We're HIRING: Viaduct Project Liaison

Organizational Overview

GreenRoots, Inc., is a grassroots community-based organization with a 25-year track record of achieving significant environmental justice accomplishments and public health victories in Chelsea, Massachusetts and the Greater Boston region. The mission of GreenRoots is to achieve environmental justice and greater quality of life through collective action, unity, education and youth leadership across neighborhoods and communities. We do so through deep community engagement and empowerment, youth leadership and implementation of innovative projects and campaigns.

Job Overview

GreenRoots is seeking a Viaduct Project Liaison to serve as a resource between Chelsea residents and the City and MassDOT. The Viaduct Project Liaison will receive support and guidance from GreenRoots’ Organizing Staff and Leadership team. This position is a part-time (up to 20 hours per week), temporary position that will expire in June 2021.

Responsibilities include, but not limited to:

  • Provide support and bilingual communication for concerned and affected residents impacted by the construction work on the Tobin Bridge and Viaduct;

  • Conduct outreach to residents in impacted neighborhoods; disseminate information; build trust

  • Resolve issues and complaints between residents and DOT

  • Represent the GreenRoots and the City’s interests professionally with residents, MassDOT, local businesses and organizations

  • Attend all meetings and project updates regarding the Viaduct / Chelsea Curves Project

  • Communicate project changes/updates/activities, particularly those that could be nuisancesome, to residents

  • Track all resident and business inquiries and complaints related to viaduct; utilize and track 24-hr complaint hotline

  • Keep track of cases and length of time to resolve each issue -- communicate lags in addressing complaints to City of Chelsea and DOT -- so as to minimize long delays

  • Maintain information log, tracking: community outreach; meetings attended; project updates; status of complaint resolutions, etc.

  • Provide project information, where appropriate, on social media, in written media (both language outlets) and on radio Zumix.

  • Host community meetings and info sessions where appropriate

  • Provide bilingual flyers and contact information to closest and mostly likely to be impacted residents.

  • Other support as requested by the Executive Director and Associate Executive Director.


  • Strong customer service skills.

  • Ability, willingness and passion for door-knocking and resident engagement

  • Fluency in Spanish and English, oral and written

  • Experience designing flyers and other outreach materials.

  • Knowledge of Chelsea community and Viaduct Project recommended

  • Strong understanding and commitment to the principles of environmental and climate justice

  • Strong communication skills

  • Strong organizational and interpersonal skills

  • Ability to work in a team, as well as to take initiative and work independently

  • Ability to work and relate with a diverse range of people and organizations

  • Ability to navigate between governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and residents Ability to represent GreenRoots in a professional manner to a wide range of partners, institutions and community-based organizations

  • Ability to work evenings and weekends.

GreenRoots is looking for a Viaduct Project Liaison who is a quick learner, articulate and thoughtful. The ideal candidate will be enthusiastic, flexible, self-motivated, dependable, responsible and creative. Bilingual Chelsea residents are highly encouraged to apply.


Hourly rate $15-$18 per hour depending on experience.

To Apply:

Please send cover letter, resume and writing sample by Friday, November 8th, 2019 to Roseann Bongiovanni at RoseannB@GreenRootsChelsea.org.

We're HIRING: Transit and Environmental Community Organizer

Organizational Overview

GreenRoots, Inc., is a grassroots community-based organization with a 25-year track record of achieving significant environmental justice accomplishments and public health victories in Chelsea, Massachusetts and the Greater Boston region. The mission of GreenRoots is to achieve environmental justice and greater quality of life through collective action, unity, education and youth leadership across neighborhoods and communities. We do so through deep community engagement and empowerment, youth leadership and implementation of innovative projects and campaigns.

