Blog & News

Back to Posts

This Week in Massachusetts – January 4

Posted on January 4, 2023

Notable Changes in Government This Week

The start of an odd-numbered year marks the beginning of several transitions in Massachusetts government:

Wednesday, January

  • First day of the legislative session- House and Senate convene their first sessions of the new biennium – the 193rd General Court, or 2023-2024 legislative session. Branches have procedural business to take care of, like forming ceremonial committees to inform Gov. Baker and the opposite branch that they have assembled. Gov. Baker, attended by members of the Council, administers the oaths and affirmations of office to members of the House and Senate in their respective chambers.
    • The House will elect a Speaker
    • The Senate will elect a President
  • Ceremonial Transfer of Power- Outgoing Governor Baker and incoming Governor Healey will meet to transfer power
  • Governor Baker’s Last Walk- Baker exits the State House for a ceremonial “lone walk” down the front steps as he returns to civilian life. It is commonly thought that the governor’s traditional walk out of office began with Gov. Benjamin Butler, who was unpopular after his failed re-election campaign.

Thursday, January 5

  • Joint Session Healey Inauguration- Gov.-elect Maura Healey and Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Driscoll are sworn in as governor and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts during a joint session of the House and Senate. Both newly-seated officials will give inaugural speeches.
  • Inaugural Celebration: After being sworn in as the new governor and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll host an inaugural celebration. Playing off both elected officials’ backgrounds playing basketball, the celebration is called “Moving the Ball Forward,” held at the home of the Boston Celtics

Wave of Job-Switching Has Employers on a Training Treadmill

New York Times – One after another, employees at the New Hampshire manufacturer W.H. Bagshaw said goodbye.

One went to a robotics company in nearby Boston. Another became an electrician’s apprentice. In all, 22 workers have left W.H. Bagshaw in the past two years — no small matter for a company that has a work force of fewer than 50. That level of departures was also far from normal: In 2019, the company lost just one or two employees; the turnover rate in 2022 was more than 30 percent.

W.H. Bagshaw, which makes precision-machined parts for the aerospace and medical industries, was mostly able to replace the workers who left — but at a cost. Hiring employees and bringing them up to speed could include teaching them how to operate complex, multi-axis turning machines. That took time and energy, preventing the company from running at full capacity.

Production slowed. The number of on-time deliveries to customers slipped.

“It’s taking longer to get stuff out the door,” said Adria Bagshaw, the company’s vice president.

A hallmark of the pandemic era has been the surge in employee turnover. Since 2021, an extraordinary number of Americans have been quitting their jobs — some flexing their power in a white-hot labor market, others re-evaluating their priorities amid a destabilizing pandemic.

In November 2021, more than 4.5 million workers voluntarily left their jobs, according to government data, the most in the two decades that the government has been keeping track. That number has slowly been declining in recent months, but it is still far higher than before the pandemic. The churn has been particularly high in low-wage sectors such as leisure and hospitality, where intense competition for labor led workers to pursue better-paying opportunities.

All that turnover has taken a toll on productivity — for individual companies, and perhaps for the economy as well.

Economists say the wave of job-switching could be one factor in the weak productivity growth that the U.S. economy has experienced in recent years. Early on, some experts expected the pandemic to unleash productivity by forcing companies to embrace new technologies and ways of working. Instead, productivity has fallen slightly over the past two years.

“All that turnover, all that hiring, all that training you have to do — that takes away from your day job,” said Sarah House, an economist at Wells Fargo. “So it’s essentially less output at the end of the day.”

At W.H. Bagshaw, the perpetual need to train employees has been a central reason for the production slowdown.

“Anytime we bring in a new hire, they’re not productive on Day 1 — usually they’re shadowing someone for a few weeks or months,” Ms. Bagshaw said. “You’re investing in someone for the future. Whoever is doing the training, they’re slowed down from their normal productivity.”

