Help Trailside Secure Needed Funding

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.

Update: Migratory Birds at Risk Once Again

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.

Saving the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Massachusetts is fortunate to have spectacular seashores, wildlife refuges, and national scenic trails that contribute to a $16.2 billion outdoor recreation economy. Many of these places have been protected thanks in part to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s most important program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation.

For 52 years, the LWCF has protected national parks and open spaces in every corner of the United States. In Massachusetts, LWCF has invested more than $223 million to protect this sites like Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, the New England National Scenic Trail, and Cape Cod National Seashore (see the Spotlight on Massachusetts: LWCF fact sheet).

Without action by Congress, the LWCF’s authorization will expire on September 30, 2018.

The Cape Cod National Seashore, protected in part thanks to LWCF funding, is visited by over 4 million people annually. Photo credit: Karen Regan, National Park Service

As a member of the LWCF Coalition, this week we are spreading the #SaveLWCF message to save our natural and historic treasures in Massachusetts. If the LWCF disappears, so too will opportunities for future protection of the places we love.

Learn how you can help #SaveLWCF on the Coalition website.

Speak up for Marine Monuments

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monument, one of our country’s most special places, remains at risk of cuts to its protections. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump alter the way several national monuments are managed, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the New England coast – the only marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The recommendation to reduce the size or protections of ten monuments nationwide was made despite a public comment period during which, according to Secretary Zinke’s report, “comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments.”

The mytilus seamount, part of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, is home to a diverse array of corals. Photo credit: NOAA

Please remind our US Senators and Representatives to voice their opposition to this decision. Ask them to tell President Trump that cutting protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is unacceptable. Changes in the monument’s protections could put endangered whales, deep-sea corals, and other rare marine life at risk.

These proposed changes also come at a time when our offshore areas are already threatened by a recent federal proposal to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.

 

A Closer Look at Coastal Buyback

With Massachusetts’ climate change adaptation needs frequently in the news following our series of recent storms, the possibility of a voluntary coastal buyback program has been getting more attention. A coastal buyback program, which is one proposed solution in our priority adaptation bill, would allow the state to purchase properties that suffer chronic storm damage.

Photo credit: FEMA

Some coastal homes have had to be repeatedly rebuilt or moved back from the beach following severe storms. A buyback program would offer an alternative for property owners and would save building and flood insurance costs. Reclaimed property would be returned to communities, and allowing the land to return to its natural state would restore barriers to flooding and provide a more resilient landscape. This process of property owners choosing not to rebuild after a storm and instead relocating away from the vulnerable shoreline, also known as managed retreat, ties into public safety as well.

Mass Audubon’s Jack Clarke recently spoke with Fox25 Boston and WBGH on the proposed buyback program. He also offers some input during this short WGBH radio segment:

 

Big News for Climate Adaptation Funding

Mass Audubon staff joined Governor Charlie Baker, state officials, and nonprofit partners on the windy shores of Scituate last week where the Governor announced the filing of a 5-year, $1.4 billion capital spending bond. The good news for us: the proposed bond includes several aspects of our priority climate change adaptation bill.

As proposed, the bond would codify into law requirements for vulnerability assessments based on future climate change impacts, positions for science and state agency climate coordinators, and the statewide Integrated Hazard Mitigation and Climate Change Adaptation Plan. It also requires ongoing support and an increase in funding for the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, through which several Mass Audubon staff have been certified as trainers. Boosts in funding are also proposed for existing programs like the state’s Clean Water Trust Fund, state parks, and forest land protection programs.

Mass Audubon advocacy director Jack Clarke, Governor Charlie Baker, and Mass Audubon president Gary Clayton at the bond announcement in Scituate

The bond does not include every component of our adaptation bill. For instance, we would like to see its voluntary coastal buyback provision included, which would authorize the state to purchase storm-damaged properties along the shore. But it’s still a huge step toward implementing goals we’ve been advocating for over the past five years. Our job now is to work with the legislature to further strengthen and improve the bond, and get it back on Governor Baker’s desk soon for his signature.

With support from Governor Baker and Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, we hope we have the momentum we need this time to get climate adaptation measures signed into law.

Learn more about the bond’s funding breakdown and see what Mass Audubon advocacy director Jack Clarke had to say in this WBUR piece on the announcement, and in this Salem News article.

And you can read the language of the bond itself here.

Adaptation Needs in the News

Massachusetts’ climate change adaptation needs have continued to top the headlines over the past week, as communities around the state are still reeling from the impacts of recent storms. Here’s some of the recent coverage:

TV

Radio:

  • WBUR’s story about recent storms, and the questions they’ve raised about how to protect our cities
  • Jack Clarke offering input on the coastal buy-back provisions of our Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (CAMP) bill during a WGBH segment:

 

Newspapers/online

  • The lead editorial in this Sunday’s Boston Globe focuses on “a must-do list for climate change in Greater Boston”
  • An earlier look by The Boston Globe’s at some of the recent storm damage, with input from Mass Audubon
  • State House News Service reports on our Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Coalition’s efforts to urge House leadership to take action on CAMP
  • WGBH’s piece on State House dynamics that have led to challenges in getting CAMP passed
  • This Banker and Tradesman column by A Better City’s Rick Dimino (who’s also a member of our Climate Change Adaptation Coalition) encourages the House to pass CAMP from a business standpoint

Jack Clarke discussing adaptation needs on The Take with Sue O’Connell