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About the Massachusetts Environmental Trust

Established in 1988, the Massachusetts Environmental Trust is best known as the organization that created the ‘Whale Plate".

Our Mission

It shall be the sole purpose of the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (“MET” or “the Trust”) to fund and coordinate projects to restore, protect and improve the quality of all Commonwealth waterways, to increase understanding of them and the effect of human activities upon them, and to encourage public involvement in activities which promote them as living resources and public treasures for present and future citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In particular, the Trust supports projects that advance conservation measures and understanding of marine life and of aquatic ecosystems.

Table of Contents

About the Trust

Grant making since 1988

The Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET/Trust) is a grantmaking organization housed within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA). It was originally established to ensure that $2 million in settlement funds, generated by the landmark federal lawsuit filed against the state for violating the Clean Waters Act, went directly to pollution remediation and water quality improvement projects in Boston Harbor and nearby coastal waters.

The Trust operates as an independent entity without tax dollars or legislative appropriations and is governed by a board of influential private citizens — many of whom are former public sector leaders and committed business executives. Through an annual competitive application process, MET awards grants to organizations whose programs support our mission to protect and conserve threatened marine animals and to preserve and restore river and estuarine ecosystems throughout the Commonwealth.

Today, programs funded by the Trust are as diverse as the ecosystems they help to protect and restore. From the preservation of at-risk marine mammals, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, to reducing nutrient pollution and controlling invasive species in our rivers and ponds, to supporting educational programs that shape our schoolchildren into tomorrow’s environmental stewards, a significant amount of Massachusetts’ progress in protecting our waterways and natural resources over the past 30 years can be traced back to the Trust.

At the time, our founding board members and trustees could not have imagined the lasting, widespread impact of the Trust on all the Commonwealth’s watersheds, rivers, bays, wildlife and marine life. What began three decades ago as a channel for funding to restore Boston Harbor has become an incredible source of connection, inspiration, and collaboration.

If you live, work or play near a Massachusetts river or stream; swim, fish or boat on Massachusetts’ harbors or bays; bike along our lakes and reservoirs; enjoy the beauty of our marshes and estuaries; or have seen a whale breach, you are a beneficiary of the Massachusetts Environmental Trust.

Enabling Legislation of the Trust

 MET was established as a state trust by the Legislature in Chapter 236, Section 7 of the Acts of 1988 to support the waters and water-related resources of the Commonwealth. The Trust is governed by a Board of trustees appointed by the Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs. Grant awards are made subject to 815 CMR 2.00.

MET Whale license plate

Funding the Program

The Original Settlement Grants

Grants exceeding $5.5 million were awarded for environmental remediation and education projects resulting from nearly 30 settlements. Restricted grants, funded by settlement monies totaling $5.5 million, were awarded up until 2012.

Following are descriptions of several grants that disbursed monies received from some of the largest settlements:

1988 – MassBays Program: $1,600,000

A significant portion of the Trust’s founding settlement was used to establish the Massachusetts Bays Program to support scientific research on Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays and to focus public attention on the state’s coastal resources. Seed money from the Trust helped to leverage federal support when the bays were added to the National Estuary Program in 1990 and launched an initiative to develop the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans (CCMPs). The MassBays Program continues to receive federal support and is administered by UMass Boston.

1990 – Belle Isle Marsh Restoration: $154,000

MET oversaw EPA fine money to lead the restoration at Belle Isle Marsh with the municipalities of Boston, Lynn, Revere, Saugus, and Winthrop. Funds were used to cover the cost of heavy equipment to remove mountains of debris including 25 tons of concrete, 225 tires from the pond, and a significant amount of trash. The Belle Isle Marsh, Boston’s last remaining salt marsh, and much of the Rumney Marsh, are managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

1992 – Commonwealth vs. General Electric Company: $75,000

MET awarded funding to, Goldman Environmental Consultants, to develop a statewide information program on the proper disposal of photochemical waste for small printing and graphic arts shops. This program became a catalyst for the industry’s work with the EPA to develop standardized practices and compliance procedures.

2000 – Commonwealth vs. Global Petroleum Corporation: $500,000

MET awarded settlement funds to GEOSYNTEC Consultants, Saugus River Watershed Council, and the City of Revere to provide planning, design, construction, operation, monitoring, and evaluation of measures to control discharges of contaminated stormwater to the Town Line Brook and to assist in the remediation of pollution because of under-regulated discharges of pollutants while also finding solutions to correct the problem without draining the public coffers. Town Line Brook flows through the cities of Revere, Malden, and Everett and serves as the headwater of the Pines River which is located within the Rumney Marsh and is designated as an area of critical environmental concern.