Productivity — in its simplest form, the value of the goods and services that a typical employee can produce in an hour of work — is notoriously difficult to measure accurately. But it is one of the most important measures of the health of an economy, particularly during a period of rapid inflation. Productivity is what allows the economic pie to grow: If workers can produce more in the same amount of time, then their employers can afford to pay them more per hour without either raising prices or cutting into profits.

When productivity stagnates, however, pay becomes a zero-sum game: If workers want to make more money, then the money has to come from somewhere else.

“Really the issue at the heart of everything — from inflation to growth to companies and head count — it’s about productivity, and that turnover concern is huge,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, a payroll processing firm.

Ordinarily, economists consider turnover good for productivity. A healthy amount of job-switching allows workers to find the most suitable jobs, and employers to find the employees who will be the best fit. Over time, the most productive firms — which can afford to pay the most — will tend to attract the most productive workers, lifting the economy as a whole. In the years before the pandemic, many economists fretted about the declining rate of turnover, which they worried was a sign of an increasingly stagnant, even ossifying labor market.

But the impact of the Great Resignation is complicated: Too much turnover all at once can create its own problems.

For nearly two years, companies have complained that they are caught in an unending cycle of hiring and training workers, only to see them leave in a matter of weeks or months. Constant recruiting and training drains management resources, and new hires often do not stick around long enough for that investment to pay off. Veteran employees are often asked to pick up the slack, leading to burnout.

These challenges have been on vivid display in the hospitality industry, which experienced much-higher-than-normal turnover rates in this period.

“A lot of restaurants are in survival mode, and survival mode creates a vicious circle,” said Dominic Benvenuti, an owner of Boston Pie, which owns more than two dozen Domino’s locations in New England.

Store managers can’t hire enough workers, Mr. Benvenuti said, so they demand too much from new employees too quickly, sending them out on deliveries or putting them to work in the kitchen without sufficient training. When those workers inevitably fail, they quit, compounding the labor shortage and continuing the cycle.

“They are thrown into such chaos and stress that it overwhelms them, and they leave,” he said. “It is never-ending if someone doesn’t end it.”

The solution, Mr. Benvenuti said, is to focus on training and to recognize that new hires won’t be as productive as 10-year veterans right away. But that is easier said than done when customers are calling to ask why their pizzas are late.

There may be some relief in sight for businesses. The turnover rate has declined somewhat since its peak at the end of 2021, and many employers, both public and private, expect that trend to continue this year. That could give companies a chance to focus on tasks neglected during the pandemic chaos, like training employees and updating business processes.

But some workplace experts say higher-than-normal turnover rates are likely to persist, particularly in white-collar industries where remote work has become more common. For employees who work from home some or all of the time, job hunting no longer requires manufacturing an excuse to be out of the office or worrying about a boss finding a résumé on the office printer.

“It’s just easier to switch jobs now,” Ms. Richardson said. “Back in the old days, you had to meet at a Starbucks, and if you ran into another employee who was at that same Starbucks that was five blocks away from the closer Starbucks, you knew they were on a job interview.”

Now, she said, “if you’re working from home, you can do a whole day’s interview from the comfort of your living room and no one’s the wiser.”

Many economists say it is still possible that the pandemic-era increase in turnover will be beneficial for productivity, even if that isn’t the case yet. People who thrive working from home will gravitate toward companies that embrace remote work; people who do better in person will be snapped up by companies that require employees to come into the office. Industries that remade themselves to survive the pandemic — like restaurants, retailers and hotels — will figure out which changes will work in the long term, and which employees are well-suited to the new way of doing business.

The pandemic’s disruption contributed to a surge in entrepreneurial activity, a key driver of the kind of innovation that could lead to a more productive economy. The dynamics have also spurred many companies to re-evaluate or adapt long-held practices to increase efficiency.

“There’s an enormous amount of experimentation going on right now, and it’s showing up in so many different ways,” said John Haltiwanger, a University of Maryland economist who studies job turnover.

“I think it will be healthy, but not immediately,” he added. “There’s a long-term payoff to this, but it could literally take years, not months, for this to kick in.”

