Category Archives: Federal Policy

Say No to Seismic Testing

Recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorized the use of seismic testing for offshore oil and gas resources in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the lawsuit filed by a group of nine Attorneys General, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, this decision violates environmental law and has the potential to harm more than 300,000 marine mammals. The group is suing the Trump administration over this decision.

Specifically, the NMFS decision issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations to five private companies for seismic testing for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mid- and South-Atlantic Ocean. 

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

Going forward, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for permitting geophysical surveys, and makes decisions about energy development in the waters of the outer continental shelf. The seismic testing decision also comes as the federal government is moving forward with a proposal to expand US offshore oil and gas drilling – which we also oppose.

Let BOEM know it would be unacceptable to permit any surveys that allow harmful seismic testing – you can email BOEMPublicAffairs@boem.gov. Our marine species, like the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, are already vulnerable to threats like climate change, and the impacts of these types of tests on their populations could be disastrous.

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.

Speak Out Against More Methane Pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rolling back requirements for capturing methane pollution. Under the current standards, oil and gas companies are required to look for and repair leaks that release methane. The proposed changes would reduce the number of reviews required annually, along with other changes, in an attempt to reduce costs for the oil and gas sector.

Methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas pollutant than carbon dioxide in the short term, and capturing this wasted methane pollution is a necessary part of addressing climate change.

Leaks in natural gas pipelines are a common source of methane. Photo by Rosemary Oakeshott

You can help prevent this change, which would be a big step back for climate change mitigation at a time when we need even bolder action to prevent the worst impacts of a warming planet.

Tell EPA Administrator Wheeler that companies need to continue proactively addressing and preventing methane leaks, and to uphold the New Source Performance Standards that require such action. Let him know that the EPA has a responsibility to uphold standards that limit pollution and keep our air clean, and that we can’t afford to move backwards on our methane standards.

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 IPCC Report Urges Bolder Action Now

A new special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we need to make large-scale and rapid changes to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C, beyond which the authors say will bring on the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The warning is clear, but we still have a chance to put into place the “disruptive innovation” needed to change course if we act now.

Global climate change must be addressed through both effective state and federal policy and our own individual actions. Our personal choices in areas like home energy use, travel methods, and diet can all contribute to this global shift.

A continued and accelerated shift to clean energy sources on a global scale will be one necessary strategy to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Looking for ideas?

Get some tips on how to make those changes happen. 

Tell the White House that failing to take action on climate change is unacceptable.

Urge your federal representative and senators to speak up for stronger climate policies.

Learn how your community can participate in the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program.

There will also be an opportunity soon to oppose recent federal proposals to weaken emissions standards for methane – we’ll keep you posted!

Help Keep Nonprofits Nonpartisan

The Johnson Amendment, a provision in the federal tax code prohibiting tax-exempt nonprofits like Mass Audubon from endorsing or contributing to political candidates, needs your help.

A conference committee will meet soon to reconcile two versions of a federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding bill. The US House version contains language that would effectively prohibit the IRS from enforcing the Johnson Amendment against churches. Although this provision focuses on religious institutions, it could set a precedent for even more selective enforcement in the future.

We’ve spoken out against these changes before, and hope you’ll do the same. Contact your US Representative and Senators and ask them to urge bill H.R.6147’s conference committee to oppose the Johnson Amendment changes. Let them know these changes could counteract nonprofits’ abilities to engage in their missions and work with elected officials.

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

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.