US Sen. Markey talks opioid crisis, immigration, Trump opposition in Pittsfield visit

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PITTSFIELD — Concerns about tax cuts, climate change, the opioid epidemic and immigration were among the main issues that Berkshire residents addressed Sunday at a town hall with Sen. Edward Markey.

Markey, D-Mass., repeatedly told the nearly filled Barrington Stage Company theater that Massachusetts is consistently a leader in the nation in progress and that he wakes up each day to fight back against President Donald Trump's administration's attempted undoing of that work.

"I get up every morning and I'm ready to fight because you can see that he is as well," Markey said of the President. "For me, it's the most energized I've ever been."

Sunday's town hall was one of many that Markey has hosted across the state over the last year. It was the senator's first trip to Pittsfield since January's Four Freedoms march, which he said "kicked off" a whole year of demonstrations and marches across the state.

On Sunday, Markey ran through laundry lists of issues he takes with Trump's administration. Among them, he condemned the president for not requesting federal funding last week when he declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, stopping short of the anticipated declaration of a national emergency.

There were 1,899 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2016, 34 of them in Berkshire County.

If people were dying from opioid overdoses across the nation at the rate they're dying in Massachusetts, it would equal a body count equal to two Vietnam wars each year, Markey explained, calling the state a "preview or coming attractions" to what will occur throughout the country.

"A vision without funding is a hallucination," Markey said. "In Massachusetts, we have to stand up and we have to fight and make sure the funding is there for families."

Addressing climate change, Markey said that the Gulf of Maine, off of Massachusetts, is the fastest warming body of water on the planet, along with the arctic.

Instead of building new interstate pipelines, the federal government should be repairing old ones that are leaking natural gas into the air, adding to carbon emissions and costing residents money, Markey said.

A missed opportunity in job creation is solar and wind industries, Markey said, adding that last year there were 50,000 homeowners and 50,000 new workers in the solar industry in the country.

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"It's a blue-collar job creation engine," he said.

On immigration, Markey expressed the need for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.

Eleanor Valez, director of the Berkshire Community College Multicultural Center, pointed out that there didn't appear to be many immigrants at the town hall on Sunday and expressed concern that as a Mexican native, she is considered a second-class citizen under the new administration.

Massachusetts is the sixth-largest destination for legal immigrants and about 30 percent of all businesses in the state are started by immigrants, Markey said. If Trump cuts the number of legal immigrants in the country in half, he will cut the economic growth of Massachusetts in half, Markey said.

"We need to make sure that we're realistic about it because they're not going back," Markey said. "If they all went back, our economy would collapse."

Markey added that he expects a "showdown" between the Senate and House of Representatives on immigration policy during the first or second week of December.

Former Charlemont selectman Ivan "Toby" Gould brought up the lack of access to broadband in rural Western Massachusetts.

"Rural Massachusetts is being killed," Gould said, adding that the towns population is decreasing each year. "We don't have broadband. Our kids can't do their homework online."

Markey, who noted that 60 percent of Massachusetts is composed of forests, said he and senators from several other states have called for a $40 billion investment into expanding internet access in rural and inner-city communities.

"The indispensible part of being a successful community in the 21st century is having broadbrand," Markey said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at 413-496-6221 or @HavenEagle.


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