News Release

Good as news: positive environmental stories you may have missed this week

For Immediate Release.

The Public Interest Network’s Environment America and U.S. PIRG are working on multiple campaigns to help America get through the coronavirus pandemic as quickly and safely as possible. But we're also working to ensure that when the outbreak ends, the United States’ policies and practices ensure a cleaner, safer, better world for all of us. 

This weekly newsletter will highlight recent good news on the environmental front. If you have suggestions or comments, please email Ian Corbet (ian.corbet@publicinterestnetwork.org) or Josh Chetwynd (josh.chetwynd@publicinterestnetwork.org). 

Massachusetts starts the year with big environment action

Massachusetts has started off 2021 with two big steps forward in protecting our climate and environment. Following California’s lead, Gov. Charlie Baker announced the phase out of the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. The announcement, which was made on Wednesday, came as part of the draft Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030. The plan is intended to achieve emission reduction targets under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. 

In addition, the state legislature passed the Energy Save Act Monday as part of a larger climate package. This bill updates the state’s appliance efficiency and plumbing standards. If signed by Gov. Baker, the new law will set efficiency standards for 17 residential and commercial products including computers, water coolers, and commercial cooking equipment. It will also save consumers millions of dollars on energy and water bills and cut carbon dioxide emissions by thousands of metric tons.

On the ban on new gas-powered cars:

“We cannot address climate change without phasing out gas-powered cars, and Massachusetts’ plan for all new cars to be electric will drive us in the right direction.” said Environment America’s Destination: Zero Carbon Campaign Director Morgan Folger. “We applaud Gov. Baker’s actions, but we urge him to keep his foot on the accelerator on the road to comprehensive clean energy. To clean up our transportation sector, electric cars will need to be paired with 100 percent renewable energy. Driving on sunshine and wind power is the next step to accelerate climate action.”

On the Energy Save Act:

“It may not be sexy, but updating our appliance efficiency standards not only saves consumers money, but it also tackles climate change and protects our environment,” said MASSPIRG Legislative Director Deirdre Cummings. “If signed into law, these appliance standards will reduce energy and water waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and put money back in our pockets.”

Newborn right whale spotted as increased protections are considered

A newborn right whale, the first of the year, was spotted off the coast of Georgia earlier this week. The birth is exciting news for the critically endangered species, which now numbers less than 400. The birth comes just days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed updating protections to save the species. The proposed rule includes an option to seasonally close certain right whale habitats to fishing with persistent vertical lines. Vertical lines endanger right whales by risking entanglement. The public is invited to comment during the rule’s 60-day comment period.

“While the birth of a new right whale calf is exciting, it should simply be a reminder of just how much we need to act now to protect these majestic sea mammals,” saidEnvironment America Research & Policy Center Oceans Associate Michaela Morris. “With only 366 of these amazing animals left in our oceans, our time to act is limited to protect these whales. We can’t let the species disappear on our watch. So, over the next 60 days, we must show NOAA that we want to do what necessary to safeguard right whales. It’s up to everyone out there who not only loves our oceans, but also its sea animals to make sure we push the strongest possible protections over the finish line.” 

New Jersey moves towards restricting bee-killing pesticides

The New Jersey Assembly Appropriations Committee passed A2070 by a 8-3 vote on Thursday, which classifies neonicotinoids, commonly known as neonics, as restricted-use pesticides. New Jersey is now a step closer to joining such other states as Maryland, Connecticut and Vermont that have implemented similar curbs on neonics. The New Jersey restriction would limit the application of the pesticide to select instances, eliminating its widespread use in non-agricultural settings such as gardens, lawns and golf courses. These systemic pesticides are known to harm pollinators and are linked to bee population declines.

“Bees carry a vital role in contributing to the richness of New Jersey’s landscapes,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “This restriction on neonics in key areas would significantly reduce the amount of its exposure to both our state insect, the honeybee, and many native bee species that call New Jersey home. Beyond that, this bill takes the necessary steps to protect species like the monarch butterfly, which has recently been listed as a candidate for protections under the Endangered Species Act, from unnecessary exposure to deadly pesticides.”

What else we’re celebrating:

  • Colorado coal plants to shut down early: Utility company Xcel Energy announced that a northwestern Colorado coal-fired power plant will be closing eight years ahead of schedule. It will shut down fully in 2028. The move is expected to help the state reach its goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.

  • African countries use satellite tech to cut deforestation: Because they’ve employed a new satellite system,several countries in Africa have seen deforestation rates drop by nearly 20 percent in the past two years. The program is called the Global Land Analysis & Discovery system and was launched by the Global Forest Watch in 2016 to detect and prevent losses of forest cover. The exciting results from the African nations show the possibility of continued success for the program in preventing ongoing deforestation.

  • Massive bike trail finished in New York state: The state of New York has finished construction on a 750-mile-long hiking/biking trail that stretches across the state. The trail, called the  Empire State Trail, culminates years of construction across the state, and now connects New York City to Buffalo -- as well as extending to the Canadian border. The trail is an exciting option for hikers and bikers who have increasingly sought comfort and recreation in the outdoors during the pandemic.

Looking for even more uplifting environmental content?

Environment America recently launched our Greener Together project. As people are practicing social distancing, the project aims to help us all foster a stronger connection with the natural world and with each other. The initiative includes engaging events, fun activities and helpful guides for both adults and children. 

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Environment America is a national network with affiliates in 29 states. Our staff and members work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. 

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

U.S. PIRG and Environment America are part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.