The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 26, 2020

(wetland photo credit: Julie Archibald)

Get the Facts About Ecosystem Services

Beyond its intrinsic value, nature provides measurable benefits to people by offering solutions to some of our biggest environmental problems. Our new set of five fact sheets takes a deeper look at the financial and health benefits of ecosystems like forests, wetlands, and urban green spaces.

Climate Central

→ Gulf of Maine lobstermen turn to kelp farming in the face of climate crisis
→ Clean energy job losses are mounting – Mass Audubon and others weigh in

Mosquito Spraying Bill Update

Good news: the mosquito control bill that posed damaging changes to natural lands and public health has been redrafted. Thanks to everyone that submitted testimony or contacted committee members – advocacy around this bill made a big difference.

Learn About Net Zero Planning

Mass Audubon supports H.3983, state legislation that lays out a road map for Massachusetts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our climate change program director is moderating a virtual conversation on the bill next Thursday – sign up today!

Supporting Stimulus Funds for Public Lands

Mass Audubon joined partners in urging Congress to fund programs that benefit wildlife and restore public lands in future COVID-19 stimulus bills. We advocated for conservation programs that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide benefits to people, communities, and the environment.

MVP Toolkit: Public Health and the Healthcare Sector

As Massachusetts’ Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program grows, so do the range of needs of participating cities and towns. The state has created guidance for understanding the intersections between public health, the healthcare sector, and climate change, and for developing projects with health-related co-benefits.

SMART-er Solar Regulations

What’s better for the planet – a field full of solar panels shining in the sun, or that same number of panels placed over a parking lot? If you said parking lot, you’re right – but it’s complicated.

Responding as a global community to the threat of climate change means increasing and improving access to renewable energy sources. And here in Massachusetts, adding more clean energy to our electricity supply will be key to reaching our net-zero emissions goal by 2050. But it’s important to make sure this expanded access doesn’t come at the expense of our natural lands and resources. That’s why Mass Audubon has been participating in the public review process for Massachusetts solar energy regulations.

Installing solar canopies over existing developed areas, like this parking lot at the Cincinnati Zoo, can expand clean energy access without disturbing natural lands. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Quaddell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Last month, the state officially released updates to the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program to double statewide solar capacity. The changes also include carving out part of the program to ensure access for low-income projects.

Siting Matters

From 2012-2017, one-quarter of all land development in Massachusetts was the result of ground-mounted solar arrays – covering about 6,000 acres of what used to be forest or farmland. Expanding solar is crucial for climate action by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, but the siting of these projects makes a difference. For instance, it’s counterproductive to clear-cut forests and convert them to industrial scale solar arrays. Forests are vital to our resiliency from the impacts of climate change, and they help absorb carbon emissions. If current trends continue, up to 150,000 acres of forest could be lost in order to meet the green energy targets.

Mass Audubon and our conservation partners urged the state to direct more SMART financial incentives to projects on rooftops, parking lots, and other areas already altered by development.  This also has the benefit of locating the green energy supply closer to electrical demand – learn more about the benefits of “getting solar off the ground” in our new Losing Ground report

Importantly, the new regulations address some of these recommendations by steering new projects away from irreplaceable natural lands. The state will end eligibility for new, large-scale, private solar projects in the most ecologically sensitive areas – habitat for state-listed rare species, core areas with large blocks of forest, and “Critical Natural Landscapes”. This is good news! However, many projects already planned before the update will still proceed in these areas under the old rules, and certain new publicly sponsored projects can still be located in these sensitive areas.

The town of Scituate decided to turn an old landfill into a solar photovoltaic installation – a good example of siting done right. Photo credit: US EPA courtesy of Google Earth

What comes next?

We look forward to seeing how these changes will improve the solar landscape in Massachusetts. We are also pressing for even more progress, like increasing funding for parking lot canopies, which cost more to build than arrays on open land but have far fewer development impacts. Co-location within farms is another potentially promising approach that may support the business’s financial viability and energy efficiency, while maintaining the land’s agricultural productivity. We are also urging the state to provide more planning assistance to small communities to help direct projects to the right locations. 

Mass Audubon will be offering our feedback on the new updates, and you can too. The Department of Energy Resources is holding a virtual public hearing on Friday, May 22, and is also accepting written public comments through June 1. You can sign up to join the hearing online here, or submit written comments to doer.smart@mass.gov.  Please include “SMART Public Comment” in the subject line. 

