MassDEP supports a wide range of efforts to address climate issues in Massachusetts. Ongoing changes that will continue to impact the quality of life in the Commonwealth include rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more frequent extreme weather events and sea level rise. MassDEP offers many programs to help address these impacts, as part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s overall climate efforts. Climate effects are addressed while meeting the agency's responsibilities in areas of monitoring and assessment, reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions, administering water centered programs to promote adaptation, supporting storm response and recovery efforts, providing mapping resources, and funding for climate preparedness and resiliency efforts. This guide provides an overview of those efforts.
- This page, MassDEP's Climate Work, is offered by
- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
MassDEP's Climate Work
Table of Contents
Monitoring & assessment
MassDEP is responsible for monitoring environmental conditions under a number of statutes. Collecting data on the state of the environment is a foundational step towards understanding the effects of a changing climate and predicting future conditions to enable informed planning, mitigation and adaptation efforts, and tracking progress toward meeting programmatic goals.
Surface Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment
MassDEP’s Watershed Planning Program’s Division of Watershed Management is responsible for evaluating the health of Massachusetts’ surface waters in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act. Program staff and citizen volunteers sample and analyze surface waters throughout the state and these data are used to prepare detailed reports on water quality, and restoration plans for water bodies that are impaired. Understanding the current condition of our waters, as well as historic water quality trends, helps to develop science based plans under different climate conditions and ensures healthy watersheds in the future.
Greenhouse Gas Tracking / Inventory
MassDEP maintains an inventory of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Massachusetts in accordance with the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. This work is an important part of quantifying progress in reducing GHG emissions in the Commonwealth, and informing policy tools to meet our Climate goals. Facility reporting of greenhouse gas emissions provides data that helps Massachusetts develop emission reduction targets and plans, and measure progress toward its Climate Action goals.
Vulnerability of Waste Sites
Increased flooding and storm damage from weather events strengthened by Climate Change pose a potential threat to conditions at hazardous waste sites where the cleanup is ongoing or where, after the cleanup, residual levels of oil or other hazardous materials remain on site (e.g., under a barrier). An assessment of sites done by MassDEP and students from Boston University estimated up to 20% of sites undergoing cleanup and up to 12% of sites with long-term systems in place to address pollution are at risk of flooding or storm damage that could worsen environmental conditions. MassDEP is incorporating the evaluation and mitigation of potential Climate Change vulnerabilities at waste sites into the Massachusetts Contingency Plan, the regulations that govern the assessment and cleanup of hazardous waste sites in the Commonwealth.
Collaborating with other states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Climatic changes are driven at a global scale, and Massachusetts is responding not only at the state level, but in collaboration with other states on a regional scale. By working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions programmatic efficiencies have been adopted, and the scale of potential reductions are amplified, with benefits created locally that will ultimately be seen on a regional, national and global scale.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among northeaster and mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from large fossil-fueled power plants. The regional initiative has been successful in reducing GHG in the participating states, reducing CO2 emissions from the power sector by more than 50% by 2018. Since 2008, RGGI has provided $500M for investment in strategic energy programs in Massachusetts, with the largest share (>85%) going to energy efficiency projects.
Programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts
MassDEP has worked to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts through a number of programs in a variety of regulated sectors. Mitigation efforts in the commonwealth were advanced with the enactment of the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008 that set emission reduction goals for the entire state. MassDEP implements important components of that Act and administers other regulatory and assistance programs to achieve emission reductions.
Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) Implementation
Greenhouse Gas Emission Limits The GWSA requires MassDEP to establish annual declining limits for GHG emissions in order to meet a goal of reducing emissions in Massachusetts to 25% below a baseline of 1990 emissions by the year 2020. The agency is also working to meet a net-zero emissions target by the year 2050. MassDEP has established regulatory limits for a number of sectors since the GWSA was enacted in 2008, and monitors overall progress in meeting the 2020 goal of 25% emissions reduction.
Reporting Greenhouse gas emissions The GWSA requires that all facilities emitting more than 5,000 short tons of CO2 equivalent per year report their emissions to MassDEP. Detailed reporting requirements are established in MassDEP implementing regulations. Retail sellers of electricity are also required to report emissions from generating the electricity that they sell to consumers in Massachusetts.
Electric & Low Emission Vehicles
In June 2018, Massachusetts along with the states of California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont released an updated Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Action Plan, reaffirming their commitment to work together on initiatives that:
- Increase consumer awareness of, and confidence in, ZEVs
- Make ZEVs more affordable and provide incentives for buying them; and<
- Support the development of charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure to keep ZEVs running.
