Meet Our Team: Mike Cusher

This week we are excited to welcome Mike Cusher to Mass Audubon’s advocacy team as our new legislative director.

Mike comes to Mass Audubon after several years as a senior legislative assistant in Congressman Jim McGovern’s Washington, DC office, where he advised the Congressman on a wide portfolio of issues, including energy, environment, and agriculture. During this time, Mike served as the Congressman’s primary adviser on protecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund, increasing funding for the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, protecting conservation land from fossil fuel infrastructure, and the 2018 Farm Bill, among other crucial environmental issues.  

Mike’s passion for the environment and land conservation began when he was 13 on a camping trip in New Hampshire, where he was awestruck by the beauty of the snow-covered Hemenway State Forest. He loves to travel domestically and internationally to see other places of natural beauty. Now, he is thrilled to work for an organization founded by Harriet Hemenway, who, after the death of her husband Augustus, donated the land their summer home was located on to the State of New Hampshire, which then became the Hemenway State Forest.  

Mike earned a B.S. in Environmental Economics from UMass Amherst and a Masters in Environmental Resource Policy from The George Washington University. He grew up in Westborough and currently lives in Somerville with his wife Taylor and their cat Autumn.

Now that the 2019-2020 state legislative session has begun, Mike is looking forward to helping Mass Audubon further our mission of protecting the nature of Massachusetts. Informed by his experiences on Capitol Hill, he’ll be helping us advance legislative priorities like expanded clean energy legislation and implementation of state climate adaptation plans.

Say No to Seismic Testing

Recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorized the use of seismic testing for offshore oil and gas resources in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the lawsuit filed by a group of nine Attorneys General, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, this decision violates environmental law and has the potential to harm more than 300,000 marine mammals. The group is suing the Trump administration over this decision.

Specifically, the NMFS decision issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations to five private companies for seismic testing for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mid- and South-Atlantic Ocean. 

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. Photo credit: NOAA

Going forward, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for permitting geophysical surveys, and makes decisions about energy development in the waters of the outer continental shelf. The seismic testing decision also comes as the federal government is moving forward with a proposal to expand US offshore oil and gas drilling – which we also oppose.

Let BOEM know it would be unacceptable to permit any surveys that allow harmful seismic testing – you can email BOEMPublicAffairs@boem.gov. Our marine species, like the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, are already vulnerable to threats like climate change, and the impacts of these types of tests on their populations could be disastrous.

Meeting with Senator Markey on Climate Action

This past Monday, Mass Audubon was among the more than 20 major climate, environmental, public health, and grassroots organizations invited to meet with Senator Markey to discuss federal climate change priorities for the new Congress. Now that House leadership has flipped, Senator Markey was optimistic that momentum is building for climate action.

The group spoke in-depth about how to advance climate-focused legislation, as well as how to start planning to make climate change more of a focus in the 2020 presidential election.

Photo credit: Senator Markey’s office, used with permission

Afterwards, Senator Markey held a press conference where he outlined his own goals for the upcoming session, including taking steps toward a transition to 100% clean energy within the next 20 years, and a carbon-pricing system. He also voiced support for the “Green New Deal” being developed in the House.

Watch the press conference here.

Senator Markey and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island also released a report this week, as Chairs of the Senate Climate Change Task Force, detailing the various anti-climate and anti-environment actions the federal government has taken since President Trump took office.

We look forward to continuing to help build momentum on federal climate action. And remember, there are many ways you can take action too.

Speak Out Against More Methane Pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rolling back requirements for capturing methane pollution. Under the current standards, oil and gas companies are required to look for and repair leaks that release methane. The proposed changes would reduce the number of reviews required annually, along with other changes, in an attempt to reduce costs for the oil and gas sector.

Methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas pollutant than carbon dioxide in the short term, and capturing this wasted methane pollution is a necessary part of addressing climate change.

Leaks in natural gas pipelines are a common source of methane. Photo by Rosemary Oakeshott

You can help prevent this change, which would be a big step back for climate change mitigation at a time when we need even bolder action to prevent the worst impacts of a warming planet.

