State Climate Bill to “Make the Polluters Pay” Kicked Off in Watertown

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Charlie Breitrose Environmental activists from around Massachusetts gathered at the Commander’s Mansion to celebrate the filing of the Polluters Pay Bill in the State Legislature on Friday.

Environmental advocates gathered in Watertown to celebrate the filing of a new bill in the Massachusetts State House that would make the companies that produced the oil that created greenhouse gases pay for the impact on the climate.

The event took place at the Commander’s Mansion, which is located in a former Federal Superfund Site — the U.S. Army’s Watertown Arsenal — because co-sponsors liken the legislation to a Climate Change Superfund. The bill is known as the Polluters Pay Bill, said Watertown State Rep. Steve Owens, who is a co-sponsor along with State Sen. Jamie Eldridge.

“The principle of the Polluters Pay Bill is very simple: those who made the mess should be the ones to clean it up,” Owens said. “The bill we propose is simple, too. It would impose a fee on the largest emitters of greenhouse gas in Massachusetts that would go to a climate resiliency Superfund.”

Watertown has seen the success of Superfunds in the recent past, said former Town Councilor and environmental activist Susan Falkoff. The former Army facility that included what is now both the Arsenal on the Charles and Arsenal Yards properties, was polluted and had a nuclear reactor on the site.

In 1989 the Conservation Law Foundation filed a friendly lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency to start action that would lead to the Arsenal becoming a Superfund site. The group that Falkoff was part of, the Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety, joined the suit and got a seat at the table during negotiations with the U.S. Army about how the cleanup would take place. That was key to the success, she said.

“The how and when and how much a cleanup will be is not ordained. It is negotiated,” Falkoff said. “I am especially proud that we fought for, and won, the right to see documents in draft form before they were too final for us to have meaningful input. The Army came to trust that if we were given a seat at the table that we would act responsibly.” 

Charlie Breitrose Watertown State Rep. Steve Owens, left, co-sponsored the Polluters Pay Bill. He was joined by Watertown resident Lana Taffel, a fellow at the Mass. Youth Climate Coalition.

If passed, the law would be enforced by MassDEP and managed by them as well, Owens said.

“The bill has levels of cut offs in terms of the numbers of tons of CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the proportion of those emissions is turned into a dollar amount based on that formula,” Owens said.

The bill aims at the largest producers, such as Shell Oil, which Owens said doubled profits in 2022 to $42 billion, and Exxon/Mobile, which he said had a record $56 billion in profits last year. Owens noted that as far back as the 1970s these companies’ research predicted that burning fossil fuels would lead to rising temperatures.

The bill seeks to prevent the companies from passing the cost on to consumers by not requiring smaller producers to pay the fees.

“The idea there is to encourage those top polluters to pollute less going forward, but also so that in the market place there are some larger polluters that are affected by this and some smaller ones that are not,” Owens said. “That means that those costs can’t be passed on to the consumer, because there are always people competing with those larger polluters that aren’t impacted by the fee.”

The money that would come from the bill would help communities prepare for the impact of more severe weather, Owens said. They could help fund some of the action items in Watertown’s Climate & Energy Plan.

“We’ve got a whole new Sustainability Plan (in Watertown) pick any of the actions on there, from stormwater runoff issues that we have here in Watertown, protect the Charles River, which is really important, even resilience issues, with not the Watertown Dam but the dam down by the science museum (in Boston),” he said. “If that breaches, this turns into tidal flats all over again. that would be a huge disaster.”

Charlie Breitrose Former Town Councilor Susan Falkoff speaks about her experience working to get the Watertown Arsenal declared a Superfund site and getting the pollution cleaned up.

Among those at the event were young climate activists from the Mass. Youth Climate Coalition, including Watertown’s Lana Taffel, who graduated from Watertown High School in 2021 and now attends Brandeis University.

“Often people associate climate organizing with advocating for individual change, which while this is an important part of norm shifts around sustainability, it is not our biggest concern in terms of climate change,” Taffel said. “I can change my diet and my lifestyle, but no change I will make will ever come close to the changes that private corporations could make to slow climate disaster. This bill takes a big step toward holding corporations accountable for climate change by generating $75 billion over 25 years from the profits of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.”

