Action You Can Take This Week: Don’t Let States Be Penalized for Opposing Offshore Drilling

US Representatives are considering a bill that would fine states that oppose oil and gas drilling off their coasts. The draft proposal would allow a state to reject offshore drilling in up to half of the leased areas off its coast, but withholding any additional areas beyond that from proposed sales would result in a fee. The fee would be calculated as at least 10% of the estimated government revenue that would have been generated from drilling activity for the site. The proposal would also create financial incentives for states that support expanded drilling. Learn more.

Earlier this year, the US Department of the Interior announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass approximately 90% of US coastlines, which would include the coast off of New England. Many groups, including Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts’ Congressional Delegation, oppose the proposed expansion, which would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and underwater geological resources.

Humpback whale habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: NOAA

If it advances, this new legislation could pressure some states into moving forward with expanding offshore drilling. The proposal is currently being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee. You can help by speaking out against it!

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, so if you live in her district, ask her to oppose the bill during her Committee review. Otherwise, you can ask your US Representative to oppose the bill now so it does not advance beyond the Committee. Let them know states shouldn’t be penalized for protecting their coasts from offshore drilling, especially at a time when there is so much opportunity for development of clean, renewable energy.

Action You Can Take This Week: Support Adaptation Funding in the Environmental Bond

The Governor’s environmental bond bill (H.4438) is expected to go to the House floor for a vote this week. This bond includes several components of our priority climate change adaptation bill, and if signed into law, its passage will be an important step toward implementing goals we’ve been advocating for over the past six years.

You can help by contacting your state representative and asking them to vote yes on H.4438.

The Intern Intel Report #2: Summer 2018 Edition

My name is Elizabeth MeLampy, and I am a new Conservation Policy Intern at Mass Audubon. I am from Dunstable, Massachusetts, but I’ve lived in and around Boston for the past few years. I graduated from Harvard in 2016, where I studied comparative religion with a minor in global health and health policy. During one of my summers in college, I interned on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and became fascinated by the modern political process. After graduation, I worked at a law firm in Boston for two years, and I will be returning to Harvard for law school in the fall. As I prepare for law school and all of these threads come together this summer, I find myself considering a path in environmental or animal law. In the meantime, I am excited to be here on Beacon Hill learning about conservation policy and legislation.

Despite my varied background, I have always loved bird watching and I’ve had a constant and deep respect for wildlife of all forms. Whether hiking in the White Mountains or enjoying the beaches of Cape Cod, running along the Charles or kayaking in a wooded lake, I love spending time in the natural world. It is a gift, and I believe we have a responsibility to protect it.

I have recently begun to understand how policy and regulations can have real and serious effects on even the most seemingly mundane aspects of non-human life. I am eager to learn about Mass Audubon’s priorities and to participate in promoting its messages and agenda. Already while interning at Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts Senate has debated amendments to their budget that would have lasting effects for local communities and their conservation efforts. It is energizing to see how big ideas about the environment and wildlife translate into concrete policy like this. I am excited to be a part of it all this summer!

Action You Can Take This Week: Support Pollinator Habitat Protection

One of our top legislative priorities this session is a bill related to pollinator health: S.2460resolve to protect pollinator habitat, filed by Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Representative Mary Keefe (D-Worcester). It was recently reported to the Senate Committee on Rules, the last stop before consideration before the full Senate.

We need your help to get this bill passed before the end of the session! Please call your state Senator today and ask them to support this bill, which is critical to protecting both wild and native bees, as well as a whole range of pollinators including butterflies.

Photo credit: Zeynel Cebeci

The Intern Intel Report #1: Summer 2018 Edition

Hi! I’m Jetta Cook and I’m a new Conservation Policy Intern here at Mass Audubon. I’m an incoming senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I’m double majoring in Natural Resource Conservation and Legal Studies. For as long as I can remember, I have had a love for the outdoors, and the creatures that call it home. I hope to enter the field of environmental law and policy to help in the fight to preserve our natural world.

