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.

Wind and Wildlife

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spoken out against wind energy on the grounds that it kills birds—but estimated bird deaths from wind turbines are small when compared to other human-caused sources of avian mortality, like building collisions. On top of that, climate change is by far the biggest threat to all birds living today. Of Massachusetts’ 143 breeding bird species evaluated by Mass Audubon, 43% are “highly vulnerable” to its effects.

That’s why Mass Audubon supports responsibly-sited wind projects to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We can do this by increasing conservation and efficiency, and by producing clean energy. Wind energy is now among the most cost-effective, competitive, and reliable clean technologies available.

Photo credit: Ryan O’Sullivan

Any development of new energy sources is bound to have some impact on wildlife and their habitat, but Mass Audubon advocates for prospective offshore wind projects to be designed to avoid any significant environmental damage. Anticipated impacts need to be minimized and mitigated – that’s the sequence to success and the review standard to which all projects should be held. With appropriate design, siting and mitigation, the industry can grow as Massachusetts does its part to combat the impacts of global climate change.

Read more in our recent Op Ed.

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!

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.

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.

Local Efforts Make the Difference for Water Conservation

by Ariel Maiorano

Remember the drought of 2016? Wells went dry, and reservoirs dropped precipitously low. The second-largest city in New England, Worcester, ran so low on water that they had to tap into additional sources (to the tune of over $1 million). Unfortunately, droughts are becoming increasingly more frequent and extreme, especially as our climate changes. Even though Massachusetts receives 15% more water annually compared to averages in the early 20th century, that precipitation now arrives in heavy bursts followed by prolonged dry spells. These dry times have enormous implications for municipal drinking water supplies. Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to protect those supplies, some of which is extremely low cost.

In a local letter to the editor published earlier this month in the Sharon Advocate , resident and town Water Conservation Estimator Paul Lauenstein shared  that the Town of Sharon reduced their annual water consumption to the lowest it’s been since 1984 thanks to public education and outreach. You can find the text of Lauenstein’s letter here.

Overall, the town of about 18,000 has reduced public well water pumping by one-third since its peak in the mid-1990s, from upwards of 600 million gallons to below 400 million gallons. Below is a figure from the town’s 2016 Water Quality Report, detailing the decrease in water usage since the 1995 spike.

Source: Water Quality Report for 2016, Town of Sharon

Lauenstein’s letter attributes Sharon’s success to adopting policies like rebates for resource-efficient appliances, and incorporating environmental education into public school curricula to shift local practices. The town Water Department also prioritized leak repairs and included reminders to reduce consumptions in water bills.  By taking low-cost and common-sense approaches to water conservation, the town successfully and significantly reduced community-wide water usage.

Water conservation offers a broad range of benefits, including improved public health, cost savings, resource availability, ecosystem value, and well-being of wildlife.  Sufficient water supplies are critical to communities throughout the Commonwealth that pump locally-sourced groundwater to meet the needs of their populations.

One of the many benefits of conservation listed by Lauenstein is the preservation of Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This rare habitat not only provides spectacular habitat for local species and recreational benefits from wildlife watching, but it also provides the service of filtering and purifying water on-site that is later pumped by local wells. By conserving water to keep this resource healthy, Sharon is letting nature work for them and allowing the ecosystems to purify water so that built infrastructure doesn’t have to.  “Green infrastructure” exists in every community and by prioritizing its protection, communities can improve their bottom line as well as enjoy co-benefits like  flood reduction and improved climate resilience.

Conserving wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwater, is one way to reap the benefits of “green infrastructure.” Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon’s Shaping the  Future of Your Community Program encourages communities across the Commonwealth to identify naturally-occurring  green infrastructure in their own towns, and to take steps to conserve it. Check out our five-part guide that introduces you to what green infrastructure is, how to protect it, and how to re-incorporate it in already-developed areas. Ready to take the next step? Learn how to update your local bylaws and regulations to encourage these types of nature-based solutions.

Whether your community is conserving landscapes like Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, or is looking for more cost-effective ways to manage local water, we can follow the Town of Sharon’s common sense approach.

Ariel Maiorano is Mass Audubon’s Assistant Coordinator for the Shaping the Future of Your Community Program

New Yale Maps Show the Need to Talk More About Climate Change

by Daniel Brown

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, one of the foremost research groups studying public perceptions of climate change, recently released an updated version of their famed climate opinion maps.

These maps show how fundamental understanding of climate change differs across the country, and the newest edition raises many interesting findings. Here are a few points that jump out:

Massachusetts residents have slowly but surely improved in their understanding that climate change is real and caused by our use of fossil fuels. More than 97% of climate scientists have published research confirming or acknowledging this fact. About 62% of Massachusetts residents understand it. That’s not great, but it’s 5% better than the national average.New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania show a below-average level of understanding of the fact that climate change is real and human-caused, which makes them out-of-place in the Northeast. We clearly need to do a better job of talking with friends and family in those states about climate change.

Overall, states with a better understanding of climate change tend to lean left in elections. Those with a lower understanding tend to lean to the political right. While climate change is a scientific fact and shouldn’t reflect partisan preference, this is a striking visual. It shows the lingering damage of climate change denial campaigns by special interest groups that have made the issue a political one. What’s encouraging for Massachusetts is that every county in the state showed above-average understanding regardless of political or social differences.

In many states, including Massachusetts, public understanding is sufficiently high for political leaders to take meaningful action to fight climate change. But even in most of those states, leaders have not yet implemented actions on the ground. While Massachusetts is generally considered ahead of the curve, we are still falling behind on large-scale actions recommended by climate scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The maps highlight a need for all of us to talk about climate change often among our own social networks, to put pressure on our political leaders to take action, and lead by example in whatever ways we can.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

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