Forty percent of the fund collected would directly benefit environmental justice communities. Tina Nguyen, an O’Bryant High School student from Dorchester, said her community is one that feels the impact of climate change “first and worst.”

“I’m not blind to the world around me because I and so many others in my generation have grown up in the era when there’s article after article and Tweet after Tweet and disaster after disaster, showing how our planet is falling apart, and it’s falling apart because of us,” Nguyen said. “I say ‘us,’ but I think it’s about time to point the fingers to who is really steering the wheel. Fossil fuel companies I’m looking at you.” 

Along with the elected officials from the State Legislature, representatives of Sen. Ed Markey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark also took part in the ceremony. Owens said this is key because the effort takes more than one state. He added that other states including New York, Oregon and Washington are considering similar bills.

“We had the federal delegation here because there is another bill at the federal level that would do the same thing,” Owens said. “Really it’s all hands on deck. The solution to climate change is going to require all of us, so we are working at the state level, at the federal level and multiple states across the country to try to push this idea that the companies that put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing climate change are the ones that should be responsible for helping us clean up and deal with the problem they caused.” 

11 thoughts on “State Climate Bill to “Make the Polluters Pay” Kicked Off in Watertown

  1. So proud of Watertown and our advocates for climate sanity and equity. We will support this bill. Thank you.

  2. Worthless. Nothing more than an extortion racket – but I would not expect less from a MA legislator.

    You cannot equate this to the Arsenal pollution site, or any other pollution site where
    Oil-related products and waste were negligently stored or discarded. Oil companies are no more responsible for it than, say, ice cream companies are for an overweight population.

    Are you coming for my combustion engine motor vehicle next? Or my gas stove? Perhaps Owens can spend some time convincing the Chinese and Indian governments to stop using coal instead of lamenting how much money oil companies make. Good luck enforcing this if passed in the State; this bill will die at the Federal level – as it should.

    • Climate change is real and urgent. That’s a fact, despite all of the fears and ignorance from those afraid to face that reality.

      • Climate change is real but I disagree it is “urgent”. Show me any study that proves doing these things are actually going to help. Watertown’s plan to go all electric is a pipe dream. Electric power contributes to 25% of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. So tell me again why going all electric helps the environment? We’re a blimp on the radar here in the U.S. Nothing will change until we hold other countries accountable. Businesses shouldn’t have to pay for something that does nothing to help.

        • I’ll follow the United Nations and climate science experts about the urgency, thanks. It’s long been proven to be both real AND urgent!!

        • I agree with you for the most part. I see that those who oppose your view are unable to show any studies to support what they argue. It is always the vague, unidentified science experts who said something somewhere for us never to find out. Never the specific facts. Oh, the UN! Now that’s an institution that deserves our full confidence? NPR will be next.

  3. I am neither afraid nor ignorant; I just disagree with certain views based on propaganda. I would expect a full explanation from you explaining why climate change is real. Be aware that will require a lot, a lot of work. I await, however

    Better get rid of those pesky water vapor clouds, main contributors to green house effects. Good luck with that.

    In the interim, how did all you climate change believer’s predictions work out?

    A modicum of samples follow.

    Below are the 41 failed doomsday, eco-pocalyptic predictions:

