Governor Baker laid out an ambitious goal of becoming a net zero state by 2050. The Massachusetts Senate adopted significant legislation to enact the measures needed to achieve the 2050 goals and to help the state adjust to the climate change that is already baked into the system. The House needs to follow suit and a reconciliation of the differing approaches to achieving the same goals has to be worked out before the end of the legislative session on July 31. A lot remains to be done, but it is encouraging to live in a state that is having a grown-up conversation about what needs to be accomplished.
The governor put himself out there not just with the 2050 net zero goal but by also supporting the Transportation Carbon Initiative (TCI), a multi-state initiative to create a cap and trade system to lower the carbon footprint of the transportation sector. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of the carbon emissions in Massachusetts and no reasonable carbon reduction goal can be met without knocking this number down. TCI achieves its goals using a system of allowances to put a price on the carbon intensity of fuels as well as through a combination of reducing emission credits over time and the utilization of funds generated through the sale of credits to invest back into alternative energy. TCI is a market-based system that already works in the utility sector. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) already functions effectively in this region to reduce the carbon footprint of our power grid and funds alternative energy and conservation. You, Massachusetts and the world already benefit from this proven approach and will do so under TCI.
The TCI is not the same as a gas tax, although a lot of people are already screaming into the wind that it is. TCI fees are avoidable, and thatís the point, by reducing the carbon intensity of the fuel used. The success of TCI will result on its elimination, and that is ultimately the thing. But the old battle lines are being drawn by those who apparently are willing to shoulder the enormous, but diffuse and socialized, costs of unchecked climate change (health care costs, loss of infrastructure, loss of property, higher insurance cost, dislocation and disruption of food supplies and general human misery, to name a few) but cannot bear to overtly pay the actual cost of carbon associated with their daily consumption. We are already paying, itís just that what we pay now is contributing to our destruction. Why not try something different for a change and invest in our future?
Recent news reports detail 95 instances where the Trump Administration has begun or completed meaningful rollbacks of federal environmental protections. I donít consent to that; I suspect that most readers of this piece do not consent to it either. Some of us used the public comment process to register our opinions about the importance of the preservation of basic environmental protections. Nothing has yet stopped the Administration from their relentless dismantling of almost 50 years of environmental protection. It has, however, been important to create a record showing that there remains widespread support for the environment.
The question I pose to all of us to think about is: What can/will I do about this in 2020? This year will determine if these rollbacks are an aberration or if they become locked in, a reflection of a frightening new reality and lack of caring about protecting our home base. So, yes, keep commenting on the next round of rollbacks but also recognize that such actions are not enough to stem the tide. Different and more aggressive actions are required to exert the influence the environment needs in this next election cycle. Engagement in races in other states may be needed (NH, just a drive away, is very nice in February Iím told). The Post Office delivers mail from Cape Cod to Kentucky and Maine every day. Investigate and support candidates who would be strong on the environment or are opposing those who are particularly bad on the issue. If you vote in Massachusetts you can still support attractive candidates in other states; that is what I am doing this year. If you enjoy the Cape in the summer but vote in your home state you are well situated to help change the political outcomes across the nation. Your state and Cape Cod will all benefit from the removal from public office those who promote and support rollbacks, regardless of their state of origin. These are things you can, and must, do. Doing nothing is consent.
2020 is upon us. If you are like me, the year has arrived with an unsettling feeling. The world is, literally, on fire and geopolitics are undergoing seismic shifts. We live in uncertain times and many people have chosen, out of psychological self-preservation, to unplug and withdraw. The impulse is understandable, but is it correct?
I say no. Giving up isnít an option because local actions have the ability to improve the world we live in on a daily basis. There is a myriad of local examples where collective actions by towns and local partners have made a positive difference in environmental quality. Just look at the change in the discussion about wastewater and the progress now emerging in many towns. Consider the increased awareness of water quality spurred by APCCís State of the Waters: Cape Cod report. Every town on Cape Cod is participating in the Commonwealthís Municipal Vulnerability Program to help mitigate the effects of climate change. The recent ban on offshore catch of herring provides hope for restoration of this important part of the food chain. All of these examples of success share one common element - the efforts of caring and committed local stakeholders who forced good things to happen.
While none of us has the ability to make things different at the national and international levels, or at least it feels that way, we can each make things better in our town. So, if you are feeling helpless, think about asserting control in 2020 and stay engaged because you can make a difference at the local level. Go to town meeting, work for candidates who prioritize the environment, vote in your local elections, and make your voice heard in the way that works best for you. If you donít even try, the bad guys win for sure.
With your support we were able to focus public attention on water quality through our groundbreaking report, State of the Waters: Cape Cod. We fought back against misguided and harmful federal proposals to open the coastal waters off Cape Cod to oil and gas exploration and drilling. We publicly and loudly supported the Vineyard Wind project as an essential first step in developing a low carbon energy supply. We expanded a much-needed sampling program for freshwater ponds to help protect the public from toxic cyanobacteria blooms. And the list goes on and on.
While feeling good about what we all did together in 2019, we are already looking forward to doing even more in 2020. With your continued help and support, APCC will expand our wetlands restoration and stormwater remediation efforts to more locations. We will identify and line up the next round of water quality enhancement projects and maintain pressure to keep the momentum going on wastewater cleanup. We will continue to fight the unravelling of federal environmental protection standards and continue to promote good climate change policies at the state and federal level. We will update the State of the Waters report and go solar at our building. There is more that we can and will do, but how much more depends on you.
The generosity of our membership enables APCC to exist and thrive. So please take a minute during the busy holiday season and make a generous donation to APCC so we can enter 2020 in a strong position. Your donation can come by mail using the return slips we have sent you as part of our Year End Appeal or you can click here right now and make a difference for the environment of Cape Cod. Please be as generous as you can. I promise we will use your donations to aggressively protect the environment of Cape Cod.