When Rahkeem Morris started the company HourWork several years ago, his goal was to help fast-food companies and other businesses hire more efficiently. But last year, the company pivoted to a new focus: retention.

A fast-food worker typically takes six months to reach full productivity, Mr. Morris said, but at many companies, the typical employee in the industry leaves after just 75 days. HourWork now offers a service to help store owners keep in touch with staff members by text message and to analyze their responses to identify issues that could be causing employees to quit — an approach the company says can reduce turnover, particularly among new hires.

Mr. Morris, who worked in fast food as a teenager before getting degrees from Cornell and Harvard Business School, said companies had long tried to deal with staffing shortages by focusing on recruitment. He likened that approach to trying to fill a leaky bucket — if companies do not also try to keep their workers, no amount of recruiting will solve their problem.

The Great Resignation, however, may finally have led companies to rethink that approach.

“We’re starting to see the tide shift and the sentiment around that change,” Mr. Morris said. “Fixing the leaky-bucket problem will get these restaurants to full productivity.”

Top State Officials, Including Governor, Set to Receive a 20 Percent Pay Hike

Boston Globe – The pay of Massachusetts’ top elected officials, including Governor-elect Maura Healey, is set to swell by 20 percent in the new year, and the salaries of the Legislature’s top leaders could surge past $200,000, their fourth pay raise in as many legislative sessions.

The pay hikes — many in the Legislature will actually see three distinct increases — will be some of the largest on Beacon Hill since 2017, when lawmakers passed a controversial pay raise package.

That law not only boosted elected leaders’ salaries at the time, but it tied the pay of the state’s six statewide constitutional officers, as well as the stipends and expenses lawmakers receive, to changes in state wages every two years.

For those who are set to take office next month, that means big raises over what they or their predecessors previously received, according to the state treasurer’s office.

For Healey, who is set to be sworn in next week, the 20 percent increase would push her base salary to $222,185 — or $37,185 more than what Governor Charlie Baker currently is paid. When adding the $65,000 housing allowance the governor receives, her total compensation would jump to $287,185.

For the lieutenant governor-elect, Kim Driscoll, the salary would swell to more than $198,000 from $165,000.

The attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, and state auditor are all entitled to 20 percent increases. Diana DiZoglio, the auditor-elect and currently a state senator, would have the highest annual salary of the four, at $229,377.

Senate President Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano will see their pay increase by nearly $25,000, pushing their total compensation to more than $203,000.

It’s up to each individual legislator and elected official whether to accept the raise, and the decision could provide an early political test for Healey. The Cambridge Democrat championed tax cuts on the campaign trail and pitched herself as a candidate attuned to residents’ economic pain amid rising inflation and energy costs.

Holyoke City Council Eyes Grants to Bolster Small Businesses, the Arts

MassLive – City Council’s Finance Committee recommended accepting a $25,000 Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development grant designed to help small-business owners with capital needs, especially those businesses hurt by the pandemic.

The City Council’s Finance Committee reviewed the award during a Wednesday session. The initial $25,000 will help launch the initiative and allow the Planning Department to find other funding avenues, including national sources.

Planning and Economic Development Director Aaron Vega said the effort was akin to crowdfunding but more robust.

“One of the challenges we see when it comes to small businesses is a network that is not often there for a lot of startups,” Vega said. While some small-business owners can lobby family and friends for money, most startups lack access to capital. “This will give that person a network on a much grander scale.”

Vega emphasized the Urban Agenda grant, which does not require the city to match the funds, was available to small-business owners across Holyoke rather than designated to a particular location like downtown.

Nearly 2,000 Massachusetts Employers Benefited from HireNow Program

Boston Globe – Now that the last few grants are heading out the door, the Baker administration is declaring its unusual HireNow program a success.

Nearly 2,000 employers have been helped by HireNow grants since its launch in March, according to newly released data. The administration created the program in response to employers’ struggles to fill open positions: HireNow provided $4,000 grants for each new hire, to help with job training or recruitment.