2000 – Commonwealth vs. Mass Bay Transportation Authority: $305,000

To align with a requirement that settlement funding be used to “identify, reduce or prevent water pollution, improve water quality or ameliorate the effects of water pollution.” Grants were awarded to the Charles River Watershed  Association (CRWA) and the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) for their “Find It and Fix It” project to identify and quantify problems in the watersheds caused by non-point source pollution, guide the remediation of nonpoint source pollution by working with municipalities and other landowners, and to educate the public on the impacts of stormwater runoff and on ways to help protect the river. Remediation solutions were instituted in numerous locations and today these activities continue to benefit the water quality of the watershed and Boston Harbor.

2001 – MassPIRG vs. ICI Americas, Inc.: $225,000

This settlement funded a collaborative education initiative by the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension, Bridgewater State College and the Taunton River Watershed. These entities worked together to develop and implement a pollution prevention curriculum involving 55 teachers and 17,000 students in 22 middle and high school systems in the Taunton and Mount Hope Bay watershed areas.

2009 – US vs. Exxon: $1,000,000

On April 30, 2009 the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to a 2006 spill of diesel fuel and kerosene into the Mystic River. The plea negotiated with the United States Attorney, The U.S. EPA, and the U.S. Coast Guard specified community service payments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. The $1 million payment to the Trust was mandated to support water quality improvements and/or wetlands restoration in the Lower Mystic River Watershed. Funds were directed to four organizations:


  1. Charles River Watershed Association was awarded $350,000 to construct and monitor several stormwater improvement projects in the Chelsea Creek sub-watershed.
  2. Groundwork Somerville was awarded $150,000 for the mechanical and hand harvesting of invasive Water Chestnut in areas of the Mystic River in Medford and Somerville.
  3. Mystic River Watershed Association was awarded $325,000 for the “Find It & Fix It” program, an integrated water quality monitoring and improvement program in the Lower Mystic River Watershed.
  4. Mystic Valley Development Commission was awarded $175,000 for the implementation of the restoration activities as outlined in the US Army Corps of Engineers Malden River Habitat Restoration Study.

The Trust not only proved the value of its model, it also helped bring awareness to a rising tide of concern on the state of Massachusetts’ natural resources. In response, the Trust began to expand its funding reach to support a wider and broader set of water related environmental challenges.

Massachusetts’ First Philanthropic License Plate Program

While many of Massachusetts’ citizens may not be familiar with the Trust, most all recognize our North Atlantic Right Whale and Roseate Terns environmental license plates and more recent Leaping Brook Trout and Blackstone Valley Mill license plates. Issued in 1994, MET was the first philanthropic organization in the state to partner with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to develop specialty plates. Today, all our revenue comes from our license plate program with the “whale plate” generating a large percentage of the Trust’s total annual income. In addition to enabling our mission and funding, The Trust’s four environmental plates create community among Massachusetts drivers who share both a love and sense of responsibility for our natural resources, marine animals and wildlife. By purchasing a plate, each driver is taking an active role in supporting the endangered North Atlantic right whales, restoring our fragile rivers and fish populations, and maintaining the life-sustaining link between our waterways and all who live in Massachusetts.

Board of Trustees

  • R.J. Lyman, Chairman
    • Member, Mintz Levin
    • Senior Advisor, ML Strategies
  • Arleen O'Donnell Vice President Eastern Research Group, Inc.
  • Dicken Crane (Windsor, MA)
    • President, Dicken Crane Logging
    • President and Manager, Holiday Farm, Inc.
  • John P. DeVillars (Boston, MA)
    • Senior Vice President, National Sales Organization TRC Companies, Inc.
  • Nathan L’Etoile
    • New England Director American Farmland Trust
  • Robert O’Leary (retired Senator)
    • Professor, Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  • Jeffrey R. Porter, Esq. (Boston, MA)
    • Environmental Law Practice Group Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.
  • Pamela P. Resor (Acton)
    • Retired-Massachusetts State Senator
    • Chair of the Committee on the Environmental, Natural Resources and Agriculture
collage of Whale tail at sunset, trout, woman scuba diving, toad

The Grants

Since its Inception, the Trust has Funded Nearly 1000 Projects and Awarded Over $28 Million. 

