Coming Clean: Strengthening EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Dec 4, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Even if it’s hard for our brains to accept, we all know the impacts to come from climate change if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions now and throughout the century: food insecurity, species extinction, and dramatically severe weather events. If that news isn’t sobering enough, we’ll also face a rapidly decreasing ability to adapt to these impacts by the year 2100. In spite of these dire predictions, the fact remains that there are actions that we can and must take to have a chance of slowing the effects of climate change and avoiding the most devastating impacts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently proposing one of these necessary actions with the Clean Power Plan, a rule intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants that burn fossil fuels. Under the Plan, EPA will lay out the best system of emissions reduction and each state will devise a program to meet those required reductions.

Even before its Monday deadline, EPA had received more than 21,000 comments from interested stakeholders. Given the complexity of the rule and the many interested parties weighing in, CLF submitted a brief, targeted letter highlighting a couple of crucial areas where the Plan should be strengthened to be truly effective. We asked for:

  • a more accurate assessment of the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and demand response against which to measure fossil fuel–burning plants, and
  • measures related to natural gas (including regulation of methane emissions from its production, transmission, and distribution).

Without a better strategy for dealing with these two issues, the Plan could backfire and end up fostering powerful economic incentives to simply substitute one polluting fossil fuel for another in our energy system.

Finalizing a strengthened Clean Power Plan would be a step toward fulfilling our country’s responsibility to ourselves and the rest of the world to mitigate climate change. But it’s only one step. Even as we all wait for meaningful federal action on climate change, CLF is continuing to lead crucial efforts to curb harmful greenhouse gas emissions at the state and regional level through smart economic and environmental policy.

What Makes the “Climate Conversation” So Frustrating and Difficult?

Dec 1, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Let’s face it: for all the fact that CLF has identified climate change as the key issue for the coming decade, and even though we all want to speak out on the issue, bring our advocacy into public view, and make the changes we know have to be made in order to reverse the threat to our planet…we as a society and a country aren’t doing any of this very well. But why not? What’s going on that gets in the way of our best intentions?

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.45.54 AMThe British climate advisor George Marshall, the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network in the U.K., has a compelling answer. In his recently published book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (New York and London: Bloomsbury Press, 2014), Marshall provides the best summary to date of the psychology of climate change. He proposes that climate change exists in the form of socially constructed narratives based on values, community identities, and worldviews that are only marginally linked to the science we tend to think should be at the heart of any discussion.

This is the book for everyone who wants to move beyond the finger-pointing and trash talk that dominates the current climate conversation. Many of the themes in the brief and accessible chapters will be familiar to CLF friends: the fact that a changing climate doesn’t feel immediately threatening to many; the lack of a distinct “enemy” to oppose; our “innate disposition to select or adapt information so that it confirms our pre-existing assumptions.”

Some of Marshall’s assertions may ask us to re-think how we address these issues. For example, he suggests we avoid too much emphasis on the substance of climate science, and drop what he calls the “eco-stuff”: framing climate change as an environmental problem with accompanying images of polar bears on melting ice caps. And he notes that by framing climate change as an emissions [tailpipe] issue, we have made it almost impossible to get at the root cause: our continuing production and use of fossil fuels.

Why should you read this book? Because this is the most readable, non-technical discussion I’ve found that can inform CLF collectively, and all our members and supporters, on the best ways to initiate and sustain a conversation on climate change. Marshall invites us to create communities of shared conviction (not “belief”) that he defines as “the critical process by which we incorporate climate change into our moral framework and accept the need for action.”

His specific suggestions for us as climate communicators are down-to-earth and positive. Instead of deluging people with science facts, we can emphasize that the independence, values, and accountability of science make it trustworthy. This is especially crucial now that a key committee chair in the US Senate has publically denied the existence of climate change. When we engage others, we can tell our own stories, talk about our own convictions, and be emotionally honest about our fears and hopes. We need to understand and validate other peoples’ values first, and then identify the ways to engage those values in the climate conversation. We can emphasize the cooperative values needed to assure a better life for our children, and build resilience for thriving communities.