Thank you, and I look forward to a productive 2020.
According to the World Meteorological Society the 2010ís will almost certainly be the warmest decade on Earth since instrument temperature data began being collected in the 19th century. The past five years have been the warmest on record globally and 2019 will be the second or third warmest year on record.
It is hot out there, people. And getting hotter. And yes, I know, I am writing this in December and the weather people are screaming about how much of the country is facing cold this week. But reality is reality and the world is a warmer place than it has ever been in the human experience. While parts of the planet are cold at any given time, the overall trend is warming and that has huge implications for all living beings regardless of whether we choose to face them or not.
Local election season is right around the corner. It is not too early to find and support candidates for local office who will take this issue seriously. Put that on your list of New Yearís resolutions for 2020, just ahead of using that gym membership.
The recent announcement that the Commonwealth will change highway exit numbers to comply with federal standards has touched off a cascade of complaints and criticism. Talk radio, newspapers and internet posts have all decried the change, citing one iteration or another of a common theme; that the old numbering system is a part of Cape tradition and changing it will separate us from our past. These concerns echo those I recall (dating myself here I know) from when area codes were added to phone dialing requirements and when exchanges were added that didnít start with 477, 428,775 or the myriad of other local exchanges people used to associate with their town or village. Maybe something was lost with those changes, but I think we have adapted ok and over time will adapt to Exit 2 becoming Exit 59.
What I am struck by, though, is not the reaction to change. What catches my attention, and sparks my curiosity, is why there is such an imbalance in the reaction to the news about renumbering the exit numbers to the recent news about the degraded quality of our bays and freshwater ponds. If the reaction to the exits is really about anger and fear over losing another little bit of the traditional way of life on Cape Cod, shouldnít the level of outrage and intolerance of whatís become of water quality exceed, or at least equal, what we have heard about the exit numbers?
Think, for just a minute, about what defines traditional Cape Cod more than healthy bays, beaches, and ponds that invite you in for a refreshing swim, paddle or fishing trip. The view from here says there is nothing more Cape Cod than going to the shore and bringing home a bucket full of clams, scallops or oysters for dinner with family and friends. We have lost a lot of that through our own inaction on managing our wastewater. We know this, itís a fact (see APCCís report), and yet we have not had a response equal to the scope and magnitude of the problem.
If you are upset about the exit signs, by all means speak up and make your voice heard. What I ask of you though is to be consistent and, if you are going to fight for the preservation of olde Cape Cod, at least fight for the restoration of water quality with the same vigor and urgency.
The temperature decline this week is going to trigger the climate deniersí Pavlovian commentary about a cold snap being evidence that the world isnít warming. No doubt the leader of the denial movement will seize the opportunity to tweet yet another proudly ignorant and dangerous message to the faithful about the alleged hoax of climate change. Donít think that the messaging is limited to presidential tweets; there are elected officials here on Cape Cod who promote the same misleading anti-science message.
I attended a recent series of climate change workshops put on by the Cape Cod Commission. The Commission held four meetings across the Cape this fall to engage the public in defining the goals and objectives for the region in important areas of response to climate change. These sessions helped with the good work the Commission is doing to build upon the Regional Policy Plan and define what needs to happen next and at what levels of government (a recognition that much to the response to climate change needs to happen at the municipal, state and federal levels). While these sessions attracted good and concerned residents from across the Cape, the most notable comments to me where those made by an elected member of the County Assembly of Delegates who flatly referred to climate change as ď a hoaxĒ and that we needed more, not fewer, barriers to take action to address the problem. While not new views expressed by this elected official, they were a stark reminder that we have work to do locally in the elections at the town and county level in 2020.
Iíll be repeating this cry in the year ahead; make sure you ask candidates their position on climate and water quality and vote accordingly. The politicians will walk the path that voters dictate they must follow to get elected. Voicing your environmental priorities to candidates is the way to place the environment higher on the political agenda and to attract candidates who will run on the issue. Look at the results from the recent election in Barnstable if you want proof that electoral choice matters.
And yes, it is going to be cold this week in our little part of the world, but globally, itís hotter this year than last and the trend continues. Those are the facts.
After years of talk, it would appear that we are moving toward consensus that the two canal area bridges are going to be replaced. After almost 100 years of service, the bridges require almost a billion-dollar makeover to remain marginally serviceable for just an additional decade of useful life. That same billion dollars can be spent to build new spans that will last generations. The economics of which solution is better is plainly obvious.
As the conversation moves from if the bridges should be replaced to a more detailed design debate, the options on the table must include a broader vision for transportation on Cape Cod away from the canal area. Major transportation projects always come with additional projects which mitigate the impacts of the main project. In this case, the region needs to define what a modern transportation system for Cape Cod would look like. Progress on the bridges should be paired with other improvements and investments that reduce reliance on cars. Letís think about expanded public transit options for getting on and off the Cape, as well as getting around on this side of the canal, increasing electric charging stations, and incentives for concentrated town center development that protects open space, promotes walkability and more livable villages.
We are on the cusp of a once in a century opportunity to shape the transportation future of Cape Cod. The debate should be how to provide modern infrastructure while implementing good land use practices, reducing the carbon footprint of getting around, and creating more transit options. There will never be a better time for major improvements. Letís think big.
"Itís not getting better." That was the message of the scientist at the climate change forum this past Saturday in Chatham. While a gross over-simplification of the message delivered by Phil Duffy of Woods Hole Research Center (who, if you have not heard speak in person, you really should), the bottom line is that human activity has altered the climate in ways that are not currently reversible. The combination of the long life of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the amount we have already released through industrial activity have baked significant warming into the climate that cannot be undone. The dual challenges we face is taking action to stop things from getting even worse and mitigating the damage already underway.
