Category Archives: Federal Policy

Saying No to NEPA Rollbacks

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of projects like highway construction and federal land management applications before deciding whether to approve them. In other words, NEPA provides necessary checks and balances as project proposals move forward, and can help block the most environmentally-damaging among them.

Recently, the Trump administration announced plans to “modernize” NEPA in ways that would significantly limit the law’s ability to incorporate public input into project reviews and to avoid climate impacts. If the changes are enacted, they will loosen requirements to consider longer-range, cumulative impacts of a project – like those contributing to, and stemming from, climate change.

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon will be opposing this change with our environmental partners.  A group of more than 140 members of congress, including most of Massachusetts’ delegation, has also voiced their opposition.

You can too.

The federal Council on Environmental Quality is accepting public comments through March 10. You can submit your own comments to oppose weakening NEPA.  

Let the Council know we need to be doing everything we can right now to tighten greenhouse gas emission limits, not weaken them, and that effectively removing climate impacts from the approval process is a short-sighted and dangerous decision for our climate.

Thank you for speaking up!

One More Chance to Defend Migratory Birds

The 100-year old federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is one of our first environmental statutes, and makes it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. Despite providing crucial protections, the law has been under attack since 2017.

Now, the Trump administration has taken the next step in codifying damaging changes to the MBTA into law by filing their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA helps hold companies responsible, and is a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place. If the proposed change becomes law, incidental, as opposed to deliberate, bird deaths resulting from these activities – for example, birds killed in oil spills – will no longer result in prosecution.

The Northern Saw-whet owl is one of hundreds of species protected by MBTA. Photo credit: Bri Rudinsky/USFWS

You can help fight this change.

A group of national conservation organizations are suing the Department of Interior over changes to the law, and there’s still time to voice our opposition through the public review process.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on this proposed change through March 19. You can submit your own comments to voice your opposition to these protection rollbacks.  

Let USFWS know birds are already in serious trouble, due to factors like habitat loss and climate change, and that it’s unacceptable to stop holding companies responsible for bird deaths at a time when 76% of all bird species in the US are declining.

Thank you for speaking up!

Help #FundLWCF

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) helps protect invaluable wild spaces across Massachusetts and the United States. Although LWCF was permanently reauthorized last year, its annual funding is still not guaranteed.

Mass Audubon is a member of the LWCF Coalition, and we hope to see federal legislation pass this session to secure that annual funding.

The Cape Cod Nationaoeashore is protected in part thanks to LWCF funding. Photo credit: Karen Regan, National Park Service

You can help!

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (HR 3195) is awaiting action in Congress, and 172 Representatives sent a letter last week to House leadership urging them to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Most of Massachusetts’ delegation (except for Reps. Clark and Keating) signed on to the letter – please take a minute to thank your Representative for their support if they’re on the list, particularly Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, who co-led the letter.

Thank you for helping #FundLWCF!

Restoring Federal Protections for Birds

Last year the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which makes it illegal to hunt, trap, and kill nearly 1,000 avian species, came under attack. The US Department of the Interior (DOI) decided “incidental,” as opposed to “intentional,” bird deaths resulting from commercial activities – for example, birds killed in oil spills – would no longer result in prosecution. This change effectively removes accountability over such deaths, since there is no incentive for companies to take measures to avoid them.

The Little Blue Heron is one of the hundreds of species protected under MBTA. Photo credit: Bill Buchanan/USFWS

Fortunately, federal legislation has now been introduced to restore these protections. The Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552) would amend the MBTA to once again include and regulate incidental bird deaths.

You can help this bill succeed!

Please contact your US Representative to ask them to co-sponsor H.R.5552. Let them know that the MBTA is one of our country’s best protections for bird species, and that we need these protections now more than ever, since birds are disappearing at an alarming rate and are further threatened by climate change.

Fight Destructive Offshore Drilling

Update 9/16/19: Great news – all three bills passed in the House last week! Next, the Senate needs to take action. Thanks to everyone who contacted your members of congress!

Mass Audubon has been working to oppose a damaging expansion in offshore oil and gas drilling proposed by the Trump Administration, since the extraction of oil and gas through our oceans would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and geological resources.