There’s a lot more than I can summarize here, but you can hear more from George Marshall in this interview. And then we can take the next steps to make CLF the New England leader in the climate discussion.

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.


Environmental Ethic, Environmental Justice

Nov 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

I grew up in a small town in rural western Pennsylvania. My father was the first African American born in our town, and he was the first to graduate from high school. My parents managed to raise seven children on my father’s hourly-wage job as a sanitation worker on my town’s only garbage truck.

For low-income families, reusing and recycling isn’t something you choose to do – it’s just your way of life. As the youngest child, I grew up wearing my siblings’ hand-me-downs. At Christmas, sometimes I received a used toy that one of my older siblings had grown tired of, wrapped up and perched under the tree for me to discover on Christmas morning. We reused and recycled a whole host of things, from aluminum foil and plastic wrap to furniture my father rescued from other people’s garbage.

The story of my childhood is hardly a fairy tale. My story does, however, illustrate an essential premise: To a great degree, poor people shaped the values that we espouse in our contemporary environmental movement. Reusing, recycling, and conserving out of necessity, low-income families across the nation created the blueprint for behavior that is mainstream and admirable today. But earlier in its history, the environmental movement largely left behind the very people whose every day values it embraced. The challenge since then has been to make sure that all people, regardless of race or income, equally benefit from the environmental movement’s gains. And that’s where the concept of environmental justice is derived.

The environmental justice movement was born out of a system of institutional racism. As slavery ended and the Jim Crow south laid its roots, towns and neighborhoods established by freed slaves became the places where noxious land uses were sited. This model of discrimination was parroted in Latino and immigrant communities across the country for decades. By the late 1970s, federal litigation challenging discriminatory land use using the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution began to pop up. Then, in 1982 a watershed moment arrived when a landfill intended for the disposal of PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyl, a highly toxic and bioaccumulative pollutant) was sited in Warren County, North Carolina, in a town comprised of 75 percent low-income African Americans. The siting decision was marked by non-violent protests, with over 550 arrests. The protests were followed by several damning studies confirming the overwhelming disproportionate siting of toxic landfills in people of color communities.

In fact, a 1992 National Law Journal study of every federal environmental lawsuit over a span of seven years concluded that the penalties collected by the U.S. EPA were uniformly and significantly lower in people of color communities than in white communities, and it also found that EPA took longer to clean up toxic sites in communities of color.

More than 20 years after that study, significant disparities remain, and they are as troubling here in New England as anywhere in the country. Whether the issue is childhood lead poisoning in New Hampshire, sea level rise in Rhode Island, or rising energy costs across the region, New Englanders living in low-income communities and communities of color are much more deeply impacted by our environmental challenges than our society at large.

Now, as CLF turns our efforts toward our strategic priority, climate adaptation and resilience, we can be certain that the poorest communities in our region are our canaries in the coalmine. Locally, regionally, and globally, the poorest people have contributed the least to anthropogenic climate change, but will take the first punch and bear more than their fare share of the devastating impacts (as this video by the German NGO Germanwatch cleverly points out).

While today CLF has a program area dedicated to healthy communities and environmental justice, ensuring that all New England communities, both rural and urban, are thriving, healthy places is not merely the work of one program. It’s the work of CLF – a common thread throughout everything that we do. CLF works to ensure that all New England communities enjoy clean air and clean water, all families have access to fresh local food, and all people have tools for making their neighborhoods more resilient in the face of our changing climate.

Climate change will hit our poorest communities first and hardest, but it will eventually ravage all of us if we don’t act now. We are all in this together, regardless of race or income, and our broad portfolio of work at CLF is more urgent now than it has ever been.

Natural Gas Alone is Not a Bridge

Oct 31, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Gas, renewables graph

Figure used pursuant to license agreement with Nature Publishing Group.

