Following the sooty footprints

I am proud of my history of bringing local issues to the state level and getting results. This started when, in 2007, my toddler-age daughters were playing outside on a hot summer day and tracked in greasy black footprints on the white tiles of the kitchen floor. When the local coal-burning power plant responded to my query with an offer of power washing my deck as long as I released them from any liability, now or in the future, I felt that really missed my point. It was never about the deck. My concern was for the health of my family and my community. We already had cancer and asthma statistics off the charts.

I began speaking out and writing letters to the local newspaper about my experience and concern. In very little time, I helped to found a citizens action group we named "HealthLink". HealthLink organized the community to take action sometimes in the form of letters, phone calls or protest, as well as in the halls of the MA State House.

It didn't take long before my activism for clean air led me to discover another problem -- contaminated drinking water. Since the power plant was built in 1954 the toxic solid waste left behind from burning coal was carelessly and illegally dumped right next to a drinking water supply for 80,000 local residents. Over the decades, the waste pit had migrated and now stood 6 feet deep at the base of the lake, next to the drinking water. I teamed up with Jan Schlichtmann, the lawyer behind the ground-breaking environmental law case in Woburn that inspired the book “A Civil Action”, and we convinced the power company to clean up Wenham Lake, divert the stream, and cap the waste pit. It took over a decade and unfortunately an explosion at the plant that killed three workers but eventually the coal power plant shut down, improving the quality of life for all the surrounding communities.

The journey for clean air and water in my community illustrates the need for perseverance when truth is on your side but power is not. I will never forget the lessons I learned from this fight- that people power is the best renewable energy, and that armed with facts and passion we can safeguard our natural resources, or really do anything we care about. 

I promise to take this goal to the State House every day as I work for all of you. Whether this is reforming noncompete agreements, protecting animals who cannot speak for themselves, tackling the sexual assault crisis on college campuses, or continuing my work on drinking water by getting the lead out at schools, I know that state government can be a positive force for change.