Legislation

Federal Legislation to Save Our Sound

The Alliance is seeking federal legislation to permanently protect and preserve Nantucket Sound as well as safeguard traditional uses like fishing and recreation. The bill – the Nantucket Sound National Historic Landmark Act (NSNHLA) – would designate Nantucket Sound a National Historic Landmark to recognize its historic, environmental, and economic values. It would prohibit the federal government from authorizing industrial projects and any activities in the Sound that are inconsistent with protections that exist today under state law (see MOSA). The bill would also provide significant environmental protections to address diminished water quality, coastal erosion, habitat degradation and other climate change effects.

Stakeholder Support

Since beginning our preservation campaign, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has united a group of nearly 100 stakeholder organizations to support this legislation. The Alliance has reached out to dozens of local, state, tribal, and federal stakeholders over the last three years to create a progressive bill that meets the current and urgent needs for Nantucket Sound and does so in ways that affirmatively advance Biden Administration initiatives on 30 by 30, climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice.

Support for the NSNHLA

The Nantucket Sound National Historic Landmark Act (NSNHLA) has been revised over 50 times to meet the needs of the many stakeholders that support it. These organizations represent tens of thousands of individuals and include environmental groups, tribal entities, renewable energy developers, commercial fishermen, municipalities, historic preservation groups, elected officials, and many others. The bill has widespread and enthusiastic support, no opposition from any stakeholder organization, and is needed to provide the meaningful protections that this important natural resource lacks today.

We are grateful to our Congressional delegation, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and the Cape Cod Legislative Delegation for the Commonwealth for supporting this effort. You can read these letters of support here and find our full list of stakeholders here.

Stakeholder input from extensive outreach has strengthened the NSNHLA in several key ways:

The bill has been revised to emphasize climate change, renewable energy, water quality, coastal erosion, and ocean conservation. These policy statements put Massachusetts at the forefront of national efforts to address these pressing issues and show the Commonwealth is prepared to take creative steps to achieve urgent policy goals.

The bill directs EPA to assess and document the need to designate the Sound as an Estuary of National Significance under the Clean Water Act to bring it into the National Estuary Program (NEP). 28 bodies of water around the country (e.g., Buzzards Bay, Narragansett Bay, Long Island Sound) are already included in the NEP and benefit from federal funding. Nantucket Sound is the most significant body of water in the country that is not covered – denying the region the environmental benefits of this program.

The bill also requires the EPA to study climate change and sea level rise effects on the coastal zone of Nantucket Sound and recommend actions to enhance the resilience of the zone to these effects.

The NSNHLA not only allows wave and tidal renewable energy projects to be sited within the Sound, but it also affirmatively supports and explores that potential by requiring a study for installing such technology. The bill directs the Department of Energy, in consultation with the Commonwealth and with an opportunity for public review, to assess the feasibility of wave and tidal energy projects in Nantucket Sound.

The bill expresses that the protections afforded to Nantucket Sound qualify its waters as “conserved” consistent with the Administration’s goal of conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. The status accorded to the Sound would add 750 square miles of new conservation area, making a large and important contribution to this policy initiative.

The bill’s increased protection for and recognition of Wampanoag history in the Sound is in furtherance of the strong national movement and Administration’s policy to recognize the importance of Native American heritage and protection of important areas of tribal cultural and religious significance.

The bill extends the jurisdiction of Massachusetts to Nantucket Sound for limited purposes—specifically, the Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuaries Act and the Act to Promote Energy Diversity. This has already been done for fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act because of the unique geographic configuration of the Sound as federal water almost entirely enclosed by State waters. The bill requires federal authority to be exercised in a manner that is consistent with existing state law.

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