It’s summertime, and that means fireflies are out and about. Firefly Watch is a citizen science project that gathers data on local firefly populations, and you can help right from your backyard!
Weigh in on Green Transportation
State agencies and transportation groups are holding public workshops on the future of green transportation. Massachusetts is part of the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative working to adopt a regional, low-carbon transportation policy. We’ve provided past input with our partners.
→ Worcester and Boston will participate in a new urban heat island mapping project.
→ Discussing climate change leads to more acceptance of its science.
Wishing everyone a great holiday! The days following the Fourth of July are among the dirtiest of the year for beaches, so if you’re celebrating by the water, make sure to bring any trash back out with you, and to bring reusable plates, cups, and straws when possible.
Spotlight on Solar
Despite a 240-fold increase in Massachusetts’ solar energy capacity over the last decade, policy barriers have made a wide-scale transition to solar difficult, and the industry is losing jobs. We signed on to testimony supporting state legislation to alleviate these issues.
→ A new energy storage facility recently went live in Massachusetts.
→ The majority of Americans think ExxonMobil, BP, and other fossil fuel companies should pay for a portion of climate change damages.
Funding Nature-based Fixes
The state Division of Ecological Restoration has announced $2.7 million in state and federal grants for ecological restoration projects, including a series of dam removals that will improve habitat at Mass Audubon’s Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Plymouth.
Incentives for Offshore Wind
Last week, Senator Markey joined Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Langevin (both D-RI) to reintroduce federal legislation that would spur US offshore wind growth by extending tax credits for the renewable energy industry. Mass Audubon is a supporter of the bill.
The Fight for the Clean Power Plan
Last month the Trump Administration finalized their repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), instead setting into play the weaker Affordable Clean Energy rule. There is still hope for the CPP, since a group of state attorneys general, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, is expected to sue over the change.
Federal Funding Update
Last week the US House passed a funding package related to the FY2020 federal budget. Good news – it included increases in funding for the EPA, Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and Bureau of Land Management, among others, compared to FY2019 levels.
Good news – the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans has been blocked in federal court.
Thanks to a lawsuit brought forward by the League of Conservation Voters and ten other conservation and indigenous groups, a federal judge has upheld permanent protection from offshore drilling for select protected areas of the Atlantic Ocean, and nearly all of the Arctic Ocean, as established by President Obama in 2016.
Mass Audubon has been speaking out on this issue too, and while this is decidedly a victory, our work isn’t over. Much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are still at risk from expanded drilling, and the Trump administration will likely appeal the ruling.
We have to keep up the opposition! At the national level, the Coastal & Marine Economies Protection Act was introduced in Congress to ban offshore drilling & seismic testing on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. And here in Massachusetts, Mass Audubon supports legislation filed by Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr that would prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters. We’ll keep you posted on opportunities to support these bills as they comes up for hearings and votes.
And save the date – our partners at the Massachusetts chapter of the Surfrider Foundation will be organizing a Boston-area event on May 18 as part of Hands Across the Sand. This global initiative is a chance to stand in solidarity and support protection of our lands and waters from fossil fuel development.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
US Representatives are considering a bill that would fine states that oppose oil and gas drilling off their coasts. The draft proposal would allow a state to reject offshore drilling in up to half of the leased areas off its coast, but withholding any additional areas beyond that from proposed sales would result in a fee. The fee would be calculated as at least 10% of the estimated government revenue that would have been generated from drilling activity for the site. The proposal would also create financial incentives for states that support expanded drilling. Learn more.
Earlier this year, the US Department of the Interior announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass approximately 90% of US coastlines, which would include the coast off of New England. Many groups, including Mass Audubon and the Massachusetts’ Congressional Delegation, oppose the proposed expansion, which would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and underwater geological resources.
Humpback whale habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: NOAA
If it advances, this new legislation could pressure some states into moving forward with expanding offshore drilling. The proposal is currently being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee. You can help by speaking out against it!
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, so if you live in her district, ask her to oppose the bill during her Committee review. Otherwise, you can ask your US Representative to oppose the bill now so it does not advance beyond the Committee. Let them know states shouldn’t be penalized for protecting their coasts from offshore drilling, especially at a time when there is so much opportunity for development of clean, renewable energy.
The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has released a draft plan to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass around 90% of US coastlines. This means that the coast off of New England could now be opened up to drilling.
The decision came when DOI released its Notice of Availability of the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which includes plans for two oil and gas lease sales in in the North Atlantic.
(Update: Mass Audubon attended the Boston public listening session on the expansion plan, and submitted comments to the Bureau of Energy Management voicing our opposition. The Massachusetts congressional delegation and Governor Baker have also written to DOI Secretary Zinke urging him to exclude the North Atlantic from the expansion.)
The exploration, development, and production of oil and gas off the Massachusetts Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and geological resources. Massachusetts and all of New England depend on a thriving coastal and ocean economy – which brings in $17.5 billion annually to the region – and that success in turn depends on healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems.
Endangered humpback whales are among the many species whose habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: Bill Thompson, USFWS
In response to this decision, Senator Ed Markey and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the New England Coastal Protection Act, which would bar offshore drilling along the New England coast and protect our ocean resources. Senator Elizabeth Warren and all of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation have co-sponsored the bill.
