Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Is That a Bee in Your Beer?

Let’s raise a pint to the honeybee, without which early man would not have discovered the first fermented honey beverages, leading to the development of the modern beers we enjoy today. In fact, alcoholic drinks made from honey were likely enjoyed long before the discovery of beer and wine, as the natural fermentation of a simple mixture of honey and water produces enough alcohol to generate good cheer.

Civilization has enjoyed honey’s many uses for thousands of years, but at no time in history have honeybee populations been as endangered as they are today. Multiple threats including pesticide exposure, loss of habitat, and the presence of pests known as varroa mites, are resulting in the loss of entire colonies of honeybees, a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Fortunately, scientists have uncovered a potential solution for warding off mites; it turns out that one of the main ingredients in beer, known as hops beta acids (HBA) excels at killing mites without harming bees or humans. In 2015 the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of potassium salts of HBA for repelling varroa mites. Because humans have long consumed HBAs in beer and in preserved meat, they are considered to be safe for use in beehives.

Besides continuing to drink beer in the hopes of supporting new and important scientific discoveries, there are other actions you can take to help protect bees, such as promoting bee habitat and reducing the use of a toxic pesticide known to be harmful to bees.

Call your state legislators today (you can look yours up here) and ask them to support our priority pollinator protection bill! You can let them know that pollinators like bees, as well as bats, birds, and butterflies, are experiencing rapid population declines, and this bill (SB451 and HD3461) would establish a commission to investigate solutions to protect and promote pollinators’ health and habitat. You can also let them know you support bill HB2113, which would regulate the spraying of pesticides containing pollinator-harming neonicotinoids on certain agricultural land.

Thank you for your advocacy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director

2015-2016 Legislative Report Card Released

This week we released the twenty-eighth edition of our Legislative Report Card, in which we score state legislators based on their environmental roll call votes.  These roll calls are an objective way to evaluate Massachusetts legislators based on how they vote on Mass Audubon’s priority bills and funding line items.

During the 2015-2016 legislative session, the House voted on 14 of our priority environmental roll calls (out of a total 559 roll calls). The Senate voted on 11 of our priority environmental roll calls (out of a total 681 roll calls). A legislator’s score does not represent an endorsement, or lack thereof, by Mass Audubon.

Mass Audubon’s 2015-2016 Legislative Report Card scores state legislators based on their environmental roll call votes. Photo credit: Tim Lenz

The votes we scored included a landmark energy bill requiring the procurement of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power, and our Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (CAMP) for climate change resilience, though the latter was ultimately stalled.

It remains one of Mass Audubon’s goals to encourage the legislature to engage in more floor debate on environmental legislation. Crucial decisions on environmental and energy policy should not be made during back-room meetings, but through open discussion on the House and Senate floors. This is particularly important in the House, where hardly any roll calls on our priority legislation besides budget amendments and overrides took place.

We will continue to advocate for bolder, more progressive environmental bills during the current legislative session. Massachusetts must remain a committed leader on issues like climate change and clean energy now more than ever

You can see the latest Legislative Report Cards, along with archives going back to 2000,  at:  www.massaudubon.org/advocacy/reportcard.

Don’t Love That Dirty Water

by Karen Heymann

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) finalized a new ‘Clean Water Rule’ clarifying protections for navigable waterways of the US and providing protection for the tributaries that impact downstream waters, as well as wetlands and waters adjacent to rivers and lakes.

Last month, the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order initiating the process of rolling back this updated rule, commonly referred to as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The rule, finalized by the previous administration, has been disputed as government overreach by opponents such as current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who in 2015 led a multi-state lawsuit against the rule in his role as Oklahoma’s Attorney General.

At the core of the current dispute is a lack of agreement over how the EPA and Corps define which waters are protected under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). Despite the scientific evidence supporting the adoption of more stringent regulations, concerns over the rights over private property owners as well as states to alter or impact smaller bodies of water is driving opposition to the new rule.

The Clean Water Rule protects our streams and wetlands that feed our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

The Administration’s latest attempt to unravel the CWA is a classic ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ scenario, pitting private property rights against the management of a common resource. In seeking to undermine the Clean Water Act, policy makers are failing in their duty to ensure that individual interests and actions, such as dumping pollutants in stream or filling in a wetland, do not outweigh the interests of protecting our common water resources.

To arrive at the final rule, EPA and the Corps examined more than 1,200 scientific peer-reviewed publications and summarized the latest scientific understanding of how streams and wetlands affect the physical, chemical and biological integrity of downstream waters. The science was clear: in order to protect our nation’s navigable rivers and streams smaller bodies of water such as wetlands and tributaries must be protected as well.