Tell EPA Administrator Wheeler that companies need to continue proactively addressing and preventing methane leaks, and to uphold the New Source Performance Standards that require such action. Let him know that the EPA has a responsibility to uphold standards that limit pollution and keep our air clean, and that we can’t afford to move backwards on our methane standards.

Wind and Wildlife

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spoken out against wind energy on the grounds that it kills birds—but estimated bird deaths from wind turbines are small when compared to other human-caused sources of avian mortality, like building collisions. On top of that, climate change is by far the biggest threat to all birds living today. Of Massachusetts’ 143 breeding bird species evaluated by Mass Audubon, 43% are “highly vulnerable” to its effects.

That’s why Mass Audubon supports responsibly-sited wind projects to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We can do this by increasing conservation and efficiency, and by producing clean energy. Wind energy is now among the most cost-effective, competitive, and reliable clean technologies available.

Photo credit: Ryan O’Sullivan

Any development of new energy sources is bound to have some impact on wildlife and their habitat, but Mass Audubon advocates for prospective offshore wind projects to be designed to avoid any significant environmental damage. Anticipated impacts need to be minimized and mitigated – that’s the sequence to success and the review standard to which all projects should be held. With appropriate design, siting and mitigation, the industry can grow as Massachusetts does its part to combat the impacts of global climate change.

Read more in our recent Op Ed.

More Momentum for US Offshore Wind

Update 12/17/18:

Last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held their auction for three offshore wind leases in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The results were staggering – the winning bids from three companies totaled $405 million, which is nearly a tenfold increase from the most recent prior federal sale! The areas could support approximately 4.1 gigawatts of commercial wind generation, enough to power nearly 1.5 million homes. Federal officials and wind industry insiders alike were surprised by the sale – this Boston Globe article looks at how the event marks a decided shift for US offshore wind energy.

In other wind news, Mass Audubon will also be commenting on the latest stage of Vineyard Wind’s proposed offshore project later this month, on which BOEM will be holding public hearings.

Original post:

Last week the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced several major developments in American offshore wind energy, including one here in Massachusetts.

Expansion of offshore wind here in the US will be critical in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold the next Massachusetts offshore wind auction – to include nearly 390,000 acres – on December 13, 2018. Nineteen companies have qualified to participate in the auction. It’s estimated that this auction could support more 4.1 gigawatts of power to supply nearly 1.5 million homes. Mass Audubon plans to review and comment on any projects resulting from the lease.

Speaking at the American Wind Energy Association Offshore Wind Conference, DOI Secretary Zinke also announced the environmental review of a proposed wind project offshore Rhode Island, and the next steps to a first-ever wind auction in federal waters off of California.

While this is good news for the growth of renewable energy, the Trump administration also plans to ease Endangered Species Act regulations to speed up the approval process for offshore wind projects. Mass Audubon will be opposing that change – for offshore wind deployment to be done in a way that is safe for wildlife, a full understanding of the risks to species is needed.

Learn more about Mass Audubon’s recent involvement with the offshore wind public review process here.

New IPCC Report Urges Bolder Action Now

A new special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we need to make large-scale and rapid changes to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C, beyond which the authors say will bring on the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The warning is clear, but we still have a chance to put into place the “disruptive innovation” needed to change course if we act now.

Global climate change must be addressed through both effective state and federal policy and our own individual actions. Our personal choices in areas like home energy use, travel methods, and diet can all contribute to this global shift.

A continued and accelerated shift to clean energy sources on a global scale will be one necessary strategy to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Looking for ideas?

Get some tips on how to make those changes happen. 

Tell the White House that failing to take action on climate change is unacceptable.

Urge your federal representative and senators to speak up for stronger climate policies.

Learn how your community can participate in the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program.

There will also be an opportunity soon to oppose recent federal proposals to weaken emissions standards for methane – we’ll keep you posted!

Global Climate Action Summit: Progress and New Policies

Last week the Global Climate Action Summit was held in San Francisco, bringing leaders and citizens together from around the world to celebrate achievements on climate action and commit to further steps. A few takeaways:

  • It was announced that 27 major cities, including Boston, have already reached peak greenhouse gas emission levels and are now seeing emissions decline, while still growing their economies.
  • A group of 29 philanthropists pledged $4 billion over the next five years to combat climate change – the largest-ever philanthropic investment focused on climate change mitigation.
  • The U.S. Climate Alliance, of which Massachusetts is a member, committed to taking several new actions that include protecting more of our natural and working lands that sequester carbon, transforming the transportation sector to reduce emissions, and increasing access to affordable clean energy for all.