We had some good news earlier this year when components of the plan involving the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic were blocked in federal court. However, much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are still at risk from expanded drilling, and the federal government will likely appeal the ruling, so it’s important that we keep fighting for protection of our coastlines.

Humpback whale. Photo credit: NOAA

Now we have a chance to do just that. A major vote in the US House of Representatives is expected this week on federal legislation that could make a big impact. The Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act (H.R. 1941) would ban offshore drilling & seismic testing on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Please take a minute to contact your congressperson and ask them to support H.R.1941 when it comes up for their vote. Let them know that this protection is crucial for our vulnerable marine ecosystems and wildlife, like the endangered North Atlantic right whale. You can also remind them that Massachusetts and all of New England depend on a thriving coastal and ocean economy, and that success in turn depends on healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems.

While you’re at it, ask them to support these additional drilling prevention bills, which are also set for votes this week:

The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act (H.R. 1146) would restore protections against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although the federal court has upheld protection for the Arctic Ocean against drilling, the Refuge could become open for drilling leases as soon as this fall.

The Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act (H.R. 205) would extend protections into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – August 19, 2019

Save the Endangered Species Act

The federal Endangered Species Act is one of America’s most successful conservation laws, and it’s under threat. The Trump Administration has finalized changes that will significantly weaken protection for vulnerable species, but you can help fight them.

Rallying Support for Vineyard Wind

Vineyard Wind would be the first US industrial offshore wind project and has the potential to power more than 400,000 homes. Earlier this month, the project was delayed by the Interior Department. At a press event with our colleagues on Cape Cod, we spoke out about this unnecessary delay.

Climate Central

→ Greta Thunberg sets sail for U.N. climate talks
→ Rhode Island is the first of the lower 48 states whose average temperature has risen by more than 2ºC, and the rest of the Northeast isn’t far behind
→ It’s official: this July was the planet’s hottest month on record

Pesticides and Endangered Species

In addition to her pledge to take action on Endangered Species Act rollbacks, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and ten other state attorneys general have opposed an EPA proposal that risks exposing endangered species to harmful pesticides.

Protecting the Endangered Species Act

by Christina Wiseman and Jenna Clemenzi

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is under threat. A bipartisan conservation law passed in 1973, the ESA defines species as “endangered” or “threatened” and requires federal agencies to protect them and their habitat. The ESA has a 99% success rate, and has helped bring species like the bald eagle and humpback whale back from the brink of extinction.

The ESA is especially important today, as we face the threat of a mass extinction of up to 1 million species. This drastic decline in species would be detrimental to our health, food security, and economies. The ESA is also strongly supported by the American public, with 90% expressing support in a recent poll.

Bald eagle chicks. Photo credit: USFWS

An Uncertain Future

Despite the ESA’s popularity and bipartisan passage, some members of Congress have made 150 efforts to weaken the act in the last two years, largely due to pressure from extractive industries that believe the law restricts business.

Last week, the Trump Administration announced their final changes to ESA regulations, which significantly threaten the law’s effectiveness.

These changes include:

  • Allowing economic impacts, rather than solely the best available scientific data, to be considered when determining the protection status of a species
  • Weakening of protections  for species deemed “threatened”
  • More flexibility in determining how species will be impacted in the “foreseeable future,” effectively allowing the effects of climate change to be disregarded

The changes allow the coal, oil, gas, and timber industries to have a greater say in the management of threatened and endangered species and their habitats. In order to ensure the continued survival of these species in the United States, the ESA needs to be restored to its full capacity.

Humpback whale. Photo credit: NOAA

Fighting Back

You can help stop the dismantling of the Endangered Species Act!

  • Call or email your Congressperson and ask them to hold hearings on saving the ESA
  • Ask Senators Warren and Markey to stop the rollback using the Congressional Review Act
  • Thank Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey for her defense of the Act – she plans to sue the Trump Administration over these changes

Mass Audubon has spoken out about this issue before, and we’ll continue to do so. We’ve reached out to Attorney General Healey in support of her legal appeal, and have offered to work with her office in defending the ESA in federal court. As founding members of the US Endangered Species Coalition, we condemned the decision to weaken the ESA, and weighed in about impacts these changes could have locally here in Massachusetts.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – July 1, 2019

Happy Fourth – Leave the Beach Happy, Too!