WOTUS was a step in the right direction, but even more efforts will be needed to ensure the integrity of our nation’s water resources. In Massachusetts, we have state and local water resource protection laws that offer more stringent protections for our lakes, rivers and streams compared with federal laws, and our economy is among the strongest in the nation. While there is no one size fits all solution for the management of our water resources, federal lawmakers should look beyond the political rhetoric over WOTUS and more strongly support the science that justifies the need for stronger policies to protect the nation’s waterways.

Mass Audubon serves on the Board of Mass Rivers Alliance – see what our partners there are doing to protect the waters of Massachusetts.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director

National Policy Agenda Update

By Jack Clarke

In his first 40 days, President Trump has made it easier for the coal industry to dump their waste into streams, ordered the repeal of Clean Water Act protections for vast stretches of wetlands, proposed massive job cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and prepared to begin revoking the previous administration’s most ambitious climate change regulations.

  • The EPA has halted its inquiry to operators of oil and gas wells that would have required them to report methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 time more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year period.
  • US Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s first act was to sign Secretarial Order 3346, which repeals a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directive the previous administration issued the day before President Trump took office barring the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in national parks and wildlife refuges. Secretary Zinke also signed an order to expand hunting, fishing and recreation access on federal lands.
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Began a repeal of the Clean Water Rule.
  • Administrator Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao are expected to begin rolling back federal standards for vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming and 1/3 of our own greenhouse gas emissions. The regulations would have required automakers to build passenger cars that achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, compared with about 36 miles per gallon today. EPA will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that had allowed the state to enforce tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers. This all comes at a time when the rest of the world is moving forward with development of electric cars, putting us in a disadvantaged position to compete globally.
  • President Trump is also expected to overturn the previous administration’s moratorium on new federal coal leases. America’s previous pledge to send billions of dollars to United Nations climate programs is also likely on the chopping block. And, President Trump hasn’t ruled out withdrawing the United States from the 200-nation Paris climate agreement, a step that could undercut the international effort to confront global warming.
  • EPA Administrator Pruitt reiterated that he wants to maintain funding to clean up brownfields and Superfund sites, meet unfulfilled air quality standards and keep paying for local water infrastructure. However, an initial version of the proposed federal budget suggests reducing EPA’s overall budget by one-fourth, cutting state air grants by 30 percent, eliminating 3,000 employees and zeroing out 38 programs, according to a summary being circulated by sources familiar with the plan.
  • A US Department of Commerce budget proposal also would cut NOAA’s budget by 18 % in the areas of external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and coastal resilience.

We must remain vigilant in speaking up in opposition to these damaging decisions and will continue to work with the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation and Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in defending America’s national heritage and natural security.

Environmental Protections to be Defunded

This week, President Trump is expected to announce his preliminary budget outline, which according to major news outlets citing senior administration officials, will slash billions of dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency, seriously undermining many of the programs that protect public health.

Thanks to the EPA’s successful implementation of the Clean Air Act, air pollution in Massachusetts has been reduced from 84 ‘bad air’ days annually in 1983 to 7 in 2016. Reductions in air pollution have had measurable health impacts, including preventing thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory problems associated with breathing dirty air.  Poor air quality also damages the natural environment through acid rain effects on aquatic ecosystems and nitrogen deposition to coastal estuaries.

Boston experiences dozens fewer “bad air” days annually today than in the past,, thanks largely to the Clean Air Act. Photo credit: US National Archives

Mass Audubon will be advocating against these cuts! You can help raise awareness by tweeting what the EPA means to you, along with relevant photos, using the hashtag #myepa. Here’s what we tweeted:

No going back: Boston air pollution down from 84 “bad air” days in 1983 to 7 in 2016 thx to EPA’s Clean Air Act #myEPA


Mass Audubon Meets with Attorney General Healey

Mass Audubon and our conservation partners met last week with Attorney General Maura Healey and her senior energy and environmental staff. We discussed a collaborative strategy for defending the state’s and the nation’s most important health and environmental laws against White House and Congressional assaults.

From L-R: Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke

This meeting was part of our ongoing strategy for advocating for the environment under the Trump administration. Learn more about that here.

Endangered Species Act on the Brink

by Karen Heymann

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of America’s most successful and important environmental laws, passed unanimously and with broad bipartisan support in 1973, and signed by Republican President Richard Nixon. Since its inception the ESA has successfully prevented the extinction of 99% of the native plant and animal species it has sought to protect, and has recovered many species formerly under its protection, including our national symbol, the iconic bald eagle.

Bald eagle. Photo credit: USFWS

ESA in Jeopardy

This week, the ESA came under attack in what we anticipate to be just the first of ongoing efforts to weaken or repeal this critical law. First, the Trump Administration delayed the start date of protections for the newly listed rusty patched bumblebee, an action which, if not corrected, could drive this once-abundant native species to extinction. Learn more about the importance of pollinators like this native bumble bee.

