Category Archives: Energy Issues

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.

End of Session Wrap-up

by Karen Heymann

On July 31st, the clock ran out for the majority of the  8,727 bills filed in the 2017-2018 legislative session, of which around only 400 were signed into law by Governor Baker. While there are many factors that go into determining the probability of a bill becoming law, those numbers translate to about a 5% chance of getting a bill passed in the Massachusetts legislature. That number drops even lower once you subtract the number of routine bills filed, such as the state budget, liquor licenses and sick leave banks.

Given these odds, the passage of our priority bill, An Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change, or CAMP, first filed in 2015, was remarkable. This success represented the collective efforts of many, including the Baker administration, legislators, municipal leaders, environmental organizations, businesses and others. The strong support of the Baker administration was essential; not only had Governor Baker adopted the major provisions of CAMP in an Executive Order (an excellent step, but not law), he also took advantage of the need for a new environmental bond bill and included CAMP as an outside section of the bill when he filed it. Bond bills are funding authorizations typically passed every 5 years, and can be one of the best legislative vehicles for environmental legislation, since bond bills are usually passed in the same session they are filed.

Mass Audubon advocacy director Jack Clarke, Governor Charlie Baker, and Mass Audubon president Gary Clayton at the bond announcement in Scituate back in March following a severe winter storm season

When we first started working to get this bill filed in 2015, few legislators were aware of the seriousness and magnitude of the climate threats facing Massachusetts. Even just a few years ago climate change still seemed far off, something that would impact future, not current, generations. The frequency and severity of winter storms over the past few winters however, were a wake up call to many that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and that we need a comprehensive plan to prepare to deal with this threat. With the passage of CAMP, the current and future administrations are required to update a statewide climate adaptation plan every 5 years, and to support a program to provide technical and financial assistance to communities in assessing and addressing their own climate impacts.

The Bond: A Deeper Dive

Also included in the environmental bond bill were provisions which will also help reduce the Commonwealth’s climate emissions by protecting, restoring, and enhancing natural carbon storage areas like forests and salt marshes. One of Mass Audubon’s priority bills, supporting the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership (MTWP), was included in the final environmental bond, and will support rural economic development in the Berkshire region by promoting local sustainable forestry and eco-tourism. Mass Audubon’s Losing Ground report series has documented the threats facing privately-owned forests in Massachusetts, largely from residential and commercial development. Innovative forest management approaches, such as the MTWP, could serve as a model for other states facing similar development threats to forests and other open space.

Not all of our legislative priorities were included in the final bond or approved for final passage. The “No net loss” or “Public Lands Protection Act” (PLPA) bill, which would have codified existing state policy preventing the loss of constitutionally-protected open space (known as Article 97 lands) by requiring replacement land, as well as notification to EEA prior to filing legislation to dispose of land, was not adopted. A statewide ban on plastic bags, adopted as an amendment in the Senate, was not included in the final bond bill despite local bag-ban ordinances in over 70 cities and towns. And our priority bill that would have improved protections for pollinators statewide also ran out of time.

The newly-passed energy bill will allow for further expansion of offshore wind development off Massachusetts’ coast.

The Governor did sign into law an energy bill that increases the growth rate of the state Renewable Portfolio Standard to 2% per year until 2029 and then 1% thereafter. This will increase the percentage of our energy required to come from renewable sources to 35% by 2030 (previously set at 25%) and to 45% by 2040 (previously set at 35%). Among other things, the bill establishes stronger targets for energy storage, and increased the potential for Massachusetts to procure up to 1,600 additional megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035.

In FY19 state budget news, the legislature approved healthy increases for the environmental agencies, but did not include two critical and widely supported sources of conservation funding: an increase for the Land Conservation Tax Credit and a much boost for the Community Preservation Trust fund, which provides a state match for locally-raised Community Preservation Act dollars. One of the big challenges for next session will be brainstorming ways to move forward funding increases for these two popular and critical sources of land protection funding.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director

Action You Can Take This Week: Don’t Let States Be Penalized for Opposing Offshore Drilling

US Representatives are considering a bill that would fine states that oppose oil and gas drilling off their coasts. The draft proposal would allow a state to reject offshore drilling in up to half of the leased areas off its coast, but withholding any additional areas beyond that from proposed sales would result in a fee. The fee would be calculated as at least 10% of the estimated government revenue that would have been generated from drilling activity for the site. The proposal would also create financial incentives for states that support expanded drilling. Learn more.

Earlier this year, the US Department of the Interior announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass approximately 90% of US coastlines, which would include the coast off of New England. Many groups, including Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts’ Congressional Delegation, oppose the proposed expansion, which would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and underwater geological resources.

Humpback whale habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: NOAA

If it advances, this new legislation could pressure some states into moving forward with expanding offshore drilling. The proposal is currently being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee. You can help by speaking out against it!

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, so if you live in her district, ask her to oppose the bill during her Committee review. Otherwise, you can ask your US Representative to oppose the bill now so it does not advance beyond the Committee. Let them know states shouldn’t be penalized for protecting their coasts from offshore drilling, especially at a time when there is so much opportunity for development of clean, renewable energy.

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

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.)

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.