Category Archives: Energy Issues

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup digest – December 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here

Action You Can Take

New England’s energy system is more polluting and expensive than it should be. Mass Audubon supports the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office’s efforts to improve energy market rules that promote affordable clean energy, healthy communities, and climate protection, and you can too.

Mass Audubon Weighs In

Five years in, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan is undergoing review to assess progress to date. We helped pass the legislation creating the Plan, and we’re weighing in again now, encouraging interconnected offshore wind planning that minimizes development impacts.

We joined partners in urging President-elect Biden to restore vital protections stripped this summer from the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument – the first marine national monument in the US Atlantic Ocean and home to critical and vulnerable ocean ecosystems.

Our Allens Pond and Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuaries have been awarded an EPA Southeast New England Program Watershed Grant to promote resilient ecosystems in that region. We’ll be supporting local outreach about the role habitat restoration plays in protecting communities from climate impacts.

We submitted comments during the state’s review of the Alternative Portfolio Standard, which provides financial incentives for energy efficiency and technologies to reduce emissions. We recommended more incentives for, and access to, zero-emission renewable heating technologies.

We also commented on a federal study of offshore wind construction methods. Environmentally responsible offshore wind development means avoiding impacts to marine mammals and other species, and the use of updated construction technology is critical.

Climate Central

→ This video explores Mass Audubon’s work helping restore floodplain forest along the Connecticut River
→ Sea level rise and coastal flooding threaten affordable housing
→ On bug boxes, climate grief, and human health

Celebrating 2020 Advocacy Wins

As we close out a challenging year, we are also taking a moment to be thankful for the many strides we made toward advancing environmental protections, which ranged from federal laws to local community action. These 2020 wins included:  

  • Advocating for the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed into law. The new law includes $900 million annually in long-awaited permanent funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect our public lands, water resources, and cultural heritage.  
  • Filing a lawsuit with partners in federal court that challenges rollbacks to the Clean Water Act, which has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes for nearly 50 years.  
  • Advancing state climate legislation, An Act to Create a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean & Thriving Commonwealth, which passed the House along with a related bill in the Senate. We are continuing to advocate for its final passage into law, and continued inclusion of strong environmental justice language and prioritization of natural climate solutions, before the session ends.
  • Producing the sixth edition of our statewide land use analysis, Losing Ground: Nature’s Value in a Changing Climate, highlighting the value of forests, farmlands, and wetlands for climate resilience. The rate of development has remained steady at around 13 acres/day, while the rate of conservation has increased 37% to 55 acres per day, reflecting success based on our state and local advocacy work.  
  • Securing revisions to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program, which provides financial incentives for solar energy projects. Our input centered on support for solar sited away from ecologically- and socially-valuable open space. We are continuing to push for more progress to reduce the loss of forests and farmlands while increasing the pace of solar projects on rooftops, parking lots, and other altered lands.  
  • Opposing state mosquito spraying legislation that would have been damaging to wetlands and wildlife.  We achieved major improvements, including a comprehensive review under the newly formed state Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force, of which we are a member. As a warmer, wetter climate is enhancing mosquito breeding and increasing the frequency of outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease, we have an opportunity to overhaul our antiquated mosquito control system, which relies on widespread spraying of pesticides. We are pushing instead for ecologically-based approaches that will benefit human health and wildlife habitat while increasing climate resilience.   
  • Working with cities and towns on smart land use and resiliency planning through our Shaping Climate Resilient Communities Program, and reaching over 900 participants through our workshops. The program also produced new resources on the economic and health benefits our forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems provide us, and collaborated with partners to advance climate resilience in parts of Southeastern Massachusetts.   
  • Celebrating wins for the Community Preservation Act in nine more Massachusetts cities and towns. CPA is a smart growth tool that helps communities preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities. Nearly 32,000 acres of open space have been protected through CPA to date.  