Funds generated from the “Preserve the Trust” specialty license plates and from environmental litigation settlements have provided awards in excess of $28,000,000 to more than 800 state-based environmental conservation efforts from at least 340 organizations. 

With grants ranging from $500 to $200,000 in each fiscal year, the Trust awards an average of $600,000 annually to non-profit organizations, educational institutions, municipalities, and state agencies in partnership with the Trust. Trust monies have helped advance the agendas of watershed alliances, conservation commissions, marine fisheries and habitat associations, and health and wellness programs in urban areas affected by polluted rivers, streams and waterways.  

Over the years, grant awards have prioritized Ecosystem Health and Biological Diversity, Endangered Species and Habitat Conservation, Human Health and the Environment, Environmental Education, Youth in Environmental Philanthropy and Environmental Monitoring. More recently the Trust has streamlined its grant focus to supporting at-risk marine animals and improving the natural systems that marine animals and freshwater wildlife rely on for survival.

The Trust is all about forging partnerships, supporting creative solutions for pressing environmental issues, ensuring a voice for Massachusetts on environmental policy decisions, and guaranteeing that Massachusetts water resources will be protected and managed wisely 

For the benefit of its citizens. The Trust is also one of the few state-based environmental philanthropies in the nation working as a non-partisan environmental advocate to ensure partnerships between the public and private sectors are developed and fostered while sustaining a cooperative and mutually supportive relationship with EEA and its divisions. And, of course, we would be nowhere without the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) Specialty Plate Department!

The Trust also exercises strategies for amplifying grants in which many recipients have used our grants as seed money to establish and expand programs that have inspired additional funding from federal, state, public and private entities. Trust awards provide matching funds whereby our grant recipients essentially double the size of their grant. These practices have created strong, collaborative funding partnerships that have reduced the need for state support while significantly increasing the return to the Massachusetts economy on every dollar invested by the Trust.

For example, from 1996-2000, The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution received $135,00 from MET to implement a collaborative northern right whale health assessment program to improve the understanding of factors that threaten the survival of these endangered whales. Studies involved nutritional and genetic aspects and the use of acoustic tags to measure the responses of whales to approaching vessels. 

Starting in 2000, MET launched the Community Foundation Endowment and Partnership Program providing $1 million for funding and capacity-building support to organizations like the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation Environmental Endowment Program where MET funds were matched by individuals in Berkshire County creating a reliable source of funding for small community-oriented projects related to water quality. The Crossroads Community Foundation Endowment Program used Trust funds to expand the Crossroads Environment and Community Initiative, creating $1.5 million in endowed funds to support environmental organizations.

Since 2005, UMass Amherst and Groundwork Lawrence received grants for the Spicket River Revitalization Project. Monies helped build community awareness of urban waterways and revitalization efforts, including the development of a bilingual People’s Guide to the Spicket River by area graduate students.

In 2014, MET helped the Town of Greenfield and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments leverage MET funds to secure additional funding to establish the Resilient Communities Coalition. The coalition worked to institute green infrastructure to manage stormwater and to develop a Climate Change Adaptation Report based on impacts from climate change on both a watershed and local scale. As part of a statewide effort to help protect the North Shore coastal communities from flooding, drought, and destructive storms, MET and the MassBays Program awarded $60,000 in 2018 to the Ipswich River Watershed Association to support a field assessment of the resiliency of dams and culverts in tidal areas. Now there is a The Tidal Crossing Manual available statewide.

In 2019, MET awarded a seed grant of $59,810 to the Falmouth Rod & Gun Club and the Sporting, Safety, Conservation and Education Fund for the Upper Childs River Restoration Project to restore abandoned cranberry bogs to their natural state as wetlands habitat for waterfowl, brook trout, and other fish and wildlife. Many partners came together to ensure the success of this   $3 million project.

How we Determine Which Programs Receive Grants

There are many worthy initiatives throughout the Commonwealth focused on preserving and restoring our waterways, marine life and natural habitats. Each application for a grant is carefully reviewed by the Advisory Committee drawn from academia, government, private industry and philanthropic organizations. It is comprised of scientists, educators, environmentalists, policymakers and experts specializing in the environment and water resources. Unfettered by restrictive guidelines on the missions or foci of the organizations or initiatives to be funded, the Advisory Committee considers the promise and value of each project that directly or indirectly leads to water-related environmental and/or health betterment and ensures that the process is fair and inclusive.  

Contact   for About the Massachusetts Environmental Trust


(617) 626-1181


Massachusetts Environmental Trust, EEA
100 Cambridge Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02114

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