Category Archives: Energy Issues

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

Mass Audubon Visits DC

Last week, Mass Audubon traveled to Capitol Hill to discuss federal conservation priorities during the first-ever Independent Audubon Societies’ lobby day. Our Legislative Director Karen Heymann met with congressional staff for Congressman Moulton, Congressman Neal, Congressman Kennedy and Congressman McGovern and Senator Warren.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director Karen Heymann, third from right, with representatives from other independent Audubons around the country

Independent Audubon staff from 9 regions of the country participated in the lobby day. Pressing federal priorities for our coalition include passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, permanent authorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, defense of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling, and funding for environmental agencies.

The event was a great opportunity not only to speak with decision makers on Capitol Hill, but also to learn about the work of other Audubon networks across the US. Mass Audubon represented the largest membership base of all the groups.

In addition to speaking with Massachusetts legislators, Mass Audubon also met as part of a group to discuss national environmental issues with other states. Pictured here from left to right: Karen Heymann; Lisa Alexander, Executive Director, Audubon Naturalist Society; Patrick Comins, Executive Director, The Connecticut Audubon Society; and Jordan Ebert, Legislative Aide to Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). Photo credit: Audubon Naturalist Society

 

Sensitive Offshore Areas at Risk

The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has released a draft plan to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass around 90% of US coastlines. This means that the coast off of New England could now be opened up to drilling.

The decision came when DOI released its Notice of Availability of the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which includes plans for two oil and gas lease sales in in the North Atlantic.

(Update: Mass Audubon attended the Boston public listening session on the expansion plan, and submitted comments to the Bureau of Energy Management voicing our opposition. The Massachusetts congressional delegation and Governor Baker have also written to DOI Secretary Zinke urging him to exclude the North Atlantic from the expansion. You can voice your opposition too.)

The exploration, development, and production of oil and gas off the Massachusetts Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and geological resources. Massachusetts and all of New England depend on a thriving coastal and ocean economy – which brings in $17.5 billion annually to the region – and that success in turn depends on healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems.

Endangered humpback whales are among the many species whose habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: Bill Thompson, USFWS

In response to this decision, Senator Ed Markey and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the New England Coastal Protection Act, which would bar offshore drilling along the New England coast and protect our ocean resources. Senator Elizabeth Warren and all of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation have co-sponsored the bill.

Mass Audubon agrees that a permanent moratorium is needed on oil and gas exploration and production off Massachusetts. It would be a grave mistake to place our valuable natural resources at risk, especially when so much progress and economic growth is occurring through energy efficiency and development of clean, renewable energy.

This infographic gives a sense of the damage that offshore drilling could cause our region. To make matters worse, this graphic doesn’t account for currents or other variables. For instance, the combination of the Labrador Current coming down from the north and Gulf Stream coming from the south creates a clockwise gyre on George’s Bank. If there was a spill there, oil or gas would likely become entrapped in the gyre, repeating the damage to fish and other marine resources over and over. Photo credit: Center for American Progress

There are four areas in particular that we are especially concerned could be impacted:

Nearshore areas within 100 miles of the Massachusetts coast – the 1,500-mile coastline of the Bay State constitutes an environmentally sensitive and fragile marine environment that contributes substantially to the tourism and recreational economies of Massachusetts.

Georges Bank – this shallow, sediment-covered underwater plateau was once one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds for Atlantic cod, haddock, and flounder. Much of the Bank is currently closed to fishing in order to allow the area to recover from bottom-trawl fishing, and any disruption caused by drilling will severely disrupt long-term restoration efforts and jeopardize future sustainability.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary –  located between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, this area provides feeding and nursery grounds for more than a dozen cetacean species including the endangered humpback, northern right, and fin whales; supports foraging activity by diverse seabird species, including loons, shearwaters, alcids, and terns; Leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (both endangered species) use the area for feeding, and seasonal fish and invertebrate populations include bluefin tuna, herring, cod, lobster, and scallops.

Atlantic cod in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: Matthew Lawrence, NOAA

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument – 4,913 square miles of rich and diverse marine ecosystem, which includes three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains (extinct volcanoes) known as “seamounts” that are biodiversity hotspots and home to many rare and endangered species.  These include thousand-year-old deep sea corals found nowhere else on Earth and other rare fish and invertebrates.

The proposed expansion would also be inconsistent with the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, which Mass Audubon helped develop. In addition to the the actions of Governor Baker and the Massachusetts congressional delegation opposing the expansion, Attorney General Healey has also said she opposes opening up any new ocean areas to oil and gas leasing.

