A Price on Carbon Pollution

Jan 12, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The recent storms and pervasive power outages provide a stark reminder of the challenges we face with global warming. The images of Governor Shumlin inspecting by helicopter the broad areas without power were reminiscent of Tropical Storm Irene, one of the most devastating climate disasters to hit Vermont. Utilities and road crews across the state are working harder and spending more money to clean up after storms and prepare for the next one. And the next one seems to be coming on fiercer and sooner than it did in the past.

photo courtesy of Sage @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Sage @ flickr.com

Vermonters are resilient and independent by nature. The conversations when the power was out focused on how each of us managed by melting snow on our woodstove, and using our collection of candles and stored bottles of water. When some folks had power restored before others, we helped each other out by filling water bottles and sharing dinners together.

That same resilience and independence serves us well in taking action to tackle global warming and ward off future disasters. Sitting back and waiting for the next storm is not an option. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to take a bite out of carbon pollution now, while building a more vibrant and robust economy.

Putting a price on carbon pollution is one meaningful step we can take to tackle this challenge. Today, oil is relatively cheap. And proponents of new gas pipelines are quick to boast about the low cost of their polluting product. It may be a last gasp from a dying industry as oil and gas tycoons slash prices to feed an unhealthy fossil fuel addiction. Putting a tax on carbon pollution transforms this last gasp into a breath of fresh air. Instead of throwing energy dollars out the window or lining oil executive pockets, we are investing in a cleaner energy future.

A carbon pollution tax charges oil and gas companies for the pollution they create. It provides companies and customers with incentives to invest in cleaner supplies. Fuel dealers can make more money helping customers save oil instead of burning more of it.

We all pay taxes and pay too much now to help oil executives get rich. A carbon pollution tax instead puts these dollars back in our pockets by providing refunds or dividends to every Vermont resident and business. Vermonters can get a carbon dividend by reducing pollution similar to how Alaskans receive oil dividends.

A portion of the tax can be invested in clean energy solutions, helping Vermonters buy more fuel- efficient cars, weatherize homes or install solar panels or heat pumps. These investments reduce customer costs while keeping more energy dollars in Vermont.

The real beauty of a carbon pollution tax is that it transforms the wild fluctuations we already experience in gas and oil prices into making us more resilient and less dependent on polluting fossil fuels. This past year alone, gas prices have changed by nearly $1 per gallon, first increasing and then decreasing. A change from month-to-month of 5 cents per gallon was not uncommon. Phasing the tax in over ten years lets us put this same $1 to work reducing pollution, while the total tax oil companies pay each year amounts to less than the regular 5 cent monthly fluctuation in prices the rest of us experience.

Let’s get polluters to pay their fair share. It’s time for our tax dollars to support our energy goals instead of subsidizing fossil fuels and increasing pollution.

 

End of Nuclear in Vermont

Dec 30, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of David Jones @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of David Jones @ flickr.com

The end of a nuclear power era arrived in Vermont on December 29, 2014.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in southern Vermont stopped producing power.

This is indeed the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

The shuttering of Vermont Yankee marks a significant passage – for CLF, for Vermont, and for New England. Our energy supply is undergoing transformation. As we move away from older and polluting coal and nuclear plants, we rely more on cleaner and lower cost supplies paving the way for a brighter energy future.

I’ll admit, with Vermont Yankee’s troubled history, I was not entirely convinced it would actually shut down. Old habits die hard. In the past, Vermont Yankee’s owners went to court rather than comply with promises to close the plant in 2012. The plant had leaks and its owners failed to provide truthful information about the leaks to regulators. The tired, old, polluting plant on the banks of the Connecticut River was forced to operate well past its previously planned retirement.

From the sale of Vermont Yankee in 2002 to the regulatory proceedings and litigation about its continued operation and leaks, CLF has shown that reliance on Vermont Yankee is an expensive and bad bet.

The plant proved to be a bad deal for Vermont. Other power was less expensive and the needed safety repairs required after Fukushima would be costly. Too costly. As renewable power supplies continue to grow, we have the ability to provide power with low or zero fuel costs. The need for these large, expensive older plants declines. It feels a bit like moving away from massive centralized computers in the era of smaller laptops and smart phones.

The lights are still on after Vermont Yankee shut down. And they will stay on. There is no question it will take continued effort to build the clean energy future we know we need. It is within our reach.

Many workers will remain at Vermont Yankee overseeing the safe decommissioning of the plant, which will take decades. They remain part of the transformation that is marked by Vermont Yankee’s closing.

Reset on Vermont Natural Gas Expansion

Dec 21, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

It’s good news that Vermont Gas Systems announced they will hit the reset button on the planned new natural gas pipeline in Western Vermont. Global warming demands far greater scrutiny of new fossil fuel expansions.

The project costs keep ballooning. In July, cost estimates increased more than 40%. At that time CLF called for a full re-evaluation of the project. Costs estimates have now escalated another 27%.

And those cost increases don’t even look at the increased greenhouse gas emissions from continuing our reliance on fossil fuels.

courtesy of Lucky Larry @ flickr.com

courtesy of Lucky Larry @ flickr.com

In the wake of these cost increases, Vermont Gas asked regulators to put a hold on the hearings for the second phase of the project. These hearings were scheduled to begin in January.

At a time when global warming requires that we move quickly away from reliance on fossil fuels, it is hard to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new natural gas pipelines that keep us dependent on polluting fossil fuels long into the future.

It is no surprise to CLF that costs are skyrocketing. Expanding reliance on polluting fossil fuels is a bad bet. These natural gas pipelines will be in place for 50 to 100 years. That’s long past the time we need to move away from fossil fuels. Saddling customers with the high costs and increased pollution for decades is irresponsible. We can do better than that.

Our region is undergoing a major transformation of our energy supply. We can seize the opportunities this transformation presents by moving away from polluting fossil fuels and their long-term climate impacts. Going forward we need to rely much more on cleaner renewable energy.

The reset called for by Vermont Gas is a good opportunity to steer our energy future in a cleaner and lower cost direction.

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.

 

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