Category Archives: Advocacy

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.

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.

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 Yale Maps Show the Need to Talk More About Climate Change

by Daniel Brown

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, one of the foremost research groups studying public perceptions of climate change, recently released an updated version of their famed climate opinion maps.

These maps show how fundamental understanding of climate change differs across the country, and the newest edition raises many interesting findings. Here are a few points that jump out:

Massachusetts residents have slowly but surely improved in their understanding that climate change is real and caused by our use of fossil fuels. More than 97% of climate scientists have published research confirming or acknowledging this fact. About 62% of Massachusetts residents understand it. That’s not great, but it’s 5% better than the national average.New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania show a below-average level of understanding of the fact that climate change is real and human-caused, which makes them out-of-place in the Northeast. We clearly need to do a better job of talking with friends and family in those states about climate change.

Overall, states with a better understanding of climate change tend to lean left in elections. Those with a lower understanding tend to lean to the political right. While climate change is a scientific fact and shouldn’t reflect partisan preference, this is a striking visual. It shows the lingering damage of climate change denial campaigns by special interest groups that have made the issue a political one. What’s encouraging for Massachusetts is that every county in the state showed above-average understanding regardless of political or social differences.

In many states, including Massachusetts, public understanding is sufficiently high for political leaders to take meaningful action to fight climate change. But even in most of those states, leaders have not yet implemented actions on the ground. While Massachusetts is generally considered ahead of the curve, we are still falling behind on large-scale actions recommended by climate scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The maps highlight a need for all of us to talk about climate change often among our own social networks, to put pressure on our political leaders to take action, and lead by example in whatever ways we can.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

Important Conversations on Conservation

Recently, Congresswoman Katherine Clark convened an environmental round table at Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. Mass Audubon staff, including president Gary Clayton, Broadmoor director Elissa Landry, and legislative director Karen Heymann, and our partner groups shared ideas and concerns, including those involving unprecedented threats facing federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. We also discussed the need to reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) before it expires in September.  We agreed that these challenging times require strong partnerships and a greater resolve to work together to find new solutions.

Karen Heymann (left) during a roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Clark (second from left) and environmental partners at Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

For 52 years, LWCF has protected national parks and open spaces in every corner of the United States. Massachusetts alone has received more than $223 million from the LWCF to protect everything from wildlife refuges and working forests to community parks.

In support of LWCF, legislative director Karen Heymann spoke alongside Congressman Joe Kennedy and other environmental groups at an event at Fisher Hill Reservoir Park in Brookline. Hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the event focused on the importance of protecting our natural spaces for future generations.

Several environmental groups were represented on the panel of speakers that joined Congressman Kennedy (center)

Fuel Economy Standards Rollback: Worst Environmental Decision Yet

By Daniel Brown

Update: The public comment period is now open. You can oppose the emissions rollbacks here.

The Trump administration has made several decisions that threaten the environment and prioritize corporate profits above the health of our kids and wildlife. The legacy of the Trump administration is already well-established as one of the worst, if not the worst, environmental administrations in modern U.S. history.

But the move to freeze and effectively reverse fuel efficiency standards for cars will be this administration’s single most destructive environmental decision to date. It will make it a virtual certainty that the U.S. will not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, that we will continue to emit heat-trapping carbon at a rapid rate, and that the planet will continue to warm. Because the United States is the second largest carbon emitter and largest per capita by far, this disastrous political maneuver also puts the future health of other countries at risk.

Heat-trapping carbon, released into the atmosphere through our burning of gasoline and other fossil fuels, is permanent. It will continue to warm the planet and lead to greater harm for the foreseeable future. The damage carbon emissions do to the atmosphere cannot be nursed back to recovery like an endangered species pushed to the brink of extinction. It cannot be cleaned and restored as a river might be, and it doesn’t regrow over generations as an irresponsibly clear-cut forest does. Carbon is forever. The Trump administration’s rollback will likely increase carbon emissions 11% by 2035. That’s moving in the wrong direction.

Not Just Bad for the Environment, But for the Economy

The move will also make cars sold in the United States more expensive to operate, costing all Americans $450 billion through 2050. This is especially true for light-duty trucks and large-engine road vehicles, where saving even a single mile per gallon represents a major change in efficiency over time. Farmers, already stretched by the fallout from Trump’s tariffs, will be spending much more to fill up their trucks. Compared to 1975, cars and light-duty vehicles are now about twice as fuel efficient. For a given tank of gas, you can go about twice as far, and your gas bill is about half of what it would have been. In total, that increased efficiency has saved Americans about $4 trillion dollars.

But that savings is not just in dollars. Greater fuel efficiency also simply saves fuel, a critical commodity. American fuel efficiency improvements translate into about 1.5 trillion gallons of gas saved–a staggering number. For comparison, that’s enough gas to power every car and light-duty truck currently on the road for the next 10 years. When properly managed, that saved fuel is a major benefit to national security and disaster preparedness.

The decision to roll back the fuel efficiency standards will also give foreign automakers that design cars primarily for rational, fuel-efficient markets worldwide a distinct advantage. We have seen this effect in the past. Fuel efficiency was a major reason for the rapid domestic market shift toward more fuel-efficient Japanese brands in the 1980s and 90s. American car companies will be forced to create a greater number of models, optimize designs differently for different markets, and will be less competitive overall.