Job Overview

The Transit Justice Organizer will work closely with the Associate Executive Director to carry out a grassroots, base-building campaign that results in broad-based resident engagement, particularly the most ethnically and racially diverse, lowest income and hardest to reach residents who are most dependent on public transit and affected by environmental injustice. She/he/they will do this by engaging residents in regular community meetings as well as individual membership recruitment and development to address transit concerns and draw connections to broader structural issues of justice, equity and power in the transit system. The Transit Justice Organizer will work with our members to develop strategies that will bring more reliable, affordable and equitable public transit to our community. Together with the members, she/he/they will represent the community of Chelsea locally, regionally and state-wide in efforts to improve public transit in Chelsea and surrounding communities. Additionally, the Transit Justice Organizer will work to engage residents who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the Chelsea Creek, particularly the lowest income, most vulnerable and hardest to reach populations. He/She/They will work in partnership with the rest of the GreenRoots’ team to build on strategies of engagement, base building and political education around environmental justice, transit justice, climate justice and urban development.

Responsibilities include, but not limited to:

  • Work closely with directors and program staff to build a diverse base of residents engaged in GreenRoots’ work, particularly in our transit justice campaigns.

  • Lead and implement grassroots organizing efforts to engage transit riders, low-income residents, immigrants, people of color and youth in community meetings focusing on public transportation and related programs and campaigns.

  • Empower residents and develop strategies to address transportation injustices and inadequacies.

  • Build strong and broad base of transit rides.

  • Attend and mobilize for transit-related meetings in Chelsea, Boston and surrounding communities.

  • Engage residents, in particular the most marginalized, vulnerable to displacement and dependent on public transit, in city-wide planning processes.

  • Conduct outreach on local buses, at bus stops and train stations.

  • Engage and empower senior residents in Chelsea who are reliant on public transportation are engaged and empowered to advocate for change.

  • Ensure that residents feel engaged in and connected to GreenRoots organizational mission and vision.

  • Work with youth and adult members to further develop leadership skills.

  • Coordinate projects with city agencies and other community based agencies, as appropriate.

  • Plan, coordinate and/or provide assistance for special programs and events.

  • Represent GreenRoots at community meetings, partner events and meetings and in regional gatherings.

  • Provide social media support and implement opportunities to further GreenRoots work and messaging.

  • Other support as requested by the Executive Director and Associate Executive Director.


  • Four years of experience in community organizing

  • Strong understanding and commitment to the values and principles of grassroots organizing

  • Experience in working with immigrant communities

  • Required proficiency in English and Spanish: oral and written

  • Required knowledge of Chelsea’s community

  • Strong understanding and commitment to the principles of environmental and climate justice

  • Strong communication skills

  • Strong organizational and interpersonal skills

  • Ability to work in a team, as well as to take initiative and work independently

  • Ability to work and relate with a diverse range of people and organizations

  • Ability to motivate participation and community engagement

  • Ability to represent GreenRoots in a professional manner to a wide range of partners, institutions and community-based organizations

  • Ability to work some evenings and weekends.

GreenRoots is looking for a Transit Justice Organizer who is a quick learner, articulate and thoughtful. The ideal candidate will be enthusiastic, flexible, self-motivated, dependable, responsible and creative. Bilingual Chelsea residents are highly encouraged to apply.


Full-time salary range starting at $35K, depending on experience, and a healthy benefits package.

To Apply:

Please send cover letter, resume and writing sample by Friday, November 8th, 2019 to Roseann Bongiovanni at RoseannB@GreenRootsChelsea.org.

Chelsea residents see a powerful lesson in Puerto Rico’s 2017 hurricane devastation

The Boston Globe by Max Jungreis

Two years after Hurricane Maria roared into Puerto Rico, memories of its devastation and aftermath remain fresh in Chelsea’s Puerto Rican community. Some were there during the storm and endured the 11-month blackout that followed. Others experienced it from Chelsea, through the accounts of loved ones on the island.

The experience has driven people in Chelsea to embrace an experimental power project that would create a miniature backup electrical grid. The idea is to prevent the city from experiencing what took place in Puerto Rico.

“It was chaos,” said Chelsea resident Alexandria Christmas, recalling bleak communications from family members in Puerto Rico following Maria. “You [could not] drive at night; there was no electricity for stop lights.”

The so-called microgrid, which is still in the planning stage, would connect key buildings where residents might gather in the event of a natural disaster. The buildings would share power stored in batteries charged by solar power. City Hall has tentatively signed on to become a host for a pilot program, and the project’s organizers hope to expand to other institutions, like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and public housing.

