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Rural casinos leave a huge carbon footprint

THE BOSTON GLOBE 

By George Bachrach and Philip Warburg

IF YOU'D like to get a glimpse of Governor Deval Patrick's vision for "destination" casinos, take a virtual trip south of the border to Foxwoods, somewhere in the wilds of southeastern Connecticut.

The location of this mega-gambling parlor - purportedly the world's largest - doesn't seem to matter. The official website describes it only as "within easy driving distance from four of the East Coast's major cities: New York, Boston, Hartford, and Providence."

We support the governor's desire to find new ways to boost the Massachusetts economy. But in his headlong rush toward resort casinos as job creators and revenue generators, he seems to be blinded by the glare of sleek hotel towers rising out of verdant New England countryside. He also seems to be forgetting his administration's recently proclaimed commitment to a very different road map - one that will lead Massachusetts toward urgently needed reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that are hurtling New England and the world toward climate catastrophe.

Resort casinos, if successful, draw people - lots of people, round the clock and throughout the year.

If Massachusetts sites these mega-resorts in remote locations, a lot more people will be racking up highway miles, giving an unwelcome boost to automobile-generated greenhouse gas emissions - the state's fastest-growing contributor to global warming. All of this comes at a time when we need to be strengthening our towns and cities rather than promoting sprawl.

Foxwoods, by its own estimate, draws more than 40,000 visitors daily with many, if not most, arriving by car. We can only expect the same, or worse, if the governor's dream of three resort casinos sited in the open countryside comes true.

The governor has been candid in expressing his "misgivings about a casino in any city." He asserts that "the whole point is to create a resort destination." Urban residents have raised valid concerns about social and other impacts of casinos located in their communities. But have the governor's capable advisers clued him in to the environmental costs of creating miles-from-nowhere mega-magnets?

Patrick's advisers often speak with passion and determination about the need to promote "smart" growth by bringing new jobs, better public transit, and affordable housing to our cities and towns. They acknowledge the obvious benefits of policies designed to get people out of their cars, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution associated with long driving distances. They also espouse smart growth as a way to stem the encroachment of low-density sprawl into the Commonwealth's dwindling farmland and forested areas, and as a way to keep highway construction and maintenance costs within bounds.

It's hard to imagine a development scheme more inimical to those worthy goals than the governor's resort casinos.

Included in Patrick's casino bill, now before Beacon Hill lawmakers, is a requirement that casinos conform to the Commonwealth's "sustainable development principles." Along with environmentally friendly building design and use of renewable energy, casinos are to apply the US Green Building Council's Neighborhood Development Rating System, which calls for projects to be sited where jobs and services are accessible by foot or public transit.

It's a mystery how this smart growth standard squares with the governor's promotion of remotely sited "destination casinos." The endless stream of cars reaching far into the countryside will ensure that even a "green" casino has a very dirty environmental footprint.

The Patrick administration's road map for combating climate change - slated for release this spring - must incorporate an earnest and ambitious commitment to smart growth policies.

Ignoring the environmental impacts of remotely sited casinos is an oversight the governor simply cannot afford if he wants to be taken seriously as a leader in the battle against climate change.

George Bachrach is president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Philip Warburg is president of the Conservation Law Foundation.

 

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