The final expansion plan is expected to be released by December 2018, which will be followed by its own 90-day public comment period. We’ll be standing alongside our state leaders and conservation partners to keep offshore drilling away from Massachusetts shores and beyond.

A Year in Review

The past year started out as a difficult one for those of us that advocate on behalf of the environment. The new President appointed friends of the fossil fuel industry to lead the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, pulled America out of the Paris climate accord, and began hacking away at programs that protect our air, land, and water.

But despite the topsy-turvy year we’ve had, here at Mass Audubon we are ending 2017 with renewed hope. Through collaboration with our partner groups, conversations with our elected and appointed government officials, and the support and action of our members and subscribers, we showed Capitol Hill the resilience and determination of America’s environmental movement.

And that’s just what we are – a movement. We organized, we marched, and we spoke up.

We’ve continued to focus on a three-pronged strategy:

First, we’ve fought to uphold our existing federal environmental laws. Mass Audubon and our environmental partners met with Senator Ed Markey, Congressman Jim McGovern, and aides to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Seth Moulton, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark, where we discussed strategy for environmental advocacy at the federal level. We will continue to meet with the rest of the Massachusetts delegation in 2018. We also met with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and her senior energy and environment staff to discuss our legal options. Attorney General Healey told us that she wouldn’t hesitate to take the president to court to defend the rule of law, and she has already done so more than 15 times. We stand alongside her.

From L-R: Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke

Second, we stepped up our game at the state and local levels of government. Although the President denies climate change and supports the fossil fuel industry, 95% of utility and electricity oversight is in the hands of states, not the federal government. States like Massachusetts will continue to set the tone for reducing heat-trapping emissions and requiring industry to produce and use more green energy, and several states including ours formed the US Climate Alliance. Mass Audubon has continued to advocate for strict enforcement of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, Green Communities Act, and the Ocean Management Act. Similarly, we will continue to defend the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, which protects 432 native Massachusetts plants and animals, and their habitats even if protections are relaxed or removed at the federal level. We’ve also continued advocating for a minimum of 1% of the overall $40 billion state budget devoted to protecting the nature of Massachusetts – we’re not there yet.

Piping plovers are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

And third, we continued to advance a progressive environmental agenda. This includes a clean energy economy, water resources protection, and land and species conservation at both the federal and state levels. A few highlights from 2017:

  • Our Advocacy director Jack Clarke engaged with hundreds of Mass Audubon members and partners around the state on our environmental advocacy strategy.
  • Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program reached over 1,000 people and showed citizens how they can help conserve land and incorporate more sustainable development methods in their cities and towns.
  • We helped pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 11 more municipalities, bringing the state total to 172 cities and towns. CPA has resulted in the protection of over 26,000 acres of open space in Massachusetts.
  • Our statewide Climate Adaptation Coalition continued to grow to more than 50 organizations, who are working to ensure that Massachusetts’ residents and landscapes are resilient in the face of climate change impacts. Mass Audubon staff were also trained as providers through the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which helps communities identify local vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and develop actions to increase resilience.
  • Our priority legislation that would better codify Massachusetts for climate change preparedness passed in the state Senate, and we are hopeful that it will pass in the House and be signed into law in 2018.
  • We supported communities that organized bans on single-use plastic bags – 61 cities and towns including Boston have now taken action to phase out these sources of pollution.

And we couldn’t have done any of this without support from our members and supporters. Thank you for all that you do to help Mass Audubon protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. We look forward to continuing to use our collective voice and achieving even more together in 2018.

Action You Can Take This Week: Help Say No to Arctic Drilling

The US Senate passed a budget resolution this week to kick off the FY18 budget process. The resolution includes a provision instructing the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to take actions that could allow federal leasing for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Call your Senators to tell them you oppose this provision. You can let them know that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge makes up nearly 20 million acres of unspoiled nature that should remain wild, not exploited by oil and gas companies.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Action You Can Take This Week: Tackling Transportation Emissions

Consider attending or submitting comments through the state’s upcoming listening sessions on how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will be hosting public listening sessions to discuss solutions to this challenge.

Photo credit: Kevin Payravi

Massachusetts is currently on track to meet emission reduction limits of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, but progress to date has been largely driven by reductions in the power sector. The transportation sector now represents the largest share (40%) of statewide emissions, and further reductions are needed to meet our long-term emissions reduction goals.

Learn more and see all the listening session dates here.