It’s exciting to see clean energy taking off in Massachusetts and around the world. With careful planning now, we can ensure solar’s expansion is a success for consumers, the climate, and conservation.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 18, 2020

Magnolia warbler photo credit: Joe Howell

Attend a Mass Audubon Program from Home

Did you know Mass Audubon is offering online programs and classes during COVID-19 related closures? From birding resources to nature photography tips, you can pick up a new skill or learn about our natural world from home.

Climate Central

→ Germany is leading the world toward a green recovery
→ A new national campaign on climate politics launched this month, and includes Massachusetts leaders like John Kerry and Gina McCarthy

Waters Under Watch

The latest Op Ed from our advocacy director takes a closer look at what’s at stake in recent Waters of the US protection rollbacks, which threaten half our country’s wetlands and many of our smaller streams. Learn more about our lawsuit to fight the changes here.

Getting SMART About Solar

Responding as a global community to the threat of climate change means expanding access to renewable energy, but this expansion shouldn’t come at the expense of our natural lands and resources. Learn more about recent state solar updates in our blog post.

Addressing Environmental Injustice in Massachusetts

A new brief from Attorney General Healy’s office highlights the longstanding impacts of environmental injustice on families in Massachusetts. Read their ideas to address these impacts — like investing in clean energy jobs and strengthening regulations to protect vulnerable communities — and our statement of support.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 11, 2020

Join Bird-a-thon from Home

Bird-a-thon brings together supporters from across the state to raise essential funds for nature conservation, education, and advocacy—and to compete in an exciting team birding competition. This year’s event has gone virtual: join today!

Climate Central

Electric pickup trucks could mean the arrival of a new era
→ Big banks are pulling out from financing Arctic oil drilling

Fighting to Uphold Water Protections

For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes. Now it’s under threat, but Mass Audubon and our partners are fighting back. Learn more >

CPA Trust Fund: Planning Ahead

Since the ongoing pandemic has made it difficult to predict how much qualifying communities will receive from the CPA Trust Fund in November, the state has issued preliminary guidance to help with FY21 budget planning.

Fighting for US Water Protections

For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has helped safeguard America’s rivers, lakes, and other interconnected landscapes. These resources provide wildlife habitat, swimming and fishing opportunities, and drinking water for millions of Americans.

But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have finalized a rule to remove critical protections for more than half of the country’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of streams.

What’s at Stake

The repeal focuses on the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS), which defined wetlands and waterways protected nationwide under the Clean Water Act, and was developed following extensive scientific and public input. 

Repealing WOTUS means removing protections from many wetlands, as well as streams that flow in response to rain or snowfall – all of which can significantly impact the health of larger water bodies by filtering out pollutants.

Denying these protections blatantly ignores the science that went into WOTUS in the first place, which showed that in order to protect our nation’s rivers and streams, smaller bodies of water and tributaries must be protected as well. Wetlands are also among our most biologically productive ecosystems, and act as both carbon sinks and floodwater absorbers – two more major reasons to strengthen, not weaken, their protections as we face the climate crisis.

We’re Fighting Back

Mass Audubon has joined the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other partners in filing a lawsuit in federal court that challenges the Trump administration’s rollbacks. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 18 other states are also filing their own lawsuit.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has protected wetlands and streams across the United States. Now it’s our turn to protect it.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 4, 2020

Help Stop Mosquito Spraying from Going Too Far

New legislation that could be damaging to Massachusetts wetlands and wildlife is on the move at the State House. Learn more about why this bill is the wrong choice for mosquito control, and how you can help.

Climate Central

→ How much food could urban green spaces produce? More than you think.
→ Response to COVID-19 has driven global carbon emissions to levels last seen 10 years ago.
→ Massachusetts announces ecological restoration program for former cranberry bogs.
→ Are we witnessing the death of the car?

A Legacy of Leadership

This week Mass Audubon president Gary Clayton is retiring after more than 30 years with our organization. We’ll miss his warmth, passion for nature, and the strong example he set as a leader. Thank you, Gary, for all your years of service!

(Roseate tern photo credit: USFWS)

Climate Action on the Cape

Mass Audubon signed on to support a Cape Cod Climate Emergency Declaration, coordinated by local groups in the region mobilizing to address the climate crisis. To date 1,300 governments around the world have declared climate emergencies, including municipalities like Amherst, Boston, and Worcester.

New MVP Funding Available

The state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program has opened its next funding round for Planning and Action grants. Mass Audubon is a certified provider for the program, which helps communities plan for climate change and improve their resilience.

Small Fish, Big Role in our Ecosystems

Good news for seabirds and other species that feed on small fish known as sand lances – a new state regulation will reduce their overfishing. Thanks to the Division of Marine Fisheries for making this change! Mass Audubon also consulted on a recent paper on sand lances’ importance for Atlantic Ocean ecosystems.