Clean Energy Results Program
Renewable energy and energy efficiency can provide tremendous benefits to air quality and climate protection. They help reduce harmful air emissions, including Greenhouse Gas emissions, associated with the burning of fossil fuel. MassDEP’s Clean Energy Results Program strengthens the environment-energy connection by supporting MassDEP and Department of Energy Resources (DOER) efforts to reduce regulatory barriers and advance clean and energy efficient development and installation across the state.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities provide a number of benefits, including diversion of organics from disposal; generation of clean, renewable energy; reduction of greenhouse gases; reduction in costs for management of organics and/or sludge or manure; and generation of revenue. The Commonwealth has taken a number of actions to promote AD, both to manage farm wastes and to manage wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) residuals, in addition to food waste. MassDEP has worked closely with DOER and the Mass Clean Energy Center on these efforts. Those actions include:
- Regulations specific to AD facilities to provide a clear permitting pathway
- Incentives such as the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)
- Grant and loan opportunities
- Organics waste ban and guidance
The application and use of green and sustainable approaches for site assessment and remediation help to eliminate or reduce the overall net environmental footprint of cleanup activities to the maximum extent possible. Green and sustainable remediation addresses five core elements or factors for reducing the environmental footprint of a cleanup including:
- Minimizing total energy use while maximizing the use of renewable energy;
- Minimizing emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants;
- Minimizing water use and impacts to water resources;
- Reducing, reusing and recycling materials and waste; and
- Avoiding or reducing adverse impacts to ecosystems and land resources.>
Environmental Justice And Climate Resiliency
The impacts of climate change will affect vulnerable populations in Massachusetts. Using the Environmental Justice lens to focus on sectors of our population that have limited income for recovery efforts, have limited English language capabilities, or live in areas that have high numbers of minority residents, MassDEP strives to provide access to information and services to meet local needs. Vulnerability that stems from social factors can be amplified when impacts from climate change disrupt lives of those in those geographic areas.
Natural resources & water - centered adaptation programs
Living with and adapting to rising temperatures, changing patterns of precipitation, extreme weather events, and sea level rise are all challenges for MassDEP's water programs. From protecting wetlands systems that provide natural flood attenuation and prevent storm damage, addressing changes in water quality that come with higher temperatures, preparing for drought conditions as well as flash floods, ensuring a sustainable framework for large scale water withdrawals, and anticipating sea level rise, MassDEP's work in this area is comprehensive and deep.
The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act protects important water-related lands such as wetlands, floodplains, riverfront areas, and other areas from destruction or alteration. Under the Act, no one may “remove, fill, dredge, or alter” any wetland, floodplain, bank, land under a water body, land within 100 feet of a wetland, or land within 200 feet of a perennial stream or river (25 feet of a few urban rivers), without a permit (known as an Order of Conditions) from the local conservation commission that protects the wetland “interests” identified in the Act. MassDEP issues and administers regulations under the Act (310 CMR 10.00), and related guidance and policy documents
River and Stream Continuity Project
In 2004 MassDEP began working with the River & Stream Continuity Partnership, led by UMass Extension to develop the first draft of the Massachusetts River and Stream Crossing Standards. In 2014, MassDEP incorporated an updated version River and Stream Crossing Standards developed by the partnership into the Wetlands Regulations. The standards are important to designing crossings that allow movement of water and passage of fish and other wildlife species. Sizing and other design elements can improve habitat continuity, and increase the resilience of built crossing structures to stresses of precipitation, flash flooding and erosion – all of which are exacerbated by climate change. MassDEP also provides technical assistance to communities conducting stream crossing assessments or proposing culvert repair or replacement work.
MassDEP participates with other Massachusetts state and federal officials in the Drought Management Task Force which collects and assesses data for drought management and makes recommendations related to drought conditions, minimization and management to the Secretary of EEA, the Secretary of Public Safety and Security, and the Governor.
Sustainable Water Management (WMA)
The Water Management Act program oversees large volume water withdrawals in the commonwealth. In 2014, MassDEP promulgated revised Water Management Act regulations that adopted a new methodology for defining Safe Yield and incorporating stream flow criteria into in Water Management Act permits. MassDEP implements the permitting requirements for new groundwater sources and increases in groundwater withdrawals from existing sources. The permitting process includes evaluation of the impacts of withdrawals on streamflow during periods of flood and drought and consideration of offsets and mitigation measures.