The Chelsea project is part of a complex statewide effort to introduce microgrids to Massachusetts. A group called RUN-GJC is nearing completion of a study on the feasibility of the networks. It’s a coalition of energy industry professionals, scientists, community leaders and organizers, activists, and developers.

It may be difficult to imagine, but a power loss on the scale of what Puerto Rico endured in 2017 is possible in Massachusetts — and throughout the United States — according to the designers of the project.

“The architecture of our electric grid is the same in the US as it is in Puerto Rico,”said Dave Dayton of Clean Energy Solutions, a renewable energy consulting firm handling the technical design of the project. “The recovery is quicker here, because we have the infrastructure and the wealth and organizations to respond quickly,” Dayton said. “But the vulnerability is really the same. We still have basically a centralized system of power generation and distribution.”

The coalition’s members have a common goal, but different reasons for participating. For renewable energy experts working on the project without compensation, the grid is a passion project. For activists behind an offshoot in Chinatown, the project dovetails with local progressive values. In the case of Chelsea, residents who lived through Puerto Rico’s long blackout want to avoid repeating the past.

“If something like that were to happen in Massachusetts, and it was January or February . . . how are elderly people going to survive in a building that has no heating capacity?” said Sylvia Ramirez, a Puerto Rican transplant who visited the island in 2017 after the hurricane to help her family.

Ramirez was shocked by the condition of her coastal hometown, Arecibo. A familiar gas station had its roof ripped off. Power lines were strung across highways. Trees were bent in the direction the wind had blown them, in a way that reminded her of a hand changing the pattern of fibers in a carpet. But the thing that struck her the most was how hard it was to get a glass of cold water in the sweltering heat.

With no power for air conditioning or refrigeration, she and her family camped out overnight for rationed bags of ice.

“We took turns sleeping in the car so we could all make the line the next morning, because they opened at eight o’clock in the morning,” she said.

Living through the island’s blackout drove home the importance of maintaining power for Ramirez and other Puerto Ricans in Chelsea. When the local environmental group GreenRoots polled community members at an event to see what issues were highest priority to them, they were surprised to find the microgrid project — something the organization was only marginally involved in – was near the top of many people’s lists.

“Honestly, we were all shocked,” said María Belén Power of GreenRoots. “It’s such a wonky technical project.”

GreenRoots is now the main organizer of the Chelsea branch of the project. Through the group’s long-term relationships with city institutions, the study has caught the attention of important people at places like City Hall.

“We wholeheartedly jumped on board on the feasibility study,” said Chelsea’s Department of Public Works commissioner, Fidel Maltez. “We have signed on to the idea, to the concept, of being the first community-organized microgrid.”

But Maltez made it clear such an endeavor would require financial support the small city cannot provide on its own.

“But I know that in conversations with a few of those counselors, they are excited and supportive of the work,” Maltez said. “We have to review the feasibility studies and see what actual funding opportunities are out there for implementation.”

For proponents, the project is a necessity.

“People take for granted how much we use certain things,” Ramirez said, “like having clean water and being able to drink a cold glass of water . . . I think it’s important to have a plan B.”

Piling on the burdens in Chelsea and East Boston

Boston Globe by Yvonne Abraham

Are we really going to force yet more potentially hazardous ugliness upon the people of Chelsea and East Boston? Don’t they already host enough of the awful infrastructure others don’t want to look at, without a new electrical substation as well?

On Condor Street in Eastie, it’s easy to see both the mess we’ve visited upon these communities, and how much better it might be.

Every few minutes, low-flying jets scream on their way out of Logan. A few steps away, the unsightly, back-of-house operations that make a metropolis work are dumped along the banks of the Chelsea Creek: Huge salt piles that serve hundreds of towns, giant fuel tanks, warehouses, parking lots, rusty metal outcroppings.


But turn away from the water, and you will find the Condor Street urban wild, a pretty little parcel of meadow grasses and salt marsh set by the water’s edge, and American Legion Playground, with its gorgeous ball field, and spots to sit and see the sky.