A recent study published in Nature confirms that natural gas alone is not a bridge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The study finds that, “in the absence of new climate policies, increased supplies of natural gas may have little effect on CO2 emissions and could actually delay decarbonization of the global energy system.” An abundant supply of low cost natural gas competes with and replaces not only dirtier fuels, like coal and oil, but also cleaner resources  such as wind, solar and efficiency.

The Nature study used energy-economic modeling to compare a “conventional” gas supply with an “abundant” supply scenario, and found that expanding natural gas supplies is not a climate panacea: “Whether the goal is avoiding CO2 emissions or hastening the transition to an emissions-free energy system, a global gas boom is not a replacement for energy and climate policies.”

Abundant gas entrenches us more deeply in a high-emissions, climate-compromised future, unless accompanied by robust, additional policies ensuring greater efficiency and a swift transition to low-carbon energy. CLF’s groundbreaking 2014 settlement with Footprint Power, a proposed natural gas-fired power plant sited on the grounds of a closed coal-fired plant in Salem, MA, included binding annual emissions limits and a fixed retirement date of no later than 2050. These conditions tamp down our reliance on natural gas and align plant operation with the timely decarbonization of our energy system..

The Nature study corroborates something CLF has long argued – without strong climate policy, gas is just a bridge to more gas.

“Snap the Shore, See the Future”

Oct 8, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


Point Judith Sunset. Photo Credit: Austin Recio.

Living in the Gulf of Maine area, climate change and sea level rise are bound to affect our lives. According to the EPA, we could see a 2-foot rise in global sea level by 2100. For almost 50 years Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has worked to restore and protect the Gulf of Maine and surrounding waters, New England’s largest public trust resource. Our work includes cleaning up our harbors, protecting ocean wildlife and critical ocean habitats like Cashes Ledge, and working to create a region-wide plan to help coastal communities adapt to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

It can be difficult to imagine the effect climate change will have on our coastlines. That’s why CLF appreciates the work of the King Tides Project, a non-profit organization made up of local interest groups that strives to effectively explain to people just how climate change will impact our coasts and the people living there.

King tides are completely natural phenomena, occurring twice a year when the sun and moon align. And even though they are regular and predictable, king tides have a chance of damaging coastlines if they occur during poor weather conditions. These tides “give us a sneak preview of what higher sea levels could look like.”

The next king tide is tomorrow, October 9th at 12:30pm—this is where you come in. The King Tides Project is hosting a Gulf of Maine King Tides Photo Contest! The organization wants local residents to visually document how the king tide—what may very well be “the new tidal norm” with sea level rise—is affecting Gulf of Maine coastal areas. So, CLF members and supporters, here is your chance to show us how you view the Gulf of Maine and why we should take action to reduce the effects of climate change! For more information, you can go to the Gulf of Maine King Tides website.

3 Things No One is Telling You About Rising Energy Costs

Oct 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s first White House chief of staff, was once quoted as saying “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste,” referring to the opportunities to pass sweeping bills in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen that sentiment put into practice by some of New England’s major energy industry players. They’ve been fanning the flames of fear over expected winter price spikes to support their continued push for building massive new gas pipelines, even though new pipelines have no chance of helping to address the risk of price spikes for this winter.

Here are 3 things you’re not being told about what’s really responsible for the increased rates and how to deal with rising energy costs now:

  1. New pipelines can’t and won’t address the rising rates for this winter (or the next three winters).
    • Even under the most optimistic scenarios, new natural gas pipelines of the scale that were being considered as part of the now-stalled New England Governors’ initiative could not be permitted and built earlier than November 2018. Even if they lived up to the Governors’ promises after that, they would do nothing for consumers this winter and the next three winters.
    • New England isn’t the only region of the country that experienced price spikes this past winter. New York, an area that had just expanded its pipeline capacity still experienced higher prices last winter, and the regional electric grid known as PJM (because it covers, in part, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) also experienced price spikes even though it is located in the epicenter of abundant Marcellus shale gas supplies.
  2. The real problem isn’t a major deficit of pipeline capacity, but a failure to deal adequately with the increased use of natural gas for power generation.
    • We now use a lot of natural gas for power generation in New England, which helped modernize the system by moving us away from old, polluting, and inefficient sources like coal and oil. Because of this, and the way the regional grid’s electric market works, natural gas prices now generally set the price for electricity in New England.
    • Unlike natural gas utilities that supply homes and businesses with gas for heating, which buy gas on long-term “firm” contracts that guarantee access to gas, the companies that own natural gas power plants typically buy cheaper “interruptible” contracts because there isn’t currently a mechanism that allows them to pass-through the additional costs of buying firm supply.
    • In the winter time, people are often turning on the heat at the same time that they are turning on the lights, so the system experiences high demands on gas for both uses in the mornings and afternoons. These “coincident” demands led to price spikes between 10-42 days in each of the last winters, and retail electric prices are now catching up as the market is expecting a repeat of last winter’s high prices.
    • Now that natural gas makes up so much of the electricity we use, the volatility of gas prices has a bigger impact on electric prices and leads to higher rates. We have been far too slow in deploying demand-reducing energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses and in increasing the amounts of local renewable energy on the system, both of which would help reduce market prices for electricity and protect us from volatile gas prices.
    • The increased use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports should help to moderate the price spikes to some extent this year, but more can be done through market reforms without risking overbuilding gas capacity.
  3. Energy efficiency is the best way to reduce your bills and stay warm this winter.
    • Even though rates are going up, you can still lower your total bill by lowering your demand. Massachusetts has some of the best energy efficiency programs in the country which means that you can apply for rebates, incentives, and assistance to help you install efficient measures. Other New England states have programs as well.
    • If you don’t own your home or apartment, there are still some inexpensive steps you can take to cut your bills. There are many ways to conserve energy for a very small investment of time or money. Check back in for a look at how Senior Attorney Shanna Cleveland is getting her apartment ready for the winter.

Holyoke’s Coal-Fired Mt. Tom Power Plant Announces Formal Shutdown Date

Sep 24, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Mt. Tom’s owners announced this summer that they would retire the 54-year-old coal plant, and yesterday, GDF Suez filed the official request with the electric system operator to retire this last Massachusetts coal-fired power plant by June 2018. This is great news for the residents who have breathed the pollution from Mt. Tom since it first began operation in 1960. This follows the recent announcement by Somerset’s Brayton Point, the largest coal-fired power plant in New England, that it will retire by June 2017, and the final shutdown of Salem Harbor Station earlier this year.

This request to retire, if approved, will obligate Mt. Tom’s owners to retire the facility permanently, and marks the formal finish for coal in Massachusetts. Conservation Law Foundation has been fighting for decades to reveal the dismal economics of coal and to support an effective transition to sustainable clean energy in New England. This announcement comes only a year after Mt. Tom’s owners were required to install new monitors to measure soot from the facility as the result of a 2011 call by CLF for enforcement of more than 2,500 Clean Air Act violations at the facility.

Holyoke is better prepared than most communities for this retirement because of the work of a local coalition, Action for a Healthy Holyoke, and the statewide Coal Free Massachusetts coalition. These groups, along with CLF, have been working to create a better future for Holyoke for years, and, as a result, the City has been evaluating potential impacts of retirement and potential re-use options for more than two years. Recent legislation will help them further that work with a formal re-use study supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Renewable energy is on the horizon for Holyoke. Earlier this year, based on CLF’s coal pant retirement work in Salem and Somerset, CLF garnered an important commitment from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to direct the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to offer host communities, like Holyoke, up to $2 million to develop a clean energy strategy, including the construction of a renewable energy project within the community. Thanks to that commitment, Holyoke will have the opportunity to work with DOER to move toward cleaner energy either on the site of the retired plant or elsewhere within the community.

CLF will work to ensure that Mt. Tom’s request to retire permanently is approved in the coming months to create an opportunity for new resources to come on-line, and will continue to work to build a clean and sustainable energy future for New England.

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)

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