Natural Resource Damages (NRD) Restoration Projects
MassDEP develops claims on behalf of the Secretary of EOEEA for damages to natural resources such as fish, wildlife, wetlands and groundwater. Claims that are brought for damages to natural resources in Massachusetts can be resolved with commitments to fund and complete restoration projects. NRD settlements frequently have components related to climate change mitigation/adaptation (e.g. wetlands restoration, damage removal/fish passage, culvert replacement). To ensure that NRD restoration investments such as land conservation and wetland restoration can deliver climate adaptation and/or resiliency benefits to the public MassDEP works to:
- Quantify the restoration, adaptation and/or resilience benefits provided
- Identify stewardship opportunities to improve or protect these benefits or monitoring activities to better quantify these benefits; and
- Develop criteria to evaluate future NRD projects that can provide these benefits
The use and development of Massachusetts' tidelands—a vitally important public resource—is governed by the Public Waterfront Act. The Act is implemented through the waterways regulations, which regulate activities on both coastal and inland waterways, including construction, dredging, and filling of tidelands, certain rivers, and other waterbodies. To protect the interests of the Commonwealth in these areas, MassDEP is responsible for reviewing and issuing licenses for structures and uses on tidelands to ensure they serve "water-dependent uses or otherwise serve a proper public purpose."
Stormwater Management / Low Impact Development
As climate changes bring more precipitation in more intense intervals, stormwater management becomes more challenging. The 2016 Massachusetts Small MS4 General Permit took effect on July 1, 2018. The permit mandates enhanced stormwater management programs. Each covered municipality is required to customize its local ordinances, bylaws, practices, and procedures to take into consideration Low Impact Development (LID) and green infrastructure (GI), and other factors that may affect the creation of impervious cover improvements by June 30, 2022. MassDEP provides outreach and technical assistance to the over 200 municipalities subject to the permit.
Water Utility Resilience Program
MassDEP's Water Utility Resilience Program has assisted municipal resilience efforts to improve their capacity to provide continuous service in the reality of changing climatic conditions and aging infrastructure. The program supports a variety of efforts ranging from critical infrastructure mapping and emerging contaminants assistance to emergency preparedness and security training. These efforts help to assess backup power capacity, provide support for critical infrastructure operations during and after severe weather events, and facilitate related climate resilience planning, response and recovery efforts.
Water Utilities and Energy Assistance
Since 2007 MassDEP has worked with EPA, DOER and MassCEC, energy utilities, UMass Amherst, The Mass. Renewable Energy Trust, and the consortium for Energy Efficiency as well as others, to improve the energy efficiency of drinking water and wastewater systems in the commonwealth, and support the generation of clean energy by those systems. The program has evolved from supporting the use of energy audits, roundtable meetings, and project implementation assistance, to grant programs designed to fill the gaps in financing that are critical to moving efficiency and clean energy generation efforts forward. The effort is part of the Clean Energy Results Program.
Results from studies in Massachusetts and several related national and international research programs have identified the detrimental effects of nutrient enrichment and eutrophication in coastal waters including large-scale declines of seagrass meadows. These studies suggest that seagrass can potentially serve as sentinels of coastal environmental change associated with natural and anthropogenic disturbances. With appropriate temporal and spatial scaling, monitoring environmental quality and mapping the changes in seagrass distribution and abundance can provide scientists and managers with tools for detecting and diagnosing environmental conditions responsible for the loss or gain of seagrasses. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) initiated a statewide "eelgrass change analysis program" in 1994. The program is now administered under a cooperative agreement with the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Improving Water Quality through 208 Plan Support on Cape Cod
The "208 Plan," certified by Governor Baker to improve water quality on Cape Cod, emphasizes local decision-making to determine the best, most cost-effective solutions to reduce nitrogen pollution. The plan encourages communities to share treatment systems to reduce costs, and supports innovation and natural solutions where possible. In certifying the plan, Governor Baker also directed MassDEP to develop a watershed-based permitting program to provide communities flexibility in their efforts to address water quality issues in their watersheds. These efforts may also address concurrent impacts on water quality from climate change, which include higher water temperatures and amplification of conditions conductive to eutrophication.
MassDEP's GIS unit works within the state GIS office to provide maps of the commonwealth. These resources are invaluable to state agencies, local governments and citizens to understand the climate driven changes now occurring, as well as changes predicted in the future. GIS maps can specifically be used to identify vulnerabilities in the natural and built environment, plan adaptive measures and projects, respond to and recover from extreme weather events.
MassDEP's Water Utility Resilience Program (WURP) has provided municipal technical support through its voluntary Critical Infrastructure GIS Mapping Initiative. The support includes direct assistance to public drinking water and wastewater systems through developing and updating their system infrastructure maps using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This initiative has provided GIS map development and updates for 120 drinking water and wastewater systems in 73 municipalities across the Commonwealth from 2017 through 2019. All participating systems receive both a digital image and hard copy paper map of their respective water distribution or sewer collection system, along with the GIS data and a GIS metadata description report to use in enhanced asset management, emergency response and resilience planning. Additional system mapping is anticipated during 2020, as well as public access to statewide service area delineations for community public water and wastewater systems.