It sounded like a godsend to many small-business owners. But it didn’t go smoothly, at least not initially. The program was swamped with requests. Employers collectively asked for more than $100 million, or double what was in the program, representing more than 23,000 applications, from nearly 2,800 employers.

The administration ended up doling out $50 million on a first-come, first-serve basis from the state’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds; Governor Charlie Baker asked for another $25 million from the Legislature to help meet the demand, but that request didn’t go anywhere.

As a result, many small-business owners were frustrated in the summer when they learned the money had run out. Some only got a few of their requests fulfilled; others didn’t get any. And some said they received incomplete or incorrect information from the people running the program.

Baker Administration Awards Workplace Safety Grant to Haverhill Company

WHAV – A Haverhill company is the only one in the area to be awarded a state Workplace Safety Grant to train employees.

DiPietro Heating and Cooling Thursday was awarded $6,825 from the program aimed at injury prevention and safety education. DiPietro plans to train workers in such areas as “lead safe renovator and asbestos contractor. “Altogether, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration awarded $800,000 to 99 companies.

“Keeping the Commonwealth’s workforce safe is important to both employees and employers as well as the greater community,” said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta.

The Department of Industrial Accidents’ Office of Safety is responsible for administering and managing the Workplace Safety Grant Program. The program’s goal is to promote safe and healthy conditions in the workplace through training, education and other preventative instruction for employees and employers.

This latest round of grants includes recipients representing historically underserved communities, veterans, women-owned businesses, municipalities, small businesses and startups. The most common topics from the proposals included compliance like OSHA 10-hour and 30-hour training, and prevention-based training such as defensive driving, hoisting, First Aid/CPR and ergonomics.

Highlights and Lowlights of the Year in Tech

Boston Globe – For all things tech and digital, 2022 was a lively year, with far too many headline-snatching stories to sum up in just a few paragraphs. But here’s a quick survey of the stuff that really mattered in the year gone by.

How does a man get to be worth $45 billion? If you’re Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg, you start by being worth $126 billion. Then you lose $81 billion of your net worth in 2022, as your company’s shares fall by nearly 66 percent.

It’s been that kind of year for Meta, and for tech companies big and small. A pandemic-driven boom in demand for high-tech products and services has faded, helped along by expectations of a global economic slowdown and an ongoing surge in inflation that’s drained the disposable income from millions of households.

Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk, once the world’s richest man, has lost $132 billion, nearly half his net worth, as investors dump shares of Tesla. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has lost about $84 billion, as his company’s shares have lost half their value. And Microsoft’s Bill Gates got off easy, losing only about $29 billion as Microsoft stock declined in the face of slumping personal computer sales.

Health Care

What We Know about XBB, the New Dominant COVID Variant in New England

Boston Globe – A new coronavirus variant dubbed XBB has swiftly become the dominant form of COVID-19 spreading in the Northeast, jumping from about 35 percent of cases during the week ending Dec. 17 to just over half of cases last week, according to CDC data.

Here’s a quick primer on what we know about the variant.

Is XBB more transmissible? Experts say the rapid spread of the XBB variant suggests it’s more adept than its predecessors at evading the immunity that comes from vaccines and infections.

“The most likely explanation is that it’s more transmissible,” said Dr. Jeremy Luban, professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biotechnology at UMass Chan Medical School, in a recent interview.

Who is at greatest risk? As with other recent variants, people who are immunocompromised face greater risk, and the monoclonal antibodies used to treat them do not work against the latest variants, including XBB. That has eliminated an important tool for treating some of the most vulnerable patients.

What can I do to protect myself? As always, experts urge people to get booster shots. The bivalent booster vaccine, which works against the Omicron variant as well as the original form of the virus, appears to be especially effective against XBB, according to a recent small study.

Baker Administration Awards $4.1 Million in Grants to Boost Reproductive Health Access – The Baker-Politio administration announced Wednesday that it will award $4.1 million in grants to 11 local organizations and health-care providers in an effort to improve reproductive health care access across Massachusetts.

All 11 organizations can either continue or begin to offer abortion services and support to anyone seeking to receive abortion care. This includes providing assistance with transportation and lodging, child-care payments, translation services, and abortion doulas, the administration said.

“Today’s announcement is one more step in affirming this administration’s commitment to ensuring access to reproductive health care, including access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said in the statement. “These funds help fulfill that commitment by expanding access to timely and safe reproductive health care that meets the needs of individuals and families.”

The recipients of these grants are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Boston Medical Center; Cambridge Health Alliance; Health Imperatives; HealthQ; Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts; Tides for Reproductive Freedom and its sub-grantees, Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund and the Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts; and Women’s Health Services.

Community Health Centers to Benefit from State Funding – Community health centers across Massachusetts are set to receive a boost from state funding.

Following a string of other money-related announcements, Governor Charlie Baker recently said that $45 million will be distributed throughout the Commonwealth to recruit and retain health-care workers, boost services through Health Safety Net, and to address deferred health care.

Fifteen million dollars of this latest round of money comes through the American Rescue Plan Act, while the rest was included in the recently-signed economic development bill for Massachusetts.

The $45 million in total will be added on top of the over $117 million that’s already been offered to local community health centers in 2022, according to state officials.


Outgoing Governor’s Early College Expansion Plans get Financial Boost

WBUR – Early college pathways for some Massachusetts high schoolers will no longer stop at grade 12 under a new initiative that will fund up to two more years of STEM-related college classes after high school.

Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month announced a $5 million funding infusion that will expand early college programming through five STEM Tech Career Academies. This will allow more students to earn an associate’s degree or industry-related credentials from community colleges — at no cost.

Early college is a program that allows students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and accrue college credit during all four years of high school, but this new initiative seeks to extend that time frame to six years.

“We’re building off of existing [early college] pathways and sort of taking it to the next level,” said Jim Peyser, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education.

Rather than end free access to community college course material after grade 12, the academies would offer participating students two more years of science and technical college classes for free. The initiative involves more than a dozen industry partners, including Suffolk Construction, Walgreens, Mathworks, MIT and National Grid, according to the Baker administration.

STCC Granted $1.17 Million to Expand Adult Education Resources

WWLP – Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) was awarded $1,174,200 to expand adult education services.

The Baker Administration announced the historic funding amounts to STCC, 73 other adult education providers, and seven correctional institutions in the state, according to a news release from STCC. The awards total $250 million over the course of the next five years.

Adult education services will expand to new programs statewide that are not currently funded and will provide 5,000 total seats for adult basic education students, along with 16,000 for adult English learners.

The Workforce Development Center at STCC provides free adult education through the Springfield Adult Learning Center. The community is able to take classes to further their education by obtaining a high school equivalency certificate, and that includes preparing for a GED or HiSET exam, developing computer, email, or internet skills, learning English as a second language or even enrolling as a student at STCC after earning a high school equivalency certificate.

Taxation and Budget

Questions Continue to Swirl around Millionaire Tax  

Boston Herald – With the voter-approved surtax on Massachusetts’ highest earners set to start in the new year, there are still big questions around the constitutional amendment that changes the state tax code, according to the Bay State accountants.q

The so-called millionaire’s tax was cleared by voters in November, amending the state constitution for the first time in 22 years and shifting Massachusetts away from its flat income tax adopted over a century ago.

It adds a 4 percentage-point surtax on top of the state’s 5% flat tax for the portion of annual household income that exceeds $1 million. The money that comes into the state from the surtax is intended for public education and transportation investments, although the Legislature maintains discretion of its annual allocation.

The surtax will be collected when taxpayers remit taxes owed for tax year 2023, according to the Department of Revenue. This means the first quarterly estimated payments affected by the new rate will be due on April 15, covering January through March of 2023, for most taxpayers.

In the short term there are many “unknowns” and “uncertainty” about what classifies as “taxable income,” said vice president of advocacy at the Massachusetts Society of CPAs, Zachary Donah.

