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Elevating Impact: The Power of Budget Advocacy for Our Rivers

Mass Rivers and our partners have had great success in increasing budgets for state agencies that protect and restore our rivers. In 2023 that translated to $40 million in new state money for the environment! Perhaps you are wondering how this budget advocacy happens – or how this money is used by the agencies. Read on!


At the state house FY25 Green Budget Briefing
left to right: Senator Becca Rausch, Katharine Lange, Joe Dorant, and Senator Jamie Eldridge at a green budget briefing for FY25.

Q: What do you mean “you” increased the budgets for these state agencies?  Isn’t that the job of the legislature?  How about new laws?

 

We don’t get to vote on the state budget or pass new laws. However, legislators can’t be experts on all things. The nonprofit community analyzes the state’s budget and urges increased funding or new legislation to improve river protection and climate resilience. Legislators weigh our asks against many competing requests. Year after year, as our coalition has grown, we have made the case for investing in environmental programs. As legislators have become more familiar with the work of the environmental agencies and the scale of the climate crisis, they have increased the agencies’ budgets to sustain healthy rivers and water in a time of climate change.

 

Q. When the state’s environmental funding increases, does that increase our taxes? 

 

No. An increase for the state’s environmental agencies and their programs means their portion of the overall state budget increases relative to that of other agencies. The portion of state funding for the environment is still very low (about 1% in FY2024), despite the urgency to address climate change and the high value placed on the environment by the Commonwealth’s residents.

 

Q.  Congratulations on Mass Rivers’ success in working with partners and the legislature to increase state annual environmental budgets by $40M in the past five or six years. What are the agencies doing with this new money?

 

Great question! Much of our effort has been focused on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Division of Ecological Restoration (DER). DER’s work includes dam removals, culvert replacements, and cranberry bog restorations. They have now doubled their staff to increase this work. A new DER regional collaboration program supports partners’ river restoration work: one small government agency can’t do it all in a state with 3,000 dams and 25,000 culverts, including many hazardous dams and undersized culverts subject to failure.

 

MassDEP must issue permits to ensure compliance with regulations that protect the environment and enforce most environmental laws. Yet their budget was cut dramatically in 2008. Water withdrawal permits were delayed for many years, the state lacked staff for compliance and enforcement, and some rivers went 15 years or more without water quality testing.  Recent budget increases allowed MassDEP to restore this capacity and release several long-awaited regulatory packages. 

 

The agency is now able to take on new challenges, many in response to climate change. It is speeding up the restoration of salt marshes; developing a statewide hydraulic model to better manage stream flow infrastructure; requiring bigger culverts to anticipate streamflow from more extreme droughts and floods of climate change; monitoring PFAS in river and fish tissue and other emerging contaminants in wastewater; and adding protection for wetlands based on their ability to sequester carbon and prevent greenhouse gas emissions. 

 

Finally, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the umbrella agency for the Commonwealth’s environmental agencies, has dramatically increased its focus on environmental justice. It started as a subprogram within the Climate Adaptation and Preparedness office, blossomed into its own office in FY23, where our budget coalition successfully advocated for $1.3 million of funding. The next year, with the Governor's strong support, we advocated again for an increase, and the legislature approved $8.8 million. That money supports staff who ensure that environmental justice principles are part of all state agency plans and actions, that impacts to communities are considered when making decisions, and that there is public involvement in policy making.  

 

We are proud to do our part to encourage public investment in our environment. Thanks to all who are supporting this important work! If you want to hear more about our work, sign up for our newsletter here.



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