Tag Archives: advocacy

March for Science a Success!

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.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Director Karen Heymann at the rally with her son.

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:

Some of the Mass Audubon staff and members that attended the event

National Policy Agenda Update

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.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Priorities for the 2017-2018 Session

by Karen Heymann

As we head into a new legislative session on Beacon Hill we are rolling out Mass Audubon’s legislative priorities, along with a fresh legislative report card (to be released in February) on the prior 2015-2016 session.

And while we can’t promise perfect scores for all, we can promise that the votes we score are based on the environmental roll call votes that align with our legislative priorities, which we deliver to every Senator and Representative at the start of each session.

Activity is ramping up again at the Massachusetts State House with the start of the 2017-2018 session

For over 100 years Mass Audubon has advocated for the nature of Massachusetts, and our legislative priorities reflect our continued full court press on climate change, land conservation and wildlife protection.

Some of our top priorities you will recognize from last session: climate adaptation, Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, and land conservation tax credits. The good news is that some progress was made last session on climate adaptation in the form of an executive order by Governor Baker, and that House and Senate leaders are actively discussing the need for creating new revenue – something we have not heard in recent years.

Coastal properties like these will be more vulnerable to sea level rise if climate change continues at current rates. Photo credit: John Phelan

Our priorities focus on creating a long-term, statutorily-required process around climate change preparedness; pushing for more funding for a green budget, CPA, and land protection; and expanding the state’s focus on pollinator health to include a broad range of pollinator species as well as their habitat.

We will plan to rally other organizations and members around key issues, meet with legislators one-on-one, hold legislative briefings, testify at committee hearings, and keep our readers up to date on our needs and progress. Stay tuned for detailed fact sheets, updates on bill numbers and ways you can get involved!

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director

Election Night Success for CPA

by Karen Heymann

It was an exciting election night for cities and towns considering the Community Preservation Act (CPA) on their local ballots, which as of this morning has been adopted in 172 municipalities across the Commonwealth. Communities voting to adopt CPA were Billerica, Boston, Chelsea, Holyoke, Hull, Norwood, Pittsfield, Rockland, Springfield, Watertown, and Wrentham. Initiatives in Amesbury, Danvers, East Bridgewater, Palmer, and South Hadley failed to be adopted.

Pearson Farm in Mendon and conservation land in Sturbridge are examples of how CPA funds have helped preserve open space and historic places. Photo credit: Community Preservation Coalition

Pearson Farm in Mendon and conservation land in Sturbridge are examples of how CPA funds have helped preserve open space and historic places. Photo credit: Community Preservation Coalition

Mass Audubon was recognized by the late Governor Paul Cellucci for playing a pivotal role in passing the original CPA legislation in 2000. CPA is a tremendously effective tool that enables participating cities and towns to establish a dedicated fund for open space, outdoor recreation projects, historic preservation and community housing. CPA funds are generated by a small surcharge on local property tax bills, as well as annual distributions to the town from the statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund. To date, nearly 20,000 acres of land has been preserved.

According to Mass Audubon’s Losing Ground and research out of Harvard Forest, we are entering an era of renewed growth and development; our forests and natural lands are increasingly being fragmented and developed, severely threatening the environmental health of Commonwealth and region. Development pressures often result in unplanned growth, changing the fundamental character of our communities before our very eyes. There is much work to be done in determining how best to balance the needs of our economy and the public with natural resource protection.

Center Hill Preserve, Plymouth; Common Pasture, Newburyport. Photo credit: Community Preservation Coaliton

Center Hill Preserve, Plymouth; Common Pasture, Newburyport. Photo credit: Community Preservation Coaliton

Many cities and towns are now adopting changes in their local zoning by-laws, ordinances, and master plans, as well as by updating their open space plans and working to conserve forests, farmland and other open space in their communities. In order the achieve these ambitious planning goals, a reliable source of funding is needed to ensure the growth of healthy, vibrant communities.

For more information on CPA, visit www.communitypreservation.org.

 

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director

The Intern Intel Report #2

by Kylie Armo

Hello again! This is Kylie, Mass Audubon Conservation Policy Intern, back with another report on my summer endeavors. Many of my latest experiences have provided me with the chance to learn from the organizations and individuals around me, while others have allowed me to contribute skills of my own.

Inspiring Learning Opportunities

Throughout the summer I have been able to learn about Mass Audubon and conservation in the Commonwealth by attending a variety of seminars and workshops. These events have ranged from a talk at The Nature Conservancy on building climate change resilience to weekly educational lunch sessions hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) for Boston environmental and legislative interns.

