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Candidates vary on global warming

Key issues debated at gubernatorial forum

Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein and Governor Deval Patrick chatted after last night’s gubernatorial forum as Ian Bowles, state secretary of energy and environment, looked on. Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein and Governor Deval Patrick chatted after last night’s gubernatorial forum as Ian Bowles, state secretary of energy and environment, looked on. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / June 30, 2010

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Three candidates for governor expressed sharp differences last night over global warming, the Cape Wind project, and the cleanliness of the state’s parks at a gubernatorial forum dedicated to environmental issues.

Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, highlighted his backing of Cape Wind and his support for a greenhouse gas reduction initiative with neighboring states, while defending his cuts in environmental programs and some tax incentives his administration has provided to so-called green technology companies, which have been sharply criticized by his opponents.

Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein repeatedly challenged Patrick from the left, saying he was merely defending “business as usual’’ on the environment. She vowed to take a much more aggressive approach in promoting more wind farms and banning potentially toxic substances that she said are leading to chronic diseases and higher health care costs.

State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent, said that as a “market-driven politician,’’ he could only promise environmentalists a “seat at the table’’ but nothing more until the economy improves.

“I don’t believe I’ll be able to compete for your affections with Governor Patrick and Dr. Stein,’’ he told the audience of about 200 at Boston’s Old South Meeting House.

The fourth candidate in the race, Republican Charles D. Baker, skipped the forum, saying it conflicted with a previously scheduled campaign fund-raiser. He sent in his place House minority leader Bradley H. Jones Jr., who sought to clarify Baker’s position on global warning and to dispel the perception that Republicans do not care about the environment.

“For Massachusetts Republicans, that couldn’t be further from the truth,’’ he said.

The event was sponsored by about 30 environmental groups, and each of the candidates spoke separately for about 20 minutes before fielding questions.

Cape Wind, which plans to build about 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, was a major focus. Patrick said the project would promote renewable energy while costing consumers on average an additional $1.59 a month in electricity costs.

“On balance, Cape Wind is right for Massachusetts and right for the country,’’ he said to applause.

Stein, however, called it just “one demonstration’’ of wind power and said the country should be constructing “hundreds of thousands of wind towers’’ to reduce its dependence on oil. Cahill blasted Cape Wind, contending it would lead to “enormous costs’’ that would hurt consumers and businesses. Baker, too, opposes Cape Wind, arguing it will drive up the cost of electricity.

The candidates also laid out different views on global warming. Asked about Baker’s skeptical statements in the past about global warming, Jones said that Baker told him that he lacks the technical background to make a judgment about the issue and “is not going to get caught up in the scientific debate’’ about it. But Baker believes there are “sufficient reasons,’’ many of them economic, to pursue renewable energy, Jones said.

Cahill also said he lacks the technical expertise to make a judgment about global warming but believes that it is probably “both manmade and non-manmade.’’

Patrick criticized his opponents for not declaring strongly that global warming is a serious problem. “We need to get past arguing about whether climate change is happening and start dealing with climate change,’’ he said.

But Stein said Patrick was not dealing with the issue forcefully enough, saying Massachusetts needs to shift much of the $1.7 billion it spends on tax incentives for businesses to boost environmental programs in low-income communities.

Patrick defended his administration’s tax incentives for Evergreen Solar, a Massachusetts company that manufactures solar panel technology, which recently announced it was shipping jobs to China.

Patrick said the company originally had 200 jobs and promised to create 250 to 300 more, but instead created 900 jobs and then shipped 150 overseas. “Well, guess what?’’ the governor said. “We’re 700 jobs ahead! That’s good news.’’

Stein said it was a mistake to give incentives to companies when environmental programs are being cut. Cahill said he agreed, saying it was a mistake for the state to “try to pick winners’’ in the marketplace.

Patrick, addressing complaints about the cleanliness of state parks, apologized and said the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s budget had been slashed by 30 percent during the fiscal crisis “and it shows.’’

“I get the importance of state parks and public beaches,’’ said Patrick. “This is where working people go for vacation . . . and we will invest.’’

Cahill seemed most out of his element at the forum, a fact he acknowledged with humor. He said his push to create jobs and spur development would inevitably lead to conflicts with environmentalists. “If I have to lean, I will lean progrowth,’’ he said.

Few of the stances he articulated garnered applause.

“You’re a nice crowd,’’ he joked. “Nobody’s bit me yet.’’

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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