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.

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This Week on TalkingFish.org – September 15-19

Sep 19, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

September 16 – “Manhattan’s Marine Mammals Make a Meal of Menhaden” – New York might not be the first place you’d think of for a nature experience, but wildlife lovers there are thrilling to the sight of whales and dolphins within view of the city’s skyline. And the resurgence of these magnificent animals is partly due to the humble fish called menhaden.

September 19 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, September 19 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the New, NEFMC proposed emergency recommendations for the Gulf of Maine cod stock; John Waldman comments on the thriving Norwegian and Russian cod fishery; regional fishing groups for the Fishing Community Coalition; the Newfoundland cod fishery is undergoing a major transformation; the Maine Department of Marine Resources makes a temporary exception to their lobster trawl limit rule; invasive green crab numbers in Maine are beginning to decline; the proposed amendment for the flounder, scup, and bass fishery management plan is entering its public comment period; a new book on herring and southeastern Massachusetts was released; a new study reveals phytoplankton out-evolving climate change; NOAA Fisheries announced the 2014 Funded Prescott Grant Proposals; Omega Protein Corp. released its inaugural corporate social responsibility report; NMFS and NEFMC are soliciting Atlantic Sea Scallop RSA Program proposals; the largest-sized U.S. scallops are in short supply; a NOAA and UNC-Wilmington study addresses how climate change is affecting fish communities; and conservation groups move to protect endangered whales from drift gill nets.

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.

 

An Incomplete Guide to the Massachusetts Ballot: If the Question is One, the Answer is NO.

Sep 9, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As Massachusetts voters look to the November ballot, they have an opportunity to take a stand for a better, sustainable transportation system by voting No on Question 1. This first of four questions on the ballot would eliminate indexing of the gas tax to inflation, a development that would simply be bad for the environment. To meet the greenhouse gas reductions that science tells us are necessary, we must transform the way we plan for and invest in transportation infrastructure.

Transportation is the largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, responsible for more than a third of emissions in the state. To curb those emissions, we must reduce our reliance on cars by giving people more choices in how to get around. We need a transportation system that allows more people to travel to work, school, and other life necessities on foot, bike, or public transportation. A stronger, more environmentally sustainable transportation system will also boost regional economic competitiveness, enhance quality of life and public health, make Massachusetts more affordable, reduce energy use, and achieve greater social justice.

©Joe Flood

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Without sufficient funding for transportation, however, such a transformation is not possible.

The reality is that it is not possible to run even our current transportation system without additional funding. More than half of the 5,120 bridges in Massachusetts are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and 42% of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Likewise, continued deferred maintenance of critical elements of the public transportation network threatens its safety and efficacy. It will take more, not fewer, resources to address not only these challenges, but those also presented by our changing climate.

A Yes vote on Question 1 would make things even worse by taking away existing gas tax revenues that we need to solve this public safety crisis – revenues that, under the state constitution, can only be used for transportation needs. If Question 1 were to prevail, it would put $1 billion in transportation investments in jeopardy over the next decade. The indexing of the gas tax was passed only last year as part of a larger transportation funding package. CLF, and its partners, worked hard to raise these necessary and new transportation dollars. While the Transportation Finance Act of 2013 raised a significant amount of money, it fell short of funding all of the state’s transportation needs. Passage of Question 1 would be a great setback for the progress we have made so far.

A No vote will not only preserve significant funding but it will send a clear message that we are against crumbling roads, bridges, and transit and for a better, more sustainable transportation system. You can support CLF’s efforts to keep Massachusetts environmentally safe and structurally sound by voting No on Question 1 in November. For more information check out the following website: http://saferoadsbridges.com/.  That leaves you with only three more statewide ballot questions to learn about; but who is keeping score?

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.

Breaking News: NESCOE Suspends Votes on Tariff Proposals

Aug 1, 2014 by  | Bio |  9 Comment »

The New England States Committee on Electricity (“NESCOE”), an entity created to carry out the policy directives of the New England governors, had been hurtling down the track towards forcing electric customers to pay for a massive, new natural gas pipeline as well as new transmission projects to import large-scale Canadian hydropower. This morning at the monthly meeting of the voting participants in the New England Power Pool (“NEPOOL”), NESCOE signaled that the train is going to slow down.

In a surprising and welcome move, NESCOE announced at the meeting that it is delaying action on both the gas and electric proposals that it has been pursuing–proposals that have the potential to put billions of customer dollars at risk. NESCOE formally requested that all of the votes that had been scheduled for the proposals be taken off the calendar to allow for a delay of  “at least a month.”

For months now, CLF has been calling upon NESCOE and the New England Governors to bring these flawed proposals and the reasoning behind them out into the open. Until now, the formulation of and negotiations around these proposals have been conducted almost completely behind closed doors.  With this delay, NESCOE and the officials who direct its actions have a real opportunity to address procedural and substantive concerns — raised by CLF and other stakeholders —  by embracing a transparent, open process that includes a meaningful assessment of alternatives, including: efficiency, better utilization of existing infrastructure, and more renewable distributed generation. After all, the initial studies for NESCOE indicated that under a “low demand” scenario there would be no need for additional infrastructure at all.

This time around, CLF urges the Governors to require NESCOE to include an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of all alternatives, as well as an assessment of which solutions are actually consistent with achieving the long-range energy and climate objectives of the New England states.

The NESCOE announcement also followed a compelling argument by CLF at the last Transmission Committee meeting on July 22, regarding the need for these proposals to be properly vetted through ISO-NE’s “Major Initiatives” process. These proposals carry with them the power to shape New England’s energy system for the next 40-50 years, so an open, public process is imperative. CLF will continue to provide the public with up-to-date information as it becomes available.