Interns attend ELM's workshop series

Interns attend ELM’s workshop series. Photo credit: ELM

A highlight of these educational experiences was my visit to Broad Meadow Brook (BMB), one of the wildlife sanctuaries – of which there are 100+ – under the care of Mass Audubon.

Located in Worcester over an expanse of 430 acres, Broad Meadow Brook is the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England and serves as a “sanctuary in the city” for the residents of the Worcester.

During my visit, I learned that they are currently in the process of renovating their visitor center, and are using Low Impact Development (LID) techniques to do so as sustainably as possible.

LID is an approach to land development that works with nature to manage water runoff, and includes the use of practices and tools such as rain barrels, permeable pavers, and “no mow” areas. Benefits of LID solutions include the reduced flooding, improved water quality, and protection of natural landscape features.

It was amazing to learn about and view first-hand BMB’s purposeful growth, ultimately aimed at servicing future visitors in a positive, accessible and eco-conscious way.

Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center & Wildlife Sanctuary

Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center & Wildlife Sanctuary

Writing & Research Contributions

As a Mass Audubon intern, I have also had opportunities to support the Legislative Affairs office’s development of communication materials through an assortment of writing and research projects.

Opportunities to write have arisen not only through this blog series, but through other forums as well. On behalf of Mass Audubon, I recently wrote a letter to the Senate President and the House Ways and Means Chair urging them to override Governor Baker’s budget cuts as they slashed funding for the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency dedicated to supporting arts and culture in Massachusetts. Securing funding for environmentally-oriented organizations and programs is a significant component of Mass Audubon’s advocacy work.

I’ve also taken on a few small research projects digging into background materials and sources on current legislative issues and writing projects. Recently, I did some investigating into “climate change lawsuits”: court cases that are being brought against state agencies and corporations by citizens claiming that the greenhouse gas emissions emitted and permitted by these organizations is a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine, the principle by which the government holds in trust designated resources (such as navigable waterways) for public use and benefit. These individuals are attempting to leverage the judicial system to protect our climate and future generations, and their cases are a fascinating component of the intricate relationship between climate change and the political system.

My time engaging with environmental and political matters at Mass Audubon this summer is nearing its end, but I am excited to continue learning from and participating in the environmental advocacy field in the weeks that remain!

Kylie Armo is Conservation Policy Intern, Summer 2016

Solar Energy: A Site for Sore Eyes

By Karen Heymann

The Town of Shirley is a quintessential small New England community whose residents care for and enjoy its scenic rivers, wooded hillsides, boggy meadows and extensive trail network. News of two new commercial solar energy generating facilities, one on Shirley’s water supply lands, and another on 27 acres of town-owned forest adjacent to public wells and two cold-water trout streams resulted in strong opposition from neighbors and other town residents.

Shirley solar array from above c/o Google Earth

Shirley solar array adjacent to public wells and cold-water trout streams from above c/o Google Earth

Similar to many small towns across the Commonwealth, development pressures are a growing threat to the town’s open space and rural character. Increasingly frequent reports of large commercial solar facilities appearing on former forest or other ecologically-valuable lands statewide are raising alarm bells not only among residents, but also the conservation community. Tensions are rising as conflicts mount over local revenue and balancing municipal budgets, protection of community character, support for renewable energy, and the industrialization of rural, residentially-zoned land.

We recently communicated our concerns to the Baker Administration, and have submitted comments as part of an ongoing process to gather stakeholder input on the Commonwealth’s solar programs. (Update: you can also see our most recent, joint comments with our partner groups The Trustees and The Nature Conservancy).

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

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

Solar Market on Fire

Shimmering rows of solar panels lining the heavily-trafficked highways around Greater Boston are strong evidence that the Commonwealth is well on its way to meeting its goal of 1.6 GW of solar energy by 2020.

In 2015, Massachusetts was ranked 4th nationwide for installed solar capacity, with the solar industry employing over 15,000 people statewide[1]. As of last year, Massachusetts had installed a total of approximately 1200 MW of solar energy, enough to power 191,000 homes. Over the next 5 years, we can expect an additional 2,400 MW, more than triple the amount installed since 2010[2].

Ground-mounted solar arrays. Photo credit: Jon Styer

Ground-mounted solar arrays. Photo credit: Jon Styer

Factors driving the solar market include the dropping cost of solar panels (by more than 50 % since 2010[3]), federal tax discounts[4], solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), and a state solar zoning exemption, which prevents communities from regulating the placement of solar facilities unless a specific zoning bylaw is in place.

