Updated: Aug 4, 2022
The 2021-2022 legislative session came to a close at midnight July 31... a midnight that lasted all the way until after 10 a.m. on August 1 when legislators finally gaveled out.
First - THANK YOU.
To our organizations, supporters, and friends - you spoke up for rivers this session in legislative hearings, at lobby days, on social media, amongst friends, in emails to your Senators. Your stories were powerful and made a difference - it's amazing when I approach a legislator about a bill, and they say "Yes, we know about that one, we keep hearing about it from constituents."
We are so grateful for your continued support and passion for the Commonwealth's environment.
Here's where our priorities landed.
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Over the weekend, the drought bill, S.530, did not move out of Senate Ways & Means, meaning it won't pass this year, despite the severe drought conditions happening on the ground right now. This is not the outcome we wanted - nor the one our rivers need.
Together, we did make some good progress on drought this session:
The bill moved out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture for the first time.
We educated a new batch of legislators and Senate Ways & Means members on the bill, setting the foundation for next session.
We generated a ton of press on the impacts of drought and raised public awareness. See a sample of articles >>
So: where do we go from here? We plan to refile this bill in January (we've already got a new champion in the House lined up!) to a legislature that's already primed on the issue.
We're also watching DEP's proposed regulations on conditioning water registrations, which would impose water conservation restrictions on large water withdrawals that previously had none. It doesn't have exactly the same scope as the bill, but nonetheless would improve water conservation during drought. Stay tuned for those updates (hopefully this fall).
Invasive Species Bill
This bill also did not pass this session. Our first time leading advocacy for this bill, and we learned so much about municipal challenges with invasive species management.
We learned that many legislators were unfamiliar with the ecological and economic impacts of invasive species infestations. Thanks to our member organizations and individual supporters, we brought local stories into the State House and shared how we envisioned smoother, more coordinated support for towns and nonprofits as they deal with both aquatic and terrestrial invasives.
We'll be strategizing around this bill, too, in the fall, and how we might incorporate it into a larger environmental stewardship or municipal support package.
Okay, this one's good news! (Great news, actually!)
The FY23 budget was signed into law on July 28, 2022, and with it, increases for our state environmental agencies so they can scale up their work statewide to steward our environment and help communities prepare for climate change.
Mass Rivers works with a coalition of statewide organizations to lobby for increased investment in these agencies, and this year, ALL FIVE of our budget requests were met!
(2200-0100) Department of Environmental Protection Administration: $45.4M ($5M increase!)
(2810-0100) Department of Conservation and Recreation State Parks: $85,021,706 ($10M increase!)
(2000-0101) Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Climate Adaptation and Preparedness: $5,425,000 (more than double!)
(2000-0102) Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Environmental Justice: $1,333,014 (this is a new line item, which used to be combined with EEA Climate!)
(2300-0101) Division of Ecological Restoration: $4.3M ($1M increase!)
What about all that federal money?
You've heard about the federal money coming to Massachusetts through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA), and you may have heard that Massachusetts far exceed tax revenue estimates.
In short, there's a lot of extra money available this year.
Governor Baker filed a huge spending bill back in the spring, funded from a mix of sources, including bonding. Mass Rivers testified at legislative hearings in favor of directing that spending to climate resilience and open space.
The House & Senate were working on a version which would spend $4 billion on projects around the Commonwealth. Mass Rivers was advocating for the provisions in both bills that would advance environmental protection:
$175 million for open space and outdoor recreation, with special attention given to communities of color, communities hit hardest by the pandemic, and priority ecological restoration initiatives
$125 million for open space in Environmental Justice communities - hardest hit by climate impacts and air and water pollution and have significantly less access to outdoor recreational opportunities.
$150 million for water infrastructure projects through the Clean Water Trust, allowing municipalities to access low and zero interest loans to mitigate sewer pollution, utilize green infrastructure, remove PFAS contamination, and upgrade drinking water systems.
However there was an 11th hour plot twist! Lawmakers failed to notice a decades-old law that requires tax revenue surplus above a certain cap be given back to taxpayers. Legal questions suddenly arose about the economic development bill that weren't resolved by the end of the session. Lawmakers did not pass this bill, but are expected to revisit a large spending package again, especially since the remaining ARPA funds must be allocated by 2024.
We'll spend the fall thinking about what priorities we want to raise at the State House next year, and what strategies will be most effective at advancing them.
Please email me with further policy questions, or if you'd like to be more involved with our efforts next session. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Our sincere thanks again for all the work you've done this session.
- Katharine Lange, Policy Specialist
Help us continue to be the voice for rivers on Beacon Hill.