Get all the news from the summit here. And remember, there are lots of ways you can make a difference in the fight against climate change.

Help Keep Nonprofits Nonpartisan

The Johnson Amendment, a provision in the federal tax code prohibiting tax-exempt nonprofits like Mass Audubon from endorsing or contributing to political candidates, needs your help.

A conference committee will meet soon to reconcile two versions of a federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding bill. The US House version contains language that would effectively prohibit the IRS from enforcing the Johnson Amendment against churches. Although this provision focuses on religious institutions, it could set a precedent for even more selective enforcement in the future.

We’ve spoken out against these changes before, and hope you’ll do the same. Contact your US Representative and Senators and ask them to urge bill H.R.6147’s conference committee to oppose the Johnson Amendment changes. Let them know these changes could counteract nonprofits’ abilities to engage in their missions and work with elected officials.

Local Efforts Make the Difference for Water Conservation

by Ariel Maiorano

Remember the drought of 2016? Wells went dry, and reservoirs dropped precipitously low. The second-largest city in New England, Worcester, ran so low on water that they had to tap into additional sources (to the tune of over $1 million). Unfortunately, droughts are becoming increasingly more frequent and extreme, especially as our climate changes. Even though Massachusetts receives 15% more water annually compared to averages in the early 20th century, that precipitation now arrives in heavy bursts followed by prolonged dry spells. These dry times have enormous implications for municipal drinking water supplies. Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to protect those supplies, some of which is extremely low cost.

In a local letter to the editor published earlier this month in the Sharon Advocate , resident and town Water Conservation Estimator Paul Lauenstein shared  that the Town of Sharon reduced their annual water consumption to the lowest it’s been since 1984 thanks to public education and outreach. You can find the text of Lauenstein’s letter here.

Overall, the town of about 18,000 has reduced public well water pumping by one-third since its peak in the mid-1990s, from upwards of 600 million gallons to below 400 million gallons. Below is a figure from the town’s 2016 Water Quality Report, detailing the decrease in water usage since the 1995 spike.

Source: Water Quality Report for 2016, Town of Sharon

Lauenstein’s letter attributes Sharon’s success to adopting policies like rebates for resource-efficient appliances, and incorporating environmental education into public school curricula to shift local practices. The town Water Department also prioritized leak repairs and included reminders to reduce consumptions in water bills.  By taking low-cost and common-sense approaches to water conservation, the town successfully and significantly reduced community-wide water usage.

Water conservation offers a broad range of benefits, including improved public health, cost savings, resource availability, ecosystem value, and well-being of wildlife.  Sufficient water supplies are critical to communities throughout the Commonwealth that pump locally-sourced groundwater to meet the needs of their populations.

One of the many benefits of conservation listed by Lauenstein is the preservation of Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This rare habitat not only provides spectacular habitat for local species and recreational benefits from wildlife watching, but it also provides the service of filtering and purifying water on-site that is later pumped by local wells. By conserving water to keep this resource healthy, Sharon is letting nature work for them and allowing the ecosystems to purify water so that built infrastructure doesn’t have to.  “Green infrastructure” exists in every community and by prioritizing its protection, communities can improve their bottom line as well as enjoy co-benefits like  flood reduction and improved climate resilience.

Conserving wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwater, is one way to reap the benefits of “green infrastructure.” Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon’s Shaping the  Future of Your Community Program encourages communities across the Commonwealth to identify naturally-occurring  green infrastructure in their own towns, and to take steps to conserve it. Check out our five-part guide that introduces you to what green infrastructure is, how to protect it, and how to re-incorporate it in already-developed areas. Ready to take the next step? Learn how to update your local bylaws and regulations to encourage these types of nature-based solutions.

Whether your community is conserving landscapes like Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, or is looking for more cost-effective ways to manage local water, we can follow the Town of Sharon’s common sense approach.

Ariel Maiorano is Mass Audubon’s Assistant Coordinator for the Shaping the Future of Your Community Program