Eagle Hill has earned a lot more of that.

Instead, it seems likely it will get a new electrical substation, courtesy of Eversource. Its $62 million cost will be borne by ratepayers.

The plant is a couple of state approvals from coming to pass, despite the efforts of local environmental activists — led by Chelsea nonprofit GreenRoots — to stop it. And the neighborhood is getting zero help from City Hall because the mayor is legally required to sit this one out.

There is a lot here to trouble neighbors, and the rest of us. The proposed site is flood-prone now, and will be much more so in coming decades with sea levels rising. Eversource says the design of the plant takes account of flooding projections, but those opposing the project have done their own projections, and say Eversource is underestimating the danger here — especially in the long term.

They worry about the risk of fire or explosion, especially given the fact that the substation would be just 800 feet from a tank filled with millions of gallons of jet fuel, and on the edge of a neighborhood full of wooden-framed houses that would be very hard to evacuate if a disaster struck.

GreenRoots’ experts question whether the substation is really necessary, given that energy needs appear to be decreasing, statewide.

Eversource says the substation is vital, because one over the creek in Chelsea is nearing capacity, and development in East Boston and other growing neighborhoods brings the potential for overload.

“We understand the concerns,” said Bob Clarke, the company’s director of siting. “But these stations are in every community you can think of. . . . It has been vetted extensively . . . and we do believe that this is a good location.” He says the plant is super firesafe.

He might be right. But why is it this already hard-pressed community that has to test his assertions?

You may be wondering where the mayor is in all of this. Boxed in, is where. The deal to put a substation here was seeded in 2010, when Eversource — then NStar — did a land swap at the request of then-mayor Tom Menino. The energy company turned over a parcel it owned on the East Boston Greenway for what would eventually become a gleaming new public library. In return, the city gave the company land on East Eagle Street.

Now that bill has come due, and the people who have to pay it are on their own. They’ll get no help from their mayor, because, as part of the final land transfer last year, Walsh agreed that the city would not get in the way of the project, or support those opposing it.

The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board is currently deciding whether the substation can go ahead. GreenRoots, other environmental groups, and elected officials including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley have called on Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides to reopen the question of whether the plant is necessary.

The people of Eagle Hill deserve at least that. Lord knows, they’ve given enough.


DigBoston by Erin Nolan

Mireya, an immigrant from Colombia, loves living in East Boston, her home of more than 20 years. She knows the neighborhood well—the bustle of Maverick Square during rush hour, the smattering of Latinx-owned shops and businesses, the low rumble of airplanes overhead. 

It is home.

About two years ago, Mireya started to notice some new faces in the area. They were younger, and whiter than she was used to seeing in East Boston. She welcomed the newcomers, who she said were friendly and looking for an affordable place to live.

But these fresh faces were followed by less welcome changes to the neighborhood. As the story often goes, soon after these millennials moved in, so did developers who built huge luxury apartment complexes blocking the waterfront views that residents enjoyed for years. Landlords began raising rents by hundreds of dollars without warning and favoring leases with less commitment.

“They are moving in and pushing us out,” said Mireya, who asked that only her first name be used for privacy reasons, in Spanish. “We pay less rent, but landlords know that they can charge students more.”

Many of these newcomers are students from universities downtown like Emerson College, Northeastern University, Fisher College, and Suffolk University. Others are graduate students or young professionals.

“It was the pricetag, mostly. It’s the last cheaper place in Boston,” said Dante Flores, a recent Emerson graduate, on why he chose to move to Eastie during his last two years of undergrad. “Also, it’s just a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood, mostly immigrants. It reminds me of where I grew up in Dallas.”

Eastie bound 

East Boston has been welcoming to new residents dating back to the mid-1800s, when Irish and Canadian immigrants made it their home and worked mainly in the shipyards or later as carpenters, construction workers, and clerks. It was primarily Irish immigrants who drained the swamps and built the wharves, connecting what was once five separate islands and defining the landscape of East Boston as we know it today.