Poll of the Week

A new Yale poll finds that a majority of American voters support financial relief for renewable energy companies, rather than bailouts for oil and gas companies, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Stop Mosquito Spraying from Going Too Far

Update 7/23/2020: The revised bill has been signed into law by the Governor.

We’ll now be following its implementation closely through the state’s Mosquito Control for a 21st Century Task Force, which will include advocating for statewide reform of Massachusetts’ approach to mosquito control to improve environmental and public health practices.

Update 6/8/2020: The Joint Committee on Public Health has approved a completely redrafted version of the bill by a unanimous, bipartisan vote.

The revised bill no longer allows the Reclamation Board to override all state laws, and creates a task force to review and propose updates to the state’s mosquito control system, based on science.  It also includes notification and reporting requirements for aerial or other wide-scale pesticide applications. Mass Audubon supports these proposed revisions, and now the new bill is headed to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing for further approval.

Thanks to everyone that submitted testimony or contacted committee members – advocacy around this bill by conservation groups and others made a big difference. While this redraft marks progress, we are also still hoping to see additional changes.

Loosening regulations around mosquito spraying could have impacts on our wetlands and water supplies

Original post: A bill is moving through the state’s Joint Committee on Public Health that could be damaging to Massachusetts wetlands and wildlife, and counterproductive to public health concerns.

An Act to Mitigate Arbovirus in the Commonwealth (H.4650), proposed by Governor Baker, aims to address mosquito borne disease, but it goes much too far. The bill would exempt the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board from all state laws and allow them to conduct mosquito eradication measures anywhere in the Commonwealth.  This proposed change is based on a determination by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) that there may be a threat of mosquito borne disease somewhere in the state in the next year, but this is too vague a standard to result in such drastic measures.

The way the bill is written, there is no minimum threshold for these actions to kick in, no opportunity for input from affected communities or landowners, and no expiration date.  The Reclamation Board would be exempt from all state laws, including Massachusetts’ Open Meeting Law, Public Records Act, and environmental laws like the Endangered Species and Wetlands Protection Acts.

Mass Audubon supports the recommendations of the national Centers for Disease Control  and US Environmental Protection Agency calling for a science-based mosquito-borne disease management program, with the goal of protecting public health while minimizing environmental and human health risks associated with some types of mosquito control. Spraying of pesticides to control adult mosquitoes is the least effective, and most environmentally damaging, method.

Reform is needed for mosquito control in Massachusetts, since our existing systems are antiquated and fragmented. But this bill won’t achieve those reforms, instead giving more clout to the existing broken systems.

The proposed legislation is of particular concern at a time when many people are seeking to reduce their exposures to chemicals. More and more people are growing their own food and managing their yards and gardens with minimal or no pesticides, both to protect their own health and for the benefit of wild pollinators, which are in serious decline.  This bill would eliminate landowner’s rights to be excluded from routine pesticide spraying.

Monarch butterfly (Photo: USFWS)

Mass Audubon is opposing this bill at the State House and encouraging the Public Health Committee to reject it.

You can help by opposing the bill too.

Contact the Joint Committee on Public Health and let them know that this bill is too broad, putting wildlife and water supplies at risk, and that it lacks transparency by not providing a role for local boards of health or environmental groups.

All testimony must be submitted by email to Jay.Newsome@mahouse.gov and Brian.Rosman@masenate.gov no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, May 11.

Please include “PUBLIC HEALTH TESTIMONY” in the subject line of the email, and include the name, title and organization (if applicable), address, and telephone number of the person submitting testimony.

Thank you for speaking up!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – April 27, 2020

(sunflower photo credit: Peter Lampke)

Action You Can Take This Week: Consider a CSA

During these challenging times, supporting our local farms is a great way to strengthen community food systems, uplift farmers, and access fresh, healthy options. Mass Audubon offers CSA programs at Drumlin Farm, Moose Hill, and Boston Nature Center.

Climate Central

→ When pollution levels from coal plants decrease, asthma attacks do too
→ In his recent opinion piece, Senator Markey eyes the Green New Deal as a bridge to transition out of the COVID-19 crisis

Net Zero Massachusetts Update

The state released its formal letter of determination for reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Their plan includes offsetting a portion of remaining emissions through sequestration by natural sources like trees—which means land protection must play a critical role.

Op Ed: Science Matters

The latest op ed from our advocacy director highlights the need for science-driven decisions in both public health and climate change policy-making. As we learn more about our vulnerabilities, we can save lives by preparing today.