The proposed changes to vehicle emissions standards would halt our recent strides in efficiency. Photo credit: Kevin Payravi

Fighting Back Against Bad Policy

The move by the Trump administration to freeze fuel efficiency standards and attack California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to follow stricter guidelines has no rational basis. It was presented based on fabricated rationale that is simply, demonstrably false. It has no apparent benefit for anyone except for one industry: Big Oil. It’s bad for consumers, bad for our kids, bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and bad for national security. It has left many on both sides of the aisle scratching their heads. Governor Baker, among other Republicans, has announced his opposition to repealing the rule.

There is room for hope. A legal battle will ensue with California, Massachusetts and other states* that follow California’s lead in setting stricter car emission standards. California’s standards currently apply to about 35% percent of the U.S. automobile market, and as of yesterday, 16 states already filed suit to block changes to the fuel efficiency rules (20 states announced their intent).

States in the U.S. Climate Alliance (which includes 16 states and Puerto Rico) that have not yet adopted California’s standards could do so, and the Massachusetts delegation could encourage those states to act quickly. With more states following California’s lead, the administration’s questionable arguments grow thinner. Governor Baker has already spoken out against the proposal, stating that his administration plans to work “across borders to seek solutions and adopt best practices to further protect the health of our residents, combat climate change and build the transportation system of tomorrow.”

You can add your voice to oppose the changes by submitting comments here.

This environmentally-destructive action of the Trump administration is yet another call to action. It will require us to be leaders as individuals, setting an example among our own families and neighborhoods, demonstrating that we can save gas the way our forebears did, by walking more, biking more, taking the T, and driving less.

As a Commonwealth, we will need to take an even greater lead in making sure the cars on our roads emit as little as possible and that we continue to meet the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act. With or without federal mandate, we must honor our commitment to protect the climate for future generations.

*The other states and territories that have adopted the California standards are: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and District of Columbia.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

Climate Adaptation Legislation Passed!

We are proud to report that our climate change adaptation legislation, our top legislative priority for the past four years, has passed as part of major environmental legislation (see below). This bill makes law a requirement for Massachusetts to adopt a statewide plan to address the impacts of climate change, and also codifies a grant and technical assistance program for cities and towns to develop their own plans. The bill also leaves the door open for future development of a voluntary coastal buyback program, which would help willing homeowners relocate away from hazardous coastal zones. It will be the first plan of its kind in the country to be codified into law.

Protecting wetlands that act as natural flood absorbers is one adaptation strategy

Along with our 52-member Climate Change Adaptation Coalition, we thank the bill’s sponsors Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) and Representative Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) for their tireless dedication in getting this bill over the finish line.

Details on the Environmental Bond

The environmental bond that includes our adaptation bill is now on the way to Governor Baker’s desk for his signature. The bond bill passed today was a compromise between the versions passed separately in the House and Senate. It authorizes $2.4 billion funding for conservation grant programs, climate resiliency, and coastal infrastructure, with special consideration given to projects utilizing nature-based solutions. In addition to our climate adaptation bill, the bond included a number of other policy provisions we support including the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, a grassroots initiative to stimulate conservation, sustainable forestry, and eco-tourism in the Berkshire region.

Our Commonwealth Conservation Council, a coalition of statewide organizations which Mass Audubon chairs, advocated for a strong bond bill. While we consider the final legislation to be a success, we were disappointed that several components from Senate version were not included in the final bill. These included a provision to ensure consistency between the statewide adaptation plan and other state policies, a statewide plastic bag ban, and codification of the state’s “no net loss” policy for permanently-protected conservation land.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Endangered Species at Risk Again

Update 10/1/2018: Mass Audubon signed onto joint comments with more than 200 of our partner conservation groups to speak out against these proposed changes.

Over the past few weeks, the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) has come under unprecedented threat. For 45 years the law has successfully protected wildlife, including species like the Bald Eagle, which the ESA helped bring back from the brink of disappearing in the US. In fact, thanks to the ESA, more than 99 percent of the nearly 1,800 animals and plants protected by it have been saved from extinction.

Now, the ESA is under attack. In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives, and amendments designed to weaken the law have surfaced. Many of these proposed changes have been under the guise of “updating” or “reforming” the Act, but in reality would undermine its core principles and gut its scientific basis for protecting wildlife.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Bald Eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Earlier this month, Mass Audubon and 420 other national, state, and local conservation groups sent a letter to US Senate and House leadership voicing our overwhelming support for the ESA. Our group included at least one organization from all 50 states.

We’ll be continuing to follow this issue closely, and will keep you updated with actions you can take to keep the ESA firmly in place.

North Atlantic Right Whales Need Our Help

The North Atlantic right whale is in trouble. Since April 2017, at least 18 North Atlantic right whales have died and, for the first time ever, no new calves have been spotted this year. Scientists estimate that fewer than 440 individuals remain. Right whales are often killed by entanglement in commercial fishing gear and ship strikes, and their low population numbers can’t afford to let these incidents continue.

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

Mass Audubon is writing to our congressional delegation in support of the federal SAVE Right Whales Act, sponsored by Congressman Seth Moulton and Senator Cory Booker. The SAVE Right Whales Act would establish a new grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the fishing and shipping industries to reduce the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. Please ask your US Representative and Senators to support this bill.

You can also call on NOAA to continue stepping up efforts to protect these creatures. Ask Regional Administrator Michael Pentony and his Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office to expand their efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, since the measures implemented to date by federal regulators have not gone far enough to save them from the threat of extinction.