In the early 1900s, Irish and Canadian immigrants began to be outnumbered by people from Russia, Portugal, and Italy. After World War I, ethnic Italians began moving to East Boston in droves, both from within the United States and from Italy, transforming the identity of the neighborhood. Pockets of Italians remain in East Boston today, many of them with roots dating back to this time.

Latin American and Asian immigrant populations, meanwhile, many of whom were fleeing war, genocide, economic troubles, and drug-related violence, began to take root in the area during the second half of the 20th century.

“I moved into Eastie 15 years ago, and the neighborhood was already at that point half Latino, mostly immigrant, and my husband and I are both Latino, and so it was very comfortable for us,” said Neenah Estrella-Luna, an East Boston community activist and expert on urban planning and issues related to social inequality. She currently teaches classes about racial and social inequality at Salem State University.

“Mostly working-class folks, both the Latinos and the remaining white population that were there, mainly Italian heritage people because it had been an Italian enclave since the early 20th century,” Estrella-Luna continued. “Fifteen, even 10 years ago, that’s what you would see. The only difference really between maybe 20 years ago and 10 years ago is that the Latino population has increased significantly.”

Roy Antonuccio Jr., the owner of Roy’s Cold Cuts on Marion Street in East Boston, said this wave of newcomers is just more of “the same old same old.”

“Right now, there’s a lot of young people coming in, but right before that there was an influx of Spanish people,” Antonuccio said. “Before the Spanish people, back then, it was the Italians [who] were the Spanish people. It was Irish people before that. So when I was a kid, if there was going to be any kind of racism going on, it was against the Italian people. It’s always the same thing. It’s just a different cast of characters every time. It’s just the same stuff gets rehashed. But as far as neighborhoods go, it’s always been a melting pot here.”

Lydia Edwards, the Boston city councilor who represents East Boston, noted that while Eastie has always been “an immigrant haven,” there is a different flavor this time around.

“It’s a neighborhood that changes in waves. It is made for newcomers,” Edwards said. “But I think the difference is that our newcomers have always come and stayed in East Boston. They laid roots there. We had Russian Jews, and then Irish. We had Italians. Now we have a lot of Central Americans, and we also have a wave of Japanese. But what’s different now is, at least with the final wave, people are feeling they’re being pushed out. 

“The wave isn’t permanent,” Edwards added. “They’re not here to pick up roots in East Boston. A lot of them are paying exorbitant rents, at levels that are just not sustainable for 20-30 years. They’re going to rent for a couple years, have a beautiful view of Boston, and then go someplace else.”

“Students are a massive gentrifying force,” she said. “But they’re not a permanent gentrifying force.”

Naomi Rodriguez, who has lived in East Boston for seven years, said this wave of university students and young professionals is changing how the rental market operates in the neighborhood.

“It affects us so much,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “Our kids are here and we feel like this is our home. It affects our kids and makes us feel like we have to migrate again.”

Four years ago, Rodriguez moved into a small, run-down four-room apartment with an open lease, meaning there was no specified amount of time which she had to live there.

“[Landlords] give these open leases so they can take advantage of that and take advantage of all of us. They took advantage of us when they needed us, but now they don’t need us anymore, so they want to kick us out,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what happened to me four years ago; they gave me an open lease. I could leave whenever I wanted to. They made it look like I had the position of power, where I could leave whenever I wanted, but in reality, they knew what they were doing.”

Rodriguez said her landlord increased her rent from $1,900 per month to $2,100 per month only seven months after she moved in.

“I couldn’t pay the increased rent,” she said. “So they sent me a notice and wanted me to move out.”

Open leases are increasingly common, according to Rodriguez, which worries her. She sought help with City Life/Vida Urbana, a Jamaica Plain-based organization focused on promoting tenant rights and preventing housing displacement.

“They [landlords] are not going to want the families that used to live here, or the workers that used to live in East Boston. They’re going to want the students,” Estrella-Luna said. “Because students come in and come out, because they’re so [transient], you don’t have to worry about, What if somebody actually wants a two-year lease, and then I can’t kick them out. You know, and take advantage of a rapid change in the market.”


Dramatic rent increases not only affects the renting market for those looking to settle down in East Boston, but also the businesses that many of these people own.