Funding Opportunity for Watershed Health

Restore America’s Estuaries Southeast New England Program (SNEP) Watershed Grants fund projects that help restore clean water and healthy ecosystems to the region. Applications are being accepted through May 29.

Poll of the Week

A new poll of 14 of the G-20 countries found a majority in every country surveyed agree that economic recovery following the pandemic should prioritize climate change.

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – April 21, 2020

This Earth Day, Let’s Commit to our Planet’s Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our concept of business-as-usual upside down. But when it comes to our environmental safeguards, business-as-usual wasn’t good enough to begin with. It’s time to reassess how stronger environmental policies mean stronger public health policies. Learn more >

Climate Central

→ New research: what racial groups care the most about climate change?
→ To cut emissions, a growing movement to electrify everything.

SMARTer Solar Regulations

Massachusetts has updated its solar energy program to expand capacity, direct projects away from important natural lands, and increase access for low-income projects. Smart solar siting is a Mass Audubon priority – stay tuned for more on what these changes mean.

Sign to Support Nonprofits

Our colleagues at the New England Aquarium have created a petition urging Congress to provide emergency relief funding to U.S. aquariums, zoos, and other nonprofit cultural organizations that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. You can help: sign today!

States Oppose EPA Rollbacks

Adding to the list of state leaders that have spoken out against environmental rollbacks during this pandemic, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and thirteen other state AGs have urged the EPA to rescind the changes.

Let’s Remember that Environmental Issues are Health Issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our concept of business-as-usual upside down. But when it comes to environmental safeguards, business-as-usual wasn’t good enough to begin with. The COVID crisis has only further brought to light the need to keep pushing for stronger policies to protect our air and water, our climate, and our most vulnerable populations.  

As we celebrate Earth Week in the midst of communities coping with the far-reaching impacts of this pandemic, it’s the perfect time to reassess how stronger environmental policies also mean stronger public health policies.

The City of Chelsea has been one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19 in Massachusetts, in part due to decades of high air pollution levels.

Our Shared Public Health 

The current pandemic has served as an important reminder of our shared responsibility to protect public health, and it’s been inspiring to see communities coming together to support and protect each other. But once the pandemic ends, there are still pressing public health issues that need our attention, like air and water pollution. More than 70,000 people in the US are estimated to die from air pollution impacts annually. Communities in areas with higher air pollution also face a higher risk from COVID-19.  

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently taken measures that will worsen pollution. By rolling back enforcement of environmental regulations during the pandemic, they are essentially ceasing to hold companies accountable for pollution until further notice. Mass Audubon and other environmental groups have been speaking out against this decision.  

Previously-announced rollbacks on federal clean car standards were also recently finalized. Fortunately, there is still a chance to reverse this decision in court, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is helping lead the charge

This all comes at a time when we need to be buckling down on stronger pollution enforcement policies, not weakening them. The year 2020 is also when countries participating in the Paris Climate Agreement will be updating their targets. While the US is set to withdraw from the Agreement in November, it’s more important than ever for states like Massachusetts, along with communities, businesses, faith groups, and health organizations, to demonstrate bold commitments to our greenhouse gas reduction goals. 

An Opportunity to Do Better 

Despite these rollbacks, we have an opportunity here to reassess our priorities. What if we truly viewed pollution and the climate crisis as the wide-reaching public health issues they are? What if once we recover from this pandemic, we pivot toward addressing those urgent issues by cutting emissions and supporting our most impacted communities? 

Participants in the Youth Climate Strike calling for action at the State House this past September

Here are a few ways you can help us get started:

Contact the EPA to tell them you oppose the recent environmental rollbacks. Let them know that our collective response to the COVID-19 crisis shouldn’t come at the expense of other public health and climate protection measures.

Share student climate stories. As a Youth Climate Strike partner, we’re helping Boston event organizers gather students’ stories on how the climate crisis has impacted them – particularly those from marginalized and frontline communities. A good opportunity if you’re home with kids, are a student yourself, or just want to spread the word!  

Support stronger state climate legislation. These priorities for Mass Audubon would set net-zero emissions goals and expand renewable energy use. 

Make the switch. By choosing to add more renewable energy into your electricity supply, you can add more clean power – and remove fossil fuel use – from the grid. It only takes a few minutes! Live in a city or town that participates in Community Choice Aggregation? See if there’s an option to “opt up” to cleaner power for your home. 

Despite living in challenging times, we’ve banded together worldwide to take action and protect our most vulnerable from the threat of COVID-19. This Earth Day, let’s pledge to carry that action forward to protect the biggest public health resource for our global community – a healthy planet.