SRECs are a market-based incentive to support residential, commercial, public, and non-profit development of solar photovoltaics. The state-funded SREC program currently awards higher credit values for solar projects on rooftops, parking lots and brownfields, and lower credit values for utility-scale commercial projects larger than 650 kW that use less than 2/3 of their electricity on site. According to a recent report, utility-scale is the largest sector of the solar panel market in the United States[5].

Raise the Rooftops

It is estimated that Massachusetts has the potential to generate nearly one-half of its power using rooftop solar. That is equivalent to an installed capacity potential of 22.5 GW, far greater than the Commonwealth’s goal of 1.6 GW. And despite its higher cost compared with ground-mounted solar arrays used for utility-scale installations, commercial and residential rooftop solar is gaining popularity. National Grid owns a 1 MW rooftop facility (utilities can own up to 50 MW of solar generation under the 2008 Green Communities Act) on the roof of its Whitinsville warehouse, and residents and businesses are taking advantage of incentives like the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to install rooftop solar in cities and towns across the state.

Rooftops installations are a great way to generate solar energy while avoiding the loss of ecologically-important land areas Photo credit: EEA

Rooftop installations are a great way to generate solar energy while avoiding the loss of ecologically-important land areas Photo credit: EEA

Over the coming decades we are likely to see advances in solar and other renewable energy technology that increases energy storage and reduces the amount of land needed for energy infrastructure. Encouraging and incentivizing large ground-mounted solar arrays, which result in the clearing of ecologically and socially valuable land, is short-sighted and does not serve the public interest. In order to move forward, we need to look at increasing the capacity of our built environment to produce the energy we need.

An Important Choice

When we develop forested land we make a choice to trade valuable services provided by trees, such as shade, water retention, and carbon dioxide absorption, for other services like shelter, food, fiber or energy. We lose their ability to filter oxygen, reduce runoff, provide habitat and cycle the nutrients and minerals that support not only forest health, but our health as well.  Even construction on “open” land such as capped landfills and agricultural fields has trade-offs for grassland habitat and food production.

Massachusetts is the 3rd most densely populated state in the U.S., with around 5 million acres supporting a population of almost 7 million people, nearly 70% of whom live in and around Greater Boston.  If current land-use trends continue, we stand to reverse positive trends in land conservation; over the last decade the Commonwealth has gone from losing on average 40 acres a day to development to only around 13 acres a day, largely due to a temporarily depressed housing market in recent years and strong land conservation goals and funding programs.

Mass Audubon has been a longtime champion for increasing our reliance on solar energy, but the benefits of solar must be carefully weighed against the costs of losing the forests and other open space we have worked so hard to protect, particularly when alternatives are available.  Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund incentives for poorly sited large-scale solar stands, particularly when in direct conflict with the Commonwealth’s established goals, policies and direct funding programs for natural and historic resource protection.

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director

Footnotes:

[1] http://www.seia.org/state-solar-policy/massachusetts

[2] http://www.seia.org/state-solar-policy/massachusetts

[3] https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-1000917_0.pdf

[4] http://www.seia.org/policy/finance-tax/solar-investment-tax-credit

[5] https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-1000917.pdf

Help Trailside Keep its Funding in the State Budget

Update: Great news! The legislature voted to override the Governor’s veto that included Trailside funding, restoring the full $500,000 originally designated for Trailside. Thanks to everyone who contacted their legislator to help make this happen!

Original post: In reviewing the budget submitted to him by the legislature earlier this month, Governor Baker made $256 million in cuts through vetoes. Unfortunately, these cuts included Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum funding.

Legislators began making overrides to select vetoes last weekend, but so far they have not taken action on the Trailside cut. They still have a chance to make this change during formal sessions this weekend. Please contact your legislator to tell them you support funding for Trailside in the budget.

Trailside Museum Sanctuary Director Norman Smith educating visitors. Photo © Kent Harnois

Trailside Museum Sanctuary Director Norman Smith educating visitors. Photo © Kent Harnois

Trailside is the interpretive center for the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation and features a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of rescued wildlife. Mass Audubon operate the museum in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which means we receive a crucial component of Trailside’s funding through the state budget each fiscal year.

A quick call or email to your legislator asking them to support Trailside funding (within line item 2810-0100) in the state budget can make a big difference. Thank you for your advocacy!

The Intern Intel Report #1

By Kylie Armo

Hello! My name is Kylie Armo. I am a Massachusetts native studying environmental geography at Colgate University. My dedication to my home state and my passion for sustainability led me to Mass Audubon, where I am interning for the summer within the Legislative Affairs office on Beacon Hill.

I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to gain first-hand insight into the intricate world of environmental policy, and am writing this blog to provide a glimpse into my personal experiences and observations at Mass Audubon.

Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House

Summer at the State House

Much of my time has been spent at the Massachusetts State House, a building full of history, political maneuverings, and marble floors. I’ve attended a variety of legislative sessions, seminars, and hearings at the State House. Fellow attendees at these events can include legislators, concerned interest groups, and interns preparing reports for their offices.

During these sessions I take rapid notes – not only is there a huge volume of existing and proposed environmental policy being discussed, but there is also a colossal usage of acronyms! State laws, programs, and permits are frequently abbreviated (for example, NPDES stands for National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, and GWSA stands for Global Warming Solutions Act), and it can be tricky to keep track unless I write them down.

We typically attend events relevant to Mass Audubon’s specific legislative priorities, which for the 2015-2016 session include climate change adaptation, renewable energy, and land conservation funding.

Wetlands serve as natural floodplains

Wetlands serve as natural floodplains, which become even more important in the face of climate change Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

A key priority during my time here has been focused on climate change adaptation legislation. An Act providing for the establishment of a Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan in response to climate change (CAMP) would require the Commonwealth to plan for the impacts of climate change by identifying impacts such as flooding and heatwaves, and taking action to protect public health, safety, and economic well-being.

In order to promote awareness and support for CAMP within the House and Senate, we delivered a document summarizing the bill and requesting co-sponsorship to all 200 Massachusetts legislators. I am happy to report that CAMP was attached as an amendment to a major energy bill that passed in the Senate, which is now off to conference committee where it will be reconciled with the House version.

Environmental Advocacy: A Team Effort  

The majority of my experiences outside of the State House revolve around communication and collaboration with fellow environmental organizations and broader coalitions engaged on specific issues. Common interests in areas like renewable energy and climate adaption unite Mass Audubon with professionals from policy-makers to architects. I frequently listen in on meetings and conference calls held between these organizations, during which legislative intel and lobbying tactics are debated and discussed. Though every individual has unique perspectives and interests, it is inspiring to see a passion for the environment fuel cooperation, strategy development, and, ultimately, progress.

On that note of optimism, I will conclude my maiden blog post. I am greatly looking forward to the rest of my summer at Mass Audubon’s Legislative Affairs office, and will provide another update about my experiences soon!

Kylie Armo is Conservation Policy Intern, Summer 2016

Action Alert: Climate Change Amendment Needs Your Support!

Update: The CAMP budget amendment ended up being withdrawn, but there are still other avenues through which we will be working to get CAMP passed. Thanks to everyone who took action, and stay tuned for future updates!

Original post: Addressing climate change requires a dual approach of preparing for its impacts and reducing emissions. To date, Massachusetts policymakers have focused more on reducing emissions, providing national leadership on the promotion of energy efficiency and renewables.

Mass Audubon is now asking the Legislature to provide leadership on preparedness in the face of climate change impacts like rising sea levels and increased flooding, as Massachusetts lacks an integrated approach to enhance safety, reduce risks, and protect our infrastructure.

Hurricane Sandy hitting the coast of Hull, MA. Photo credit: Aislinn Dewey

Hurricane Sandy hitting the coast of Hull, MA. Photo credit: Aislinn Dewey

Please ask your state Representative today to cosponsor Representative Smizik’s amendment establishing a Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (CAMP) in response to climate change. The amendment is to bill H.4377.

Rep. Smizik’s amendment to H.4377 would require the Commonwealth to:

  • Establish sound management practices that take into account existing natural, built and economic characteristics of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable areas and human populations
  • Document the preparedness and vulnerabilities in our emergency response, energy, transportation, and other systems
  • Establish a regional grant program to provide financial assistance to regional planning agencies for the development and implementation of CAMP
  • Establish a coastal buyback program to acquire by voluntary purchase properties severely and repeatedly damaged by weather

No costs are associated with this amendment; state operational, capital and federal funds are already available to carry out this plan.

We are on a tight time frame – the House will be voting on H.4377 and its amendments tomorrow afternoon. Please contact your Representative today and urge them to support Rep. Smizik’s climate preparedness amendment. Thank you for your advocacy!