“For those of us who have lived in the neighborhood a long time, especially the Latinos, particularly for the undocumented community, having your own businesses is really one of the few safe ways to be economically stable and have some kind of roots in the community,” Estrella-Luna added. “With all of the displacement that’s happening because of the city-supported gentrification, we are actually at risk of losing even those businesses. So it would not surprise me if five years from now, even some of the Latino-owned restaurants are shutting down and being replaced by something else.

“The businesses that are going to do fine … Kelly’s Pub is going to be fine. Roy’s Cold Cuts is going to be fine. The larger Latino-owned restaurants are going to be okay. But you’re not going to see these students—particularly international students, but definitely not the white American students—going into any of these Spanish-speaking barber shops to get their hair done, right? Even though they would spend less money and get a better haircut. They’re going to lose clientele. So they’re going to end up closing because the students don’t go to those places.”

“They [students and young professionals] don’t consume the same things we consume,” said Mireya, who noted that smaller grocers and international shops are already struggling. “Some businesses are slowing down—places that only sell hispanic foods, those shops that bring specific products from our home countries.”

Flores, the recent Emerson grad, said he has had some interaction with nonstudent residents in corner stores and restaurants.

“As a college student, I don’t really have a lot of time to do a ton of community organizing and stuff like that,” he said. “Obviously some people are able to do that, but I never was able to do that. The extent of my interaction with the rest of Eastie was shopping locally and eating out, because that’s what I had time to do.”

The other students

Rodriguez said the number of short-term residents moving into East Boston is also impacting grade schools, as less people overall are raising children in the area.

“We don’t have enough students,” Rodriguez said. Last year, she reported, more than a dozen children left the James Otis Elementary School district primarily because their families were displaced. She added, “They will cut the budget for our schools. We won’t have enough resources and funds for our kids to have everything they need for a good education.”

According to Lydia Edwards, in just one year, there was an approximately 20% drop in students at East Boston High School primarily due to displacement.

“We just got our budget cut $1.2 million just from the high school,” the councilor said. “We lost 13 teachers just at East Boston High School. That was just one year. … We lost 200 students in one year. So they’re projecting that we won’t have the students, and they budgeted for that and cut us $1.2 million. So displacement is hurting our schools. It’s hurting our businesses. It’s hurting our housing stock.”

Edwards said the East Boston population is very aware of what is going on.

“I think for a lot of them, they wonder how much the city’s really invested in their school succeeding. They’re not dumb. They know why their friends aren’t going there anymore. … They were very cognizant.”

Rodriguez said her son, who has special needs, has directly felt the impact. He regularly saw a behavioral specialist at James Otis Elementary School until funding was cut.

“Now I have to find a therapist to help my son, because he is behind now since he lost this resource,” Rodriguez said. “These are just some of the consequences [of students displacing long-term residents] I mentioned before. They are cutting staff because they don’t have enough money to pay staff.”

‘Now we suffer’

Despite young people moving into East Boston having a variety of effects on long-settled communities, most don’t seem to harbor negative feelings toward the new arrivals.

“I’m not upset that they’re moving there. We didn’t plan for them either. We should have,” Edwards said about how the city never made proper accommodations for the rising numbers of students flocking to Boston and living off-campus. “We should demand more from the schools [universities]. They should be building more for their students. I mean, I’m not going to get upset at some 20-year-old who is just looking for a place to live.”

“I can’t blame students for taking advantage of the opportunity to find housing that’s less expensive off campus,” Estrella-Luna said. “They don’t know that what they’re doing is actually having this other negative effect. That’s happening because the city created and made decisions 20 years ago, and then kept making those decisions in the last 10 years, that now we have to suffer.”

Antonuccio, the owner of Roy’s Cold Cuts, said he thinks that overall, the students are having a positive effect on Eastie.

“Some people just don’t like [change],” he said. “But that’s the way it goes. Everything changes. … I’m just glad that it stayed a good neighborhood with really no crime to speak of here. I love it here. 

According to Antonuccio, newcomers have inspired the city to make necessary changes to places that were once considered dangerous.