    1. 1967: Dire Famine Forecast By 1975
    2. 1969: Everyone Will Disappear In a Cloud Of Blue Steam By 1989 (1969)
    3. 1970: Ice Age By 2000
    4. 1970: America Subject to Water Rationing By 1974 and Food Rationing By 1980
    5. 1971: New Ice Age Coming By 2020 or 2030
    6. 1972: New Ice Age By 2070
    7. 1974: Space Satellites Show New Ice Age Coming Fast
    8. 1974: Another Ice Age?
    9. 1974: Ozone Depletion a ‘Great Peril to Life (data and graph)
    10. 1976: Scientific Consensus Planet Cooling, Famines imminent
    11. 1980: Acid Rain Kills Life In Lakes (additional link)
    12. 1978: No End in Sight to 30-Year Cooling Trend (additional link)
    13. 1988: Regional Droughts (that never happened) in 1990s
    14. 1988: Temperatures in DC Will Hit Record Highs
    15. 1988: Maldive Islands will Be Underwater by 2018 (they’re not)
    16. 1989: Rising Sea Levels will Obliterate Nations if Nothing Done by 2000
    17. 1989: New York City’s West Side Highway Underwater by 2019 (it’s not)
    18. 2000: Children Won’t Know what Snow Is
    19. 2002: Famine In 10 Years If We Don’t Give Up Eating Fish, Meat, and Dairy
    20. 2004: Britain will Be Siberia by 2024
    21. 2008: Arctic will Be Ice Free by 2018
    22. 2008: Climate Genius Al Gore Predicts Ice-Free Arctic by 2013
    23. 2009: Climate Genius Prince Charles Says we Have 96 Months to Save World
    24. 2009: UK Prime Minister Says 50 Days to ‘Save The Planet From Catastrophe’
    25. 2009: Climate Genius Al Gore Moves 2013 Prediction of Ice-Free Arctic to 2014
    26. 2013: Arctic Ice-Free by 2015 (additional link)
    27. 2014: Only 500 Days Before ‘Climate Chaos’
    28. 1968: Overpopulation Will Spread Worldwide
    29. 1970: World Will Use Up All its Natural Resources
    30. 1966: Oil Gone in Ten Years
    31. 1972: Oil Depleted in 20 Years
    32. 1977: Department of Energy Says Oil will Peak in 1990s
    33. 1980: Peak Oil In 2000
    34. 1996: Peak Oil in 2020
    35. 2002: Peak Oil in 2010
    36. 2006: Super Hurricanes!
    37. 2005 : Manhattan Underwater by 2015
    38. 1970: Urban Citizens Will Require Gas Masks by 1985
    39. 1970: Nitrogen buildup Will Make All Land Unusable
    40. 1970: Decaying Pollution Will Kill all the Fish
    41. 1970s: Killer Bees!

    Update: I’ve added 9 additional failed predictions (via Real Climate Science) below to make it an even 50 for the number of failed eco-pocalyptic doomsday predictions over the last 50 years.

    42. 1975: The Cooling World and a Drastic Decline in Food Production
    43. 1969: Worldwide Plague, Overwhelming Pollution, Ecological Catastrophe, Virtual Collapse of UK by End of 20th Century
    44. 1972: Pending Depletion and Shortages of Gold, Tin, Oil, Natural Gas, Copper, Aluminum
    45. 1970: Oceans Dead in a Decade, US Water Rationing by 1974, Food Rationing by 1980
    46. 1988: World’s Leading Climate Expert Predicts Lower Manhattan Underwater by 2018
    47. 2005: Fifty Million Climate Refugees by the Year 2020
    48. 2000: Snowfalls Are Now a Thing of the Past
    49.1989: UN Warns That Entire Nations Wiped Off the Face of the Earth by 2000 From Global Warming
    50. 2011: Washington Post Predicted Cherry Blossoms Blooming in Winter

    But somehow this time will be different, and the ‘experts’ and 16-year olds of today will suddenly be correct in their new predictions of eco-doom and eco-disaster? Not.

    Accordingly, I don’t buy the doomsday scenarios you are fabricating to these days.

    Allow me to go back and check how well my substantial XOM (that’s Exxon Mobil) holdings are doing. Oh, nice!!

    Bye now.

    • I can find 50 fake headlines with a simply Google search. I can also find what the United Nations and climate scientists say. It’s here and it’s serious and it’s real. And as with the pandemic, I’ll listen to experts and not deniers.

  4. I’m sure you could. But that has nothing to do with the 50 predictions I posted. They are not fake. They were and are real – but wrong. They missed the mark, as many of today’s predictions designed to scare the gullible and poorly informed. Embrace the lies at your own peril.


  5. It’s so heartening to see the introduction of this important environmental protection bill. Thank you Rep. Steve Owens, Susan Falkoff, Lana Taffel and all the other dedicated activists in Watertown who have worked on this. And thank you Charlie Breitrose for an excellent summary article.

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