Action You Can Take This Week – Renewable Portfolio Standards

This week at the State House, proposed legislation to update Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) is up for a hearing.

The Massachusetts RPS drives clean energy development by requiring utilities and other electricity suppliers to buy an increasing percentage of local “Class 1” renewable energy each year. Currently, the RPS increases by 1% each year, but we need to take bolder action to satisfy the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act requirements and help reduce emissions to avoid the worse impacts of climate change.

Our friends at Mass Energy have put together a helpful page on how you can contact your legislators in support of legislation that could increase the RPS by 3% per year – learn more.

Speak Up in Support of Offshore Wind!

Last year, Mass Audubon joined forces with National Wildlife Federation and other environmental organizations to ensure that a major new state energy law included a provision requiring the Commonwealth to purchase 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind over the next decade – enough energy to power over half a million homes.

This week, the state’s utilities sent a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to state energy regulators, asking them to approve a bid process for companies vying for offshore wind contracts off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Mass Audubon is currently preparing comments to send to the Baker Administration in support of this historic process. We also participated in the review process for the offshore wind leasing area, in addition to serving on the state’s Offshore Wind Habitat Working Group. You can read our detailed comments on each step (Request for Interest; Call for Information; Environmental Assessment; and Proposed Sale Notice) in the federal offshore wind lease sale.

Photo credit: Kim Hansen

We need offshore wind to combat climate change, which remains the single largest threat to people and wildlife both in Massachusetts and worldwide. It’s time to turn Massachusetts’ commitment into a reality. The Baker Administration needs to hear from thousands of Commonwealth residents calling for large-scale, responsibly-sited offshore wind power to replace fossil fuel-fired power plants and put Massachusetts on track toward a clean energy future. Please let them know that you support offshore wind for Massachusetts by adding your name to this message from our environmental partners!

March for Science a Success!

The March for Science on Boston Common this past Saturday was a huge success! Mass Audubon staff and members joined thousands of other attendees in support of science at this event that featured speakers, informational tables, and activities for kids.

The Boston rally was one of more than 600 held around the world on Saturday, according to The Boston Globe. Its purpose was to gather citizens and organizations together to send a message about the importance science plays in our lives. As a nonprofit that is dedicated to protecting the nature of Massachusetts, Mass Audubon values the role of science in guiding conservation action and driving environmental policy.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director Karen Heymann at the rally with her son.

The tone of the event was focused on motivating the crowd to engage in advocacy, with lots of pro-science, pro-environment, pro-EPA signs popping up throughout the crowd. Several speakers rallied the crowd, including former US EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

Thanks to all those who came to the event and spoke up for science!

A few more photos from the rally:

Some of the Mass Audubon staff and members that attended the event

A Chilling Effect on Climate Change Policies

Yesterday, President Trump passed an Executive Order that essentially overturns the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which set standards for reducing US greenhouse gas emissions. The CPP would have closed hundreds of emissions-heavy, coal-fired power plants and frozen construction of new plants, instead supporting cleaner and lower-polluting renewable energy sources. It also was a key strategy for reaching former President Obama’s goal to cut US emissions by about 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

While this Executive Order dealt a big blow to federal climate change policy, it cannot undo the progress made by the renewable energy industry over the past decade. According to ABC News, fewer than 75,000 coal mining jobs remain in the US. By comparison, there are more than 650,000 renewable energy jobs, a sign of the market-driven trend toward domestic energy that is clean, affordable, and reliable.

These favorable trends, however, are not enough. Continued reduction of emissions, and enforcement of these reductions by the Environmental Protection Agency, are crucial to our partnership in the Paris climate agreement and our responsibility to serve as a leader internationally on climate action.

Coal-fired power plants release carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

President Trump claims that his environmental interests lie in ensuring “clean air” and “crystal clean water” for the US. Increasing our coal production and the pollution that comes with it is in absolute opposition to that goal.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has spoken out against the decision, saying her office will be opposing President Trump’s latest action in court. Mass Audubon will stand with her.

You can add your support too.

Call Attorney General Healey’s office at (617) 727-2200 and say: I support the Attorney General’s pledge to oppose President Trump’s actions against the Clean Power Plan in court. Thank you for your leadership and commitment to environmental protection.

Note: You can just say “Maura Healey” or “Attorney General” if you’re prompted to say the name or extension of the party you’d like to speak with.

Read more about President Trump’s decision, including quotes from AG Healey and Mass Audubon’s Jack Clarke, in this Boston Globe article.