4 Things You Should Know About CLF’s work on Natural Gas

Jul 29, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As I write this, CLF President John Kassel and I have just left the White House. We were there as part of a small group of environmental leaders, industry and union heads, regulators, and policy makers invited to participate in a special White House roundtable on reducing methane emissions – a potent greenhouse gas with 34 times the heat-trapping power of carbon pollution. CLF received this special invitation in recognition of our nearly five decades of work to transform New England’s power system. Over the past few years, CLF has been fighting to clean the air and clear the way for more efficient technologies by taking on the owners of obsolete, polluting power plants – and winning. What you may not realize is that, with natural gas now dominating the discussion about our energy future, we’ve also been leading the region to ensure that we “get gas right.”

Here are 4 things you should know about CLF’s advocacy around natural gas:

1. Leading the Way on Leaks: CLF was one of the first organizations to call for more attention to the “fugitive emissions” from natural gas. We partnered with academics from Boston University to map leaks throughout the city of Boston and issued a first-of-its-kind report on the scope of the problem of leaking pipelines as well as policy tools to tackle the problem. Although natural gas burns cleaner than coal at the smokestack, natural gas is over 90% methane, and when it leaks from pipelines or other equipment, methane’s heat-trapping power is potent. Unless leaks are substantially reduced, they can virtually erase any potential climate benefits of switching to natural gas.

2. Taking the Long View: There is a role for gas, but it must be limited. We cannot simply replace every retiring coal and oil plant with natural gas and expect to leave our children with a livable climate. CLF understands that the increased use of existing natural gas electric generation capacity has helped to pave the way for the retirement of dirtier coal plants, but building new, long-lived natural gas infrastructure without any constraints isn’t compatible with meeting our climate goals.

3. Crafting Real-World Solutions: CLF struck the first agreement in the nation to place binding greenhouse gas emissions limits and a date certain for shutdown on a new natural gas fired power plant. When Massachusetts regulators failed to establish meaningful GHG limits for a proposed new gas plant, CLF stepped in and negotiated a settlement that requires the project to limit its useful life to 2050 and reduce its GHG emissions over time consistent with the requirements of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.

4. Building Better Markets: CLF understands the intricacies of the electric and gas markets and has been working to develop market refinements that create more transparency and liquidity in the gas markets in order to reduce price spikes through better use of existing supply rather than overbuilding new capacity. CLF’s proposals for a winter reliability solution, had ISO-NE adopted them last winter, would have lowered prices and lowered pollution. CLF continues to fight for better market design that sends the right price signals to maximize efficient use of our resources. New England is ahead of the curve on clean energy and climate change – and that’s why CLF was the only regional environmental organization invited to be part of this discussion, which will ultimately shape national policy around methane emissions as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Stopping State Handouts for Sprawl

Jul 21, 2014 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

Over the past year it has been troubling to see large new development projects planned for areas around Vermont’s highway interchanges. It was not that long ago that Vermont’s then Governor Howard Dean issued an executive order protecting our highway interchanges from sprawl development.

Our public dollars created the interstates and we have a responsibility – to our pocketbooks and to our environment – to take good care of them.

That responsibility includes avoiding traffic snarling commercial sprawl at our highway exits.

Highway sprawl is expensive. A look at the roadway improvements planned around Burlington, Vermont, including two multi-million dollar interchange re-builds, show that many of them are needed now because of the commercial sprawl that sprang up around these exits.  As federal transportation dollars dwindle, we can ill afford to promote sprawl near highway exits that is guaranteed to require new and expensive upgrades in the coming decades. As we drive more to reach commercial developments near highway exits we increase pollution and greenhouse gases as well.

Governor Dean’s executive order from 2001 recognized that development at interstate interchanges can mar not only the scenic character of the state, but also can impair natural and agricultural resources and harm tourism. It directed state agencies to foster conservation of land in and around the highway interchanges.

Moving away from Governor’s Dean’s vision, this past year developers proposed changing Vermont’s Act 250 land use law to make it easier to build on valuable farmland. A poster child for this was a massive new commercial project planned for the Randolph highway exit. The plan would pave nearly all the farmland at the highway exit and replace it with a large commercial development, a portion of which would serve as a state visitors’ center.

Instead of protecting land around the interstate, state agencies would be partners with this sprawl development.

The proposed Act 250 change that would have helped this project never passed the Vermont Legislature, and the project appears to be on hold.

Now there is a proposal for a new truck stop-like huge convenience store along with a “state sanctioned welcome center” on a farm field just twenty miles up the road at the Berlin exit in Vermont. Traveler services are needed, but they come at too high a price if they are married to massive sprawling commercial developments at our highway exits.

This past year the Vermont Legislature did amend Act 250 to provide stronger protections against strip development outside of town. If some of these projects at our highway interchanges move forward it will be a good test of this new protection.

In contrast to these highway developments, the Vermont Judiciary just announced that it will move the State’s Environmental Court to downtown Burlington. This is good news. The Environmental Court, which hears appeals of Act 250 and local land use decisions, will no longer be in a stand-alone office building on a farm field outside of town. Instead it will set a good example for developers by being better integrated with other courts and closer to services in a downtown location.

Our public dollars, natural resources and scenic beauty are too important to squander in exchange for some short-term savings that burden future generations with more pollution and higher costs. Like the Environmental Court, the public investments and development decisions we make today should stand as good examples for generations.

A version of this post first appeared in the Sunday July 19 edition of the Rutland Herald and Barre- Montpelier Times Argus.

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