Now we’re looking forward to 2021, when we’ll push the new administration to reverse recent environmental rollbacks, employ nature-based solutions, and continue advancing toward equitable climate action. Thanks to everyone that has taken action along the way by contacting elected officials, speaking up against damaging policy rollbacks, or working to improve resilience in your community. We’ll see you in the New Year!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup digest – November 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here

Action You Can Take

The state has completed a technical review of pesticides containing neonicotinoids, which confirms that these chemicals are harmful to pollinators. Mass Audubon and our partners are submitting testimony urging restrictions on these pesticides, and others can too.

Mass Audubon Weighs In

Mass Audubon contributed to this WBUR piece on how solar arrays and farms could coexist if done right. Farmland and forests are being lost to solar development at increasing rates, so dual-use solar farms should be piloted and studied before scaling up. This comes at a time when the state has drafted a proposal to expand solar siting on farmland – we submitted comments noting that while we need to quickly increase solar capacity and access, safeguards are needed to avoid impacts to land and farmers.

In other solar news, this Boston Globe poll asks readers their thoughts on whether Massachusetts was right to adopt new rules that limit financial incentives for solar projects on sensitive lands. Mass Audubon provided the “Yes” perspective – take a look.

We also submitted public comments noting concerns over the City of Boston’s proposed removal of 124 trees along Melnea Cass Boulevard. Development that removes older trees and replants new, smaller trees is unsustainable, given the greater cooling and carbon-absorbing benefits of mature trees – benefits especially needed in cities.

Policy News

In better news for urban trees, the state has announced the expansion of the Greening the Gateway Cities Program. This program works with 18 Gateway Cities throughout the state to increase tree canopy cover in urban residential areas, especially Environmental Justice neighborhoods.

Massachusetts’ Department of Public Utilities has opened an investigation to assess the future of natural gas in our state, in light of the goal of achieving net zero by 2050. We supported the petition requesting this investigation, and will be following its progress.

All nine communities with the Community Preservation Act on their ballots this election voted to adopt it, bringing the total number of CPA communities to 186. CPA helps cities and towns preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and improve outdoor recreation. And after state legislation passed last year to permanently increase revenue for the CPA Trust Fund, those benefits are now being realized, with the state announcing a 28.6% match on the first round this year – up 5% from last year.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – October 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here

Actions You Can Take

The state is working to expand siting of solar installations on farmland, and while we need to quickly increase solar capacity and access, safeguards are also needed to avoid impacts to land and farmers. Today is the deadline to submit comments – we’ll be weighing in, and you can too.

Mass Audubon Weighs In

After delays related to COVID-19, state legislators are picking up again on FY21 budget planning. With our Green Budget Coalition, we are advocating for funding for state environmental agencies that protect our public land, water, and endangered species.

Mass Audubon and partners provided guidance to federal officials on their obligations for bird monitoring and mitigation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This guidance focused on the construction and operation plan for Vineyard Wind, but should serve as an outline for all offshore wind projects.

We asked the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt an ecosystem-based catch limit for menhaden, a small fish that serves as an important food source for larger fish, like striped bass, and other wildlife, from humpback whales to osprey. The Commission ultimately voted to reduce the quota by 10%, improving sustainability.

Osprey nesting at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

Climate Central

→ Officials turning to Indigenous communities for guidance on wildfire management
→ This new tool provides neighborhood-level information on potential climate change vulnerabilities for every US community and county
→ Our changing climate: the message in our forecasts
→ Massachusetts has lost some ground in our latest state emissions inventory
→ The latest World Energy Outlook report looks at global energy use and emission trends for 2020
→ Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s office has released a new report on their efforts to fight environmental regulatory rollbacks

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – September 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here

Actions You Can Take

Help keep up the pressure to get state climate legislation passed into law this session – ask your legislators to keep pushing for progress on emission reduction targets, equitable decision-making, and natural climate solutions.

Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, yet the federal government is rolling back methane pollution regulations. We can still act to collectively reduce these emissions.

Mass Audubon supports new federal legislation protecting communities and wildlife from harmful pesticides – you can help by asking your elected officials to sign on as cosponsors.

Pesticides pose a threat to grassland species like the Eastern Meadowlark. Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon Weighs In

We opposed changes to the US Endangered Species Act that would narrow the definition of habitat and how it’s protected, and joined partners in opposing legislation weakening the Act.

