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Massachusetts AG Who Sued Exxon Vows Green Agenda as Governor

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As Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey has charged into courtroom battles against corporate giants from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Juul Labs Inc. If elected governor, she pledges to tackle an even bigger foe: climate change.

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(Bloomberg) — As Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey has charged into courtroom battles against corporate giants from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Juul Labs Inc. If elected governor, she pledges to tackle an even bigger foe: climate change.

Healey, a 51-year-old Democrat, is all but sure to get that chance. Polls in heavily liberal Massachusetts give her a lead of more than 20 points over her Republican rival for governor, Geoffrey Diehl, who is backed by former President Donald Trump. Campaign funding tilts even more sharply: She had more than $3.5 million cash on hand in the latest report, versus Diehl’s $88,000.

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Once in office, Healey plans to appoint a cabinet-level climate chief, spur state operations to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 and support installation of 1 million heat pumps statewide. 

Healey also proposes that Massachusetts — already a leader on offshore wind, nuclear fusion and other energy innovation — create a “climate corridor” for developing “the technologies that are going to power this globe away from fossil fuels, and also lead to thousands of great green and blue jobs.” 

As concern about climate rises, a majority of registered American voters — 58% — prefer candidates who support action on global warming, while only 17% prefer those who oppose it, according to polling conducted by Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

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Long-term climate goals sometimes conflict with short-term commercial interests, but to the business sector, Healey promises “steady leadership and open lines of communication, dialogue about the issues and a commitment to trying to get things right.” 

If she sounds intentionally reassuring, it could be because as attorney general for the past eight years, she became known as a prolific bringer of lawsuits. 

They included nearly 100 against the Trump administration on issues ranging from its travel ban to environmental protections; Exxon for what she called climate misinformation; Juul for marketing its vaping products to young people; Purdue Pharma LP and its Sackler family over opioids; and McKinsey & Co. for advising Purdue.

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That record may strike some as anti-corporate, but “I have no issue with my tone on that,” Healey responded in an interview. “Those companies did horrible things.”

Taxpayer Benefits

Healey also frames her lawsuits as profitable for taxpayers, calculating that they brought in over $7 billion to the state coffers, including utility rate savings and Medicaid fraud recoveries. 

Her record of aggressive litigation isn’t uncommon for attorneys general these days, but Massachusetts has been “punching above its weight on some issues, particularly when it comes to the environment,” said Marquette University chair of political science Paul Nolette.

Still, as aggressive as Healey has been in court, she doesn’t come across as a crusading ideologue, but rather as a fairly mainstream Democrat, he said.

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The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has had a “good working relationship” with Healey, said Chief Executive Officer Jim Rooney. “She’s a listener — and a good listener” to the business community’s perspective. 

Also, business sees climate change as a top priority as well, he said, from concern about sea levels rising to support for renewable energy. 

To Republican opponent Diehl, however, Healey is a radical who “represents extreme positions on important issues that are out of step with what most people in Massachusetts want.” They include her support for “extreme measures during Covid that shut down schools and businesses,” he said in a statement.

In a recent debate, he also accused her of pushing too fast for the transition to renewable energy, warning she could “bankrupt our state,” and emphasized her alignment with President Joe Biden and his economic policies.

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Along with her climate focus, Healey has also pledged to cut taxes and help spur construction of more homes. Massachusetts housing is among the most expensive in the country — Boston rents just surpassed San Francisco, placing second only to New York — and the statewide shortfall is estimated at more than 100,000 units. Housing affordability is the No. 1 issue Healey says she hears about from voters.

Two Firsts

As she campaigns, Healey proudly owns the historical precedents she’s expected to set: She would be the state’s first woman to be elected governor and the country’s first out lesbian in the post.

But her speeches tend to emphasize another distinction more: In the basketball career that dominated her youth — from her New Hampshire childhood to Harvard to professional play abroad — she excelled as a point guard, despite being only 5-feet, 4-inches tall. 

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“Point guard, to me, represents the person whose job is to lead the team on the court, and, importantly, get people to play together,” she said. 

After years of groundwork, she’s all but assured to replace Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican who is stepping down even though he is the most popular governor in the country, with a 74% approval rating.

Among the Democrats who dominate the state, Healey is a “rare politician” who bridges the divide between millennial progressives and older liberals, said UMass Boston political scientist Erin O’Brien.

“She hasn’t run an identity politics race,” O’Brien said. “She’s out, she’s obviously proud, she’s an advocate for the LGBTQ community and for women, but she’s a politician first, who wants to win and has a clearly defined policy agenda, and she wants to get in there and fight.”

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