Taking a Bite out of Global Warming Pollution

Nov 17, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

VPG-001-Logo_StyleGuide1dTackling global warming pollution is the biggest environmental challenge of our generation. That’s why CLF is partnering with environmental, business, and low-income leaders in Vermont to launch an effort to tax carbon pollution and save Vermonters money.

If polluters pay, Vermonters save.

Click here to join our campaign and sign a petition to Vermont’s legislators.

We did our homework. An economic study shows that putting a price on carbon, returning 90% of the money to Vermonters pockets and also reinvesting the remaining 10% in clean energy solutions reduces pollution and grows the Vermont economy.

It’s the best cash-back offer in decades. Less pollution, lower energy bills, and a healthy New England for us and our kids.

You can read the economic report here.

While action at the federal level makes sense, we cannot wait for Congress to act. There are benefits now to reducing carbon pollution in Vermont. We can take control of our energy future and save Vermonters money.

To learn more about the Energy Independent Vermont plan, click here.

 

Keeping Out Citizens

Nov 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

courtesy of Jeff@flickr.com

courtesy of Jeff@flickr.com

Regulatory decisions, like democracies, and even social events, generally benefit from broad participation. It is rare that the input from a wide range of interests doesn’t improve the outcome.

In regulatory matters, allowing broad participation is particularly helpful when the folks who usually participate have already reached an agreement. The only opportunity to hear another perspective is by letting others into the process.

Recently, the Shumlin administration in Vermont opposed CLF participating in a public utility proceeding that would determine if Vermont Gas violated a rule requiring them to give notice of significant cost increases, and an appropriate penalty. It was perhaps the first time in Vermont that the entity representing the public opposed CLF’s participation in a public utility proceeding.

It is particularly troubling because Vermont Gas and the Public Service Department have already reached an agreement. Without the participation of others, the proceeding will essentially be listening to one hand clapping. The Board is bound by law to base a decision on the evidence it receives. If all the evidence supports one outcome, there is no question what the result will be.

CLF has actively participated in a range of utility matters in Vermont and throughout New England for decades. As an environmental organization, we have highlighted economic, legal and governance issues that affect our power supply and our environment. In years of litigating about Vermont Yankee, and Seabrook before that, CLF argued the poor economics and heavy burdens these facilities placed on our region’s energy supply. When Vermont Yankee sought to operate for an additional 20 years, CLF provided regulators with evidence about the management’s untrustworthiness that had bearing on its ability to operate the facility and follow the law.

The coziness of the Shumlin administration and Vermont Gas suggests additional input should be welcome. We are all poorer if citizens are shut out of the very processes that decide the future of our energy supply.

Gas Pipeline – A Poor Choice

Oct 29, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of garlandcannon@flickr.com

photo courtesy of garlandcannon@flickr.com

A healthy sign of maturity is making decisions that recognize longer term benefits and impacts. This holds particularly true for our energy decisions.

In a field as rapidly transforming as our energy sector, it is important to avoid making long term decisions that burden future generations with higher costs and pollution.

The steady march of proposals to build expensive new natural gas pipelines is one example. These are pipelines that will be in place for fifty to one hundred years – long past the time that climate change demands we move away from fossil fuels.

Customers will be paying for these new pipelines for at least fifty years. That is a long time. Kicking the can down the road and burdening future generations masks the real costs of these new pipelines.

Most Vermonters wouldn’t attempt to buy a car now with a 50 year loan. Sure the cost each month may be low, but even frugal Vermonters don’t expect to be driving the same car in 50 years, or saddling their kids with paying for it, and its inefficient fuel use half a century from now.

When the ballooning cost of the Vermont Gas pipeline to Middlebury soared by 40% the project proponents simply pushed the cost of the project on to future generations and then claimed the long payback justified the exorbitant cost increase.

Long term energy investments like a new gas pipeline need to make sense in the face of changing technology. If we simply ignore or gloss over the rapid improvements that new technology brings, we will be left investing in the equivalent of rotary telephones or typewriters when society has moved well beyond them.

Technology innovation and climate change demand that we take a much harder look at expanding our reliance on the use of fossil fuels. Lighting efficiency has improved ten-fold in the past few years thanks to LEDs. At the same time, cold climate heat pumps are rapidly becoming a cleaner and lower cost option for heating and cooling our homes and businesses. The cost of solar power has come down 90% in the past two decades and more homes, businesses and communities are taking advantage of this renewable option.

How does natural gas stack up to these newer, cleaner resources over the long haul? Not very well. That is why it is so disappointing to see Vermont Gas continue to claim that their projects provide benefits when their analysis is only short-term and based on a comparison to oil or propane. In 1974 an electric typewriter looked pretty good. By 1984 it was beginning to gather dust and was out of use entirely less than ten years later.

Addressing climate change demands a similar longer term and more realistic evaluation. If natural gas is expected to be a bridge fuel we rely on for only a few decades, then Vermont customers should not be asked to subsidize a new pipeline for more than 50 years. If a new pipeline is capable of delivering gas that could support a new gas-fired electric generating facility or increased gas use throughout Vermont and New York , then it fails to meet our long-term greenhouse gas reduction needs. And if the supply of gas comes from sources that use hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which produces more air and water pollution, then Vermonters use of gas is not helping the environment, it only exports environmental problems to other communities.

