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.
This past winter, Mass Audubon joined onto an amicus brief filed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in the case of Smith v. Westfield in support of open space protection under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. After hearing the case, the SJC has ruled in our favor that such lands are protected under Article 97.
The case involved proposed conversion of parkland (the John A. Sullivan Memorial Playground in Westfield) for a school construction project, and had broad implications for clarifying whether or not parcels of land that communities have dedicated to conservation or recreation purposes, but may not be explicitly limited to such uses in the registry of deeds, are actually protected under Article 97. Local citizens challenged the project and Mass Audubon joined The Trustees, who filed the amicus, and the Mass Land Trust Coalition in taking this action.
This week, the SJC ruled that such lands are protected under Article 97. In its opinion, the Court ruled that (emphasis in bold is our own):
Article 97 … provides that “[l]ands and easements taken or acquired” for conservation purposes “shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of” without the approval of a two-thirds roll call vote of each branch of the Legislature. The issue on appeal is whether a proposed change in use of municipal parkland may be governed by art. 97 where the land was not taken by eminent domain and where there is no restriction recorded in the registry of deeds that limits its use to conservation or recreational purposes. We conclude that there are circumstances where municipal parkland may be protected by art. 97 without any such recorded restriction, provided the land has been dedicated as a public park. A city or town dedicates land as a public park where there is a clear and unequivocal intent to dedicate the land permanently as a public park and where the public accepts such use by actually using the land as a public park. Because the municipal land at issue in this case has been dedicated as a public park, we conclude that it is protected by art. 97.
This decision re-emphasizes the importance of Article 97 and the public value of open space, and it complements the New England Forestry Foundation vs. Town of Hawley case in which Mass Audubon and The Nature Conservancy also filed an amicus (Dec. 2013) with the SJC. These decisions help establish a strong precedent for the protection of open space from both taxation and change of use without a legislative vote.
Add your input to help protect the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Let the US Department of the Interior know that you fully support this extraordinary place’s designation as a National Monument, and ask Secretary Zinke not to modify its boundaries, management, or allowed uses. The comment deadline is today, July 10.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is home to our region’s most dramatic ocean features. The area encompasses the only seamounts (extinct underwater volcanoes) in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean as well as canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. Scientists have shown it is a hot-spot for wide range and a high number of sensitive species, including 1,000 year old deep-sea coral communities and endangered whales and sea turtles. Mass Audubon also signed onto a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation expressing our concern about the Trump Administration’s Executive Order calling for the review of this and two dozen other National Monuments.
Last month, the state Senate approved an amendment to the FY18 state budget that would increase the state match for Community Preservation Act (CPA) communities. Without immediate action to adjust the recording fees at the state’s Registries of Deeds, the CPA Trust Fund distribution for the 172 participating communities will plunge to an all-time low of approximately 11% of locally-raised revenues in 2018.
When CPA was signed into law by Governor Cellucci in 2000, it was heralded as a true partnership between the Commonwealth and local communities. Today however, a large gap has developed between the approximately $150 million invested annually by the 172 CPA cities and towns and the $26 million contributed by the state. A nominal $25 adjustment in recording fees would increase the base CPA state match to approximately 32%, which is the historic average distribution over the last eight years.
A conference committee is now reconciling the House and Senate versions of the budget. Because the CPA amendment was only included in the Senate’s version of the budget, the House side of the conference committee must agree to keep it in the final version. We need to make sure this happens, and you can help!
Please call your state Representative and ask him/her to contact the offices of Speaker Robert DeLeo, Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, and the rest of the budget conference committee and encourage them to include the CPA Trust Fund increase in the final FY18 budget. You can let them know that increasing the Trust Fund will help advance land protection and sustainable development for communities across the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources recently released their Pollinator Protection Plan to address to some of the threats facing species like bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Pollinator populations have been on the decline due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change.
The Plan released by the state incorporates many suggestions Mass Audubon made during the draft Plan’s public review process, including an increased focus on wild pollinators (vs. only managed hives used in agriculture) and habitat management.
It also includes Best Management Practices for groups from beekeepers to farmers to homeowners and gardeners, all of whom can take steps to minimize impacts to pollinators and encourage their populations to thrive.
In addition to the Pollinator Protection Plan, Mass Audubon supports proposed legislation that investigates methods for protecting and promoting pollinators’ health. Our goal now is to merge any legislative protection efforts with ensuring that the Plan guidelines are put into place effectively.
For more on protecting pollinators, see our previous blog post.
Lead Bullet Ban Overturned
Newly appointed Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently overturned a ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle in all national parks and wildlife refuges. The ban had been implemented on the Obama administration’s last full day in office as part of a nearly decade-long effort, but was delayed due to strong opposition by gun and sportsmen’s organizations.
Despite widespread acceptance of a nationwide restriction on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl in 1991, federal efforts to curb the use of lead ammunition for hunting have been largely opposed.
Opponents of the ban cite the added expense of lead bullet alternatives as one of the main rationales for opposing the ban, and claim that evidence of significant effects on wildlife populations from the use of lead bullets is lacking.
