Briefcase Departments


Local River Advocates Join
National Trend with EPA Lawsuit
GREENFIELD — Last fall, the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) joined the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and eight other watershed groups from across Massachusetts to file suit against the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt in Boston’s federal district court. Their request of the court is simple: reject EPA’s one-year delay in implementing Massachusetts’ new stormwater permit because stormwater is one of the greatest threats to clean water in Massachusetts. This lawsuit is part of a growing national trend in suing the EPA in order to protect the environment. The CRC argues that Pruitt and the EPA have been hastily rolling back environmental regulations, but mistakes have been made in their haste and disregard for legal process, such as failing to hold required public comment periods or provide rationale for a repeal or delay. Now, environmental groups across the nation are going to court and using these mistakes to successfully halt environmental rollbacks. For example, the courts have prevented the suspension of rules to curb methane emissions and the delay of tougher standards on air pollutants and lead in paint. River advocates fear the updated stormwater permit could be delayed much longer than one year. “We think the EPA’s legal case is fundamentally flawed,” said Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Connecticut River Conservancy. “Pruitt and the EPA have asked for this delay while permit appeals are being decided, but then in the same breath also asked the court to delay judicial review of the appeals. It is clear that EPA is looking at every maneuver they can find to stop doing the right thing for the public’s water.” The river groups are represented by Kevin Cassidy of Earthrise Law Center and Access to Justice Fellow Irene Freidel. Of particular concern is the public-health issue of harmful bacteria flowing to rivers when it rains. About one in five water samples collected by CRC and partners in 2017 from the Connecticut River and tributaries in Massachusetts showed bacteria levels too high for recreation (swimming and/or boating). “Delaying the implementation of this updated permit puts our rivers and our water at risk, which also put our citizens and local economies that use and rely on our rivers at risk,” Fisk continued. “The EPA is charged with implementing the Clean Water Act for the benefit of the public, yet it did not weigh the public’s interest when it slammed the brakes on the MS4 Permit.” That permit regulates stormwater pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. The current MS4 permit was issued in 2003 and was set to expire on May 1, 2008. Instead, it has been administratively continued and remains in effect. A multi-year, multi-stakeholder process for updating the expired permit began in 2008. In April 2016, the EPA issued the updated MS4 permit after many rounds of public comment. The updated permit was set to go into effect on July 1, 2017 but was abruptly delayed by Pruitt and the EPA just two days before that date. The delay will cause existing stormwater projects to move forward with outdated stormwater controls, forcing costly upgrades in the future rather than the lower-cost option of adding updated controls at the time of construction, river advocates say. The delay also ignores the time and money invested by cities and towns that have already implemented new stormwater protection measures in preparation for the new permit to take effect last July. Stormwater is generated from rain and snowmelt that does not soak into the ground. Instead, it flows over land or impervious surfaces, such as paved streets and driveways, parking lots, and building rooftops into storm drains. During heavy rains, stormwater can flow directly into rivers. Common pollutants in stormwater runoff include antifreeze, detergents, fertilizers, gasoline, household chemicals, oil and grease, paints, pesticides, harmful bacteria, road salt, trash such as plastics and cigarette butts, ammonia, solvents, and fecal matter from pets, farm animals, and wildlife.

Creative Community Fellows
Accepting New England Applications
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — National Arts Strategies (NAS) announced that applications for the Creative Community Fellows program are now open to those living and working in the New England region. NAS is looking for artists, community organizers, administrators, and entrepreneurs who are driving positive change through arts and culture in their communities. Applications are due Sunday, April 22. Creative Community Fellows brings together a group of 25 creative change makers across New England. Fellows will jump-start the program by living and learning together in Vermont for one week in an incubator-like environment, building their skills in strategy, leadership, and design thinking. Over the course of five months, they will take monthly online courses in topic areas such as community development, finding capital and support, budgeting, and more. Together, they will share updates on their projects and meet with leaders in the field who will serve as mentors. Fellows are curious, open, collaborative, and interested in learning new skills and sharing their expertise. They are already doing this work and looking to create and even greater impact. The Barr Foundation has brought this program to New England in order to support creative leaders in the region. Thanks to its support, participation in this program is completely underwritten. “Arts and creativity can play a vital role in engaging communities to spark positive change. It’s our privilege to partner with National Arts Strategies to network and support the development of New England change agents who are artists and leaders across sectors,” said San San Wong, director of Arts & Creativity at the Barr Foundation.

Massachusetts Adds
13,700 Jobs in February
BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in February, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 13,700 jobs in February. Over the month, the private sector added 13,100 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services; construction; trade, transportation, and utilities; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and financial activities. The jobs level remained unchanged in leisure and hospitality. From February 2017 to February 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 39,100 jobs. The February unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta noted that “2017 was the first time since 2000 in which the monthly unemployment rate remained below 4% for the entire year in the Commonwealth. Our low unemployment rate, coupled with over-the-year job and labor-force gains, all point towards the continued strength of the Massachusetts economy.” The labor force increased by 10,000 from 3,659,600 in January, as 9,500 more residents were employed and 500 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in February 2017. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — is up one-tenth of a percentage point at 65.4%. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased by two-tenths of a percentage point compared to February 2017. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; and other services. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development also announced that, compared to February 2017, unemployment rates dropped in 22 labor-market areas, increased in one, and remained the same in one labor-market area. Twelve of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published added jobs from February 2017 to February 2018, with the largest percentage gains in the Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Leominster-Gardner, and Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead areas.