Vermonters deserve energy supplies that are clean, low cost and effective for generations. The rapid transformation of our energy sector means we have the opportunity now to move away from expensive and polluting fossil fuels more quickly than ever– but only if we make decisions based on realistic evaluations that recognize impacts over the long term.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday October 26, 2014 edition of the Rutland Herald / Times Argus 

 

 

The Future of Energy Efficiency

Oct 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

StakeholderEngagement_PostcardEnergy efficiency continues to be our cleanest and lowest cost energy resource.

But efficiency doesn’t just happen. At five community forums in Vermont over the next two weeks, folks can come for dinner and conversation and help guide Vermont’s efficiency efforts.

The forums are FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and will be from 6 – 7:30 p.m.

What works? What could be better? What would you like to see to make energy efficiency play a bigger role in your life, the life of your community, and in helping Vermont reach its 90% renewable goal by 2050?

Come join for dinner and conversation with your neighbors.

You can learn more and sign up here.

10/27     St. Albans,

10/28     Barre

10/29     Lyndonville

11/5       Bennington

11/6       Brattleboro

For every dollar we spend, we save $3 to $4. In 2013 alone, Vermont met over 13% of its electric supply needs with efficiency and saved Vermonters over $158 million dollars.

A recent score-card shows New England leading the way on energy efficiency. Massachusetts is ranked #1 and Vermont and Rhode Island – two small states – tie for #3.

Come help Vermont reach for the stars and make sure our energy efficiency efforts are meeting YOUR needs.

Climate Change March 2014

Sep 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Climate Change March 2014 (1)Most of my climate change advocacy has me working behind a desk or in front of a judge or other public official. It was a different experience for me to join over 300,000 people in New York City for the Climate Change March last Sunday.

To begin with, over 300,000 people equals half the population of Vermont. That’s a lot of people.

All of them calling for action on climate change.  That’s huge and inspiring.

A great reminder of why I do what I do.

Collectively the crowd showed a wide and worthy display of solutions and will. A huge banner read: “Vermont Says ‘No!’ to Nuclear Power.” I beamed when I saw it, proud that CLF had a hand in that result.

Another read “Burn Calories not Gas” — though that was next to a sign that read “I don’t want to meet Sandy’s family” I decided not to take that sign personally.

Two women in newspaper hats touted: “Carbon Cap.  Wanna Trade?”

Wearing my CLF T-shirt, I was stopped by one person who told me he was a Plaintiff in CLF’s lawsuit to protect Georges Bank from oil drilling. That work was in 1977. CLF has deep roots in this work.

I was only one person in a crowd of many. Climate change is a big problem and it takes all of us. Joining the community of the other marchers reminded me there are many hands to get this important work done.

Climate Change March 2014 (2)

Climate Change March 2014 (3)

You are a Movie Star

Sep 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Button-up-contestReally. You are. Your big break awaits.

This is a contest for you. Take out your cell phone. Create a very short video. Inspire viewers to take action to “Button Up” and lower their heating costs and help tackle climate change.

The competition runs September 2 to October 19. There is no entry fee. Prizes of up to $300 will be awarded in several categories.

For more details go to www.buttonupcontest.org 

When you button up your coat, you keep the cold air out and the warmth in. We need to do the same for our homes and other buildings—making them cozier, saving energy dollars, and reducing pollution.

Go ahead. Make a splash. Make a movie. Your Oscar awaits.

 

Fresh Air Ahead: Transition to Clean Energy Supplies

Sep 8, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It is welcome news that the New England Governors are stepping away from a high-risk gamble with clean air and electric customers’ money. Shrouded in secrecy, the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) undertook efforts that were poised to tax electric customers – including customers in Vermont – to pay for bringing massive new gas pipelines into the region.

These pipelines would lock in polluting fossil fuel supplies for decades. The NESCOE efforts are now on indefinite hold. That’s good. The shoddy analysis supporting the plans collapsed after being exposed to the welcome sunlight of public scrutiny.

But as the region closes older and dirtier generating facilities – such as coal plants in southern New England, and Vermont Yankee here in Vermont – and as we move transportation and home heating away from gasoline and oil, we need to make sure we transition to cleaner supplies.

We still have homes to heat, lights to keep on and businesses to run. As a region, we have committed to reducing our greenhouse gases. Our efforts are a model for the rest of the country. Climate change demands that we reduce emissions at least 75% below 1990 levels by 2050. To meet this challenge, Vermont has set a goal of meeting 90% of all its power needs with renewable sources by 2050. If and how natural gas fits into this equation is one of the biggest energy challenges of the next decade.

Once touted as a panacea and a “bridge fuel,” the exuberance for natural gas is tarnishing. Pollution from gas leaks during transmission and extraction threaten to eliminate any of the possible climate benefits from natural gas burning cleaner than oil. But reliance on natural gas, at least in the short term, is not likely to go away. Most of southern New England relies on gas for heating. During the very cold days last winter, high demand for gas drove up short-term prices to record levels. These price spikes have fed a frenzy of cries for new pipelines.

The real challenge lies in reducing our overall reliance on gas. It is not an option to use as much gas decades from now as we use today.

The actions we take now in terms of gas pipelines or new gas supplies need to foster the transition to the next generation of cleaner supplies. Our clean energy transformation will not occur if all our energy dollars continue to prop up old technology and fossil fuels.

The model Vermont created with energy efficiency holds promise for our next clean energy transformation – transitioning away from fossil fuels. For pennies a day our investments in energy efficiency have saved money, reduced pollution and allowed us to avoid building expensive new electric power plants.

As we look at gas supply we can see that making wise use of our existing pipelines is a good place to start. We can make sure the pipeline capacity we already have is being well utilized before leaping to build expensive new pipelines as NESCOE contemplated. This starts with fixing leaks and creating opportunities for storage or contracts to address the few hours of a few days of high demand in the winter.

If new pipeline capacity is added, its lifespan should be limited. To move away from fossil fuels by 2050, any permit for a new or expanded pipeline should expire in 2050. We must recognize the useful life of a new pipeline and not allow it to saddle customers with costs and pollution for decades to come.

Any pipeline capacity increase should include a “system transformation charge.” Similar to the energy efficiency charge, this would recapture a portion of the expected economic savings and use those funds to enable more energy efficiency and renewable power supplies. These funds would allow customers to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels each year, making the possibility of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” a reality.

A clean energy transformation is in reach. Vermont and New England can lead the way leaving cleaner air and a healthier planet for ourselves and for generations to come.

Problems with Natural Gas Pipelines

Aug 13, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Jumping from the frying pan and into the fire is not helpful when it comes to meeting our region’s energy needs. In transitioning away from coal and oil, jumping head first into decades-long commitments to natural gas is proving to be both expensive and dangerous. The exuberance for natural gas is showing some telling tarnish.

The high costs to our climate, our communities and our economy are becoming clearer to more people.

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently penned a strongly worded opinion piece in the Berkshire Eagle, opposing a new pipeline planned to run through Western Massachusetts. She concluded:

Before we sink more money in gas infrastructure, we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should

She explained the need to move away from more fossil fuels, stating:

But our aim must be to reduce reliance on carbon based fuels, and than means careful consideration of clean energy alternatives as well as other natural gas pipeline alternatives that do not create wholly new infrastructure. For example, upgrading our old, methane- leaking pipes can help provide affordable power for businesses and consumers without threatening our families and our state

You can read the full text here.

Last week all the State Senators in Addison County Vermont, penned a similar critique highlighting the many problems of a planned new Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in Western Vermont. They stated that the projects

… represent not the development of a bridge fuel to move us forward, but more accurately a monumental, $200 million commitment — paid for largely by Vermonters — to remain where we are, consuming fossil fuels.

They encouraged a more careful evaluation of newer and cleaner technologies and of the long term greenhouse gas emissions of the projects.

You can read the full text here.

These articles reflect the growing concerns about new pipelines – many of which have been raised by CLF.

Our region has been leading in showing the nation how we can rely on cleaner and lower cost energy solutions from energy efficiency and renewable power. Billion dollar investments in new natural gas pipelines tie us to yesterday’s technology and growing pollution. We can and must do better.

Drinking Water – Too Precious to Pollute

Aug 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The tragedy this past weekend that left more than 500,000 Ohio and Michigan residents without safe drinking water shows the real dangers of polluted runoff. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie left drinking water with dangerous levels of microcystin. More than 100 people visited area hospitals, with upset stomachs, dizziness, and vomiting after drinking contaminated water.

The dangers of toxic algae blooms are not limited to Lake Erie. Excess nutrients – especially phosphorus – from agricultural runoff pollute Lake Champlain.

Nutrients meant to feed farm crops instead runoff into Lake Champlain where they cause excessive growth of algae and other weeds. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain have caused beach closings and are dangerous to people and animals. In 2012, Missisquoi Bay suffered a large fish kill as a result of particularly bad phosphorous pollution.

Blue-Green Bloom

Blue-Green Algae in Lake Champlain in 2011.

Keeping our waterways clean and healthy requires reducing runoff from farms. Earlier this summer, CLF petitioned the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to require stronger controls on agricultural runoff to protect Lake Champlain. As the situation in Ohio shows, the safety of the drinking water of thousands of Vermonters is at stake. Reducing farm pollution is manageable and necessary. In some circumstances, funding is available to assist farmers with pollution controls. Requiring improved management practices, such as fencing to keep cows and other livestock out of streams prevents direct pollution impacts. Creating buffers along streams can minimize runoff near fields. Reducing ditching and allowing water to flow more slowly cuts back on erosion after rainstorms. Careful enforcement can reduce overuse of fertilizers that feed algae instead of plants.

With nearly a quarter-million households relying on Lake Champlain for drinking water, we cannot afford to keep adding dangerous levels of phosphorus to the Lake. The experience in Lake Erie is a cautionary tale that we should heed in Vermont before it’s too late.

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