GSO’s Kenney and Nixon Receive EPA 2017 Environmental Merit Award

GSO's Robert Kenney and Scott Nixon.
GSO’s Robert Kenney and Scott Nixon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded an EPA 2017 Environmental Merit Award to the late Scott W. Nixon, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, and Robert D. Kenney, a marine research scientist at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, for their work as part of the Boston Harbor Outfall Monitoring Science Advisory Panel (OMSAP).

The OMSAP was critical to the success of the Boston Harbor cleanup and recovery. Established in 1998, the panel works to ensure that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) meets permit requirements and that the recovery of Boston Harbor is not accomplished at the expense of Massachusetts Bay.

The independent group of marine scientists advises the EPA and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) on the environmental effects of the discharge of about 320 million gallons per day from the MWRA’s Deer Island sewage treatment plant. The discharge is sent nine miles offshore into Massachusetts Bay—an “estuary of national significance” under EPA’s National Estuary Program. In the planning for the discharge location from the late 1980s into the 1990s, the public raised significant concerns about the potential effects of the discharge, especially the effects of nutrients on the food web that could adversely impact endangered species, especially the North Atlantic right whale.

Nixon was internationally renowned for his work involving coastal and estuarine ecosystems, notably the effects of nutrients in coastal waters. Kenney is a marine mammal and protected species expert, whose work on the critically endangered right whale provided the endangered species perspective needed on the OMSAP.

“There was great concern at the beginning about the possible effects of the new outfall on right whales in Massachusetts waters. The whales are still endangered and presently declining, but we can confidently say after two decades of monitoring that the MWRA outfall is not responsible,” said Kenney.

Nixon and Kenney are among a notable group: Other members of the OMSAP are Andrew Solow (retired chair), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI); Judith Pederson (interim chair), Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sea Grant; Michael Shiaris and Juanita Urban-Rich, both of the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Jim Shine, Harvard School of Public Health; Robert Beardsley, WHOI; Geoffrey Trussell, Northeastern University; and Norbert Jaworski, of the EPA Office of Research and Development (retired).

OMSAP’s most important work is evaluating revisions in the MWRA Outfall Monitoring Program, used as a model for overseeing wastewater discharges in other coastal ecosystems. “This program, with review by the OMSAP, is one of the best examples of adaptive management in New England. For almost 20 years, this independent group of highly regarded, dedicated and professional marine scientists has helped the government ensure that the outfall discharge does not cause adverse effects, and has provided accountability and credibility to the public. The Boston Harbor recovery is a great story, and without the OMSAP, one of the chapters would never have been written,” wrote the nominators for the EPA Award.

Every year, EPA’s New England office recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who have worked to protect or improve the region’s environment. The award recognizes extraordinary ingenuity and commitment.

“Citizens, businesses and organizations are going above and beyond to help protect people’s health and preserve our region’s environment,” said Deb Szaro, acting regional administrator of the EPA’s New England office. “Today we applaud these award winners who make our towns, cities and countryside healthy, more vibrant places with clean air, land and water. Many of these winners have shown us that good business and a clean environment go hand in hand.”

—Adapted from a URI Today news posting on May 3, 2017