Here is a suggestion on how to proceed as a block of voters who care about the climate future of the planet: make candidate positions on climate your primary driver in choosing who you will support. I get it, there are lots of issues to be concerned with. But you as voters must make it clear to candidates that your vote is based on how seriously they address the climate crisis. Go to voter forums and ask candidates where they stand. If you donít like what you hear, tell them you wonít support them and why. It works.
If you start at the local level, and letís face it that most of the action on mitigation and adaptation are going to happen as local government projects, your vote really counts. I was elected a selectman by 6 votes. In local scale elections, single votes matter and candidates know it. So, donít waste your power. Put people in office at the local level who take the science seriously and understand the urgency.
Some select board members become state representatives and senators. Governor Baker was first a selectman before he became Governor. Donít think for a minute that who you elect locally doesnít matter. Even if your local select person doesnít move up the political food chain, they will be deciding what your town does or doesnít accomplish on climate and water quality. Barnstable voters, you have an election soon, so it is not too late to flex your environmental muscles. The rest of us, we all have local elections in the spring. Go find good candidates now, or better yet, run yourself. Make climate response a key issue in your town.
The latest victim of the Trump Administration assault on the environment is the Clean Water Rule. Yep, thatís right, the EPA rescinded its own rule protecting waters of the United States, especially drinking water sources. This action was taken despite voluminous comments, APCCís included, that cited why eliminating protections would be both bad for the environment and public health. EPA again ignored comments that were contrary to their set agenda, and the rule was rescinded.
The repeal of the Clean Water Rule is the latest, but certainly not the last anti-environment measure we can expect. Public comments counter to their anti-environment agenda do not seem to be considered by the Administration. While itís easy and justified to feel discouraged about not being able to have any influence over the actions of the Administration, there is a better lesson to take from our current reality.
While the reduction in protection to water resources is real on the national level, local decisions made by municipal government on Cape Cod will be what determines our own water quality. Town actions, or the lack thereof, on drinking water protection, pond protection and estuarine nutrient management will tell the tale of our future. Towns act on these environmental issues when, and because, individual voters exert themselves and make them a priority. Elected officials will fall in line with the will of the voters.
While seemingly powerless at the federal level to influence decision making, environmentally conscious voters hold all the cards here on Cape Cod. So yes, feel lousy about what is happening federally because it is truly awful, but take the emotion and channel it to act locally. The residents of Cape Cod have the power to improve water quality locally, but to make the change happen, you have to demand it of your selectmen and town councilors. Soon, towns will be making decisions on budgets and town meeting warrants for next year. Go to your next selectmen or town council meeting and tell them you expect water quality to be a priority next year. Do it. You have power if you choose to use it.
Was it just me, or did it feel like summer ended fast and abruptly this year? While we all know that the transition to fall is often gentle on the Cape and many warm and lovely days are on the horizon, change is coming. It is in this period of transition when reflection on the season just passed seems appropriate.
In my mind, what will mark this summer as memorable is the rise in our collective awareness of the condition of ponds on Cape Cod. APCC is in the third year of an expanding effort to monitor ponds for potentially toxic blooms of cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae). What we have found is disturbing (www.apcc.org/cyano), and helps complete the understanding we have of the detrimental effects of nutrients on waterbodies throughout the Cape. We all knew how nutrients were degrading the marine environment, but we now know with more certainty what we had always suspected, that nutrients are degrading many freshwater systems as well.
APCCís cyano monitoring project has touched a nerve with many on the Cape for whom the ponds define their Cape experience. Requests for increased monitoring of ponds have been constant over the summer and APCC has expanded the program to meet the public demand for more information. We cannot do all we want at this stage, but will spend the fall seeking increased financial support to enable us to expand the program next summer. In the meantime, we have gained valuable insights into another critical aspect of water quality for Cape Cod.
Cognitive dissonance: The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feelings of discomfort that result when your beliefs run counter to your behaviors and/or new information that is presented to you.
So, if you are looking for a reason to explain that feeling that things are just not right, try this.
The Trump administration delays the review of Vineyard Wind for the stated reasons to protect fisheries and allow for an assessment of the cumulative effects of wind power on the environment. The same Trump administration renews consideration of, over the objections of its environmental agencies, the permitting of a gold mine inside an area that drains into Bristol Bay in Alaska, home to the worldís most productive wild salmon spawning areas. The mine is expected to wipe out the entire stretch of wild salmon habitat. Lastly, the Trump administration continues to accelerate the approval of oil, gas and coal extraction while ignoring their cumulative environmental impacts, aka climate change.
Cognitive dissonance. Still wonder why you have that pit in your stomach? I don't.
August 20, 2019
Recent news reports have told us that the Trump Administration has delayed issuance of environmental certification of the Vineyard Wind project pending a cumulative review of the impact of all proposed off shore wind projects. Notwithstanding that the delay puts the project in jeopardy as the expiration of tax credits for renewable energy projects expire at the end of the year, the bigger issue is that the action lays bare the essential hypocrisy of this administration.
The problem here is that the Trump Administration delays renewable energy projects under the pretext of wanting to understand their cumulative impact. Okay fine, but how does one square this delay with leases and approvals for oil and gas exploration continuing unabated and without consideration of their cumulative impacts on the climate? It is hard not to conclude that the Trump Administration commitment to the short term profits of the fossil fuel industry takes precedence over the well-being of the climate, the country and the world.
I have to wonder; how are we to take seriously theoretical concerns about alternative energy when the proof of the harm done by fossil fuels is overwhelming, yet ignored? I cannot contort myself into coming to any other conclusion that the delay of Vineyard Wind is yet another cynical blocking of the necessary transition to a renewable energy system. Actually, the chilling effect this arbitrary action on future investment in renewable energy will ripple far into the future. Rational investors will shy away from investing in this country and we will be left further behind in the needed shift of our energy sources.
August 13, 2019
June 2019 was the warmest June on record. July 2019 will surpass it and become the 414th consecutive month where global temperatures were above the average. Think about that for a second. The overall global temperature has not been below the average since 1975.
Let that sink in and ask yourself, how can anyone continue to deny that the climate is warming at a rate unprecedented in the human experience?
Facts are facts and the science is clear and compelling that warming is occurring. And, that a warmer planet is wetter and more prone to extremes of storm and, ironically, drought.
Take a look at John Holdren's presentation slides for more details on the climate changes we are experiencing. After you digest the new reality, pick up the phone and call a member of your Board of Selectman and tell them you expect your town to invest in adaption and mitigation to help Cape Cod better weather the coming storm.
July 31, 2019
Cyanobacteria (previously called blue-green algae) are ancient aquatic microorganisms that thrive in warm, calm, nutrient-rich surface waters. Certain cyanobacteria release toxins known as cyanotoxins. Exposure to these toxins through ingestion or direct contact with water has caused illness in animals and humans, including occasional dog deaths here on Cape Cod and elsewhere. Unfortunately, toxic algal blooms are becoming more common in Cape Cod's freshwater ponds, and sufficient monitoring to protect public health is lacking.
Today, conditions that favor cyanobacteria growth and release of cyanotoxins are more common as water temperatures increase with the warming climate, and nutrients flow into ponds from overland runoff and underground septic systems. At the same time, growing scientific interest in cyanobacteria has yielded more knowledge about their dangers. The more we learn about cyanotoxins, the greater the concern about public health risks.
The Association to Preserve Cape Cod initiated a Pond Health Program in 2017 by testing an EPA-approved monitoring protocol for cyanobacteria. Our goal was to evaluate the protocol as a tool to forecast blooms and estimate toxicity. Working with partners from local pond organizations, municipalities, and scientists from the University of New Hampshire, our work resulted in identifying multiple toxic cyanobacteria blooms across the Cape so far this summer in prominent public recreational areas, including Brewsterís Mill Ponds, Barnstableís Lake Wequaquet, Lovells, Bearses, and Shubaels Ponds; Mashpeeís Santuit Pond; Wellfleetís Gull Pond; Chathamís White and Stillwater Ponds; Harwichís Hinckleys Pond; and Dennisí Scargo Lake. There are undoubtedly many other undocumented blooms. The most common cyanobacteria we find here can produce hepatotoxins and neurotoxins that can cause damage to the liver and central nervous system. It is clear to us that the danger is more prevalent and potentially more harmful than we thought; monitoring the whole Cape is now urgent.
The issues of concern here are much like those we have seen in the marine environment: excess nutrients from septic systems and fertilizers. Solving the septic issue has proven to be a long and slow slog in the marine setting; the probability is this dynamic will be the same for the ponds. In the interim, homeowners anywhere, but especially those living close to ponds, would do well to eliminate fertilizers. Consider replacing (or minimizing) your lawn and shrubs with native species that not only provide habitat, but also donít require the application of fertilizers and water. You can do your part on your property to protect water quality. And donít forget to tell your Board of Selectmen that pond water quality needs to be a priority.
July 23, 2019
APCC had the pleasure of hosting Dr. John Holdren to provide a science-based, and very sobering, talk on climate change last week. Dr. Holdrenís presentation slides can be found on our website and I encourage you to spend the time they warrant to read and digest them. We are in for a very rough ride under the best of circumstances, and these are decidedly not the best of times.
I am not going to restate the information Dr. Holdren presented, I canít do his work justice. What I can tell you is, while listening to his insights, I felt a great appreciation that public service benefits from people of science and vision like Dr. Holdren. I can also share with you my feeling of dread stemming from the worry that the Trump Administration not only pays science professionals no heed, they are driving them out of decision-making roles and government altogether. While high profile and topnotch people like Dr. Holdren have been driven away, there remain many capable and dedicated professionals hard at work doing the work of the public. I worry that not only will their recommendations and findings be ignored by this White House, but that it is a matter of time until they are purged altogether in an effort to extinguish any thoughtful dissent from the wrongheaded and self-destructive environmental polices of this administration.
These dark thoughts led me to think again about the increasing importance of independent organizations like APCC, that can sponsor events and spread needed scientific information and say what needs to be said. In the face of increasingly strong head winds against scientifically based decision making, organizations like APCC have a greater role than ever before balancing the scales against the roll back of protections that threaten the public health and the environment. We are currently in the middle of our Summer Appeal. If you value the role that APCC has played in creating a new source of money from the state to help towns lower the local cost of water quality improvements, protecting the public health through our innovative approach to testing ponds for potentially toxic cyanobacteria blooms, or our advocacy for a meaningful response to climate change, then please consider generously supporting APCC [hyperlink to: https://www.apcc.org/support/donations.html]. Our ability to fight back relies on you and your support.
July 15, 2019
This past extended July 4 weekend had, by all accounts (I donít have personal knowledge, never having strayed more than 2 miles from home the entire time) the traffic of which legends are made. If traffic feels worse to you, it is. There are reasons why that go beyond the traditional factors like increased development and old inadequate bridges.
Second home rentals have made a huge impact on the economic, social and transportation fabric of Cape Cod. More second home rentals have removed housing stock from the market from which year-round residents (meaning workers) can rent, so roughly a quarter of our workforce commutes onto Cape Cod to provide the services people visiting want and expect. That increased traffic burden contributes to the over-crowding of marginal roadways and helps create delays we all deal with.
In addition, second home rentals often foster an intensity of use that greatly exceeds the use typical of a year-round family. A new home rented weekly across the street from our office had 10 cars in the driveway one weekend last year. When 10-15 people are renting a house, they arrive in not one car like a family would but in 5, 6 or 8 cars. Add that up and itís easy to see why the traffic (and water quality) is worse.
So, what is the response we need? First and foremost, the Cape needs to think hard about the way it develops, and protects, the undeveloped land remaining. Think hard about the traffic the past few days next time you hear the argument ďwe have enough open space on Cape CodĒ. Trees and open land donít add cars to the road. We have land that can and should be set aside as protected open space and you should push for that with your town.
The remaining development, for a variety of economic and environmental reasons, should be focused around village centers and away from open spaces. The environmental, water quality and traffic impacts of concentrating development in town centers are far less than more of the type of development we have seen over the years. Vibrant town centers keep people off the road for routine activities, bring life and economic activity and create housing options that will meet our future needs better than the current development model does.
Lastly, in the ongoing discussion about modernizing the bridges, we also need a transportation plan that creates concrete options to the single car trips over the bridge. One that will help reduce carbon emissions and help preserve the quality of the Cape Cod experience, the latter of which is turning sour.
July 7, 2019
Q: What would you do if you wanted to rescind standards that protect public health and the environment or to push through proposals that enable poor environmental practices and expose the public to dirtier air and water and fail to address climate change?
A: One very effective way to roll back environmental standards and protections is to eliminate the oversight of advisory committees made up of informed and knowledgeable members of the public. The President signed an Executive Order directing that agencies eliminate 1/3 of their standing advisory committees. So on the chopping block, at EPA alone, are the Clean Air Act Advisory Panel, the Childrenís Health Protection Advisory Committee, the Environmental Finance Advisory Board, the Board of Scientific Counselors, the Science Advisory Board, the Safe Drinking Water Act Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel. Combine the elimination of scientifically competent oversight with the FACT that both the EPA Administrator and the Secretary of the Interior are former lobbyists for the coal and gas industry, and it is pretty clear what is going on.
This administration is methodically removing public health and environmental protections to improve the bottom line for industry and is removing the major obstacles it sees in its path: the scientists and informed public interests. The administration knows it cannot win on the merits of its environmental plans so they are wiping out those voices that can and will push back on behalf of the well-being of the public. The next time you hear ďEPA says weakened standards are OKĒ, remember that this federal government doesnít have your interests, or those of your children, in mind.
July 2, 2019
"What difference does it make?" "I can't change it anyway." "Why should I bother?" "I don't feel like going to the meeting." "Someone else can do it."
We have all heard people say one or all of these things, many of us have said them ourselves. Faced with the crush of bad news and relentless assaults on fundamental environmental protections it is pretty understandable to feel a little hopeless, even helpless. It is that helplessness that makes it easy not to even try, to give in to the exploiters and robber barons that pick things clean and leave the scraps behind. It is, in fact, what they want us to feel because it makes their work easier.
But every now and then I am reminded that individuals do make a difference; that commitment and courage do matter and that good people can not only fight back but can set the agenda and create a path forward. The recent loss of a dear friend who lived that life of commitment, service, courage and most of all, achievement has given me a moment to reflect.
So rather than dwell on the questions of hopelessness, the better ones might be "what needs to be done?" and "have I done enough?" I can do more. My guess is we all can. I am going to try harder. I ask you to as well. If we don't stand up for our environment, no one else will either.
Rest in Peace, Judy Mills.
June 16, 2019
Cape Cod is about to get another lesson in the high cost of doing nothing. There is building chatter in DC about a major infrastructure bill gaining traction in Congress. Should the stars align and federal funding becomes available for all forms of infrastructure investment in water, wastewater and transportation, the region's relative inaction on the development of engineering and design for needed wastewater management infrastructure will again leave the Cape on the outside peering in.
Why will the Cape miss the bus? The answer is simple and predictable because it has happened before, most recently with the American Recovery and Restoration Act passed in response to the 2007 recession. The federal government sees investment in infrastructure as a way to both modernize the nations' infrastructure and to prime the economic pump. As a result, the criteria for allocating funds favors projects that are designed and ready to go to construction. And that's the rub. The Cape didn't benefit much from ARRA funds because not many projects were ready to go. Now, more than a decade later, not that much has changed.
While a handful of towns have advanced their infrastructure plans, many have not and will miss this opportunity for significant federal financial assistance that would save their residents meaningful money. The irony is that the local forces that have frustrated town efforts to implement wastewater management because "its too expensive" will be responsible for their towns missing the opportunity to lower costs to residents by not having plans that will meet federal funding assistance standards.
While it may be too late to fully take advantage of this next round of federal funding, it is not too early to begin preparations for the round of funding inevitably due to follow. At some point the Cape will wise up and take advantage of opportunities to clean up the environment and reduce the cost to local taxpayers. Until we do, critical federal resources will continue to go elsewhere.
Better late than never. An old adage, but one that applies to Barnstable County's overdue decision to end active use of the Fire Training Academy site in Barnstable. The Academy is suspected as being a source of perfluorinated compounds found in the Hyannis water supply. While the consumers of the water supply are protected by expensive water filtration, the site itself is still contaminated with the perfluorinated compounds included in the firefighting foam used throughout the country. Once in the soil, these compounds travel into the groundwater and are very stable, long lived and persistent contaminants. Suspension of the application of water at the site will slow the spread of the contamination until the sources can be cleaned up.
While the County has responded, albeit more slowly than we would have liked, there is an instructive lesson here that applies to all similar situations where government owned sites are the source of contamination. The Massachusetts hazardous waste law, known as 21E, applies the principle of joint and several liability in hazardous waste cases. In plain English, that means if both you and I contaminate a site, we are both fully and completely liable for the cleanup. That principle is an important one that holds everyone responsible for their mess, but it can have a distorting effect on behavior. Because of joint and several liability, owners of contaminated sites have an incentive to deny, deny and accuse. Owners start off by denying responsibility and then eventually, almost always, upon conceding some responsibility, point the finger at other potential sources as a way to increase the number of parties contributing to clean up costs. That whole process slows down the clean-up of any one site and can result in longer public exposure to contamination before final clean-up is implemented.