Mass Audubon agrees that a permanent moratorium is needed on oil and gas exploration and production off Massachusetts. It would be a grave mistake to place our valuable natural resources at risk, especially when so much progress and economic growth is occurring through energy efficiency and development of clean, renewable energy.
This infographic gives a sense of the damage that offshore drilling could cause our region. To make matters worse, this graphic doesn’t account for currents or other variables. For instance, the combination of the Labrador Current coming down from the north and Gulf Stream coming from the south creates a clockwise gyre on George’s Bank. If there was a spill there, oil or gas would likely become entrapped in the gyre, repeating the damage to fish and other marine resources over and over. Photo credit: Center for American Progress
There are four areas in particular that we are especially concerned could be impacted:
Nearshore areas within 100 miles of the Massachusetts coast – the 1,500-mile coastline of the Bay State constitutes an environmentally sensitive and fragile marine environment that contributes substantially to the tourism and recreational economies of Massachusetts.
Georges Bank – this shallow, sediment-covered underwater plateau was once one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds for Atlantic cod, haddock, and flounder. Much of the Bank is currently closed to fishing in order to allow the area to recover from bottom-trawl fishing, and any disruption caused by drilling will severely disrupt long-term restoration efforts and jeopardize future sustainability.
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary – located between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, this area provides feeding and nursery grounds for more than a dozen cetacean species including the endangered humpback, northern right, and fin whales; supports foraging activity by diverse seabird species, including loons, shearwaters, alcids, and terns; Leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (both endangered species) use the area for feeding, and seasonal fish and invertebrate populations include bluefin tuna, herring, cod, lobster, and scallops.
Atlantic cod in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: Matthew Lawrence, NOAA
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument – 4,913 square miles of rich and diverse marine ecosystem, which includes three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains (extinct volcanoes) known as “seamounts” that are biodiversity hotspots and home to many rare and endangered species. These include thousand-year-old deep sea corals found nowhere else on Earth and other rare fish and invertebrates.
The proposed expansion would also be inconsistent with the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, which Mass Audubon helped develop. In addition to the the actions of Governor Baker and the Massachusetts congressional delegation opposing the expansion, Attorney General Healey has also said she opposes opening up any new ocean areas to oil and gas leasing.
The final expansion plan is expected to be released by December 2018, which will be followed by its own 90-day public comment period. We’ll be standing alongside our state leaders and conservation partners to keep offshore drilling away from Massachusetts shores and beyond.
The US Senate passed a budget resolution this week to kick off the FY18 budget process. The resolution includes a provision instructing the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to take actions that could allow federal leasing for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Call your Senators to tell them you oppose this provision. You can let them know that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge makes up nearly 20 million acres of unspoiled nature that should remain wild, not exploited by oil and gas companies.
Consider attending or submitting comments through the state’s upcoming listening sessions on how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will be hosting public listening sessions to discuss solutions to this challenge.
Photo credit: Kevin Payravi
Massachusetts is currently on track to meet emission reduction limits of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, but progress to date has been largely driven by reductions in the power sector. The transportation sector now represents the largest share (40%) of statewide emissions, and further reductions are needed to meet our long-term emissions reduction goals.
As state policymakers hit the pause button on some aspects of the new marijuana law, they should also consider ways to address the heavy electricity consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and water usage associated with this new industry.
Marijuana cultivation is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the country, racking up around $6 billion in energy costs annually and consuming 1 percent of all electricity in the US.The equipment required for typical marijuana production (high-intensity lamps, ventilation, heating and cooling systems, water pumps and CO2 generators), means that just one closet size setup can consume the same amount of electricity as used by the average American home. According to one analysis out of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the carbon footprint for one kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of processed Cannabis is an estimated 4600 kg of CO2 emissions. That is the not-so-green equivalent of consuming 10.6 barrels of oil, burning 4,900 lbs. of coal, or driving 11,025 miles in an average passenger vehicle.
Other states with licensed marijuana operations, such as Colorado, report that large increases in energy consumption are making it difficult to achieve energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. And while some growers (such as the nation’s largest grow facility soon to be located in Southeastern Massachusetts) will adopt energy efficient practices, it is unlikely that a majority will follow suit without incentives, regulations and an established set of environmentally-friendly best practices.
More marijuana cultivation in Massachusetts could come with a sharp increase in electricity usage and add to energy efficiency challenges. Photo credit: Aulo Aasmaa
Massachusetts has the opportunity work with the industry to set stringent energy efficiency incentives, greenhouse gas offsets, and water conservation measures. Policymakers on Beacon Hill should establish environmental criteria as part of licensing or other regulations for indoor grow operations, and fund research to establish a set of environmentally-friendly best practices for the marijuana industry. A portion of the marijuana tax, or a fund that growers pay into for exceeding certain thresholds for energy or water consumption, could fund not only these initiatives, but also to help rehabilitate our beleaguered state parks which promote public health and boost our recreation economy.
Bringing once clandestine marijuana operations into the mainstream will require the right balance of incentive, regulation, and guidance. Done right, the new marijuana law will encourage dedicated, environmentally-aware growers to set up shop in our state, and will reinforce our reputation as leaders in growing an innovative, green economy.