Representative David Nangle
Representative William Smitty Pignatelli
Representative Donald Berthiuame
Senator William Brownsberger
Senator Anne Gobi
Senator Donald Humason
Conference Committee on H. 4613 and S. 2602
State House, Boston

Dear Representative Nangle, Senator Brownsberger and Conference Committee Members,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing regarding H. 4613 and S. 2602, An Act Promoting Climate Change Adaptation, Environmental and Natural Resource Protection, and Investment in Recreational Assets and Opportunity. Climate change is threatening our communities, and many provisions in this environmental bond bill would build on the Legislature and Administration’s work to increase resilience in our cities and towns and our Commonwealth.

Local officials are committed to upgrading municipal infrastructure to adapt to the changing environment and prepare for the impacts of climate change – for example, over 40 percent of communities are now participating in the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which provides grants for cities and towns to identify local hazards, complete vulnerability assessments, and develop strategies to become more resilient.

The important legislation before your conference committee provides more than $2 billion in capital investments, including $75 million in funding for the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program. The MMA supports funding included in the bills for the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program, the Complete Streets Program, the Clean Water Trust and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which would allow for grants to municipalities to investment in air and water quality. In addition, the legislation creates a statutory framework for the Commonwealth to fight climate change and build resiliency, by coordinating efforts to prepare for climate change and extreme weather events, and publishing a state plan every five years for a statewide adaptation strategy.

The MMA is writing to provide comments on the following provisions:

Please Do Not Impose Solid Waste Mandates on Communities and Taxpayers
Cities and towns are currently facing significantly increased recycling costs, due to a policy change in China and other shifts in global and regional recycling markets. Section 101 of the Senate bill would impose costly mandates on cities and towns to meet waste reduction targets and increase the administrative burden on municipalities through new requirements. This language would direct the Department of Environmental Protection to establish performance standards for the reduction of municipal solid waste and would require municipalities to report information on solid waste disposal annually. In order to increase recycling rates and reduce solid waste, municipalities need the flexibility to determine what system is best for their particular community and should receive adequate funding from the state to institute comprehensive programs. Further, the reporting requirements would be difficult to comply with, especially for smaller communities that have limited staff.

Rather than legislation that imposes unfunded mandates on municipalities and their taxpayers, the MMA supports additional study to examine municipal solid waste and recycling operations and the impact of the changing markets. Currently, the market for reselling certain recycled materials has crashed, and communities are facing drastically increased costs, driven largely by a policy change in China that limits the amount of contaminants the country will allow in shipments of recyclable material. Section 101 would worsen the problem for cities and towns, and place infeasible new burdens on local taxpayers. With the supply of recyclables exceeding the demand, China’s new policy has severely altered the markets for recyclables, and is changing the financial dynamics for cities and towns negotiating recycling contracts – this is a major problem that should be thoroughly examined and understood by all stakeholders.

Please Oppose Restrictions on Local Land Use Transfers
The MMA opposes Section 71 of the Senate legislation which would codify a specific process for Article 97 land use transfers, sometimes known as the Public Lands Preservation Act. There is already a process in place for land use transfers that works well and allows for flexibility. In 1997, voters passed an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that established a clear process to protect public lands in the Commonwealth. This proposed PLPA language would instead place in statute a requirement that municipalities proposing a disposition or change in use of Article 97 natural resource land mitigate the loss by providing comparable replacement land, resulting in no net loss in protected land, and undergo a process with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs that would include a feasible alternatives study and a review of the replacement land. Land use transfers must already receive local approval by the municipal legislative body, and then go through a state process and passage of home-rule legislation at the State House.

EOEEA’s Article 97 Land Disposition Policy for protecting open space has served the Commonwealth well. Massachusetts now protects more than 1 million acres of land, which amounts to almost one fourth of all the land in the Commonwealth. Rather than imposing strict and one-size-fits-all language in statute, as Section 71 would do, a better alternative would be a collaborative review of the existing policy with the goal of clarifying the process for municipalities to follow when submitting proposals for Article 97 land dispositions. The MMA feels that the best solution is to update and clarify the current policy, rather than making statutory changes. A stakeholder group including representation from local government and other experts could help to shape the updated policy.

In addition, to ensure the preservation of our most critical natural resources, the state must employ a variety of tools, such as tax credits, increased capital investments in land protection, and enhanced voluntary land donations by private landowners. Much of this protected land would not have been preserved without the successful efforts of municipal governments to preserve local open space, through open space master plans, bond authorizations, and conservation restrictions.

Agricultural Composting Programs
The MMA supports section 6 and 7 of the Senate bill, which would place agricultural composting programs under the purview of the Department of the Environmental Protection. Given the Department’s experience with site assignment, track record on environmental issues and close working relationship with local officials, MMA feels that MassDEP is the most appropriate department to oversee agricultural composting programs and ensure compliance with the process under 310 CMR 16.00. In order for the state’s ambitious food waste reduction goals to be met through composting, including farm-based composting, the rules guiding this goal must have broad public support, and the public must be confident that the rules adequately protect public health.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on this important legislation. We appreciate your commitment to protecting the environment and combatting the impacts of climate change. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your staff contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Victoria Sclafani at 617-426-7272, ext. 161, at any time.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO