Hanscom Hangar Rally: Remarks of Senator Barrett, October 2


Well, look at you!

Until now, people concerned about climate, along with their elected representatives, have concentrated on cleaning up buildings, cars and trucks, and the electric power supply. We’ve had to set priorities.

But, thanks to the Massachusetts Port Authority, we’ve pivoted.  Not by choice, and not that we saw it coming, but we’re learning we’ve got to focus on aviation and its devastating implications for climate change. 

In seriously entertaining a proposal to build multiple new hangars for super-polluting private jets at Hanscom Airfield, MassPort is on the verge of a terrible two-fer: aiding and abetting the warming of the planet, and pandering to the concentration of private wealth.  You can’t do much worse than that. 

And this, I am embarrassed and frustrated to say, from a Massachusetts governmental body.

Given the scariness of the times for the state, the nation — and the world — MassPort’s timing could not be worse.  Two weeks ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its list of U.S. climate disasters in 2023, defined as events estimated to have caused at least $1 billion of damage. 

Averaged across the years 1980-2022, the average number of American climate disasters is 8.  For the five most recent years, 2018-2022, the average number pops up to 18.  Whereas in 2023, which still has three months to run, the count of $1 billion dollar climate disasters has climbed to 23.  From an average of 8 over the past 40 years — to 18 over the past five years — to 23 — so far — in the single year 2023.  Something’s gone haywire. 

Sometimes, you can make the case that you deserve a pass.  Maybe you need to tend to a local emergency, and shelve, at least for a little while, your larger obligation to the planet. 

But no such rationalizations apply here.  We’re not talking about a construction project that’s needed to respond to a natural disaster.  Or needed to deal with a pandemic.  Or to repair aging infrastructure — we’re not talking about the T. 

This is just about money.  MassPort has plenty of it, and wants more.

The organization’s Board of Directors is the Big Decider here.  So we direct a plea to them: It’s not too late to do the right thing. 

Otherwise, you put MassPort at risk of becoming a pariah, a poster child for reckless disregard of the public interest by a governmental body.  If 27 — or 18 — or just a dozen — of these hangars get built, the agency will never come back from the reputational damage.  Going ahead would be an unforced error, one of the biggest ones in modern Massachusetts public policy.

None of us should want this.  All of us have a stake in seeing the Board of Directors pull back from the brink.  The agency plays a key role in economic development in Massachusetts.  When we fret about the decline of faith in public institutions, and we worry about shoring it up, we’re thinking of you, MassPort.

Let me reference some not-so-ancient history.  In the 1940s and ’50s and ’60s, there was a power-hungry government transportation czar in New York by the name of Robert Moses.  This guy was all about getting it done, and to do that, he trampled on the wishes of the locals and pursued massive construction plans, no matter what.

His example led to the rise of Mini-Me transportation czars here in Massachusetts.  One result was a major highway project called the Inner Belt, which would have carved a mini-Rt.128 through neighborhoods in Brookline, Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.   This was an era in which highways still seemed synonymous with economic progress. 

Stopping the Inner Belt was hopeless — until it wasn’t.  Grassroots pressure grew.  And then, despite pressure from Washington and the federal grant assurances of the day, a governor named Frank Sargent found a way to pull the plug.  In 1970, he declared a moratorium on highway construction inside Rt. 128, and, in 1971, he officially canceled the Inner Belt.

To the MassPort Board of Directors, we say, you don’t have to do this.  Stifle your inner czar — save your organization in the process — and do right by Massachusetts.

Just say no.

Thank you.