Clean Energy Results Program
Renewable energy and energy efficiency both provide tremendous benefits to air quality and climate protection. They help reduce harmful air emissions, including Greenhouse Gas emissions, associated with the burning of fossil fuel. MassDEP's Clean Energy Results Program strengthens the environment-energy connection by supporting MassDEP and Department of Energy Resources (DOER) efforts to reduce regulatory barriers and advance clean and energy efficient development and installation across the state.
Wastewater Capacity Assessments
Many of Massachusetts' treatment facilities have now reached their expected design life, and many sewer systems have exceeded their life expectancy. As our valuable infrastructure begins to show its age, it becomes critically important to engage in preventive maintenance activities and to conduct capital planning activities. MassDEP provides outreach to local officials to stress the importance and value of properly maintaining wastewater infrastructure. Additionally, capacity needs change over time – as a system ages, as additional connections are made, and as climatic conditions and water usage changes. MassDEP's regulations require that all sewer authorities develop and implement an ongoing plan to control infiltration and inflow (I/I) to their sewer systems, including a requirement to submit an I/I analysis by the end of 2017. MassDEP provides compliance assistance to system operators whose permits require that they address capacity issues (e.g., excessive I/I). Capacity can be stressed with increased stormwater volumes, as well additional inflow into pipes from changes in groundwater levels. Planning for resilient infrastructure of wastewater systems is more challenging with changing climate conditions.
Mapping Vulnerable Wetlands for Stormwater Management
As part of a Wetland Program Development Grant through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), MassDEP developed a project that defined, identified, and mapped vulnerable wetlands in Upper Charles River and Upper Neponset River communities. This projected helped provide stormwater management planning tools for towns subject to the Municipal Separate Storm and Sewer System (MS4) General Permit and provided technical assistance to better protect vulnerable wetlands from stormwater pollution. MassDEP developed a set of unique vulnerable wetlands GIS maps for each community, and provided technical training and outreach on how to use the maps for stormwater management planning. In addition to illustrating impaired waters, these maps identified the location of vulnerable wetlands in the community's developed areas and stormwater outfalls. Communities can determine potential sources of impairment and plan the appropriate placement for, and type of, stormwater control practices that are best for protecting these resources and reducing phosphorus loading to the Charles and Neponset Rivers.
Additional Resources for GIS mapping
Funding & support for climate preparedness & resiliency
Financing climate related work through grant and loan programs has been an area of MassDEP focus in a variety of programs. Traditional longstanding grant and loan programs have been used with the challenges of climate adaptation and mitigation in mind, and new programs have been developed to meet emerging needs.
State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) for Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure
MassDEP administers the SRF programs which provide financial support for a variety of water and wastewater projects, including drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities and stormwater pollution controls. The SRF offers affordable loan options to cities and towns to help protect their clean water and drinking water. SRF-funded projects that incorporate water efficiency and green infrastructure will help make communities more resilient to a changing climate. Projects to adapt existing infrastructure in a variety of ways to changing climatic conditions can also be supported.
Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure
MassDEP administers two grant programs - the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP) and MassCleanDiesel Program- aimed at putting more municipal hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, and reducing emissions from diesel vehicles that are already in use, both on the road and off. MassEVIP helps eligible public entities acquire electric vehicles and install charging stations for their fleets, and helps employers acquire electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The MassCleanDiesel Program has provided grants to convert diesel refrigeration units (that can run 24 hours a day) with electric replacements, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
CERP Gap Funding Grants
The Gap Energy Grant Program supports the installation of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at public drinking water and wastewater facilities. The grant program was designed to leverage other sources of funding, such as energy utility incentives, to help move projects forward that were identified in completed energy assessments. During the two rounds of Gap Funding Program grants (2014 & 2018), 67 drinking water and wastewater facilities were awarded more than $5.7 million, jump-starting more than $28 million in project upgrades and installations, and saving communities more than $2.5 million in annual electrical costs. These 67 projects are estimated to generate approximately 24,195 megawatt-hours in annual electricity savings or on-site energy generation, sufficient to power 3,184 households and reduce carbon emissions by 17,977 metric tons. At the end of State Fiscal Year 2020, 89 % of the Gap II Energy projects were completed and grant funds dispersed. This represents $3.3 million of grant disbursements to 32 communities, including $1.15 million of critical funding disbursed during the COVID-19 period. Gap Funding Program grants were made available by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) through Alternative Compliance Payments from retail electricity suppliers and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).
