Massachusetts Community Climate Bank: Log Lunch with State Senator Paul Mark

On Friday, November 10, the Log Lunch community welcomed State Senator Paul Mark to discuss the Massachusetts Community Climate Bank, the state’s first “green bank.” With $50 million in state funding from the Department of Environmental Protection that is available to municipalitie, the goal of the initiative is to maximize investment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy, and creating jobs. Municipalities will be able to deliver these funds to local projects promoting sustainable energy solutions.

“Money can’t be what holds us back from being in the future we need to be in,” Senator Mark said.

He explained that many of his political views have been shaped by the experience of his father being laid off from his job when he was growing up. He started volunteering on political campaigns when he was 16, and later served as the political director of the union at the phone company where he worked, but never thought he’d run for office himself until people encouraged him to campaign for a seat in the State House of Representatives.

Senator Mark served in the State House for 13 years, representing Berkshire, Franklin, and Hamden counties, and is now in his first term in the Senate, representing 57 cities and towns in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire counties — the largest legislative district in the history of Massachusetts.

Many of the areas Senator Mark has represented throughout his political career are rural regions. In getting to know the communities in these places, Senator Mark has found that environmental concerns repeatedly emerge as one of their primary political concerns — both due to a desire to preserve the natural beauty of their homes and to a concern that rural communities will be left behind in energy transformations, as has historically been the case. 

While he was serving in the House, a constituent from Greenfield asked him to support a program called Commercial Base, a bond program that lends out money to cities and towns looking to undertake sustainable energy projects that are unable to secure money from banks due to the traditional corporate model of such loans not working for energy projects that will take a long time to pay back. At the time, Senator Mark was working with a state senator on this program, but the senator counted natural gas as renewable energy, a stance that Senator Mark was uncomfortable with adopting. In 2012 and 2013, there were efforts to put a natural gas pipeline through Berkshire County to connect with fracking in Pennsylvania, causing pushback in the small rural communities who would be home to the compressor stations but would never get the gas.

In efforts to prioritize the needs of these communities in the fight for renewable energy rather than subject them to sacrifices such as the pipeline plan presented, Senator Mark began working on a green bank bill. The bill repeatedly died in the house, until May 2023, when, after almost a decade of work, the Massachusetts Community Climate Bank was established.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has been instrumental in  securing $27 billion in funding that will be available for green banks all over the country. Municipalities in Massachusetts will be able to access these funds in addition to the state money.

The bigger vision, Senator Mark said, is to make this money available for projects preparing electrical grid for the energy transformations that are coming, with transitions to electric vehicles and other initiatives.

“When I got into office, I was thinking about what I could do at the state level to have an impact that would matter,” Senator Mark said. “Environmental issues are international, people think the problem should be solved elsewhere, but if everyone looks at the problem like that, nothing gets solved.” State projects such as green banks help people locally but also can set a national and even international standard of working together in a frustrating political system to make change happen.

The Log Lunch chefs prepared an impressive meal of honeynut squash fondue, roasted carrots and beets with tahini, caramelized onion focaccia, kale mint salad with pomegranate dressing and candied pecans, and brown butter apple cake for dessert.