Former Somerville mayor expands focus on climate

The longtime former mayor of Somerville, Mass., is moving into a new position as chairman of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.

Joseph Curtatone, who took over leadership of the regional clean energy group in January, is responsible for expanding the organization’s focus to include equity and environmental justice.

As the North East struggles to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, Curtatone sees an opportunity to better unite industry and policymakers to decarbonize in a way that ensures traditionally disadvantaged groups share in the benefits.

“Our mission now is to lead a just and rapid transition to a clean and equitable energy future,” Curtatone said. “As we seek to do the work around climate action, we need to amplify the voices that have the strongest connection to pain.”

“All our work is linked”

The energy council, known as NECEC, was founded in 2006 to be a voice for the emerging clean energy industry in New England. Today, it has expanded to New York and has thousands of members across the region. In recent years, he has lobbied for adoption of 100% clean electricity policies at the state level, continued purchases of offshore wind power and battery storage capacity, and participation in regional efforts. clean transport like the discontinued Transport and Climate Initiative.

Curtatone’s concern for the environment emerged during his tenure as city alderman in the late 1990s, when he realized that helping the young, old and other residents needed attention. particular to issues such as open spaces, air pollution and recycling. Curtatone himself has ongoing respiratory issues which he attributes to growing up near the busy McGrath Highway, he said.

As he immersed himself in civic work — eight years on city council and nine terms as mayor that ended in 2021 — climate change work became a natural part of supporting his constituents, he said. -he declares.

“As mayor, I learned early on how all of our work is connected,” he said. “I really took the approach of seeing the community as this complex ecosystem.”

Somerville, a town of 81,000 just north of Boston, changed rapidly during Curtatone’s tenure. Once often considered an equally popular cousin of nearby Cambridge, Somerville is now a community renowned for its smart development, progressive ideals and environmental action. In 2018, the city released a 22-part action plan to mitigate climate change, adapt to its effects, and ensure equity. An extension of the metro line in the city operation started in March.

As a result, Curtatone was a natural candidate for the position at NECEC when it first opened, said Greg King, a board member who co-chaired the search committee after former president Peter Rothstein announced his departure. King said the organization has become somewhat insular, focusing too narrowly on promoting policies to strengthen clean energy companies. In seeking a new leader, the council wanted someone who could help expand the council’s business and reach into the field of environmental justice.

“We saw a need to inject new blood, a new spirit,” King said. “Joe comes to the organization with a genuine interest in trying to expand influence.”

The industry as a leader

In Curtatone’s new role, he said, his strategy will be inspired by his time presiding over the transformation of his hometown. To translate this approach into his work on the board, he said, he will focus on developing a central, shared vision of the organization’s goals and measure every choice against those goals.

“Somerville was able to transcend and move forward as a community because we spoke with one voice,” he said.

He cited, for example, the green line extension project. The state first announced plans to extend the subway line in 1990. The next 32 years were marked by debates, lawsuits, and delays. Throughout it all, Curtatone said, Somerville residents and leaders continued to push for the project, which the community believed would open up economic opportunity while reducing pollution.

“I was overwhelmed with the emotion of ‘Oh my god, it’s finally here,'” he said. ” The green Line [extension] is a testimony to the people of Somerville, their values, their tenacious and relentless activism to pursue not just what was promised, but what was right.

Achieving the goal of just clean energy growth will require the speed and new ideas that the private sector can offer, along with supportive policies and funding from public leaders, Curtatone said.

Among his first moves to harness private sector innovation, he chose a new location for the council’s offices, moving the Boston operation to Somerville’s Greentown Labs, a business incubator that houses tech start-ups. clean. NECEC was already looking for a new space and Greentown matched Curtatone’s vision for the future of the organization.

“If we’re going to talk seriously and truly about innovation in climate tech and clean tech, we need to see it up close,” Curtatone said. “The ideas and innovations coming out of Greentown will have a global impact, so it’s important for us to be at the deep end of this work, to see it up close.”

Politically, he intends to focus on action at the city level. He envisions a system for sharing and scaling best practices from cities, like Somerville, that have taken action to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change with communities that are still figuring out the right ones. policies.

However, the willingness to listen to stakeholders at all levels will be crucial to the success of this plan, he said.

“Makers affect the market,” he said. “But industry needs to be in the lead with us – we shouldn’t just rely on the public sector to solve this problem.”

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