Review on Offshore Wind Picks Up

Mass Audubon’s top climate change mitigation priority is the responsible development and use of offshore wind, which could bring more than 4 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy to Massachusetts. We’ve been participating in the public review process for this growing industry, the leading project for which is currently Vineyard Wind. When built, this 800 megawatt project is expected to provide enough electricity to power approximately 400,000 homes, while removing approximately 2 million tons of carbon emissions from the air.

Three other projects are also on the horizon, and three additional federal leases off Massachusetts were recently granted in a record-breaking auction.

This week, we weighed in on the latest stages in the Vineyard Wind permitting process. This project would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod. That means it has to go through both federal and state reviews.

BOEM’s most recent map shows the planned projects, and leases for potential future projects, that will make up the offshore wind industry off Massachusetts’ shores

First, we submitted comments with our conservation partners to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. At a time when offshore wind is growing with unprecedented momentum, it’s crucial that BOEM ensures projects take measures to protect species like the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale and federally-protected birds.

We also submitted separate comments, again with partners, to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. These comments focused on the Final Environmental Impact Report for Vineyard Wind’s land-based transmission cable, which also takes into account the project’s overall impact on Massachusetts. We recommended that the project follow a proposed route that would limit impacts to fish spawning areas, horseshoe crabs, and other benthic resources, and that it address the full range of potential impacts on all bird species known to forage and rest in or near the project area.

As we expect to see up to seven wind energy projects over the next few years off the Massachusetts coast, it’s important to establish sound environmental review, and mitigation, practices now. Mass Audubon’s role in this process is to help ensure the industry grows in a way that will help reduce the worst effects of climate change, without negatively impacting wildlife.

Ask Your Legislators to Support Strong Environmental Bills!

At the beginning of each legislation session, Mass Audubon decides which bills we’ll be championing. Our top priorities this session will focus on expanded clean energy initiatives, protecting pollinators and invaluable old growth forest, and expanding the impact of the Community Preservation Act.

The more legislators that decide to cosponsor a bill, the better chance it has of gaining momentum since it has more decision-makers working toward its passage. Last week we helped organize an environmental bill sign-on day at the State House. We had a great turnout, and were able to speak with lots of legislators and their staff about our priorities and encourage them to sign on as co-sponsors.

You can help too! Contact your local legislators and urge them to sign on as cosponsors for these bills before the deadline this Friday, February 1.

Our legislative priorities this session include policies to improve climate change mitigation and to protect Massachusetts’ natural resources. Boston Harbor Islands photo credit: National Park Service

Here’s more information on the top bills we’re supporting:

An Act to Secure a Clean Energy Future 
SD757; Lead Sponsor: Senator Marc Pacheco (Taunton) 
HD1248; Lead Sponsor: Representative Ruth B. Balser (Newton)

The climate of Massachusetts is already changing, and with it, our natural lands, waters, and wildlife. These changes affect our health, the nature we love, and the natural resources on which we depend. We still have time to correct our course and align Massachusetts’ climate strategy with the best scientific data available to ensure that the policies we put in place lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating a flourishing clean energy economy.  

This bill would set emissions reduction requirements in line with the latest climate science, increase the renewable portion of the state’s energy portfolio, and set zero-emissions standards for state-owned or leased vehicle, among other components. See the bill fact sheet.

A Resolve to Protect Pollinator Habitat
SD61; Lead Sponsor: Senator Jason Lewis (Winchester)
HD1857; Lead Sponsor: Representative Mary Keefe (Worcester)

A rapid decline in pollinators like bees, birds, butterflies, and bats is threatening biodiversity both globally and here in Massachusetts. One in every three bites of food we eat depends on pollinators, but their populations have been declining for decades due to factors like disease, pesticide exposure, loss of habitat, and Colony Collapse Disorder.

This bill would establish a commission to study statewide opportunities for improving pollinator health by increasing and enhancing native habitat. See the bill fact sheet.

Photo credit: Zeynel Cebeci

An Act Relative to the Protection of Old Growth Forests
HD3173; Lead Sponsor: Representative Natalie Blais (Sunderland) 

Old-growth forests are extremely rare, and provide a host of benefits, from providing rich and diverse habitats for birds, insects and reptiles, to serving as carbon sinks by helping to sequester greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Although 3 million of Massachusetts’ 5 million acres are forested, only 1,500 acres of this land is original old-growth forest. 

Currently, old-growth forests in Massachusetts are not lawfully protected from timber cutting; instead, they are protected only by policy that could change at any time. This bill would change that by establishing a system of permanent old-growth forest reserves on state lands, among other protections. See the bill fact sheet.

An Act to Sustain Community Preservation Revenue
SD746; Lead Sponsor: Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (Newton)
HD2835; Lead Sponsor: Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (Gloucester)

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a state law that allows participating communities to establish a dedicated fund for open space, historic preservation, community housing, and outdoor recreation projects. To date, over 26,000 acres have been protected through local CPA projects. When a city or town votes to adopt CPA – currently 175 Massachusetts have done so – they agree to add a small surcharge to local property taxes. In exchange, they are promised matching funds from the Statewide CPA Trust Fund. As the number of CPA communities has increased, however, Trust Fund payout to CPA communities have declined.

To sustain CPA benefits for communities, legislation increasing the Trust Fund’s dedicated funding component—registry of deeds recording fees—must be passed. This bill’s goal is to provide a minimum 50% base match to all CPA communities. See the bill fact sheet.

For more information on Mass Audubon’s legislative priorities, contact our legislative director Mike Cusher.


Meet Our Team: Mike Cusher

This week we are excited to welcome Mike Cusher to Mass Audubon’s advocacy team as our new legislative director.

Mike comes to Mass Audubon after several years as a senior legislative assistant in Congressman Jim McGovern’s Washington, DC office, where he advised the Congressman on a wide portfolio of issues, including energy, environment, and agriculture. During this time, Mike served as the Congressman’s primary adviser on protecting the Land and Water Conservation Fund, increasing funding for the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, protecting conservation land from fossil fuel infrastructure, and the 2018 Farm Bill, among other crucial environmental issues.  

Mike’s passion for the environment and land conservation began when he was 13 on a camping trip in New Hampshire, where he was awestruck by the beauty of the snow-covered Hemenway State Forest. He loves to travel domestically and internationally to see other places of natural beauty. Now, he is thrilled to work for an organization founded by Harriet Hemenway, who, after the death of her husband Augustus, donated the land their summer home was located on to the State of New Hampshire, which then became the Hemenway State Forest.  

Mike earned a B.S. in Environmental Economics from UMass Amherst and a Masters in Environmental Resource Policy from The George Washington University. He grew up in Westborough and currently lives in Somerville with his wife Taylor and their cat Autumn.

Now that the 2019-2020 state legislative session has begun, Mike is looking forward to helping Mass Audubon further our mission of protecting the nature of Massachusetts. Informed by his experiences on Capitol Hill, he’ll be helping us advance legislative priorities like expanded clean energy legislation and implementation of state climate adaptation plans.

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.

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.