Those in favor of the ban argue that inexpensive alternatives are available and affordable, and that their use has long been justified by extensive documentation of lead poisoning from ammunition sources as a well-established cause of mortality in many birds of prey both domestically and globally.
Lead Risks on the Rise
Lead is a toxic metal, an environmental contaminant, and a nerve poison; even trace amounts are harmful to both wildlife and humans, especially to children Lead is also ubiquitous, found in peeling window paint, leaching from corroded pipes, and embedded in the soils of suburban backyards and rural forests. Although its use has been largely discontinued in paints, pesticides, and gasoline, it is still used to manufacture lead bullets, fishing sinkers, and tackle.
Concerns about lead contamination in wildlife cannot be easily dismissed. Scavenging and predatory birds and mammals typically ingest lead shot or bullets by consuming either the remnants of carcasses left behind by hunters, or prey animals which have themselves ingested gunshot or carry stray lead pellets in their flesh. According to one USGS scientist, “the magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons is daunting.”
Lead from hunting and fishing creates a hazard for humans as well. Over time, spent or lost lead ammunition and fishing tackle can dissolve into water bodies or leach into soils, creating a toxic source of non-point pollution for surface and groundwater. Studies have also found direct lead exposure risk from the consumption of lead metal fragments in contaminated meat at levels with implications for those regularly consuming venison or other wild game.
According to medical experts, no amount of lead is safe, particularly in children; even small amounts are associated with increased risk of heart failure in adults and with loss of cognitive function in children. No environmental toxin has been as extensively studies as lead, and skepticism of its effects as part of the highly polarized lead ammunition ban debate compelled scientists to publish a consensus statement of scientists on associated health risks. This should raise alarm bells not only for those who enjoy hunting or fishing, but for those committed to the stewardship of nature protecting and public health.
With concerns over lead on the rise, states are starting to limit the use of lead bullets or subsidize alternatives. California’s lead bullet ban stems from the well-established impacts of lead-contaminated prey on the condor, an endangered species native to the state. Massachusetts recently prohibited the use of lead bullets at the Mass Military Reservation on Cape Cod to protect a local water resource, and prohibited statewide the use of lead sinkers for fishing. Arizona has taken a less regulatory approach by offering lead-free alternatives to hunters at no cost.
Events like the recent water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan often cast a brief spotlight on the issue of lead exposure in the U.S., but the problem is far more systemic and widespread than is generally known, often spanning generations and correlating closely with poverty rates. One recent investigation found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates 2-4 times higher than those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. Decisive and immediate action is needed to remediate risk exposure in the U.S., and steps must be taken to protect both wildlife and humans.
All Roads Lead to Rome, Again?
Lead poisoning was documented as far back as ancient Roman times, where it was used to make water pipes, household goods, and to sweeten food and wine. Some historians hypothesized that chronic lead toxicity eventually led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, arguably one of the most powerful in human history. Today, health experts agree on the urgency of ending what is now known to be a major source of lead for animals and humans: spent lead bullets and shotgun pellets.
The Center for Disease Control and various states have taken steps to warn the public about the risks posed by spent lead ammunition, but few regulations actually restrict or ban its use. A 2013 peer-reviewed study on the availability, price, and effectiveness of lead-free hunting rifle ammunition found that there is no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead –free and lead-core ammunition.
It is unlikely that lead will have such catastrophic effects on human populations today as compared with the people of Ancient Rome, but lead does reap significant chronic health impacts on those individuals exposed to it. Switching to lead-free ammunition and fishing gear would have immediate benefits to both wildlife and the ten million hunters and their families who enjoy the outdoors. State and federal policy makers should more aggressively pursue this issue in the interest of protecting the health of people and wildlife through both legislation and education.
Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director.
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.
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:
By Jack Clarke
In his first 40 days, President Trump has made it easier for the coal industry to dump their waste into streams, ordered the repeal of Clean Water Act protections for vast stretches of wetlands, proposed massive job cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and prepared to begin revoking the previous administration’s most ambitious climate change regulations.
- The EPA has halted its inquiry to operators of oil and gas wells that would have required them to report methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 time more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year period.
- US Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s first act was to sign Secretarial Order 3346, which repeals a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directive the previous administration issued the day before President Trump took office barring the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in national parks and wildlife refuges. Secretary Zinke also signed an order to expand hunting, fishing and recreation access on federal lands.
- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Began a repeal of the Clean Water Rule.
- Administrator Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao are expected to begin rolling back federal standards for vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming and 1/3 of our own greenhouse gas emissions. The regulations would have required automakers to build passenger cars that achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, compared with about 36 miles per gallon today. EPA will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that had allowed the state to enforce tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers. This all comes at a time when the rest of the world is moving forward with development of electric cars, putting us in a disadvantaged position to compete globally.
- President Trump is also expected to overturn the previous administration’s moratorium on new federal coal leases. America’s previous pledge to send billions of dollars to United Nations climate programs is also likely on the chopping block. And, President Trump hasn’t ruled out withdrawing the United States from the 200-nation Paris climate agreement, a step that could undercut the international effort to confront global warming.
