Our Opinion: Confronting global warming at state, local levels

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The threat posed by climate change in Massachusetts is and will be felt most dramatically on Cape Cod, in Boston and along the shoreline north and south of Boston, but the Berkshire communities enjoying the high ground won't be spared. More and heavier storms producing increased mountain runoff will result in erosion and flooding unprecedented in scope.

The Baker administration and the Legislature are working on ways to protect coastal communities. But according to Kathleen Theoharides, the secretary of the state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the most costly impact of global warming the state currently confronts is inland flooding. The administration hopes to establish a revenue source dedicated to a problem that is sure to expand in scope.

In June, the administration awarded just under $1 million to five Berkshire County municipalities for climate change resiliency projects through the state's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program. About $800,000 will go to replace crumbling and overwhelmed culverts at Churchill and West streets that bring runoff to Onota Lake. On Friday, Ms. Theoharides was in Pittsfield to accompany city officials on a site visit and later to meet with a reporter and an editor at The Eagle ("Girding for climate change, one culvert at a time," Eagle, Aug. 24).

The state numbers 25,000 culverts, which are essentially tunnels that direct stream water under roads to their ultimate destination, and Ms. Theoharides said that roughly half of them are inadequate for current conditions, let alone conditions produced by climate change. The state wants to repair and rightsize the culverts so not only water but fish and wildlife can make their way through them. More than 70 percent of cities and towns have signed up for the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, which the secretary said is designed to put the state and its communities on the same page in confronting the impact of climate change. While Ms. Theoharides preferred not to focus on the federal part of the equation in her meeting at The Eagle, there is no denying that the presence of a climate change-denying president and Republican-controlled Senate has forced states and municipalities to take the initiative. (On Monday, President Trump skipped the G7 summit meeting on climate change.)

The grant program is currently funded through the state's annual budget but the Baker administration believes it is critical to the program's long-term success that a dedicated revenue stream be established. The administration wants to fund the program through an increase in the excise tax on real estate transfers, a provision that is included in a bill before the Joint Committee on Revenue, which is co-chaired by state Senator Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat. If passed, about $900 would be added to the sale of a $400,000 home. As those selling homes are no more responsible for global warming than anyone else, a broader based source for funding of the program would be preferable. Ms. Theoharides told The Eagle that because the fee has not been increased in 30 years it is inevitable that it will be, and the ideal way to use the revenue generated is to fund an environmental program that will benefit homeowners in the state.

The secretary, who is from the Western Massachusetts town of Conway, told The Eagle that the Baker administration is determined to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at an even more aggressive rate than that established by the Paris Agreement, which President Trump withdrew the nation from. To that end, Massachusetts and eight other Northeastern states will in December announce a regional Transportation Climate Initiative to reduce transportation emissions and explore ways to address transportation failings.

From culverts to regional climate change initiatives, towns, cities and states must take the lead on confronting the growing threat of global warming. Leadership isn't coming from anywhere else.

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