Growing up on Cape Cod, it was hard not to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Being surrounded by such large areas of protected land allowed me great opportunities that I would like to help ensure for the next generation. I became acquainted with Mass Audubon and the great work they do through my time spent at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where I explored both with my family and through their summer camp sessions, which I both attended and volunteered for. I also helped volunteer at Cape Cod National Seashore for both their Interpretive and Natural Resource divisions, protecting the land and helping to show visitors what makes that park so special. Through these opportunities, it has become clear to me that through the hard work and dedication of these organizations, crucial land and habitat can be protected, along with the wildlife species that depend on them.

Going forward, I hope to continue more into the field of environmental law and policy to help ensure the conservation of our natural world. I am hoping to go to law school to give me more tools to assist in my passion for conservation. Over the course of the summer, I will be gaining experience to help me on my way. I will be writing more blog posts about this journey, and I hope you will all come along for the ride!

Conservation Policy intern Jetta Cook

 

Help Trailside Secure Needed Funding

Update 5/29/18: Good news – the version of the Senate FY19 budget that ultimately passed included $300,000 for Trailside! Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator in support of Trailside funding. A conference committee will now have to reconcile the House and Senate budget versions, and we’ll be advocating for the highest funding levels for our priority programs.

As the FY19 state budget continues its progress through the State House, we’re at a crucial point for Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum funding.

Trailside is the interpretive center for the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation and features a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of rescued wildlife. Mass Audubon operates the museum in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which means we receive a crucial component of Trailside’s funding through the state budget each fiscal year. Trailside welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year and is home to the Snowy Owl Project.

Trailside director Norman Smith before releasing a Snowy Owl to safety. Photo: Raymond MacDonald

Although the Governor’s original FY19 budget did not include funding for Trailside, the House version included $50,000 thanks to an amendment filed by Representative William Driscoll.

Now the Senate is gearing up to debate their version of the budget on May 22, and Senator Walter Timilty has filed an amendment requesting $1 million for Trailside.

Over the past few years, Trailside has faced a continuing revenue shortfall and received only a fraction of the state funding needed to sustain its operation and public programs. Senator Timilty’s amendment is a chance to reclaim that much-needed funding.

You can help! Please contact your state Senator and ask them to support Senator Timilty’s Amendment #935 for Trailside. A quick call or email can make a big difference. Thank you for your advocacy!

Massachusetts Should Look to California on Rooftop Solar

By Daniel Brown

The California Energy Commission voted unanimously last week to require rooftop solar on new homes and apartments by 2020, with reasonable exceptions. The commission estimates the new rules will lead to a reduction of 493 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That’s approximately equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road or the amount of carbon sequestered by 965,000 acres of healthy forestland. That’s an area about 20% larger than Rhode Island.

There is no way to generate electricity in a more environmentally-friendly way than through rooftop solar installations and they provide a number of financial benefits to the property owner over time. Whereas other good options like wind and community solar often require open space, rooftop solar utilizes already-developed space. That leaves more room for parks, conservation areas, and vital green spaces that keep our towns and cities healthy and resilient to a changing climate.

Rooftop solar on a home in Sonoma, CA. Massachusetts should be following California’s lead in championing this kind of renewable energy generation. Photo: Sonoma County

A common concern about rules requiring solar panels is the potential increase in cost of home ownership, but rooftop solar will add $40 on average to a monthly mortgage payment while giving the same household $80 in savings on energy costs.

Massachusetts can and should lead as California has. Bay Staters have repeatedly demonstrated support for renewable energy initiatives that improve the health of the planet for future generations. Massachusetts is often rated among the most attractive states for adding solar panels to rooftops, and is, by some measures, the best. Massachusetts also has a leg up on California in community solar development, a fact experts often attribute to manageable regulations and progressive incentives that make community-scale projects attractive.

Harnessing the sun, shown here setting over Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, is one of our smartest energy opportunities

But our requirements for rooftop solar on new development are lagging behind. In 2014, California required new houses to have roofs and electrical systems that were compatible with solar panel installations. While some communities in Massachusetts have put in place similar rules, many more should follow suit, and a statewide standard like California’s first step would make smart development easier in the coming years.

