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Edwards, Pressley make push for clean jobs

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Edwards, Pressley make push for clean jobs
District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards speaks while U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley looks on. Photo: Morgan C. Mullings

District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards joined U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley last week in a press conference in Piers Park to promote clean energy jobs and environmental justice for the community of East Boston.

Hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts and GreenRoots Boston, the event highlighted how President Biden’s American Jobs Plan could be carried out in a way that helps East Boston recover from the pandemic and stay protected from environmental vulnerability.

The American Jobs Plan includes some proposals for clean energy (or renewable energy) jobs that help produce energy that doesn’t pollute the earth and comes from sources such as sunlight and wind.

In the plan, Biden expresses support for projects that address the legacy of pollution in communities impacted by environmental injustice. When Congress begins legislating the American Jobs Plan, the White House says it will enforce strong labor standards to ensure good-quality jobs that modernize the power sector.

Besides dealing with displacement from high-priced housing, East Boston is currently struggling with plans for a controversial electric substation on Chelsea creek. GreenRoots organizers at the event explained why more attention is needed on these issues.

“It’s in an area that’s at risk of flooding, it’s a coastal vulnerability, it’s also right next to a playground. It’s next to a repository for a bunch of jet fuels. This [substation], if it gets wet, will explode,” GreenRoots Waterfront Initiative Coordinator John Walkey told the Banner.

The substation, proposed by Eversource, was approved unanimously by the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board in February.

Pressley answered questions on how she plans to protect East Boston, which is part of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District she represents.

The injustices happening in East Boston, she said, are intersectional, and so her legislative response will be intersectional as well.

“Councilor Edwards pointed out, these inequities and disparities and these racial and justices are not naturally occurring. They didn’t just happen, they were legislated,” Pressley said. “Those issues relative to environmental justice are at the intersection of my work in racial justice, housing justice, transportation justice, food justice … It’s all connected.”

East Boston has one of the highest rates of asthma, “largely because of proximity to environmental injustices and a legacy of structural racism that has put us in proximity to causes of great hurt, and great harm,” Pressley said.

As a city councilor, Edwards has opposed the substation and fought for more affordable housing at the proposed Suffolk Downs development and fair zoning laws. In the past, she has regarded the substation as an injustice added onto existing burdens the neighborhood is facing.

“So here we have money. Here we have opportunity. It is therefore our hands that must undo it,” Edwards said at the June 2 press event. “I’m asking for D.C. to just give us what we need. We’ll take care of it from here.”

One activist from GreenRoots, who has been fighting for environmental justice alongside Edwards, is Noemy Rodriguez.

“We do not need more environmental injustices in our community. On top of all that we need good jobs,” she said in Spanish via translator. “We were already dealing with increasing rents and displacement in the region due to gentrification.”

Now that the pandemic is over, she noted, many have lost their jobs and are in debt or back-paying their rent.

Rodriguez thanked both the city councilor and the congresswoman for helping to bring jobs back to East Boston.

She cited the substation as an example of the dangerous kinds of projects sited in her community.

“Dangerous projects that introduce risk to our lives,” she said, “but do not environmentally benefit our residents, much less create jobs for people who really need them.”