And in Congress, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held an oversight hearing aimed at undermining and misrepresenting the work accomplished under the ESA. Legislation was introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) to repeal the ESA entirely, claiming “it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species” but rather “to control the land,” a false claim that has no bearing in reality.

Speak Up for the ESA

Please call your members of Congress (here’s contact information for your U.S Senators and Representatives) to let them know that you oppose any attempt at repealing or diminishing the work of the Endangered Species Act and demand they urge the Trump administration to enforce every single aspect of the ESA, including protection for the rusty patched bumblebee. Be sure to include your name and city or town you live.

Mass Audubon is also gearing up to push back against efforts to undermine the ESA and we urge you to join us. We recently signed on to an opposition letter, and will continue to double down on our work with our national partners to protect wildlife.

Hawksbill sea turtle, a federally-protected species found in Massachusetts. Photo credit: Caroline Rogers, NOAA

We are also working at the state level to ensure that our endangered species programs are fully funded, and we are focusing on passing legislation to protect pollinators such as bees and butterflies, as well as the habitat they depend on.

The good news: we are not alone. A recent national poll shows that voters overwhelmingly support the ESA and the role of science in determining which species receive protection under the Act. Now, we just need to make sure our voices are heard.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director

Mass Audubon Supports the Green Budget

This week Mass Audubon attended the launch of the FY2018 Green Budget, an annual report by our colleagues at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Mass Audubon continues to support its recommendations for 1% of the state operating budget to support environmental programs and agencies – a goal Governor Baker committed to during his campaign.

As the Massachusetts Senate hosts their “Commonwealth Conversations” series around the state to hear from constituents about their priorities, let’s make sure conservation is part of the conversation!  We encourage you to attend a session and let Senators know the Green Budget is a priority for you. One penny of every state operating dollar is not too much to ask to fund environmental protection and our state parks! Currently, only half a penny of every dollar is going to support environmental agencies.  Agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Recreation have taken especially big hits in recent years.

To learn more about this topic, check out Jack Clarke’s recent Op Ed on the importance of budgeting 1% for nature.

Green Budget report launch event at the Massachusetts State House. Photo credit: Environmental League of Massachusetts

Snowy in Boston, Busy in DC: Staying on Top of Environmental Reviews

As we dig out from our recent blizzards here in Boston, congressional committees are ramping up their work this week in our nation’s capital. Unfortunately, this may be bad news for some of our environmental policies. A number of hearings are scheduled with the goal of “modernizing” these policies, but the real purpose of the hearings is to undermine our nation’s basic environmental protections and renewable energy methods; for instance, by promoting gas pipelines and fossil fuels over wind and solar. A bill was also introduced in Congress this month to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. Mass Audubon stands in direct opposition to any such attempt.

Here are the hearing specifics:

Two House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee hearings will hold focus on energy infrastructure and important environmental laws like the Clean Air Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will review the Endangered Species Act, and House Energy and Oversight subcommittees will focus on an energy innovation loan program.

We will be closely following these and other federal legislative issues this week, and will let you know when and if your help is needed with calls to your Senator or Congressperson.

And for some pro tips on how to be most effective when contacting your federal legislators, read this recent Op Ed by Congressman Barney Frank.

Latest State Energy Updates

Supporting Green Jobs Legislation

Mass Audubon joined with several of our partner groups last week in signing onto a letter urging Senators to co-sponsor An Act Creating 21st Century Clean Energy Jobs (sponsored by Senator Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton). There are over 100,000 people in Massachusetts working in the clean energy industry today. This legislation will help that number continue to grow, build on our position as the strongest state for energy efficiency, and help us reach the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act. Read the letter here.

Offshore wind development will be one source of clean energy jobs along Massachusetts’ south coast.

Making Progress on State’s New Solar Incentive Program

The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is designing a new solar incentive program to promote cost-effective solar development in Massachusetts. Last week, DOER presented the final program design to stakeholders. The goal of the new program, named the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART), will be to procure 1,600 MW of new solar capacity, as well as to provide 10- or 20-year fixed-price compensation for solar projects, depending on their size. You can see the whole presentation here. Dates for public hearings and the deadline for the written comment period are expected to be announced in March.

Learn more about solar incentives and project siting in our previous blog post.

Rooftop installations are a great way to generate solar energy while avoiding the loss of ecologically-important land areas Photo credit: EEA

Congratulations to Massachusetts’ Newest Green Communities!

DOER also recently announced that an additional 30 Massachusetts cities and towns have been designated as Green Communities. Under the Green Communities Act, cities and towns must meet five criteria to be designated a Green Community and receive funding, including reducing municipal energy consumption by 20 percent over five years. Green Communities are eligible for grants to complete renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Over half of Massachusetts municipalities have now been designated, and more than 64% percent of residents live in, a Green Community. Among the newly-designated cities and towns are Chelsea, Fitchburg, Marshfield, and North Adams.

More details available here.