The Trump administration is rolling back enforcement of environmental regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, essentially ceasing to hold companies accountable for pollution until further notice. Mass Audubon and other environmental groups spoke out about this decision to The Boston Globe.
Supporting River and Wetland Health
Earlier this month, the state Division of Ecological Restoration announced new funding awarded to projects that will remove aging dams, restore floodplain habitat, and improve resilience to climate change. Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary is among the recipients.
Funding Opportunity to Improve Water Quality
MassDEP is holding an informational call on April 8 about their 604(b) grant program, ahead of issuing their Request for Responses later this month. Potential grant applicants are encouraged to participate in the call to discuss new project ideas.
Mass Audubon is actively monitoring the COVID-19 situation. Please visit our website to get the most up-to-date information on the closure of our sanctuaries and trails. Learn more >
Take Care of Yourselves!
Although Mass Audubon’s sanctuaries are currently closed due to the stay-at-home advisory, we have citizen science projects and activities for kids you can do closer to home. Stay tuned for more ways to take action and support your community during these challenging times.
Update from the State House
As we’ve all been adjusting to our new normal over the past few weeks, activity at the State House has redirected—but it hasn’t stopped. Here’s a quick recap on what’s been happening, from COVID-19 relief to old growth forest protections.
→ The state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program is holding April webinars on how to apply for funding.
Speaking Up for Environmental Protections
Mass Audubon recently joined with our conservation partners to oppose two damaging changes to federal environmental laws—loosening enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and proposed “updates” to the National Environmental Policy Act that violate the law’s intent.
Free Technical Assistance Opportunity
The Southeast New England (SNEP) Network is offering communities in that region the opportunity to apply for free technical and training assistance for stormwater management and ecological restoration. Mass Audubon is a SNEP Network partner. Learn more & apply >
As we all adjust to our new normal over these past few weeks during the COVID-19 crisis, activity at the State House has redirected, but hasn’t stopped. Here’s a quick recap on what’s been happening.
COVID-19 Relief Legislation
The Massachusetts state legislature has
introduced 26 different bills (and counting) to address the current pandemic. These
proposals range from creating a COVID-19 Quarantine Assistance Fund that to
assist residents who are unable to earn wages due to infection or quarantine,
to directing the department of revenue to send a $1,000 check to households who
meet certain income criteria.
So far, the only bill that has been signed into law is S.2599, Governor Baker’s bill that waives the one week waiting period for those qualifying for unemployment.
At the federal level, congress is also working on several proposed bills to address the pandemic. One has passed so far: TheFamilies First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) was signed into law by President Trump last week. Its components include:
Providing free COVID-19 testing to the public, with no copays or deductibles.
Requiring employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide two weeks paid sick leave to employees unable to work due to quarantine or for the care of someone with COVID-19 (and provide related tax credits to the employer)
Providing $1 billion in state grants to assist in unemployment claims
Increasing funding for SNAP and WIC nutrition benefit programs.
It is expected that the Massachusetts state budget
will be delayed, and that once it does go through, there will be reduced
spending across all sectors. We’ll still continue to push for our Green Budget
priorities, since state environmental office and programs continue to need all
the support they can get.
Old Growth Forest Protections
We were pleasantly
surprised to see our priority
legislation improving protections for old growth forests was reported
favorably out of committee last week. Now it awaits approval by the Senate
Committee on Ways and Means before it can head to the House and Senate floor
Mass Audubon has three new staff members helping us advance climate action! Welcome to Danielle Perry, Climate Change Adaptation Ecologist; Nia Keith, Climate Change Education Manager; and Rishya Narayanan, Climate Change Communications Manager.
Supporting Cleaner Transportation
Massachusetts is participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional partnership to reduce emissions and invest in sustainable transportation. We weighed in during TCI’s public comment period (more on our support for TCI here).
One Step Closer to Net Zero
The state has released a draft letter to officially set a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050. This release starts a month-long public comment period on how to reach that goal, and aligns with a series of public meetings held around the state.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal
agencies to assess the environmental impacts of projects like highway
construction and federal land management applications before deciding whether
to approve them. In other words, NEPA provides necessary checks and balances as
project proposals move forward, and can help block the most
environmentally-damaging among them.
Recently, the Trump administration announced plans to “modernize” NEPA in ways that would significantly limit the law’s ability to incorporate public input into project reviews and to avoid climate impacts. If the changes are enacted, they will loosen requirements to consider longer-range, cumulative impacts of a project – like those contributing to, and stemming from, climate change.
Mass Audubon will be opposing this change with our environmental partners. A group of more than 140 members of congress, including most of Massachusetts’ delegation, has also voiced their opposition.
Let the Council know we need to be doing everything we can
right now to tighten greenhouse gas emission limits, not weaken them, and that effectively
removing climate impacts from the approval process is a short-sighted and
dangerous decision for our climate.
