Defending the Charles River from Stormwater Pollution

Mar 12, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

In February, CLF and the Charles River Watershed Association filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA for failing to uphold the Clean Water Act and requiring large, privately owned stormwater polluters to obtain permits for their dirty discharge.

EPA’s responsibility is clear: to ensure that our waterways are safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. The agency’s failure to require polluters to control their runoff puts the Charles’ water quality at risk and places an unfair burden on cities, towns, and, ultimately, taxpayers, to foot the bill for managing stormwater pollution.

Kelp Forest at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

CLF is asking the EPA to hold polluters accountable for unregulated stormwater discharge, which is harming the Charles River. Photo: Charles River Watershed Association.

In part due to improvements in water pollution, the Charles River today is an incredible recreational and ecological resource flowing through the heart of Boston and surrounding communities. On any given summer day, you’ll see scores of people sailing, boating, kayaking, and fishing its waters. But the reality is, for all the progress made in cleaning up this iconic river in recent decades, significant threats to its health remain, including polluted stormwater runoff.

Along the Charles’ 80-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston Harbor you’ll find thousands of acres of strip malls, office parks, and other industrial development – along with flat roofs and huge parking lots (80% of the land area in Greater Boston is paved). All those impermeable surfaces add up to trouble when it rains or, as is happening now, snow melts.

Back when the Charles flowed through a largely natural landscape, that rain and snowmelt would have been absorbed by the ground and filtered of pollutants long before it drained into the river. Today, though, stormwater rushes off those mirror-like impermeable surfaces, picking up debris, fertilizer, and other toxic pollution along the way. The result: a contaminated soup of dirty water draining into the Charles and other rivers, lakes, and streams across New England.

The worst part of the problem? EPA not only knows who the biggest privately owned stormwater dischargers are, it also has the legal authority to hold them accountable. In fact, the Clean Water Act requires known stormwater polluters to obtain a permit for their discharge. But EPA has failed to uphold this basic responsibility.

By not enforcing the law, EPA is leaving cash-strapped cities and towns – and all of us as taxpayers – on the hook for the costs of this damaging pollution. And those costs are big. One of the most harmful pollutants swept into the river with stormwater is phosphorus. Too much phosphorus in the water can lead to massive blue-green algae outbreaks, which are toxic to people, pets, and wildlife. This is just one reason why the Charles is so often subject to closures and advisories for fish contamination and unsafe swimming and boating.

The bottom line is that stormwater pollution is hurting the river, the wildlife that depend on it to be healthy, and the communities that pay when it’s not. A successful outcome to this lawsuit will mean that hundreds of commercial, industrial, and institutional polluters will finally be required to obtain permits. Those permits would not only control the stormwater pollution those businesses can discharge, but also ensure they are paying their fair share of the costs for its management.

The Charles River will never truly be healthy until stormwater pollution – and the industrial offenders responsible for it – are brought under control. It’s time for EPA to step up and enforce the law and set the Charles on the final road to recovery once and for all.

For more background information please see Conservation Law Foundation’s briefing on stormwater pollution in New England, “Closing the Clean Water Gap: Protecting our Waterways by Making All Polluters Pay.”

Boston’s Newest – and Yummiest – Day of Appreciation: Urban Agriculture Day!

Aug 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Urban-Agriculture-Day

Mayor Walsh digs into Urban Agriculture Day at the City of Boston’s newest urban farm.

If you could name your own city-wide Day of Appreciation, what would it be? Cupcake Day? Pajamas-to-Work Day?

While you’re mulling that over, I’ll tell you what the Mayor of Boston chose when given the opportunity: drum roll . . . Urban Agriculture Day! After getting his hands dirty at a ribbon-cutting event for Boston’s first urban farm allowed under the city’s new urban agriculture zoning article, Mayor Marty Walsh proclaimed July 11 as Urban Agriculture Day.

Mayor Walsh’s official Urban Agriculture Day Proclamation touts the importance of urban farms and urban agriculture entrepreneurs to Boston:

“Urban agriculture improves access to fresh, local food within the city limits of Boston, reducing the distance food travels from farm to table, strengthening community, and developing neighborhood and city-wide resiliency. Urban agriculture entrepreneurs fortify the human, environmental, and community health of their neighborhoods, all while creating local, sustainable jobs.”

The proclamation also acknowledged several local organizations that play a key role in supporting urban agriculture in Boston. CLF was among those organizations, getting a special shout out for its newly launched Legal Services Food Hub – a pro bono legal services clearinghouse where farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations are matched with attorneys to assist with transactional matters. Thanks to the Mayor for this recognition!

And in case you just can’t wait until next July 11 to celebrate urban agriculture and local food generally, consider signing up to get one of these flashy new Choose Fresh and Local Massachusetts license plates so you can celebrate local food every day!

Boston-grown Greens, Coming Right Up! Mayor Approves Commercial Farming in Boston

Jan 15, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

urban-agriculture-in-boston

A new zoning ordinance will soon bring urban farms to Boston – and fresh, local food to Boston’s neighborhoods.

Calling business-savvy green thumbs to Boston! Just before leaving office, former Mayor Menino approved a new Urban Agriculture Zoning Ordinance, known as Article 89, which allows urban farmers to grow food for commercial purposes in much of Boston—be it in soil, in water, on rooftops, or even in modified shipping containers!

The three-year effort to bring urban farming to Boston began in 2010 when a local business owner wanted to start a lettuce farm to provide his neighbors with fresh greens. Unfortunately, Boston’s local land use laws would not allow it. Wanting to help, former Mayor Menino and his Office of Food Initiatives launched a citywide Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) convened a series of meetings of the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Working Group, made up of farmers, farming advocates, agriculture experts, and neighborhood representatives. Former Mayor Menino signed Article 89 on December 20, 2013, bringing the law into effect immediately.

Article 89 sets new standards for a variety of urban agriculture activities in Boston. While most agricultural activities were not allowed prior to the new Article, now commercial-scale farms, up to one acre, are allowed in all districts. The changes also allow urban farmers to sell at farm stands on their property. Farm stands can also be set up where retail uses are already allowed, and elsewhere by special permit. Proposed large-scale farms must go through a review process to make sure they will be compatible with neighboring land uses.

Some residents expressed concern about food grown in contaminated urban soils. However, as a result of a careful public process, Boston has become a national leader in establishing a Soil Safety Protocol for urban farms. To ensure soil is safe for growing, farmers can either use imported soil and raised beds, or submit documentation showing that, based on an environmental site assessment, native soils pose no significant risk.

If you’re wondering whether this new ordinance will mean you’ll soon be hearing roosters cockle-doodle-doing outside your bedroom window, the answer is no. The backyard keeping of hens and bees was not part of these changes, and is still not allowed in most zoning districts. Where the keeping of hens and bees is allowed (and then only upon special review when certain conditions are met), Article 89 defines the size of beehives and coops, numbers of hens and hives, and other maintenance requirements. Residents who live where hens and bees are not allowed may work with their neighborhood associations to petition the BRA to allow them. Legalize Chickens in Boston is working with community members interested in pursuing this.

By addressing a wide range of urban agriculture activities, Article 89 will increase access to healthy food, promote community building, create business opportunities, and help form beautiful neighborhoods.

CLF is delighted with this development, and commends the BRA for listening closely to the urban farming community and responding to feedback in developing Article 89. The result is a robust, responsibly crafted Article that puts Boston in the lead on urban agriculture. So get excited, Boston localvores: beans grown in Bean Town are coming to a market near you!

 

Join us at the Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Transportation and Livable Communities

Sep 6, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

boston-forum-on-transportation-and-livable-communities

Mayor Menino at the 2nd year launch of Hubway. Photo Credit: City of Boston.

In a major city like Boston, the mayor plays a pivotal role in advancing transportation innovation and improvements. After all, few things show off a city better (or worse) than its transportation systems. To help the public understand where Boston’s mayoral candidates stand on this key campaign issue, CLF is co-sponsoring a free forum on Transportation and Livable Communities on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 6pm to 8pm at the Boston Public Library.

During Mayor Thomas Menino’s twenty years in office, the City of Boston has advanced many transportation projects, including the modernization of the Blue Line, the rehabilitation of old and opening of new stations on the Fairmount Line, the launch of the Hubway bike share system, and the completion of the Big Dig. Around the country, Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, and Michael Bloomberg in New York all have successfully put new transportation ideas, policies and investments at the center of their administrations.

For CLF and everyone who lives and/or works in Boston, it matters that the next mayor of Boston, whoever it is, understands the importance of its transportation systems to the city: the ability to walk and bike safely and easily, the need to assure that public transit is affordable and accessible to all, and the foresight to consider how good transportation planning can help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage through the challenges presented by a changing climate. With the right mayor, Boston can and will continue to lead in this area.

Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station on Fairmount Line. Photo Credit: Patrick D. Rosso

Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station on Fairmount Line. Photo Credit: Patrick D. Rosso, pdrosso @ flickr

The forum on Transportation and Livable Communities will give each of the candidates an opportunity to address the vital transportation issues impacting Boston’s communities. CLF is co-sponsoring the event with a group of non-profit organizations, planners, and advocates who have been working to make Boston, and other Massachusetts communities, more livable.  As a group, we have provided all of the candidates with extensive information on policies related to transportation and livable communities. Now, on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 6pm to 8pm,  you can learn how more about how each candidate will improve Boston’s streets and public transportation. The event is free and  open to the public and the media. Register here to get your free ticket. We hope to see you there.

Boston Green Mayoral Forum

Jun 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Shanice Wallace is a Posse Scholar working at CLF as a summer intern. 

As more people are aware and involved in addressing environmental issues, the fight for a greener Boston becomes a shared Bostonian concern. Mayor Menino soon will be leaving Boston after 20 years. More than my entire lifetime!  During that time, he has done a lot to turn Beantown into Greentown, as he likes to say. Now, Boston has the opportunity to build on existing programs to reduce our environmental impact and become a greener city. Boston’s next mayor will have the opportunity to lead the next phase of Boston’s environmental revolution. The new mayor must take this opportunity to improve our neighborhoods by addressing climate change, clean energy and the environment.

Please save the date and plan to join Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental, clean energy, sustainability and innovation leaders for a Boston Mayoral Candidates Forum on Energy, the Environment and the Innovation Economy on July 9th at 12 pm at Suffolk University Law School. At this forum, the mayoral candidates will be given a chance explore a variety of topics related to community, development, jobs, sustainability, and livability in our city.

 

 

Community Process for Urban Agriculture Rezoning in Boston Begins

Jun 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Urban agriculture is taking off in Boston, from neighborhood gardens and markets to City Hall. Since January 2012, staff from Boston Mayor Menino’s office, along with a number of farming advocates, urban agriculture experts, and neighborhood representatives have met monthly to draft a new section of the Boston Zoning Code, Article 89.  Article 89 addresses the growing interest in urban agriculture – and specifically commercial urban agriculture – by expanding opportunities and reducing local regulatory barriers in Boston.

A comprehensive draft of the proposed rezoning has been completed, and Article 89 is now available for review.  The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has arranged a series of neighborhood meetings in the city to discuss the draft Article.  A list of neighborhood meeting times and dates can be found here.  The first meeting is tonight at Suffolk Law School  (120 Tremont Street, Boston) from 6-8 PM.  Please join CLF in coming to this meeting, or another meeting in your neighborhood, to show your support for urban agriculture in Boston!

Urban agriculture increases access to affordable, healthy food, builds community connections, and fortifies our ties to the local environment.  At CLF, we are excited about the opportunity to help improve urban agriculture in the city of Boston, and thus support moving Article 89 forward.  We do have some concerns with specific provisions in the Article and appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge these concerns at neighborhood meetings.  We will post more regarding Article 89 here, including more detail on our concerns, as the summer community process moves forward – we encourage you to check back here for more information in the coming months.

Air Quality Alerts; What You Can Do About Them

May 31, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Mindy McAdams, Flickr

Kids playing in Boston’s Christian Science Plaza Fountain, by Mindy McAdams on Flickr

The heat is here!

Even though it’s technically still spring until late June, it feels as though summer has already come to stay in southern New England. While we New Englanders pride ourselves on being able to handle all kinds of weather, the health risks posed by poor air quality shouldn’t be ignored.

On a hot summer day, I know I make sure to check the weather in the morning before leaving to see how hot it might get and if there’s a chance of rain. Weather reports and weather websites are good at giving us lots of data about the day’s weather in general (hourly temperatures, chance of rain, and radar maps tracking storms), but don’t always give a detailed explanation when there’s an air quality alert (like there is this weekend).

What does an Air Quality Alert really mean?

The Air Quality Index combines measurements of ground level ozone and particulate matter to determine when levels of those pollutants might be harmful to humans.

Ground level ozone forms when pollution from cars, construction equipment, factories, and power plants containing oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic chemicals mix in sunlight. While lots of ground level ozone is formed in urban areas on hot days, it can also be blown over long distances by wind. Particulate matter is just what it sounds like, particles from construction dust and pollen down to heavy metals and toxic pollutants. Both ground level ozone and particulate matter can be inhaled and cause serious respiratory problems. Southern New England and the mid-Atlantic seaboard are at special risk for ground level ozone and particulate pollution due to the combination of big cities and winds blowing east.

Ground level ozone and particulate matter at levels that commonly occur here in the summer can cause some very unpleasant health problems for even healthy adults (coughing and wheezing isn’t a lot of fun), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening for kids with asthma or other breathing problems, adults with chronic conditions, and the elderly. And some studies suggest that ground-level ozone can actually cause asthma and breathing problems in kids. Adults at risk and parents of kids at risk probably know more about all of this than the average person, but hearing that there’s an Air Quality Alert on the weather can still leave anyone with a lot of questions.

As you can see from the AQI scale, a score of 50 would be labeled “good” and 51 would be “moderate,” so more precise data is essential. That information isn’t always available on a weather report, which is where the EnviroFlash website comes in. They plot the hourly Air Quality Index measurements on maps, so you can check out the forecast and close to real-time information about local air quality:

EnviroFlash this morning

What can I do about bad air quality in the summer?

While there are of course steps that people at risk from elevated ground level ozone and particulate levels can take to protect themselves from dangerous breathing events, the good news is that there are simple and very important things we can all do to help prevent elevated air quality:

  • Prevent your car from contributing to vehicle emissions: try to limit driving trips and take public transportation if possible.
  • Reduce the amount of electricity that your household uses, keeping the worst-emitting fossil fuel fired power plants from being pressed into service: Keep your air conditioner a few degrees higher, and make sure to turn lights and electronics off when you’re not using them.

 

 

Earth Day: An Opportunity to Pause and Heal

Apr 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Spring in Massachusetts

Earth Day, which coincides with the blossoming of Spring across New England, is an opportunity for us to heal.  Image: timsackton @ flickr

In the Boston area we are grieving, and we are rattled. The shocking events of last week have taken their toll on all of us. They have been devastating for the families and friends of those killed and injured.  We are relieved and grateful, but underneath we are in some pain. We all need to heal.

Today is Earth Day – a day to appreciate the marvelous planet that sustains us. In some years, my attention on Earth Day has focused on what our planet needs from us – in the form of activism, problem-solving, and protection. In fact, that’s my focus almost every day.

But this Earth Day, this year, I for one will focus on what the Earth does for us – emotionally – because we in the Boston area need it badly. In New England, Earth Day coincides with the full blossoming of Spring – the extraordinary annual resurgence of the irrepressible and wonderful life force embedded in our world. Trees, shrubs and plants come into full bloom, songbirds trill magically, and animals of many species respond to the call. If we stop and look, it amazes and rejuvenates us. If we pause and touch, breathe in the wonderful earthy smells of Spring, and deeply appreciate our planet, it heals us.

Today, in the greater Boston area – and across New England – I highly recommend we all stop, look, touch, smell and appreciate the remarkable planet that is our home. It’s a very natural and easy thing to do. It will help us heal.

And we all need to be healed, and to be strong, to meet the challenges – all of the challenges – that we face. And we shall meet them. Count on it. Just like Spring.

Building Smart(er) in Boston

Mar 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In 1998 and 1999 CLF played a key role in a coalition that stopped a proposed development that would have placed a large tower on top of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  That proposal was not coordinated at all with larger plans for building on “air rights” over the MassPike (as it is known) and threatened to inflict major cost on the state transportation agencies due to the cost of building a deck over the highway large and strong enough to support a tower – and concerns about the stress this major new development would place on the transit facilities (the buses and subway) serving the area.

The project inspired significant opposition from residents of the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods for a wide variety of reasons.

One result of the controversy around that, and other air rights project and development in those neighborhoods was a massive stakeholder process to develop a “Civic Vision” for development over the MassPike that literally bridged a chasm between neighborhoods in a way that strengthened and improved existing neighborhoods.

CLF was deeply engaged in that stakeholder process, and the closely related environmental review that created that “Civic Vision” and now, years later, that effort seems to be bearing fruit.  A proposal for that same area has been preliminarily accepted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as detailed in this short Boston.com blog post and a presentation by the developers.  The proposal would place the actual tower on solid ground away from the Turnpike and put a low-rise commercial building over the MassPike itself.  Still to be dealt with is the crucial question of how the development will enhance the subway and bus infrastructure on and serving the site.  Nearby, the “Fenway Center” air rights proposal that will be built adjacent to Fenway Park is addressing this issue by rebuilding the Yawkey Station commuter rail facility.  Will the Boylston Street entrance to the Hynes station (which is only open for special events as shown in this video) be renovated and opened?  Will the development help pay for signal improvements that improve the Green Line that serves that station? The fact that the designated developers have a good track record of working with the local community suggests that dialogue around such ideas is very possible.  And the fact that the project earns a cautious positive comment from Marty Walz, who led the citizen opposition to the prior project, in the Boston Globe is encouraging.

Building a thriving future with sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strong communities will require investments in real urban development, like the project that has been proposed for this critical Boston crossroads – and we owe it to our future and all the people (even the occasional Yankee fan who finds themselves in enemy territory) who visit, live in and work in Boston to get this one right.

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