Our Shaping the Future program is partnering with our conservation science staff and Allens Pond and Great Neck wildlife sanctuaries to enhance salt marsh resilience on the South Coast.

We provided input on the state’s Climate Resilience Design Standards and Guidelines, which will incorporate climate resilience into certain state projects.

Mass Audubon signed on as a member of the THRIVE Agenda, an economic renewal plan tackling the overlapping crises of racial injustice, climate change, unemployment, and public health.

We support responsibly developed offshore wind energy, but stronger protections are needed. We joined partners in expressing concern over failures to protect endangered marine mammals during offshore wind site surveys.

Horseshoe crab blood is used in vaccine and medication development, but this process is unsustainable for horseshoe crabs and species that depend on their eggs for food. We joined partners in calling for a synthetic alternative to be recognized for biomedical use.

Assawompset Pond, Lakeville, MA. Photo credit: Kevin Ham

Policy News

Communities have been awarded $11.1 million through the latest round of Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grants. Mass Audubon will be assisting the towns of Lakeville and Plympton with projects improving watershed management and targeted land protection.

The state has released a new report about safety and environmental challenges posed by over 25,000 road stream crossings across the state, and community needs for addressing these issues.

Climate Central

→ Assessing climate vulnerability in Mass Audubon salt marshes 
→ Looking to land for climate solutions 
→ Massachusetts fire season: not so normal
→ Climate change could be fueling an “acceleration of pandemics”
→ Views That Matter: race and opinions on climate change of Boston area residents

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – July 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here.

Actions You Can Take

It’s hot outside, which means we’re using more energy to keep cool. During peak hours, the state’s energy grid operators have to tap into additional dirty fossil fuels, but we can Shave the Peak.

Summer is the season for Firefly Watch. Mass Audubon has teamed up with researchers from Tufts University to track the presence of these amazing insects, and you can help!

Beautiful coastlines, sparkling beaches, and local seafood are part of what makes Massachusetts special. From food to carbon absorption, oceans provide us with so much, and they need our help. Let’s take an oath for our oceans.

Humpback whale. Photo credit: Bill Thompson, USFWS

Mass Audubon Weighs In

In this Boston Globe article, we help explain why expanding solar energy resources is important for reducing emissions, but clear-cutting forests to do so is counterproductive.

With conservation partners, we made recommendations on Massachusetts’ 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan, focusing on how to include natural and working lands in plans to decarbonize the state.

We voiced support for state legislation providing economic investments in climate-smart housing, community development, and workforce training. We also suggested steering those investments to environmental justice populations and incorporating nature-based solutions.

Our Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions wrote to House leadership action on net-zero emissions and environmental justice legislation before the session runs out.

Otis State Forest

Updates from the State

Great news – Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will permanently fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is a big win for the protection of wild spaces across the US.

State legislation addressing mosquito borne disease has now been signed into law. We’ll be following its implementation and advocating for statewide mosquito control reform.

Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program joined partners and state leaders, including Governor Baker, at an event highlighting the Assawompset Pond region. We’re collaborating there to reduce flooding, increase climate resilience, and restore habitat.

The federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act, which would require many new or renovated public buildings to incorporate bird-safe design features to reduce collisions, passed the House. Now it heads to the Senate.

MassDEP is seeking public input on their new Solid Waste Master Plan, with a particular focus on issues of environmental justice, climate change, and COVID-19 impacts. The Plan will determine how waste is managed over the next decade.

Governor Baker speaking at the Assawompset Pond project event.

Climate Central

→ Democrats in Congress have a new climate plan.
→ A floating island in the Charles River will mimic natural systems to reduce algae blooms.
→ How climate action benefits our health.
→ This toolkit offers resources for launching a coastal restoration project in your community.
→ The island of Dominica is on track to become the world’s first “hurricane-proof” country.
New study calls Boston’s sunny-day flood risk high
→ New York announces largest combined clean energy solicitation ever issued in the US
Planting tiny urban forests to boost biodiversity and fight climate change
→ NEPA rollbacks have been finalized, but lawsuits fighting them are expected

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup Digest – June 2020

A sampling of news from Mass Audubon’s weekly advocacy updates – sign up here.

