I am proud of my history of bringing local issues to the state level and getting results. This started when, in 1997, my toddler-age daughters were playing outside on a hot summer day and tracked greasy black footprints onto the white tiles of the kitchen floor. When the local coal-burning power plant owners responded to my query about the soot with an offer to power wash my deck as long as I released them from any liability, now or in the future, I was dismayed and felt they had really missed my point. It was never about the deck. Liability had never even occurred to me. My concern was for the health of my family and my community. We already had cancer and asthma statistics off the charts.
This was a bit of an epiphany for me and a turning point. I began speaking out and writing letters to the local newspaper about my experience and concern. In very little time, I worked with friends and community leaders 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 coal-burning related 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 Wenham Lake, a drinking water supply for 80,000 local residents. Over the decades, the waste pit had migrated and now sat 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”. Through citizen activism, science, and legal action we convinced the original owners of the power plant to clean up their mess, The cleanup spanned 6 years and cost an estimated $10 million, preserving the drinking water for generations to come. The coal power plant shut down as well, improving the quality of life for all the surrounding communities.
My quest 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 grassroots lessons I learned from this fight. Armed with facts and passion we were able protect the health of an entire region of our state, and reduce harm to the planet. The deep respect I have for the grassroots is a reservoir I draw upon daily while serving my community in the State House.