Campaign contributions surged from the state’s gas providers to a key legislator amid climate negotiations. Plus, Eversource enters the governor’s race
Amid a last-minute push to pass a broad climate bill before the end of the 2022 Massachusetts legislative session, campaign contributions from the state’s major gas providers flowed to one of the bill’s lead negotiators.
Executives and employees of National Grid and Eversource donated nearly $9,000 to State Representative Jeff Roy’s reelection campaign in the month leading up to the bill’s initial passage through the state legislature. Roy was one of the two co-chairs of the conference committee tasked with crafting a compromise between the House and Senate bills.
These donations ranged from $200 to $1,000 ($1,000 is the annual limit for individual campaign donations in state races). The contributions from Eversource employees were all filed on the same day, July 19, while the donations from National Grid employees were filed on June 29. The conference committee was appointed in early May and reached an official compromise on July 21.
Roy also received an additional $1,900 in donations from two members of a lobbying firm employed by National Grid, a VP at Enbridge/Spectra, and a utility consulting executive from Texas.
These donations amount to a significant fundraising haul — for context, Roy has averaged less than $7,000 in campaign fundraising per month this year (not including data from July). Roy is running unopposed in his upcoming election.
Without intimate insider knowledge, it is difficult to say whether or not these donations had any impact on the climate bill that sits on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.
The bill does include several aspects that limit the power of National Grid and Eversource. If passed, it would take away the ability of utility companies to choose the winning bid on wind-power projects, and would curtail some of their power in charting the future of natural gas in the state. Some environmental groups have praised Roy for passing the bill and helping to orchestrate a quick response to the amendments made by the governor before the end of the legislative session.
But as the climate crisis accelerates, the climate bill could have gone further in its attempts to wean the state off of natural gas. For example — while the bill would create a pilot program allowing up to 10 municipalities (of its 351 towns and cities) to ban gas hookups in new buildings, any bans could not extend to labs and healthcare facilities and participating cities and towns would have to meet an affordable housing threshold to qualify.
Ultimately, because the work of the conference committee isn’t conducted in a public manner, Massachusetts residents are left to speculate.
“It’s curious that someone who won his last election with nearly 95% of the vote would merit maximum donations from top executives at the same utilities his committee is tasked with regulating,” noted Timmons Roberts, an environmental studies professor at Brown University whose research has exposed the historical success of utility companies in opposing climate policy in Massachusetts.
“This doesn’t show impropriety or the breaking of laws. What it does show is how influence works in the Commonwealth,” Roberts added.
Joshua Basseches, an assistant professor of public policy and environmental studies at Tulane University, echoed Roberts’ statements. Basseches’ research focuses on the political influence of utility companies.
“Investor-owned utilities (like Eversource and National Grid) are the single most influential type of business actor when it comes to state-level climate and energy policymaking,” Basseches said. “Campaign contributions are one important tool in their toolkit (but far from the only one).”
Roy has yet to respond to requests for a comment on this story.
The bill is now out of the hands of the legislature, which would not have an opportunity to override a veto from Gov. Baker following the end of the 2022 legislative session.
For more detailed coverage on the content of the bill, check out the work of Dharna Noor of the Boston Globe and WBUR’s Miriam Wasser:
Eversource enters Gov. race
Another detail that caught my attention when searching through campaign finance records: following a period of relative inactivity, Eversource executives and employees gave approximately $15,000 to Attorney General Maura Healey’s campaign for Massachusetts Governor in the month of June. These contributions ranged from $200 to $1000. Healey has also received nearly $15,000 from National Grid employees since the start of the year. No other candidate has received a similar level of financial support from utility executives.
Healey is dominating in the polls, so it seems likely to me that the recent contributions have more to do with building goodwill with the incoming governor than influencing the outcome of this race.
The state’s major gas providers could be facing a major shift in the political landscape if voters give Democrats control of all branches of state government this fall. How these companies respond to a state government increasingly antagonistic to natural gas and other sources of greenhouse emissions remains a major question.
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Jon is a freelance journalist and a senior at Colorado College. He oversees the school's student publications and covers environmental issues for the Catalyst newspaper. Sign up for his newsletter at newenglandclimate.substack.com.