- EPA Administrator Pruitt reiterated that he wants to maintain funding to clean up brownfields and Superfund sites, meet unfulfilled air quality standards and keep paying for local water infrastructure. However, an initial version of the proposed federal budget suggests reducing EPA’s overall budget by one-fourth, cutting state air grants by 30 percent, eliminating 3,000 employees and zeroing out 38 programs, according to a summary being circulated by sources familiar with the plan.
- A US Department of Commerce budget proposal also would cut NOAA’s budget by 18 % in the areas of external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and coastal resilience.
We must remain vigilant in speaking up in opposition to these damaging decisions and will continue to work with the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation and Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in defending America’s national heritage and natural security.
This week, President Trump signed an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded. According to President Trump, “This will be the biggest such act that our country has ever seen.” Mass Audubon will be on the lookout for the repeal of environmental standards necessary for protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live, work, and play on.
In more federal news, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to vote on Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, amid complaints from many senators that his answers to their questions were inadequate. Please keep up with your phone calls to Senators Warren and Markey opposing the nomination, and encourage your friends in other states to do the same with their senators!
We are also paying attention to Congress’ damaging decision with regard to federal land management. Earlier this month, Congress revised its House budget rules to more easily allow federal lands to essentially be given away. By adding language to devalue these lands, US Representatives have made it easier to transfer control of more than 640 million acres, including national parks and wildlife refuges to states.
We’ve written about issues like this before, most recently in regard to control of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham. When management of federal land changes hands to state control, problematic changes can ensue, from limited public access to natural resource exploitation and energy drilling. There is also the added challenge of state agencies and governments being able to pay for all the maintenance required for the land. Mass Audubon is concerned about these legislative changes, and will continue to closely follow the issue and let you know when the time to act will be.
Christina Wiseman is Advocacy Associate.
by Jack Clarke
Note: This Op Ed is also running in several regional newspapers statewide, including the Gloucester Daily Times.
Last spring on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, Governor Charlie Baker called the state’s park system a “really big deal” and said there was “no question” that over the past decade “the state’s disinvested in this stuff.” He then reiterated his campaign promise to dedicate 1 percent of the overall state budget to the environment. “We’re going to get there. It’s going to take a few years,” he said. This month he files his third budget, and it is time “to get there.”
There is little question that Massachusetts has a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and the nature of Massachusetts is short-changed because of it.
Of this year’s $40 billion state budget, only 0.6 percent is devoted to environmental programs – programs like the establishment and operation of state forests and parks, along with programs that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lands we live, work and play on.
Spending on the environment needs to be increased to no less than 1 percent of the overall state budget, especially as the White House and Congress prepare to cut spending on America’s environmental well-being.
The last time we spent 1 percent on nature was in 2009. And even though he promised to achieve that 1 percent, last year Gov. Baker actually cut environmental spending by 7 percent compared to the previous year.
Budget cuts are made for two reasons:
First, in preparing the budget and figuring out how much they will have to spend, the Legislature makes overly optimistic projections on what will be available through tax revenues throughout the year. When the money fails to come in, shortfalls arise with environmental line-items often most vulnerable.
Second, once they imagine how much money will be available, the Legislature drafts a budget based on its revenue projections and then employs gimmicks to patch it together. Lawmakers count things such as funds set aside for rainy day emergencies, delaying on-time payment of bills, selling of state property, and state pensions and retiree health care funds.
The Legislature then submits to the governor a so-called balanced budget with a built-in structural deficit. The dance continues with the governor then vetoing certain sections of the Legislature’s budget; the Legislature then overrides those vetoes, and the governor once again cuts budget items for his agencies to reflect a shortfall in revenue income.
The second reason environmental and other basic programs are underfunded is because of a lack of actual revenue.
Revenues are not keeping up with costs. We are not over-spending, and we have not had any spending increases. As the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center points out, general expenditures are consistently at 12 cents for every dollar the state collects. And that’s where they have been since the late 1980s.
The problem is tax cuts. Cutting programs is always part of solving state financial problems. But we have to realize that we do not do more with less, as the voters demand; we do less with less. Those cuts started in a big way at the turn of the millennium when, in a ballot initiative, Bay Staters voted to cut the state income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent. That translates into an annual $2 billion reduction in what the state can spend on the public’s health, safety and well-being.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has shown that the gap between projected revenue and spending to maintain current services is $800 million. So the problem is on the tax side. Before the 2000 initiative, the state was taking in 7 cents on every dollar earned — now it’s around 6 cents.
Last year, the governor’s fiscal year 2017 budget recommended $200 million for environment and recreation programs, a cut of $14 million below the fiscal year 2016 budget. Those cuts have to stop and the environmental budget must be restored.
Ironically, it is one of the smallest parts of the state budget that effects every resident of the commonwealth and is often the first to be cut. It is time for Beacon Hill to get back to devoting 1 percent to the nature of Massachusetts in the upcoming budget.
Jack Clarke is director of public policy and government relations.