a year per to United Nations. Standard HDPE (polyethylene) plastic bags do not biodegrade but slowly break down – photodegrade into smaller and smaller bits and also release toxic substances from the plastic, inks, and colorants that leach into the soil and water and enter the food chain. Currently 47 communities in Massachusetts have passed ordinances banning or limiting the use of plastic bags.

Would you support a ban on the distribution of polyethylene plastic shopping bags in retail stores in your municipality?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

Amherst has already done so.

(c) Has your city banned non-emergency purchases of bottled water with municipal funds?

[ ]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [X]other (please describe below)

I do not believe it has.

(d) Will you support or introduce legislation to ban using municipal funds to purchase all forms of bottled water for non-emergencies?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

Amherst’s tap water is great and should be used by employees and students instead of bottled water.

5. Incinerators: Many of the state’s incineration facilities have requested permits to add additional capacity.

Will you oppose any expansion of incineration, including mass-burn, pyrolysis, gasification, and plasma gasification, and if so, exactly what would you do to deter an expansion?

[ ]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [X]other (please describe below)

This question falls outside the scope of the municipal office for which I am running.

Open Space and Parkland

6. Parkland, play areas, and sports fields are precious commodities, especially in the more densely populated areas and urban centers of the state. Often, a community that needs land for a new municipal facility, police/fire station, or school, will include these parks in their list of potential sites for municipal development.

Will you oppose any effort to take parklands unless (i) a substitute equivalent space that properly serves the affected community is constructed (aka ‘no net loss’) and (ii) there is no viable alternative?

[ ]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [X]other (please describe below)

Yes, I would generally oppose using parkland for municipal development. But, I cannot say I would always do so. Amherst has already conserved a large portion of its land from development and each individual project would need considered on its own merits. If taken, though, I would work to ensure that there is no net loss of parkland.

7. Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution provides: “The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of the people in their right to the conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources is hereby declared to be a public purpose.”

How would you ensure that your community is doing its part to safeguard the “right to clean air and water” for all people under Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution?

I believe Amherst already is, with its previous and current actions to conserve land and restrict it from development. Amherst has also been purchasing land around its water supplies to ensure that the water supply remains clean in the future. I support continuing all of these efforts.

8. In that regard, Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution provides that “Lands and easements taken or acquired for [Article 97] purposes shall not be used for any other purposes or otherwise disposed of except by laws enacted by a two thirds vote, taken by yeas and nays, of each branch of the general court [, the Legislature (both houses)].

 (a) Will you support using community funds to purchase and protect open spaces and woods within your municipality?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

(b) Will you support compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented re-development that preserves open spaces, locates population near employment opportunities, and mitigates vehicle traffic?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

(c) Will you oppose sprawl and subsidies for developing on undeveloped land and support the enforcement of impact fees on new developments?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)


9. Public transit systems (Areas served by MBTA/Regional Transit Authorities): What do you think are appropriate and effective municipal responses to significant service cuts or fare increases?

Appropriate responses include (1) speaking with state legislators and representatives to urge their support of appropriate funding levels; (2) working with local funders of transit services (the Five Colleges) to ensure they are funding the services at the appropriate levels students are using the services; and (3) working with local employment agencies to ensure that the transit systems have adequate employees to maintain service levels. In addition, I would be willing to consider additional municipal funds for transit services, but would require that before any additional municipal funds are allocated, that Town officials have worked with other towns and agencies to advocate for similar funding from other municipalities and that officials have spoken with the transit agencies to guarantee that any additional funds provided by the municipality are used to either maintain services within the municipality or reduce fares in the municipality.

10. The availability and accessibility of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) is a barrier to the wider adoption of EVs.

(a) Would you support measures to increase the number and locations of EV charging stations, and if so on what timetable?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

(b) Would you support converting the non-emergency municipal fleet of vehicles to electric?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

11. Massachusetts needs balanced mix of transportation modes, including public transportation, biking, walking, and driving.

What are your priorities for reaching this goal?

As we rebuild and repave streets, our Town officials need to work on making them complete-street compliant. I want to see more sidewalks for walking and wider berms and/or dedicated bike lanes on our roads, so that bikers feel safe riding on the roads.

Would your community be better served with improved access to rail transportation?

Yes, although, I believe this includes recognizing that Amherst is not likely to get its own rail station back. So, we need to work with transit officials to ensure that buses to the Northampton rail station are regular and timed to provide seamless integration with the rail schedules. We also need to lobby state officials for better east-west rail connections to Worcester and Boston.

Other Issues

12. Environmental Justice

(a)       What is your understanding of “environmental justice”?

My understanding of “environmental justice” is the EPA’s description of it as “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”

(b)      How would you work within your community and across municipal borders to ensure environmental justice for everyone in the commonwealth?

I would work to ensure that all residents have an ability to meaningfully participate in Town Council decisions. This requires holding many forums in various locations, at various times, and on various days, in order to enable the most number of residents to attend. It requires recognizing when a proposed policy might have an inordinate impact on one specific group and working to ensure that their concerns are addressed and the impact in not only minimized but spread to others.

13. Will you support municipal resolutions to advocate for the passage of state legislation that the Sierra Club supports on issues at the state or higher level?

[X]yes  –  [ ]no  –  [ ]undecided  –  [ ]not familiar with issue  –  [ ]other (please describe below)

Generally, yes, but the wording of the resolutions is vitally important and I would consider each one on its own merits.

14. What role should the city play – through zoning, permitting, code requirements and other legal processes available to the Mayor and Council – to ensure that future residential and commercial development, and especially construction of new buildings or renovation of old buildings, reduces greenhouse gas emissions?

The Town Council should be leaders in working towards a goal where future development reduces greenhouses gases. Amherst has already begun by enacting a Zero-Energy bylaw for future municipal construction and by passing a Paris Climate Accord resolution, among other items. The Town Council should continue these efforts.