The accountants’ organization said they have been working with the DOR on questions such as if the surtax will apply to trusts and estates and how to calculate the tax for individuals who are married and filing separately.

Other questions include uncertainty around whether businesses have to withhold the extra 4% on behalf of W2 employees who make over $1 million per year, Donah said, and how the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction will interact with the surtax.

Tax Credits for Electric Vehicles are about to Get Confusing

Boston Globe – Next year could be confusing for anyone shopping for an electric car.

A law that takes effect Jan. 1 will both expand and scramble the list of vehicles that qualify for federal tax credits of up to $7,500 in ways that officials and carmakers are still trying to sort out.

The Biden administration on Thursday put out a new list of cars that will qualify for the credits. That list, which included models from Chrysler, Ford, Jeep, Lincoln, Nissan, and Rivian, is not complete, and the Treasury Department said that it would be added to “over the coming days and weeks.”

While they were not included in the list, models from Tesla and General Motors, which had exceeded a cap on the number of cars that could collect subsidies under an older law, are expected to be eligible again in January because the new law, the Inflation Reduction Act, abolishes the cap. But imported cars that qualified under the old law will no longer be eligible; these include vehicles made by brands like Hyundai and Kia.

Even when the list published Thursday is complete, it might be good for only three months or so because officials plan to implement other parts of the law in March. That is when the Biden administration plans to put in place new rules intended to force carmakers to buy batteries and raw materials from suppliers in the United States and its trade allies. Very few if any electric cars might qualify right away after those rules go into effect, auto experts said.

Sustainability and Climate

Natural Gas Prices in Europe Fall to Pre-Invasion Levels

The New York TimesEuropean natural gas prices, which soared last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have now fallen well below their levels before the start of the war, reflecting the continent’s success rounding up alternatives to Russian gas, widespread conservation efforts and a relatively mild winter.

But the news comes as Europe’s economy is slowing — half of the European Union is expected to be in recession next year, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said Sunday — and the slumping gas price also signals diminished demand for energy.

On Tuesday, the wholesale price for European natural gas, measured by the benchmark Dutch T.T.F. futures contract for February, was selling for around 76 euros a megawatt-hour. On the eve of Russia’s push into its neighbor last February, the contract sold for about €88.

This is a remarkable turnaround. Just months ago, as Russia curtailed and eventually cut off most exports of the fuel to Europe, there were intense fears that the continent would run out of gas this winter. That pushed prices to an August peak of more than €340 a megawatt-hour, about five times current levels.

Those concerns have largely faded, even though Russia used to provide about 40 percent of Europe’s consumption of gas, which is widely used to heat homes, run businesses and generate electricity.

“We now have a well-supplied E.U. gas market, even without Russian gas,” said Henning Gloystein, the director for energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “That’s reflected in current prices,” he added.

The shift from worry to something approaching confidence reflects a combination of quick steps by both the European Union and governments in countries like Germany to promote conservation of gas and secure supplies from other sources.

Europe has also had good luck in the form of mostly balmy weather during the winter, when gas consumption soars.

Following the invasion, Europe moved quickly to secure shipments of liquefied natural gas from the United States, Qatar and other exporters. Europe also rapidly built terminals to receive liquefied gas, sweeping away many of the usual bureaucratic obstacles and environmental objections.

On Tuesday, one of these facilities, at Wilhelmshaven in northwest Germany, received its first full LNG shipment, a cargo from the United States. The Netherlands has already started a new terminal at Eemshaven, in the northern part of the country. These are part of a wave of investment in new gas-receiving facilities by European governments and companies.

Along with acquiring new sources of supplies, both European industry and consumers have cut gas consumption by roughly 20 percent, responding to a combination of high prices and government urging.

These major shifts on both the supply and demand side mean that gas storage facilities, filled to near capacity in the fall, are still quite high; in early January, facilities across the European Union were averaging 84 percent full, compared with 52 percent a year ago. A daily tally of gas reserves showed that on Jan. 1 many countries added more gas to their storage facilities rather than drew down the fuel.