While the 21E process is designed to encourage private sector clean-up of contamination, the reality is that the public sector is often a responsible party. Isn't it fair to expect government to behave better than the private sector when it comes to cleaning up its own mess and protecting the public it serves from exposure to hazardous waste for even one extra day? While the Fire Academy problem is finally being dealt with, we should all approach the next instance of a public agency being the source of contamination with the expectation that the first response will be immediate clean up. The wrangling over who else is to blame can come after the public and the environment have been protected.
May 7, 2019
Fresh off the taping of a Lower Cape TV segment on the merits of continuation of Eversource's use of herbicides, I am reminded of the importance of individual behavior. While not in any way making Eversource's herbicide use ok, the persistent and excessive household use of herbicides and pesticides needs to change. Eversource points the finger at household use as a justification for its practices, but the fact is that true resource protection and restoration relies on big changes in personal behavior.
Just go to any garden center or box store and you will be confronted with gallons and gallons of pesticides and herbicides, and pounds and pounds of fertilizers. The marketing messages are clear: You need this and more is better. Both are wrong. Spend your money and time on native plantings and minimizing your lawn. Your water use and chemical bills will go down and you will help restore ecological balance and habitat one yard at a time. You will become part of the solution to water quality problems instead of part of the cause.
So resist the siren song and turn your back on the chemicals. And while you are at it, we can help build pressure on big users like Eversource to be leaders by example.
April 29, 2019
If you are like me, it feels like time to get some color in the yard and do some planting. What we plant can have a big impact on the health of the environment that surrounds us and can either support, or harm, the birds, bees and insects we all rely on. So please think about what you are planting before grabbing the prettiest plant in reach. The decisions you are making today will last long after the enticing bloom on the plant you are buying has faded.
If you want to make the best choice to have an attractive yard that also supports and works in tandem with our Cape environment, choose native species. Plants native to our region are adapted to the conditions we find on the Cape. If properly selected for the location in your yard, once established they won't require regular watering. And, there's no need for pesticides or fertilizers or amending the soils for them to survive. As an added value, they support native insects and birds. By planting native species, you will provide much needed habitat that has been lost due to development and the tendency of traditional landscapers to make the Cape look like everywhere else USA.
The native plant movement has been catching on and many nurseries and outlets now carry some native plants. We encourage you to do some research before buying. For example, know the scientific name of the plants you are after - common names are not reliable. Select the right plant for the right place. A plant that thrives in shade won't be happy in the hot sun, native or not. Many online native plant catalogs are great resources to learn site requirements for each species.Go to retail nurseries that carry native species and if you are not sure if a store has natives, ask. If the answer is no, the fact that you asked and left to shop someplace else will help educate shop owners that there is a market and consumer interest in native plants. Nothing will encourage stores to add native species to their inventories more than customers walking out in their absence.
Lastly, avoid any plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. These systemic pesticides are toxic to bees and other pollinating insects. The pollen, nectar and even the dew forming on plants treated with neonics (long before you buy them) cause toxicity to pollinators. Death may not be immediate, but the neurotoxin can weaken and disorient. And, since pollen is used to feed the young, the next generation is at risk. It is not always easy to avoid treated plants because there is not uniform regulation to require public notice. Start by asking store personnel and reading the label on the plant (if there is one). Some nurseries, including the big box stores, have labels on the plants that say the plants have been treated with neonicotinoids. The labels may even say the pesticides have been approved by EPA, but that does not change the fact that they are toxic to bees. Simply don't buy them. And tell the store why you are not buying them. It's the only way to change the store's practices.
Just like knowing your farmer, it pays to know your plant nursery and to "buy local" from trusted sources. Taking a little time and effort now, before planting, can yield big results over the long term. It is time well spent.
April 16, 2019
"Fight climate change, save the planet." We hear that all the time and it sounds about right, so what's the problem? The trouble is that the message doesn't resonate sufficiently to result in serious, committed, transformative and durable change at the political level. If you are reading this you probably already think climate change is one of the great existential issues of the day, and it is. The catch is that it's not just about saving the planet. The planet will continue on one way or the other, with or without us. The planet was here before we arrived, and it will be here after we depart. What we should be concerned about is saving the human species.
As a species we are pretty focused on us. So why should we expect a campaign about saving something else, in this case the planet, to resonate in a way that drives real change? For better or worse, to get the climate issue taken seriously, the messaging has to make it more about our survival because that is what gets people to pay attention. And sadly, I'm not talking about protecting our grandchildren or great- grandchildren because we needn't, and often don't, look that far down the road. I'm talking about us and our kids. It is time to realize that we, and the people who currently are alive that we actually know and profess to care about, are threatened by the impacts of changes in the climate already underway. We must take action. Our survival, yours and mine, is what is at stake and it's about time we started to act that way. Until and unless we realize what we are facing, nothing will change.
Regardless of what we do, the planet will continue on. It might be warmer and stormier than it would have otherwise been without us, but it will keep spinning with another mix of life forms on it, different than what we currently have. The planet has served as host to many different life eras and the only difference right now is it is being dominated by a species that seems driven to eliminate the very ecosystems needed for our own survival. In fact, one could look at it from a perspective that the Earth is reacting to rid itself of the irritant causing the changes the planet is experiencing. That irritant is us. The Earth doesn't need us to save it. We need the Earth way more than it needs us. When you talk to people about the urgency around climate change, think about encouraging them to do it for all the right reasons, and to save themselves. The only way to do that is to take better care of the planet and the ecosystems we rely on for our existence.
April 2, 2019
Of late, the Cape leadership has been consumed in a discussion about freedom speech. While impassioned and necessary, the conversation has kind of missed the point. The question should not just be if there are standards of speech that public officials should be held to, but rather why we elect people whose speech prompts the question in the first place. From where I sit, it is far more productive to redirect the energy being spent debating limits on speech to identifying, vetting and supporting better candidates for public office.
In my experience, anyone running for public office will tell you, if asked, who they are. Their words may or may not honestly depict their core values, but their record almost always does. If you take the time, and make the effort, you can learn what you need to know to make informed votes for candidates for local offices. It is also my experience that the more extreme a candidate's views are, the more likely they are to tell you, and tell you, and tell you exactly who they are and what they are about. Given that, there is absolutely no reason to be surprised when someone with radical views, from either side of the spectrum, is elected and starts to spout off. If you are surprised, it generally means you didn't do your homework.
As spring town elections approach, now is a good time to build good voter habits. Take a few minutes and learn who is on your local election ballots. Support the candidates whose values and priorities best fit the needs of your community. An informed electorate will elect candidates whose presence in office will eliminate the need to have an endless and unproductive conversation about how to muzzle someone's offensive speech. Kept out of public office, the offensive comments can be relegated to the echo chamber of online chat rooms.
March 11, 2019
Want to refuse financial assistance from a tax paid by non-Cape residents and, in doing so, increase your own property tax burden? I suspect not. Well, if you don't want that to happen you should contact your local selectmen and town councilors and insist that they keep your town in as a member of the Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust. The Trust was established to lower Cape property taxes needed to fund water quality improvement.
While hard to believe, there is serious talk among some elected town officials to opt out of the Trust. This move originates from a lack of understanding of the financial benefits the Trust offers. In short, these misinformed town officials, fortunately few in number, want to increase the amount Cape residents have to pay to restore and protect water quality. It is up to each and every one of us to stop this movement in its tracks. Contact your local elected leaders and insist on two things: 1) your town proceeds with wastewater management and 2) it remains a member of the Trust. If your town decides to move forward with opting out, show up at Town Meeting or the Town Council meeting and say, "no". Say no to dirty water and say no to sticking local taxpayers with an unnecessary portion of the bill.
March 5, 2019
It has been long said that politics makes strange bedfellows. While true, every now and then the pursuit of smart public policy and shared mutual objectives brings together interests not normally seen as aligned with one another to pursue a big idea. Now is such a time on Cape Cod.
Four very different organizations, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC), Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS? (CCIAOR), and Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC), have come together out of a shared belief that the future of Cape Cod depends heavily on infrastructure improvements and community investment for future economic stability and environmental improvement. The 4 organizations see now as the perfect time for local government to establish infrastructure banks and direct resources to long-term community investment. Collectively we are asking all 15 Cape towns to adopt a local bylaw this spring directing at least 50% of the local option rooms excise tax to a discrete stabilization fund, earmarking that revenue for housing, wastewater management, broadband, transportation, and competitive marketing of Cape Cod. Making long-term investments will dictate the economic viability and sustainability of Cape Cod and defer the use of property tax revenues for these needed projects, saving Cape Codders money.
Part of the impetus for this initiative is the unusual opportunity for towns to take advantage of a new revenue source provided by legislation at the end of 2108. More broadly though, and perhaps more encouraging, is that our 4 organizations have come to realize that many of our interests are better served by coordinating our efforts than by seeking our own objectives in a vacuum. In APCC's case, our pursuit of water quality improvement is not a zero sum game where the environment can only improve at the expense of housing and economic interests. Collectively we stand to improve water quality more quickly and at lower cost by working with, not against, our partners.
At a time when people seem to spend more time shouting at one another, good work is being done on hard issues through collaboration and discussion. More to come. Stay tuned.
February 25, 2019
Whatever your weekend reading was, I'm pretty sure it did not include the journal Biological Conservation and its article "Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers". The short version is that the report warns that 40% of worldwide insect species could become extinct in the next few decades. The result could be a collapse in ecosystems across the planet with impacts that are hard to fully grasp. Insects play important roles throughout healthy ecosystems and their role as pollinators is essential to worldwide food production. The loss of diverse insect populations is a big deal.
As is true with increasing frequency, habitat loss, ubiquitous pesticide use and climate change are all conspiring to cause accelerated species decline. While continuing to work on the broader issues, there are some very personal things we can all do to make our own yards and towns more hospitable to a wide range of beneficial insects. APCC has long advocated the preservation and restoration of native plant species that support local beneficial insect species. Native plants have many benefits, reduced water and fertilizer needs among them, but none more important than providing habitat for beneficial insects. Planting native species has never been easier. Many nurseries now carry native plants and you can support them and the environment by asking for, and buying, local plant stocks.
Equally important to consider is eliminating the use of insecticides on your property. Insecticides have a singular purpose, killing insects. As the pesticide/insecticide industry has grown more sophisticated, it has begun promoting "natural" insecticides with the implication that their toxic properties are somewhat more benign. While perhaps safer to humans than older chemicals, all these newer insecticides are still toxic, and many are especially damaging to pollinators even if the targets are mosquitos or ticks. A dead bee probably doesn't care that it died from a "natural" insecticide instead of a synthetic one. The bee is still dead.
So as the spring gets closer, think hard about what you are doing in your yard and make the smart choice. Don't introduce insecticides into your yard, no matter what the marketing says. Add some native plants to enhance the beauty and functionality of your landscaping. You may not be able to stop the worldwide pressures on beneficial insects, but you can make your yard an oasis for beneficial insects and the plants and animals that rely on them.
February 11, 2019
The days are getting longer, the sun stronger and it feels like a corner has been turned. It is also the time for a lesser known, but no less important, seasonal occurrence. Now is the time of year when nomination papers are available from Town Clerk offices for spring municipal elections.
I can almost hear you thinking, "What's the big deal about that?" In a lot of towns candidates for important elective office run unopposed and many incumbents run without serious challenge. If you think that all is well in your town, then you probably aren't alarmed. But if you have wished your town did more to address its water quality issues, protected more open space, had a more thoughtful approach to balancing housing and environmental issues, was more aggressive adapting to climate change challenges, invested more in energy efficiency or did more to promote recycling, you need to realize that it's the people who take out papers and get elected are the ones responsible for these issues. What happens in your town, and how it views it's role in environmental protection, largely gets decided now by who takes out nomination papers to run for selectman, town council and planning board.
One of the most significant things you can do to improve the environmental performance of your town is to make sure that people who prioritize the environment run for office in your town. Maybe the right person is someone you know who needs a little encouragement and support to take that next step. Maybe you are the person who should be stepping forward and running this year.
Rarely does anything good happen by accident. It takes work, attention and commitment for environmental improvement to come to your town. Now is the time to take the necessary step to make sure that the people in municipal decision making positions understand and value environmental protection. The future gets decided now, you can help decide if your town will help lead.
February 8, 2019
Other than the Patriot's annual march to the Super Bowl, 2019 has been off to a pretty rough start. While the federal government shutdown is finally over, for the moment anyway, it did highlight the great economic instability confronting a shockingly high number of American families. It was indeed sobering to see how quickly many federal workers lacked the ability to weather just one missed paycheck. Until recent times, federal workers enjoyed a degree of economic job security not shared by the general population. The events of the last month highlighted not just the vulnerability of federal workers to financial insecurity but that of the broader population that perhaps we do not heed as much as we should.
It's hard to have watched and listened to people struggle with making ends meet and not to have gained some important insight into the fear and insecurity of the daily lives of so many of our fellow citizens. Of the many lessons is a partial explanation of why more people are not more involved in civic life in general, and engaged on the environment in particular. It's not because people don't care, or that they are ignorant. Maybe it's because when you live paycheck to paycheck and are one major illness or accident away from serious financial pain or bankruptcy, the environmental issues of the day take a back seat. Sure, open space protection and clean water are important, but not so much perhaps if you are also worried about the mortgage or paying for college or choosing between prescriptions and food.
What the last month helped drive home to me is that an even bigger part of the population than I thought is living closer to the edge, more than we all want to think. How can you not rethink what you assume after seeing food collections for Coast Guard personnel?
As APCC moves forward as an organization we have to be more aware of the trade offs that are part of daily life for our fellow citizens. Taking full account of the economic pressures many people experience should challenge us to advocate for policies and laws that help people as well as the environment.
January 28, 2019
Looking at the inability of the federal government to get its act together, I thought perhaps there was a silver lining. Perhaps the closure of the EPA would have the inadvertent benefit of putting on hold, if just for a little while, the systematic and thorough dismantling of the framework of environmental protections built since the 1970s. A total of 78 environmental rules have been put on the chopping block or have been withdrawn. The scope of the rescissions is breathtaking as standards and protections of land, air, water, public lands and animals have all been under assault. In an era where government has demonstrated an inability to perform many of its basic functions, this Administration has proven itself to be more than capable of executing its anti- environment and anti-public health agenda.
So, while hating the now record-setting government shutdown, I did take some comfort from the fact that it might slow down the relentless elimination of environmental protection. That comfort was misplaced. I learned over the weekend that, in spite of the shutdown, the Administration is proceeding with the opening of public lands to oil and gas exploration. Turning over public lands to the oil and gas industry is bad enough in and of itself but paired with the news that the clean-up of Superfund sites has been suspended reveals a contempt for the environment and public health that is without precedent in my lifetime. Think about it for a minute. The Trump Administration is saying that giving its oil and gas allies access to public lands is more important and a higher priority than protecting the health and welfare of those being poisoned by known hazardous waste sites.
At the core of the mission of any government is to protect the health and well-being of its residents. If the government cannot find a way to fund itself and must close, even if that means the cessation of cleanup activities, okay. But what I can't get my mind around is the choice to continue oil and gas development at the expense of the cleanup of hazardous waste. If you harbored any uncertainty about who this Administration places first, it is industry and not you, me or anyone we know. The Trump Administration certainly does not seem to much care about the well-being of our children and grandchildren who will be left cleaning up this mess.
Over the next two years, it is up to all of us to pay attention and push back on the assault on the environment. We at APCC will do all we can to keep you informed of what is happening and will provide guidance on how to make your voice of opposition heard.
January 15, 2019
APCC's 50th year ended with a bang when the Governor signed legislation creating the Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust Fund. It's not an understatement to say that the Trust Fund is the most significant legislative milestone for the Cape's environment in a generation. APCC is proud to have been a driving force in effort to create the Trust and is grateful to our partners and legislative delegation for their hard work and dedication.
Right after the ink dried on the Trust Fund bill, the calendar turned to 2019 and my mind shifted to the challenges ahead for the first year of our second 50 years. There is no shortage of issues to confront and any number of places where APCC can spend it's time. The interesting question to me is determining where APCC can provide leadership and make a difference. Very often the environmental community gets most energized in opposition to a project, a proposed rule or legislation. While often important, opposition is a reactive stance and the prevention of something bad doesn't improve baseline environmental conditions. The challenge for APCC, and our broader environmental community, is to develop an agenda that improves the baseline and creates a road toward environmental improvement. I know this works because we just did it with the Water Protection Trust Fund.
We will be talking to you more in the next weeks about our advocacy agenda. It's already clear we are going to continue our focus on water quality restoration and fighting for rational climate change policies and practices. In addition, look for APCC to weigh in heavily into the ongoing debates about affordable housing production, and bridge replacement. Finally, we will be loud and persistent in our opposition to the outrageous rollbacks of basic environmental protections by the Trump Administration. While opposition will not be the focal point of everything we do, some things require steadfast opposition. APCC will oppose the Trump Administration's reckless and systematic gutting of federal environmental rules at every turn.
2019 promises to be a productive and busy year for APCC. I am glad we have you as a supporter as our ability to protect the Cape relies on you.
January 8, 2019