Wishing everyone a great holiday! The days following the Fourth of July are among the dirtiest of the year for beaches, so if you’re celebrating by the water, make sure to bring any trash back out with you, and to bring reusable plates, cups, and straws when possible.

Spotlight on Solar

Despite a 240-fold increase in Massachusetts’ solar energy capacity over the last decade, policy barriers have made a wide-scale transition to solar difficult, and the industry is losing jobs. We signed on to testimony supporting state legislation to alleviate these issues.

Climate Central

→ Climate change will be a decisive issue in 2020.

→ UK’s goal of net-zero carbon by 2050 becomes law.

→ A new energy storage facility recently went live in Massachusetts.

→ The majority of Americans think ExxonMobil, BP, and other fossil fuel companies should pay for a portion of climate change damages.

Funding Nature-based Fixes

The state Division of Ecological Restoration has announced $2.7 million in state and federal grants for ecological restoration projects, including a series of dam removals that will improve habitat at Mass Audubon’s Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Plymouth.

Incentives for Offshore Wind

Last week, Senator Markey joined Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Langevin (both D-RI) to reintroduce federal legislation that would spur US offshore wind growth by extending tax credits for the renewable energy industry. Mass Audubon is a supporter of the bill.

The Fight for the Clean Power Plan

Last month the Trump Administration finalized their repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), instead setting into play the weaker Affordable Clean Energy rule. There is still hope for the CPP, since a group of state attorneys general, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, is expected to sue over the change.

Federal Funding Update

Last week the US House passed a funding package related to the FY2020 federal budget. Good news – it included increases in funding for the EPA, Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and Bureau of Land Management, among others, compared to FY2019 levels.

Meeting with Congressman Moulton

Last week, Mass Audubon and our environmental partners met with Congressman Seth Moulton and his staff at their Salem office. We discussed a wide range of issues, from chemical contamination of drinking water supplies at military sites, to regional marine fisheries issues.

We also focused on funding mechanisms for conservation, including the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, securing annual funding for which is one of our key federal priorities.

Congressman Moulton with Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon’s director of public policy & government relations

Our conversation emphasized the need for fact-based decision-making and bipartisan dialogue. We look forward to continuing this work with the Congressman as we advocate for federal policies that uphold and strengthen our environmental protections.

In addition to Mass Audubon, the other groups in attendance included Appalachian Mountain Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental League of Massachusetts, The Nature Conservancy, The Trustees, and Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Conservation Groups Head to DC

Earlier in April, Mass Audubon took part in the Land Trust Alliance DC fly-in. This annual event is a chance for land trusts from around the US to meet in our nation’s capital, where we strategize and meet with federal leaders on our land protection priorities.

Along with The Trustees, the Greater Worcester Land Trust, and the Kestrel Land Trust, Mass Audubon met with staff for Senator Warren, Senator Markey, Congresswoman Clark, Chairman Neal, Congresswoman Pressley, Congressman Kennedy, Congresswoman Trahan, and Congressman Keating, The group also met personally with Chairman McGovern along with his staff.

L-R: Mike Cusher, Mass Audubon; Colin Novick, Greater Worcester Land Trust; Jen Ryan, The Trustees; Kristin DeBoer, Kestrel Land Trust; Congressman Jim McGovern

Our meetings focused on:

  • Ensuring full funding for the recently reauthorized Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • Timely implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which expanded several agricultural conservation programs, but needs to be put into action for states and organizations to take advantage of the programs’ benefits
  • Building support for H.R.1992, the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, which would close loopholes that allow bad actors to take advantage of the charitable deduction for land donations

Protecting nature for people and wildlife is a team effort. Building these relationships, both  with Congressional offices and with other land trusts in Massachusetts and across the country, is an invaluable component of Mass Audubon’s advocacy work. By working together, we strengthen our collective impact and  ensure a greater chance of success for our shared legislative priorities.

Thanks to the Land Trust Alliance for organizing another successful event!