Actions You Can Take

Birds in the US are in trouble due to factors like climate change and habitat loss, and now the Trump administration has taken another step toward rolling back Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections. We’re fighting these changes, and you can help >

Good news – the US Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will permanently fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Next the bill heads to the House, where we’ll continue to advocate for its swift passage – you can too.

Mass Audubon supports legislation that lays out a roadmap for Massachusetts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Learn more about its goals in this recently recorded webinar, and help it pass by taking action here.

Eastern bluebird (photo credit: Cheryl Rose)

Mass Audubon Weighs In

Mass Audubon spoke to the Cape Cod Times about a damaging proposed state mosquito control bill. That bill has now been updated, though more changes are still needed.

Mass Audubon supports state legislation that would help nonprofits cope with the financial strains of the global pandemic. The bill would provide $75 million of public investment back into these community-based organizations.

With our coalition of wildlife protection groups, Mass Audubon submitted comments on the latest phase of federal review of the Mayflower Wind Energy project. Our comments focused on ensuring site surveys are done in a way that mitigates harm to marine mammals.

Photo credit: MA Department of Public Health

Updates from the State

Massachusetts and a coalition of 30 other states, cities, and counties are suing the Trump Administration over changes to Clean Car Standards.

After a pause due to COVID-19, the state has resumed enforcement of beverage container redemption requirements – a win for recycling.

Healthy forests are critical for public health, and the state has released updates to its Forest Action Plan to ensure the health of Massachusetts trees and forests into the future. We provided input on the updates.

Massachusetts could be on the way to removing natural gas from our energy portfolio. The state will investigate the future of the industry as we transition toward renewables.

Each year, Massachusetts celebrates its Commonwealth Heroines, women making outstanding contributions to their communities. This year’s class includes Deb Cary, Mass Audubon’s Director of Central Sanctuaries.

Climate Central

→ Hurricane season is here, and NOAA predicts an above-normal year
→ Racism derails our efforts to save the planet
→ The best protections from natural disasters could come from nature itself
→ Northeast states hit snag on offshore wind – we weigh in
→ To save the climate, look to the oceans
→ A large, bipartisan majority of Americans support bolder action on climate

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 26, 2020

(wetland photo credit: Julie Archibald)

Get the Facts About Ecosystem Services

Beyond its intrinsic value, nature provides measurable benefits to people by offering solutions to some of our biggest environmental problems. Our new set of five fact sheets takes a deeper look at the financial and health benefits of ecosystems like forests, wetlands, and urban green spaces.

Climate Central

→ Gulf of Maine lobstermen turn to kelp farming in the face of climate crisis
→ Clean energy job losses are mounting – Mass Audubon and others weigh in

Mosquito Spraying Bill Update

Good news: the mosquito control bill that posed damaging changes to natural lands and public health has been redrafted. Thanks to everyone that submitted testimony or contacted committee members – advocacy around this bill made a big difference.

Learn About Net Zero Planning

Mass Audubon supports H.3983, state legislation that lays out a road map for Massachusetts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our climate change program director is moderating a virtual conversation on the bill next Thursday – sign up today!

Supporting Stimulus Funds for Public Lands

Mass Audubon joined partners in urging Congress to fund programs that benefit wildlife and restore public lands in future COVID-19 stimulus bills. We advocated for conservation programs that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide benefits to people, communities, and the environment.

MVP Toolkit: Public Health and the Healthcare Sector

As Massachusetts’ Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program grows, so do the range of needs of participating cities and towns. The state has created guidance for understanding the intersections between public health, the healthcare sector, and climate change, and for developing projects with health-related co-benefits.

SMART-er Solar Regulations

What’s better for the planet – a field full of solar panels shining in the sun, or that same number of panels placed over a parking lot? If you said parking lot, you’re right – but it’s complicated.

