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Lavery puts urgent call for more aggressive response to climate change, expanding governmental transparency at forefront of campaign to unseat Mass. State Rep. Pignatelli

Michael Lavery.
Michael Lavery
Michael Lavery.

Becket, Massachusetts select board member Michael Lavery is running as a Green-Rainbow candidate for the 3rd Berkshire House seat in Tuesday’s election. He faces Democrat Smitty Pignatelli, who was first elected 20 years ago and hasn’t been challenged in a general election in a decade. The district is now one of just three in Berkshire County following redistricting, and geographically covers the southern half of the largely rural region of Western Massachusetts. Lavery contends Democrats are moving too slowly to turn the rising tide of climate change and that the party, Pignatelli included, has dodged efforts to increase governmental transparency. He spoke with WAMC.

LAVERY: The Green-Rainbow Party has similar planks to other parties. However, we're more concerned with the environment. Being a climate change activist for many years, I've held that close to my heart. I remember in the 70s, when the “Save the Whales” thing started, I bought shoelaces that had little pictures of whales on them. So, we're about the environment and saving the planet- Mostly for human beings. I mean, the planet will shrug us off like a bad case of lice if we mess it up. But it'll keep going. I mean, human beings, as it were. So that's the major thing, energy reliance on fossil fuels. We want to get off of fossil fuels as soon as possible. Get on to carbon neutral or carbon zero forms of energy like wind, solar, hydro.

WAMC: Let's dig into that what sets you apart from incumbent Smitty Pignatelli on those issues? I mean, climate change, certainly a massive existential question. What are you going to offer voters that Smitty can't as a Green-Rainbow candidate?

So, I've proposed a feebate. It's a structure that's a portmanteau of fee and rebate, the two words glommed together. So, in other words, folks who are still on fossil fuels- Mostly I'm going after the big companies that run huge turbines that produce the power and run off diesel or gasoline. The folks running their car to just get to work back and forth will pay the minimal part of this fee structure. But I would go after the big oil producers. When you look at the [electric vehicle] changes that the commonwealth and the House and the Senate have ratified and will take effect in 2035, the gas car usage would only lower, if we all converted to EVs, the carbon emissions of the state by 10%. Now, when you look at the 70% that the big four oil companies use in comparison of the carbon pie, piece of the pie, that's where you're getting the money. Shell or British Petroleum invented, coined the term “carbon footprint,” because then it puts an onus on the individual, because we each have two feet, and not themselves. So, it's kind of a- It's a PR campaign. Anyways, the House while doing well so far, I would be one of the people searching for plans to reduce the carbon emissions of the commonwealth a lot sooner than 2035. I don't think we have that much time left. And the IPCC and the United Nations Planetary Climate Change Group have both said that we've gone beyond the tipping point, and there might be no way to reverse it at this point. So, I would just be more proactive, and the feebate structure that I have- I don't have all the details of it, how much taxes would be involved. But that's why there are 300 folks in the House. It's not just one person job. And as I've worked with my fellow select board members in Becket to get trails done and EV parking spaces and that sort of thing, I would work to get my feebate plan in place in the House.

What's another issue that you feel like best separates you from Smitty Pignatelli to voters come November 8th at the ballot box?

Well, I said truth and transparency from the beginning and it's in bold letters on my website. That being, it's puzzling to me why the House and the Senate couldn't get together and vote in subcommittees to get two House bills on the record and vote on it to change their policies on how their votes are recorded. So right now, the House doesn't have to record their votes in open session. They can choose to if six or eight members of their House stand up within 15 seconds or something like that. It's really archaic. And we were one of the first in the states to have a democracy, we're one of the oldest states in the union, so it's puzzling why we have the fourth lowest transparency on record for the House in the states. They also didn't vote to have same day voting, none of the Berkshires delegates did, and that was tremendously confusing to me. Democrats are voting rights, and I would just not vote the same way as Smitty did on those two issues in particular- Same day voting, he voted against it, and opening up the records of their voting record to the public. I would vote to start doing it in the first place.

What's sort of the final word that you want to get out there to voters heading into November 8th?

I am a regular nine-to-five Joe and I haven't had the opportunity like my opponent has of being out in the public every day. He has to appear for various events. So, just look at my website and see what I've said on social media and listen to all the interviews, I'll try to link them on my website once they're published. And just give me a chance. I may speak to your heart and resonate with what you feel you would want in a candidate. So, I have the same experience that Smitty had when he was first elected 20 years ago. He came from being a select board member, and that's where I am today. So, thanks for having me, Josh, and hopefully, folks will get out on Tuesday or early vote, or have already voted by mail. And so thanks everybody for considering me.

Rep. Pignatelli has not responded to multiple interview requests from WAMC.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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