“To be honest, I don’t think I could afford to live here if I wasn’t already living here,” he added. “I own this house. But it is tough. … When I was a kid, Piers Park, you been down there? There was nothing down there. It was like something you’d see in the movies where the mafia would drop dead bodies, like a mess down there. It was nothing. … They’re making it better for everybody coming in now.”

Mireya disagreed.

“We will lose the connection, the tight community we have in our neighborhood,” she said of more transient renters. “We won’t get to know our neighbors.”

According to Edwards, her office is working to try and prevent the rapid gentrification of East Boston and the dramatic rent increases, but she worries about all of the developers looking to buy their way into the neighborhood.

“If that is done like all the other developments, like what happened with the Seaport, it’ll be ‘Boston East,’” she said, turning her voice up to reference the new luxury waterfront apartment complex near Maverick Square. “But if it’s done and truly creates a neighborhood, I think it will remain East Boston, the welcoming place for newcomers where you can start out or you can grow, where you can build a family.”

Addressing the Climate Emergency Could Deliver A Big Payday to Transit

StreetBlog Mass by Christian MilNeil

At a public workshop in Chelsea Tuesday evening, Massachusetts officials said that they are committed to improving air quality and funding better transit options, particularly in low-income and racially diverse communities, while they design a new “cap and invest” program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia are collaborating under the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to agree on new policies aimed at reducing climate-heating emissions from fossil-fueled vehicles.

The program is modeled on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has been regulating emissions from the region’s electric power plants since 2008. By making  fossil-fueled power plants pay for the emissions they generate, RGGI has encouraged utilities to shut down older coal-burning plantswhile also generating billions in new public revenue that states have used to fund energy efficiency programs and to lower residents’ electric bills.

Now, many of the same states that participate in RGGI are looking to apply the same concept to the transportation sector, which is the region’s biggest source of climate-heating pollution.

Petroleum-related greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts since 1990. While homes, businesses and power plants have dramatically reduced their oil consumption, fuel use for cars and trucks has increased in recent years. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In introductory remarks at Tuesday’s workshop in Chelsea, Kate Fichter, Assistant Secretary at MassDOT, warned that regulating millions of exhaust pipes across the northeast will be more difficult than regulating a few dozen regional power plants.

“Transportation has been a very challenging nut to crack,” said Fichter. “But that is what we are trying to do here with this effort.”

To receive feedback and build support for the potential program, state officials have been hosting a series of community engagement workshops across the state this summer to talk about TCI’s potential benefits.

The Chelsea workshop’s attendees, gathered in a school cafeteria located just across the tracks from the oil terminals that line Chelsea Creek, were mostly focused on improving public transit and improving air quality in the communities that suffer the worst health impacts from highway pollution.

“We want to ground this conversation in the communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis, and for any and all revenue (from TCI) to be invested in equitable ways,” said Maria Belén Power of GreenRoots, a Chelsea environmental justice nonprofit.

In 2016, Massachusetts motorists pumped about 32 million metric tons of climate-baking pollution into our skies. If TCI charges gasoline and diesel fuel suppliers $15 per ton of pollution – a price similar to what California’s most recent cap-and-trade auctions yielded – then Massachusetts would receive roughly $480 million in new revenue.

In his recent transportation bond proposal, Governor Baker suggested that “up to half” of new revenue from TCI could be earmarked for transit.

These new funds may not fill the MBTA’s $10 billion repair backlog on their own. But the program could make a substantial difference to the state’s Regional Transit Authorities, which currently get only $87 million a year in state funding, or provide a hearty down payment on key MBTA projects like theRed-Blue connector.

The participating states hope to have a draft TCI policy framework ready this fall, and it will take several more months to finalize the new rules and get final approval from all participating jurisdictions. It will be 2021 at the earliest before Massachusetts will start collecting funds from the program.

The state will host a sixth and final regional workshop to discuss potential TCI policies at Bristol Community College in Fall River on August 22.

State transportation policies fail communities of color

More can be done to address public health and environmental inequities

CommonWealth Magazine by Maria Belen Power and Chris Demsey

IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND the intersection of public health, transportation, and the environment, come visit Chelsea.   