Water Utility Resilience Program
Financial assistance provided through this program includes: identifying helpful and practical resiliency resources, finding opportunities for local and regional partnerships, offering infrastructure mapping and adaptation planning assistance, and coordinating training opportunities. Over three years (and $1.3 million) of mapping assistance has been provided to create GIS maps of water utility systems.
Water Management Act Grants
This grant program is designed to assist eligible public water suppliers and municipalities with Water Management Act permit compliance by providing funds for planning assistance, demand management, and withdrawal impact mitigation projects in local communities. The Department has determined that the focus of these grants will be for: 1) planning projects for specific watersheds or subwatersheds to identify implementation projects to improve ecological conditions; 2) conservation projects aimed to reduce the demand for water within a municipality or a watershed, such as rate studies or drought resiliency planning; and 3) withdrawal mitigation projects that address the following: improve or increase instream flow, wastewater projects that keep water local, stormwater management projects that improve recharge, reduce impervious cover and/or improve water quality, water supply operational improvements, habitat improvement, demand management, reduction of wastewater inflow and infiltration, and other projects that can be demonstrated to mitigate the impacts of water withdrawals.
Stormwater Grants for MS4 Compliance
This grant program, introduced in 2017, enables groups of Massachusetts municipalities to expand their efforts to meet requirements of the 2016 Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit, and to reduce stormwater pollution through coordinated partnerships that emphasize resource sharing.
Clean Water Act Section 319 Grants (Non Point Source)
This grant program is authorized under Section 319 of the federal Clean Water Act for implementation projects that address the prevention, control, and abatement of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. Increased and more intense patterns of precipitation will exacerbate NPS pollution in some areas. Generally, eligible projects must implement measures that address the prevention, control, and abatement of NPS pollution and target the major source(s) of nonpoint source pollution within a watershed or subwatershed.
Wetlands Circuit Rider Assistance
Wetlands Circuit Riders provide technical and regulatory assistance, training and outreach to conservation commissions, other local officials, wetland permit applicants and their consultants, environmental groups, watershed associations and state and federal agency staff. Circuit Rider trainings cover a wide range of subjects geared to the needs of local officials many of which are related to climate effects and wetlands management for natural resiliency. Frequent topics include: field plant identification and wetland delineation, stormwater control, guidance on municipal enforcement actions, exempt activities, site plan reading and interpretation, permit procedures, how to use the on-line eDEP forms, and guidance on how to assess project development issues for compliance with environmental performance standards.
Additional Resources for Funding & support for climate preparedness & resiliency
Emergency response & storm recovery
Emergency Response and Preparedness
Extreme weather events, which are predicted to increase due to climate change, typically contribute to spills and other releases of oil and hazardous materials to the environment. Flooding causes waste and fuel storage tanks to breach, and whenever our transportation infrastructure is impacted by extreme weather there is an increased risk of spills from trucks and trains that transport harmful materials. The Emergency Response Program at MassDEP responds to releases and threats of release of oil and hazardous materials to the environment on a 24/7 basis. The Emergency Response Program's actions include approving, directing, and otherwise ensuring that adequate response actions are taken to contain the incident/spill, and in certain cases MassDEP will deploy its Field Assessment & Support Team (FAST) mobile response unit and/or activate a state-funded contractor for deployment anywhere in the state within 2 hours of being notified.
Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan
MassDEP contributed to this innovative Plan that integrates statewide hazard mitigation planning with climate adaptation planning. Governor Baker's Executive Order 569 called on EOEEA and EOPS to lead the effort to create the first in the nation Integrated Hazard and Climate Planning. An agency specific analysis of adaptive capacity, as well as vulnerabilities and strengths were compiled with other agency input to create the statewide plan that was released in September 2018.
Water Utility Resilience Program
MassDEP's Water Utility Resilience Program collaborates with MassDEP's Emergency Preparedness Officer and other partners to coordinate appropriate emergency response and preparedness training opportunities for the regulated community within the water sector. This includes standardized, all-hazards Incident Command System (ICS) training, which represents the required guidelines of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) framework.
Debris management – solid waste
MassDEP maintains a MEMA management plan for debris management entitled "All Hazards Disaster Debris Management Plan". This webpage also includes checklists for local disaster debris management, a list of contractors who can provide disaster debris monitoring and management, guidance on disposal of tree debris and stockpiling tree debris after natural disasters, and bird and animal carcass management planning. This site also provides information specifically for local governments.