By Quinn Kelley | Cohasset Mariner
Last winter, when 2018 Cohasset High grad Grace Alves stepped into State Sen. Patrick O’Connor’s office for the first time at the outset of a month-long internship, she had no idea what an indelible impact her short stint would leave.
Alves spent her winter-break internship on O’Connor’s staff, where she expected initially to “learn a little bit about government,” but not much more.
Instead, the current UMass Amherst student was given free rein to explore her passions and birthed an idea that would wind up in a recent piece of state legislation.
O’Connor said when Alves arrived in the office, she was asked what issues interested her. After replying with environmental and climate change policy, Alves was tasked with doing research into potential ideas for the state’s upcoming Next Generation Climate Roadmap bill.
Through her research, Alves came up with an idea for a grant program that assists low-income support service providers, such as food banks and homeless shelters, in purchasing solar power equipment.
The state grants would help fund the installment of solar panels and other equipment at these sites, affording the service providers the opportunity to take the money saved on energy and put it back into their services.
“I was looking past legislature and future technology, and I saw a few smaller-scale examples of similar programs,” explained Alves. “And what really stood out in my research was the way low-income communities get taken advantage of in regards to clean energy.”
Alves said low-income communitis are the least likely to see the implementation of environmental sustainability policies. Seeing this was what inspired her proposal, she said the grant program in being geared to such communities, doubles as a way to help the environment and those in need.
O’Connor agreed, and was so blown away by Alves’ efforts that he quickly proposed the program as an amendment to the bill late last January.
“It’s really a win-win,” said O’Connor. “It will help us to reduce our carbon footprint while also saving these organizations money that they can then put back into sheltering, feeding, and providing services to the most needy in our state.”
The amendment was passed unanimously by the State Senate, but still awaited final approval by the Governor’s office.
On March 29, Governor Baker finally signed the Next Generation Climate Roadmap bill into law.
The bill overhauls the state’s climate laws, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, advances the clean energy industry, and prioritizes and protects environmental justice communities.
Outside the ceremony for held for the bill’s passing, O’Connor spoke on his pleasure with seeing Alves’ hard work pay off.
“I am so proud to have been able to move her idea forward and to now have it be a part of Massachusetts law,” O’Connor said. “Her grant program will give these low-income resource providers the initial capital needed to invest in green energy for their buildings and then take their realized energy cost savings to provide even more services for those in need.”
The program will allow at least 10 low-income service providers to secure $50,000 in grant funding each year.
Alves, who currently studies as a Sustainable Community Development major, said last February after her amendment was passed by the State Senate, her time in O’Connor’s office inspired her to explore a different career path than she’d initially intended.
“I never thought about working in government,” said Alves, “but the internship really showed me how much change can be effected with government policies.”
In a statement released after Governor Baker passed the bill, Alves said the internship had proven to be “the catalyst in [her] decision to focus [her] education to be a leader in climate justice legislation.”
Over a year removed from the internship, Alves’ passion has not waned.
“Not only is this bill a step forward in making Massachusetts a cleaner state, but a step forward for climate justice,” Alves said. “It is crucial that in creating legislation for climate change our leaders understand the disproportionate effect of climate change on minority and low-income communities.”
O’Connor said he is excited with Alves’ passion and believes she is well suited to continue making an impact as she grows older.
“She impressed me quite a bit in just a short time,” said O’Connor. “She had a great understanding of policy, and the way in which what she was doing could benefit so many people.”
“She has a great humanity at such a young age, but with it, an awareness of the importance of what she was doing.”
Link to original source: https://www.wickedlocal.com/story/cohasset-mariner/2021/04/15/cohasset-high-grad-shapes-legislature-contribution-state-climate-bill/7215397002/?