Having sufficient gas in storage to help meet the heavy demands of winter is often key to determining natural gas prices. Analysts also say that Europe may wind up the winter with high enough storage levels that the heavy buying of last fall that kept prices exorbitantly high may not be necessary.

“It’s a lot better than many people feared, and it could mean that prices will be lower this year than in 2022,” said Massimo Di Odoardo, the vice president for gas research at Wood Mackenzie, a consulting firm.

There is still reason for concern about energy prices in Europe. While Europe’s gas prices have fallen sharply from their recent peaks, they remain historically high and are still steep enough to make it difficult for industries that consume a lot of energy, like steel and glass, to compete with rivals in other regions or even remain open.

The benchmark price of gas remains nearly five times what it was two years ago, and roughly five times the cost of natural gas in the United States.

The markets for other sources of energy remain uncertain. The European Union last month began an embargo on Russian oil, and in February that ban extends to Russian oil products, a move that is expected to drive up prices of diesel fuel, which is critical in the transportation industry.

And the fall in wholesale gas prices will not bring immediate relief for consumers and businesses facing high energy bills. Because utilities buy their natural gas supplies in advance through hedging programs, it may take months for the lower prices, if they persist, to work their way through to users’ bills.

Energy prices have been a primary reason that inflation across Europe jumped last year, reaching the highest levels in more than 40 years in many countries.

Vessels for Two Wind Projects Receive State Funding – Transfer vessels to be used for projects such as the Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind farms are set to benefit from state funding.

Governor Charlie Baker recently announced that roughly $361,000 will be provided to Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset.

That funding will repair and fabricate high-speed transfer vessels for the offshore wind facilities, which are set to be located about 20 miles off of Martha’s Vineyard.

The money for the shipyard is part of $180 million in state money used to fund clean energy infrastructure across Massachusetts. It’s part of a wider initiative by the Commonwealth to meet net zero carbon emission goals by 2050.

Researchers Urge Greener Food-Delivery Transportation Options

WBUR – The number of food deliveries ordered via the apps DoorDash, UberEats and Grubhub doubled in Massachusetts during the pandemic. Researchers from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a planning agency for cities in the Greater Boston area, say the increase is boosting greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion.

The researchers estimate that trips went from a high of about 45 million in 2019 to as high as 105 million in 2021 in Massachusetts. These food delivery trips surpassed ride-hailing trips from apps like Uber and Lyft, which reached 39.7 million trips in Massachusetts in 2021. Boston ranks third in the U.S. for per capita spending on food deliveries.

The report found rapid food deliveries by car had substantial negative impacts, including increased traffic congestion, curbside idling associated with emissions and unsafe double parking in bus and bike lanes.

“Data suggest that the impact per trip may be even greater for rapid food deliveries than ride-hailing,” the report authors write.

The Massachusetts study was not able to obtain detailed data to assess which transportation modes are most commonly used in these deliveries, making it difficult to fully measure the impact of increased emissions.

Healey Names Aide to be Energy, Environment Secretary

REBECCA TEPPER, Commonwealth Magazine – Rebecca Tepper, currently the chief of the energy and environment bureau in the attorney general’s office, will continue working under Maura Healey in the new year, joining the incoming governor’s Cabinet as secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

As EEA secretary, Tepper will oversee the state’s six environmental, natural resource, and energy regulatory agencies, and oversee the Healey administration’s work to electrify buildings and transportation systems as part of an effort to keep Massachusetts on a path to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Tepper joined the attorney general’s office in 2015 as head of the energy and environment bureau’s energy and telecommunications division, then took over as the full bureau’s chief in early 2021.

In her current position, Tepper serves as Healey’s chief advisor on energy and environmental policy — a role that she will continue to fulfill as a cabinet secretary but with a much broader mandate. [In her current role, her focus is primarily on legal issues and in her new role the focus will shift to policy. In her current job in the attorney general’s office, she’s a behind-the-scenes player; in her new job, she will operate on a much bigger and more public stage.]