To meet Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act mandate of an 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050, we will need to pursue aggressive, innovative solutions that benefit everyone in the Commonwealth. Rooftop solar is one strategy we will need to employ. It is the future. It’s better, it’s smarter, and it’s coming whether it’s now or later. The sooner we embrace it, the brighter that future will be.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

Help Climate Change Funding Move Forward

Updated 5/17/18

The Governors’ Climate Change Bond, which includes many of Mass Audubon’s priority adaptation goals, had its public hearing Tuesday before the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. The bill (H.4438) is an important step forward for boosting funding for climate change preparedness, bringing the state’s bond authorization for that purpose to $300 million. Our Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Coalition is also still urging the legislature to add in a “consistency provision,” which would ensure the Commonwealth’s climate change plan does not sit on a shelf when completed but instead is implemented and complied with by state agencies.

You can help by calling the Committee at (617) 722-2017 and asking them to report H.4438 out favorably. Please also also ask them to support our Coalition’s “consistency provision” amendment. Our Coalition, which is co-chaired by Mass Audubon, has already provided testimony to the Committee. Read it here for more information on the additions we hope to see made.

The Word on Offshore Wind

Mass Audubon submitted comments to the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the latest stage of review for the proposed 800 MW Vineyard Wind project. The offshore wind facility would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod.

To meet Massachusetts’ long term renewable energy goals, the state is seeking bids to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy. Vineyard Wind is currently one of the three offshore wind energy projects competing for a contract in Massachusetts, and is the first to initiate a long and complicated state, federal, local, and regional permitting process.

Offshore wind is on the horizon for Massachusetts

Mass Audubon supports the responsible development of clean, renewable energy that reduces the worst effects of climate change. But, we also urge BOEM and project developers to operate under appropriate conditions to protect important habitats and the marine and bird species that utilize these areas. Read the letter here.

We also signed onto a group comment letter with partners including the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and others

Vineyard Wind has also continued to move forward with state-level permitting, filing their draft Environmental Impact Report with the Commonwealth for the wind farm’s transmission cable to the land-based grid. We’ll be commenting on that process as well. The DEIR is available now on the project website, though the official comment period is not yet open.

We’ll be continuing to follow the development of this project and others proposed off the Massachusetts coast.

Proposed offshore wind leased areas off Massachusetts

Update: Migratory Birds at Risk Once Again

Update 5/31/2018:

A group of national conservation organizations are suing the Department of Interior over changes to the law.

Original post:

This year marks the 100th anniversary of enactment of the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of America’s first environmental statutes. Despite its longstanding, effective protections for birds, the MBTA is currently under attack by the Trump Administration. Mass Audubon and our federal leaders are speaking out against those attempts to weaken the law.

The MBTA makes it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.

Snowy owls are among the hundreds of bird species protected by the MBTA.  Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

In December 2017, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) made a decision to cripple the MBTA. In a legal memorandum, the Department stated that “incidental,” as opposed to “intentional,” bird deaths resulting from energy industry activities will no longer result in prosecution. This definition would effectively remove accountability over such deaths – for example, birds killed in oil spills. This decision comes at a time when migratory birds are already stressed by habitat loss and climate change.

Mass Audubon helped get the MBTA passed in Congress, and we’re speaking up again on its behalf today. See what Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton and Advocacy Director Jack Clarke had to say about “The White House War on Birds” in their Op Ed running in regional newspapers statewide.

Mass Audubon also reached out to the DOI in opposition to this change. You can too.

American goldfinch are also protected by the MBTA. Photo credit: USFWS

Also weighing in are Senator Ed Markey and his colleagues, who wrote to DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting that he fully implement the MBTA and continue holding industries accountable for preventable bird deaths. These Senators are joined by many of their House colleagues, including members of the Massachusetts delegation, who also wrote to Secretary Zinke defending the Act. We encouraged those Massachusetts members who hadn’t yet signed on to add their names.

It’s going to take strong collaboration and continued outreach to ensure that our country’s most important bird protection law itself remains protected.