Though supportive, Selectmen say Energy Action Committee warrant article needs more study

March 4, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

Energy Action Committee member Michael Reive considers the phrase "climate crisis" to be "poignant" at this time.

"It's coming to a head, and we [as a town] need to take responsibility [for our part]," he told the Selectmen Tuesday night. "I'd like Hingham to be a leader on this issue. We need to figure out how to address the climate crisis responsibly and cost-effectively."

Following a lengthy conversation about the EAC's proposed Town Meeting warrant article seeking to create a climate action plan geared toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions within all of Hingham by 80 to 100 percent on or before 2050, the effort took a different direction.

At the beginning of the discussion, Reive said that on Monday night when the EAC met, committee members were deadlocked on whether to withdraw the article for this year, so the plan to meet with the selectmen moved forward without a definitive decision.

While the selectmen support the concept in principle, they questioned the process. In their opinion the article needs to be researched and its goals socialized more before presenting it on the floor of Town Meeting. Otherwise, the board said, the article would be unlikely to pass.

"There are a lot of folks and various stakeholders -- such as the school department and the harbor development committee [which is proposing raising three of the town's wharves in response to past and expected future sea-level rise] who would want to be part of this," Selectmen Chair Karen Johnson said.

Selectman Mary Power noted the selectmen/EAC's shared goals of not wanting the article to fail and a sense of urgency about the issue. "We will have to spend some money on this and create some policies," she said. "There will be a day at Town Meeting, with more specific asks [presented to voters if we wait]." Grants may be available.

Laura Burns said she was "astonished" at the number of people who are willing to help with the effort, some due to feelings of anxiety.

Ultimately the selectmen, Reive, and other article supporters agreed that forming a task force comprised of knowledgeable citizens and town staff -- perhaps with input from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council -- would put the committee in a better position to potentially present the article at Town Meeting 2021 with successful results  The Cleaner Greener Hingham Committee has expressed an interest in participating in the process.

"We don't need Town Meeting approval to takes this initial step," Power said.

Resident Elliott Place, who attended a few EAC meetings, asked what the incentive would be to move ahead with this effort if not presented to citizens as a warrant article.  Johnson said the selectmen's willingness to involve town staff in the process -- "We're usually stingy about doing that!" -- is a sign of the selectmen's commitment to this issue. "This is not just lip service," she said. "We're on the same page, and we'll figure this out."

The idea is to build a consensus among townspeople beforehand, "rather than to just focus on winning the vote," Town Administrator Tom Mayo said.
Selectman Joseph Fisher said there's "clearly urgency in trying to figure out the best way forward."

All three selectmen voted "no action" on the article itself.

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