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, which was sent to Congress, 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.

Mass Audubon is Monitoring Environmental Regulations at Risk

This week, President Trump signed an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded. According to President Trump, “This will be the biggest such act that our country has ever seen.” Mass Audubon will be on the lookout for the repeal of environmental standards necessary for protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live, work, and play on.

Bald eagles are a species that have benefited greatly from environmental regulations. They are no longer an endangered species in the US thanks to the banning of the pesticide DDT and habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act. Photo credit: USFWS

In more federal news, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to vote on Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, amid complaints from many senators that his answers to their questions were inadequate. Please keep up with your phone calls to Senators Warren and Markey opposing the nomination, and encourage your friends in other states to do the same with their senators!

We are also paying attention to Congress’ damaging decision with regard to federal land management. Earlier this month, Congress revised its House budget rules to more easily allow federal lands to essentially be given away. By adding language to devalue these lands, US Representatives have made it easier to transfer control of more than 640 million acres, including national parks and wildlife refuges to states.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

We’ve written about issues like this before, most recently in regard to control of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham. When management of federal land changes hands to state control, problematic changes can ensue, from limited public access to natural resource exploitation and energy drilling. There is also the added challenge of state agencies and governments being able to pay for all the maintenance required for the land. Mass Audubon is concerned about these legislative changes, and will continue to closely follow the issue and let you know when the time to act will be.

Christina Wiseman is Advocacy Associate.

The Intern Intel Report #1: Spring 2017 Edition

By Paige Dolci

Hello! My name is Paige Dolci, and I am Mass Audubon’s new Conservation Policy Intern. I am currently a senior at Boston University majoring in Environmental Science and minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy. I have a particular interest in the intersection of science and advocacy, making the opportunity to work in the Legislative Affairs office very exciting.

So far, my experience includes assisting with research on climate change and nutrient cycling both in Boston and abroad in New Zealand. Specifically, I conducted lab and fieldwork to analyze samples from New Zealand’s kauri forests, a landscape currently compromised by a fungus-like disease, in addition to mangroves, an ecosystem with a potentially important role in carbon sequestration. Back in Boston, my past internship focused on a coastal ecosystem of Cape Cod and its response to human-induced changes. I have also held two positions with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, an organization working to restore the local park system and reconnect people with nature. I was able to assist with both volunteer coordination and fieldwork management along with communications and PR.

Paige on Aoraki, the highest mountain in New Zealand

During my last semester of college, I will continue to write for BU’s Earth and Environment Review in order to promote environmental awareness, without which achieving a sustainable, equitable world would be impossible. Additionally, I am completing an independent study to improve the EPA’s municipal environmental justice policy and devise more effective communication about lead poisoning for the Boston Public Health Commission. After graduation, I hope to be a sound member of the conservation field, combining what I’ve learned both inside and outside of the classroom to help facilitate progress that ensures the security of future generations.

Over the course of this internship, I will be writing several blogs to document my learning experience, sharing Mass Audubon’s current efforts to develop and strengthen environmental laws and my role in the process. I hope you’ll join me on this rewarding journey!

One Percent for Nature

by Jack Clarke

Note: This Op Ed is also running in several regional newspapers statewide, including the Gloucester Daily Times.

Last spring on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, Governor Charlie Baker called the state’s park system a “really big deal” and said there was “no question” that over the past decade “the state’s disinvested in this stuff.” He then reiterated his campaign promise to dedicate 1 percent of the overall state budget to the environment. “We’re going to get there. It’s going to take a few years,” he said. This month he files his third budget, and it is time “to get there.”

There is little question that Massachusetts has a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and the nature of Massachusetts is short-changed because of it.

Of this year’s $40 billion state budget, only 0.6 percent is devoted to environmental programs – programs like the establishment and operation of state forests and parks, along with programs that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lands we live, work and play on.

Halibut Point State Park in Rockport is one of the approximately 150 state parks in Massachusetts. Photo credit: MassDCR

Spending on the environment needs to be increased to no less than 1 percent of the overall state budget, especially as the White House and Congress prepare to cut spending on America’s environmental well-being.

The last time we spent 1 percent on nature was in 2009. And even though he promised to achieve that 1 percent, last year Gov. Baker actually cut environmental spending by 7 percent compared to the previous year.

Budget cuts are made for two reasons:

First, in preparing the budget and figuring out how much they will have to spend, the Legislature makes overly optimistic projections on what will be available through tax revenues throughout the year. When the money fails to come in, shortfalls arise with environmental line-items often most vulnerable.

Second, once they imagine how much money will be available, the Legislature drafts a budget based on its revenue projections and then employs gimmicks to patch it together. Lawmakers count things such as funds set aside for rainy day emergencies, delaying on-time payment of bills, selling of state property, and state pensions and retiree health care funds.

The Legislature then submits to the governor a so-called balanced budget with a built-in structural deficit. The dance continues with the governor then vetoing certain sections of the Legislature’s budget; the Legislature then overrides those vetoes, and the governor once again cuts budget items for his agencies to reflect a shortfall in revenue income.

The second reason environmental and other basic programs are underfunded is because of a lack of actual revenue.

Revenues are not keeping up with costs. We are not over-spending, and we have not had any spending increases. As the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center points out, general expenditures are consistently at 12 cents for every dollar the state collects. And that’s where they have been since the late 1980s.

The state Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) also receives funding from the state budget. Here, DER assisted with a habitat restoration project as  former cranberry bog was transformed in the headwaters of the Eel River. Photo credit: Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration

The problem is tax cuts. Cutting programs is always part of solving state financial problems. But we have to realize that we do not do more with less, as the voters demand; we do less with less. Those cuts started in a big way at the turn of the millennium when, in a ballot initiative, Bay Staters voted to cut the state income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent. That translates into an annual $2 billion reduction in what the state can spend on the public’s health, safety and well-being.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has shown that the gap between projected revenue and spending to maintain current services is $800 million. So the problem is on the tax side. Before the 2000 initiative, the state was taking in 7 cents on every dollar earned — now it’s around 6 cents.

Last year, the governor’s fiscal year 2017 budget recommended $200 million for environment and recreation programs, a cut of $14 million below the fiscal year 2016 budget. Those cuts have to stop and the environmental budget must be restored.

Ironically, it is one of the smallest parts of the state budget that effects every resident of the commonwealth and is often the first to be cut. It is time for Beacon Hill to get back to devoting 1 percent to the nature of Massachusetts in the upcoming budget.

Jack Clarke is director of public policy and government relations.

173 Organizations Send Letter Opposing Scott Pruitt as Head of EPA

Mass Audubon is one of 173 environmental, health, and public interest groups that signed and sent a letter to the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works committee opposing the nomination of Scott Pruitt to Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scott Pruitt has actively worked against the mission of the EPA, and his nomination as its leader should be rejected by the Senate. Read the full letter here.

We also joined with other Massachusetts-based organizations to inform our US Senators that we are opposed to Pruitt’s confirmation, and urged our members to call Senators Warren and Markey to voice their own opposition. You can learn how to take action and spread the word here.

 

EPA’s Leader Must Respect Science and the Environment

Mass Audubon urges you to call Senators Elizabeth Warren (202-224-4543) and Ed Markey (202-224-2742) today and ask them to reject Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). President-elect Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, and it is the Senate’s job to decide whether or not to confirm him. Mr. Pruitt is a known climate science skeptic, an oil & gas industry insider, and a leading force in federal lawsuits over the implementation of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Please call your Senators, encouraging them to stand up for the environment and public health.

Sample message:

As your constituent, I wanted to let you know that I am very concerned about President-elect Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt, who would be charged with implementing the EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment.  Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt has filed multiple lawsuits against the EPA, actively seeking to undermine air and water quality, and dismissing the science of climate change.  

I urge you to reject the nomination of Mr. Pruitt, or anyone like him who rejects sound science and the clear, positive benefits of laws like the Clean Air Act.  For over 30 years the Clean Air Act has reduced acid rain that once had enormous impacts on forests and waters, reduced haze that clouds views of natural treasures that drive tourism economies, and reduced ozone that can damage our lungs. 

As you consider Mr. Pruitt and other nominees for positions in our natural resource protection agencies, please reject those who ignore the overwhelming evidence of science and seek to roll back our bedrock environmental and public health laws. 

It is crucial that we forge a path forward based on the values that Americans have long held dear, like clear air and clean water for this and future generations. 

Thank you.

And thank you for taking action today! 

Please also encourage your friends in Massachusetts and other states to contact their Senators about this too! They can find contact information for their Senators online.

Here’s the letter we signed onto, organized by the Natural Resources Defense Council, urging our Senators to reject the nomination.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Priorities for the 2017-2018 Session

by Karen Heymann

As we head into a new legislative session on Beacon Hill we are rolling out Mass Audubon’s legislative priorities, along with a fresh legislative report card (to be released in February) on the prior 2015-2016 session.

And while we can’t promise perfect scores for all, we can promise that the votes we score are based on the environmental roll call votes that align with our legislative priorities, which we deliver to every Senator and Representative at the start of each session.

Activity is ramping up again at the Massachusetts State House with the start of the 2017-2018 session

For over 100 years Mass Audubon has advocated for the nature of Massachusetts, and our legislative priorities reflect our continued full court press on climate change, land conservation and wildlife protection.

Some of our top priorities you will recognize from last session: climate adaptation, Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, and land conservation tax credits. The good news is that some progress was made last session on climate adaptation in the form of an executive order by Governor Baker, and that House and Senate leaders are actively discussing the need for creating new revenue – something we have not heard in recent years.

Coastal properties like these will be more vulnerable to sea level rise if climate change continues at current rates. Photo credit: John Phelan

Our priorities focus on creating a long-term, statutorily-required process around climate change preparedness; pushing for more funding for a green budget, CPA, and land protection; and expanding the state’s focus on pollinator health to include a broad range of pollinator species as well as their habitat.

We will plan to rally other organizations and members around key issues, meet with legislators one-on-one, hold legislative briefings, testify at committee hearings, and keep our readers up to date on our needs and progress. Stay tuned for detailed fact sheets, updates on bill numbers and ways you can get involved!

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director