Losing Ground: Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate is the sixth edition in our series analyzing land use patterns in Massachusetts. It highlights the value of forests, farmlands, and wetlands for climate resilience and includes targeted local data. Explore the report >
Settlement Reached for Housatonic Cleanup
A recent settlement agreement with GE will enhance and expedite the removal of PCBs from the Housatonic River, a cleanup effort that dates back to the 1980s. Mass Audubon’s Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the river. Full story >
New Environmental Appointments Announced
Mass Audubon congratulates three new state environmental leaders—Patrick Woodcock, Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources; Jim Montgomery, Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation; and Shaun Santos, Colonel of the Environmental Police.
The 100-year old federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)
is one of our first environmental statutes, and makes it illegal to hunt, trap,
kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. Despite providing crucial
protections, the law has been under
attack since 2017.
Now, the Trump administration has taken the next step in
codifying damaging changes to the MBTA into law by filing their Notice
of Proposed Rulemaking.
When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA helps hold companies responsible, and is a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place. If the proposed change becomes law, incidental, as opposed to deliberate, bird deaths resulting from these activities – for example, birds killed in oil spills – will no longer result in prosecution.
You can help fight this change.
A group of national conservation organizations are suing the Department of
Interior over changes to the law, and there’s still time to voice our
opposition through the public review process.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public
comments on this proposed change through March 19. You can
submit your own comments to voice your opposition to these protection
Let USFWS know birds
are already in serious trouble, due to factors like habitat loss and
climate change, and that it’s unacceptable to stop holding companies
responsible for bird deaths at a time when 76% of all bird species in the US
Reminder: Make Sure You’re Registered for the Primary
The registration deadline is February 12 to be eligible to vote or change party status for the Massachusetts primary election. If you’ll be out of state or unavailable on March 3 the day of the primary, absentee ballots and early voting are available.
Thanks to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Katie Theoharides for attending a meet and greet with Mass Audubon members last week in Arlington, where she spoke about the state’s 2020 environmental and climate change agenda.
Weighing in on Water Protection
Mass Audubon opposed a recent federal decision to remove protections for a large percentage of US streams and wetlands. Our director of advocacy spoke with WBUR about these changes and their potential implications.
Latest Local Climate Funding Announced
The next round of funding through the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program will provide $11.6 million in grants to communities to develop resilience strategies and adapt to climate change. 82% of Massachusetts cities and towns are now enrolled in MVP.
State Budget Process Begins
Governor Baker has released his FY21 state budget, and we’ll be advocating for full funding on Green Budget priorities like the Division of Ecological Restoration. We’ll also seek support for the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, which Mass Audubon manages for the state.
Poll of the Week
A new MassInc poll finds the majority of Massachusetts residents think they’ll need to make at least moderate changes to how they live in order to address climate change.
Last week, the Massachusetts state Senate approved legislation to move us forward on climate action. An Act setting next-generation climate policy (S.2477) calls for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a more ambitious goal than the current state target.
This newly introduced, fast-moving bill is a top Mass
Audubon legislative priority, and would advance our organization’s Climate
Action Plan. It was among three climate-related bills to pass, the other two of
which address energy
efficiency and electric
and net-zero vehicle programs.
Currently, thanks to the Global Warming Solutions Act passed in 2008, Massachusetts is required
to reduce its emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, with an interim goal
of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.
The new Next Generation bill ramps up those goals to achieve net-zero emissions for our state by 2050. It would set interim targets every five years, and would require a market-based, carbon-pricing mechanism for the transportation, commercial building, and residential sectors.
Mass Audubon, with our partners at The Nature Conservancy
and The Trustees, helped ensure an amendment was included to recognize the
importance of carbon sequestration by natural and working lands towards meeting
emissions reductions goals. If the bill passes, this would mark the first time in
Massachusetts this type of recognition would be given in emissions regulations.
The bills will now move on to the House, where we will work to amend it further to include industrial scale offshore wind – an important clean energy component for achieving emissions targets. Stay tuned for opportunities to help these Next Generation policies succeed!
This Op Ed from Mass Audubon’s advocacy director takes a deeper look at the Transportation and Climate Initiative. You can still support this regional effort to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks.
This week, a package of new climate change bills will be debated in the state Senate, an effort that also aligns with the state’s net-zero by 2050 goal. We support these proposals, and encourage the inclusion of offshore wind to achieve their goals.
Protecting US Waters
Last week, the Trump administration finalized a rule to remove federal protections for a large percentage of US streams and wetlands. We opposed this environmentally-damaging change when it was first proposed, and several states including Massachusetts are expected to file lawsuits.
Share Your Thoughts on Mosquito Spraying
Last year, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) occurred across a record portion of Massachusetts, resulting in a high volume of aerial pesticide spraying by the state. Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance are collecting input from watershed and environmental groups to share with the Department of Public Health.