Though just 2.5 square miles and one of the densest municipalities in the state, the community is cut in two by Route 1 and the Tobin Bridge. It hosts one of the largest fruit and vegetable distribution centers in the country — bringing hundreds of diesel-fueled trucks onto its streets day after day. Oil tanks dotting the shores of the brackish Chelsea Creek store all of the jet fuel used by Logan Airport and a staggering three-quarters of the region’s home heating fuel supply.  

As a result, Chelsea is home to some of the worst air quality in the state. The people of Chelsea suffer from the highest rates of asthma hospitalizations of any community in Massachusetts. The airborne particulate matter spewed by vehicle tailpipes leads to higher rates of heart disease for elderly residents, greater risk of complications for pregnant mothers, and lower test scores for students. Chelsea’s environmental and public health burdens demonstrate the many ways that the Commonwealth’s transportation policies are failing working-class communities of color.  

Those inequities also extend to opportunities to access jobs. Despite its density and proximity to employment centers, Chelsea is poorly served by quality public transit. Chelsea’s lifeline to Downtown Boston is the #111 bus, which serves more than 12,000 trips per day. But as traffic backs up on the Tobin Bridge, that bus can regularly take 45 minutes or more to go 2.7 miles from central Chelsea to its terminus at Haymarket — an average speed of less than 4 miles per hour. It would be faster to walk or bike over the Tobin, but MassDOT long ago made both of those activities illegal. Instead, Chelsea residents trying to get to work or appointments cram like sardines onto buses. The MBTA’s new “Silver Line III” service has added a new transit option, but this bus still gets stuck in vehicular traffic in the Ted Williams Tunnel; and it halts completely each time the Chelsea Street Drawbridge is raised to accommodate those fuel deliveries on Chelsea Creek. The commuter rail line through Chelsea serves just one stop (Wellesley, a community with just three-quarters of the population of Chelsea, has three stops). 

These transportation inequities and negative public health outcomes impact similar communities all over the Commonwealth. Springfield was named the asthma capital of the United States by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, and yet its regional transit authority that provides critical bus service in Springfield was forced to cut routes and hours due to lack of funding. Because state aid for local roads includes a weighting for lane-miles, dense, urban, Lawrence receives half as much funding per-capita ($17) as sprawling, wealthy communities such as Concord ($38) or Lincoln ($40). As our climate warms, many urban communities will suffer increased flooding from non-porous road infrastructure and the “heat-island” effect of all that concrete and asphalt, further exacerbating air quality and public health outcomes. 

Our organizations, T4MA and GreenRoots, take different but complementary approaches to addressing these fundamental problems. We recognize that in order to improve equity for communities like Chelsea, our advocacy needs to be fierce, flexible, and focused on the right policies and policymakers. GreenRoots works on the front lines of Chelsea’s transportation challenges.

This grassroots approach seeks to improve transit justice, environmental justice, and public health by fighting for improved transit service on the #111, #116/117 and other key bus routes, advocating for safer street infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, and working with local stakeholders to convert delivery trucks to cleaner vehicles. T4MA works at the state level to advocate for reduced congestion on the Tobin Bridge and other regional roads through smarter tolling, more robust state investment in transit from progressive revenue sources, and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions through environmental reforms like the Transportation & Climate Initiative. 

Any of these policies hold promise — and all of them must make progress in the year ahead. However, they need to be developed and shaped by a broad base of stakeholders, primarily including the communities most impacted by transit and environmental injustices. As we transition from a fossil fuel economy to a regenerative and renewable one, we have to work together to ensure those most-impacted by the climate crisis are at the forefront of the green economy.

If we get it right, the result will be well-paying jobs for working class communities, electrification of bus fleets in environmental justice communities, and meaningful investments in public transit infrastructure like the MBTA and regional transit authorities. The future of Chelsea and communities like it will be more equitable, healthier, and more resilient if, and only if, the policies we develop today are based on principles of equity and environmental justice.  

María Belén Power is the associate executive director of GreenRoots, based in Chelsea. Chris Dempsey is the director of the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition.