Energy and the Environment
The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs seeks to protect, preserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s environmental resources while ensuring a clean energy future for the state’s residents. The Office houses departments and programs that promote and regulate the stewardship of open space, protection of environmental resources, and enhancement of clean energy.
Energy Committees and Green Communities
Many local Energy Committees were created in response to the Massachusetts Green Communities Act of 2008. The Act encouraged municipalities to create these committees in order to assist the state with meeting environmental benchmarks and to receive technical and financial assistance for complying with Green Communities (GC) certification. The Green Communities program is run by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and accepts and approves municipalities for GC designation and energy savings grants.
Of the CHNA9 communities, only Oakham and Sterling are not yet GC certified. Many environmental advocates have served on Energy Committees. The resources below describe the program in more detail.
Environmental Justice Communities
EJ communities are “high-minority/low-income neighborhoods in Massachusetts where residents are most at risk of being unaware of or unable to participate in environmental decision-making. They are defined as neighborhoods (U.S. Census Bureau census block groups) that meet one or more of the following criteria:
- The median annual household income is at or below 65% of the statewide median income for Massachusetts; or
- 25% of the residents are minority; or
- 25% of the residents are foreign born, or
- 25% of the residents are lacking English language proficiency.”
These neighborhoods are often in close proximity to contaminated and abandoned industrial sites and large sources of unhealthy air emissions. EJ community designation is often a bonus criterium for environmental and community development grants.
In CHNA9 Ayer, Fitchburg, Gardner, Hardwick, Harvard, Lancaster, Leominster, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend, Winchendon have designated EJ neighborhoods.
The state's Environmental Justice Policy
A brownfield is a property the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. With its long industrial history, and its decline, there are many brownfields in Massachusetts. US HUD has long-provided grants for clean-up of these properties. The
Regional Planning Agencies often help their member communities utilize these funds for assessment, engineering, and clean-up.
- Central MA map of brownfields
- The Brownfields Cleanup Program helps with the reuse of abandoned or under-used land to improve public health, the environment and the economy.
Water and Wastewater/Sewer
The largest public water and wastewater system in Massachusetts is the Mass Water Resource Authority (MWRA) serving 61 communities, mostly in metro Boston. In the CHNA9 region, Leominster and Clinton receive MWRA water, and Clinton and Lancaster receive MWRA wastewater services. Most other communities provide water and sewer services either through a town or city department, or a regional water and/or sewer district. There are strict rules for testing and reporting for public water systems, both to the US EPA and the Mass Deptartment of Environmental Protection. Wastewater Treatment Plant operations must meet state and federal standards, laws, and regulations. If the service is provided by a district, rather than town or city government, water and sewer services are paid by user fees and not included in the property tax bill. DEP has a range of grant and loan programs for water and sewer systems. Many rural communities have accessed loans or grants from the US Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development for building and upgrading water and sewer systems. Some very small towns have no public water supply or are only partially served by a public system. Residents and businesses in these towns get their water from private wells. The landowner is responsible for all costs with digging and maintaining the well. Private wells are regulated and inspected by the local board of health.
- Best Practice (public information):Town of Groton’s Sewer Commission webpage
- The Massachusetts Water Conservation Toolkit
- Massachusetts Guide to Private Well Quality Testing
Agriculture Commissions - Many communities created Agricultural Commissions during the last 20 years. Ag Coms have 3-7 members, a majority of which must be farmers or in a farm-related field, appointed by selectboards or mayors and serve for 3-year terms. They have broad authority to research, advocate for farm interests, educate, prepare plans, buy, manage or lease land for agricultural purposes, assist farmers in resolving municipal problems or conflicts related to farms, and prepare a comprehensive local agricultural land plan consistent with any current town master plan. Many Ag Coms are inactive but being re-invigorated by heightened interest in farming and recent flood and other threats to these local food supplies.
Right to Farm communities – In response to residential development spreading to areas that had been primarily agricultural, many communities adopted a Right to Farm by-law. The by-law encourages the pursuit of agriculture, promotes agriculture-based economic opportunities, and protects farmlands within the community by allowing agricultural uses and related activities to function with minimal conflict with abutters and town agencies.
At the state level, environmental and climate justice advocacy is done through proposed legislation. At the municipal level, ordinances are passed and local policies changed at public meetings or by various committees.