Responding as a global community to the threat of climate change means increasing and improving access to renewable energy sources. And here in Massachusetts, adding more clean energy to our electricity supply will be key to reaching our net-zero emissions goal by 2050. But it’s important to make sure this expanded access doesn’t come at the expense of our natural lands and resources. That’s why Mass Audubon has been participating in the public review process for Massachusetts solar energy regulations.

Installing solar canopies over existing developed areas, like this parking lot at the Cincinnati Zoo, can expand clean energy access without disturbing natural lands. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Quaddell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Last month, the state officially released updates to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program to double statewide solar capacity. The changes also include carving out part of the program to ensure access for low-income projects.

Siting Matters

From 2012-2017, one-quarter of all land development in Massachusetts was the result of ground-mounted solar arrays – covering about 6,000 acres of what used to be forest or farmland. Expanding solar is crucial for climate action by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, but the siting of these projects makes a difference. For instance, it’s counterproductive to clear-cut forests and convert them to industrial scale solar arrays. Forests are vital to our resiliency from the impacts of climate change, and they help absorb carbon emissions. If current trends continue, up to 150,000 acres of forest could be lost in order to meet the green energy targets.

Mass Audubon and our conservation partners urged the state to direct more SMART financial incentives to projects on rooftops, parking lots, and other areas already altered by development.  This also has the benefit of locating the green energy supply closer to electrical demand – learn more about the benefits of “getting solar off the ground” in our new Losing Ground report

Importantly, the new regulations address some of these recommendations by steering new projects away from irreplaceable natural lands. The state will end eligibility for new, large-scale, private solar projects in the most ecologically sensitive areas – habitat for state-listed rare species, core areas with large blocks of forest, and “Critical Natural Landscapes”. This is good news! However, many projects already planned before the update will still proceed in these areas under the old rules, and certain new publicly sponsored projects can still be located in these sensitive areas.

The town of Scituate decided to turn an old landfill into a solar photovoltaic installation – a good example of siting done right. Photo credit: US EPA courtesy of Google Earth

What comes next?

We look forward to seeing how these changes will improve the solar landscape in Massachusetts. We are also pressing for even more progress, like increasing funding for parking lot canopies, which cost more to build than arrays on open land but have far fewer development impacts. Co-location within farms is another potentially promising approach that may support the business’s financial viability and energy efficiency, while maintaining the land’s agricultural productivity. We are also urging the state to provide more planning assistance to small communities to help direct projects to the right locations. 

Mass Audubon will be offering our feedback on the new updates, and you can too. The Department of Energy Resources is holding a virtual public hearing on Friday, May 22, and is also accepting written public comments through June 1. You can sign up to join the hearing online here, or submit written comments to [email protected].  Please include “SMART Public Comment” in the subject line. 

It’s exciting to see clean energy taking off in Massachusetts and around the world. With careful planning now, we can ensure solar’s expansion is a success for consumers, the climate, and conservation.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 18, 2020

Magnolia warbler photo credit: Joe Howell

Attend a Mass Audubon Program from Home

Did you know Mass Audubon is offering online programs and classes during COVID-19 related closures? From birding resources to nature photography tips, you can pick up a new skill or learn about our natural world from home.

Climate Central

→ Germany is leading the world toward a green recovery
→ A new national campaign on climate politics launched this month, and includes Massachusetts leaders like John Kerry and Gina McCarthy

Waters Under Watch

The latest Op Ed from our advocacy director takes a closer look at what’s at stake in recent Waters of the US protection rollbacks, which threaten half our country’s wetlands and many of our smaller streams. Learn more about our lawsuit to fight the changes here.

Getting SMART About Solar

Responding as a global community to the threat of climate change means expanding access to renewable energy, but this expansion shouldn’t come at the expense of our natural lands and resources. Learn more about recent state solar updates in our blog post.

Addressing Environmental Injustice in Massachusetts

A new brief from Attorney General Healy’s office highlights the longstanding impacts of environmental injustice on families in Massachusetts. Read their ideas to address these impacts — like investing in clean energy jobs and strengthening regulations to protect vulnerable communities — and our statement of support.