CLF’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2014

Dec 31, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Mapping the Road to a Low-Carbon Future for the Northeast

Dec 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
–Radio legend Earl Nightingale (1921-1989)

How do we, efficiently and effectively, complete the transition from an energy system rooted in fossil-fuel generation to a much-needed clean energy system for our region? As participants in last week’s Lessons for a Climate & Energy Roadmap 2050 Process for the Northeastern US learned, it takes courage to embark on the collective journey to a low-carbon future, and it helps to bring a map.

Hosted by CLF, CLF Ventures, and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Center for International Environment & Resource Policy, and sponsored by The Oak Foundation and German Consulate General of Boston, the December 16 event at Tufts University brought together business and government leaders and environmental advocates from the Northeast with their counterparts from Germany and the European Union (EU), Canada, California, and beyond. The goal: explore how the EU’s experience pursuing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate protection policies and targets could offer lessons for our region’s clean energy and climate transition.

The Northeast Roadmap 2050 event drew inspiration from the EU Roadmap 2050 process, which convened key stakeholders to shape a shared vision for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Here in the northeast US/New England, we have a very similar opportunity. The New England states and New York, along with the Eastern Canadian provinces, have adopted climate goals and mandates that mirror the EU mandate. We have a core of business leaders that can be mobilized, and a number of key energy players here are the same companies that sat at the table for the EU Roadmap 2050 process. Though the questions underlying a similar planning process for the Northeast are simple, the challenges are anything but: Can the leaders of our region articulate the vision of a sane energy transition that leaders and decision-makers in Washington have not? If so, how do we achieve essential buy-in from key regional decision makers, like executives and regulators, to move from a shared vision to an implementable course of action?

During the daylong event, participants joined in person and over videoconference to begin to build a foundation of shared knowledge upon which a Roadmap 2050 process can be built for the Northeast. Among the day’s highlights:

  • Tufts emeritus professor of international environmental policy and lead author on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports William Moomaw urged participants to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources and emphasized that such a transformation is essential.
  • Mike Hogan, Senior Advisor to the Regulatory Assistance Project, shared several key lessons learned from the EU Roadmap 2050 process, including:
    • Derive legitimacy from a very broad base of stakeholder participants, including industry, governments, NGOs, governments, and technical experts.
    • Start from a point of broad consensus about the destination. Participants don’t need to agree on how to get there or even if they can get there, as long as they agree on the destination.
    • Focus on shifting the public narrative about what makes sense and re-defining the “middle ground.”
    • Keep everything on the table and take nothing for granted (except the destination).
    • 90 percent of the success of the Roadmap process is just getting people to sit in the room and stay in the room to work together on the process.
  • Dr. Patrick Graichen, Executive Director of Agora Energiewende, a German energy think tank, and Graham Weale, Chief Economist, RWE AG, a leading European utility, presented insights from Germany’s energy transition (Energiewende) and from the German energy industry, including the key role of wind and solar energy, and the importance of building both supply- and demand-side flexibility and strong market mechanisms into a low-carbon energy system.
  • V. John White, Executive Director, Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies, offered insights from the ongoing California 2030 Low Carbon Grid Study. Among the Phase I findings:
    • The importance of balancing California’s energy portfolio both technologically and geographically;
    • The need to modernize California’s currently inefficient gas fleet and use gas differently;
    • The increased role of bulk storage and demand response to shift energy demand to different parts of the day and reduce demand on the overall system;
    • The emerging need for California to take a more regional approach to its energy grid.
  • Michael Jasanis (HotZero, LLC and former CEO of National Grid USA),Phil Giudice, CEO and President of Ambri, and Cindy Arcate, CEO and President of PowerOptions, contributed the perspectives of Northeast utility and energy industry leaders.

From the wide range of opinions and insights shared over the course of the day, participants were left with a sense of urgency to accelerate a clean energy transition for the Northeast as well as many questions that remain to be explored. Next steps? Participants expressed interest in a second, follow-up convening that will likely be planned for early 2015, hosted by an organization that can provide a supportive yet outcome-neutral role in advancing a Northeast Roadmap 2050 stakeholder process. Once the process is underway, the group will develop a framework for the multi-sector analysis and modeling work needed to create a powerful vision that will shape governmental and business decision making and that will be owned by a broad and deep regional stakeholder group.

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.

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

king-tides

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.

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