Sensible Thoughts About the Proposed Salem MA Gas-Fired Power Plant

Feb 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

The editorial page of the Boston Globe today weighed in on the natural gas-fired power plant that a New Jersey–based company (Footprint Power) is seeking to build in Salem, Massachusetts.

The whole editorial is well worth reading – but the final three paragraphs are particularly striking:

Footprint CEO Peter Furniss says the plant will start off as a crucial supplier of electricity to New England’s often strained power grid, especially as the Vermont Yankee nuclear station and the Brayton Point coal plant come off line. But Furniss says the Footprint gas plant will eventually taper to a role of firming up energy supplies as more solar and wind sources come online under Massachusetts’ aggressive green-energy policies, which require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. The state’s facilities siting board approved the plant last fall, saying it “contributes to a reliable, low-cost, diverse regional energy supply with minimal environmental impacts.” Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Rick Sullivan says the plant is part of the “balancing act” of maintaining reliability while converting to a clean-energy future.

But some environmental watchdog groups don’t buy it. The Conservation Law Foundation has filed an appeal of the plant’s approval with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that the state is undermining its long-term emissions targets. The lawyers assert that regional CO2 emissions have already dropped close to the level of modern gas plants, meaning that adding another one does nothing but maintain the status quo. The CLF wants more proof that the plant will not derail the long-term goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

As a mid-sized city seizing a rare chance to revitalize its waterfront, Salem is understandably eager to build the plant. The Patrick administration makes a plausible case for the need to get the plant online to assure that Massachusetts has enough power at peak periods. But the conservationists also make an important point: Today’s energy decisions must be viewed in terms of the fight to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. There should be a plan on paper for the plant to operate at levels that don’t impede the achievement of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. Gas powers the economy for now, but the state must clear the way for a clean-energy future as soon as technologically feasible.

The editorial highlights two key points: 1) new energy infrastructure such as the proposed Footprint gas plant in Salem needs to be consistent with the objective of reducing global warming pollution 80% by 2050 and 2) CLF’s goal is to ensure that this requirement be respected in the permitting of the proposed power plant. We firmly believe that, as the editorial suggests, the legal requirement CLF is championing can be respected at the same time that the lights remain on and Salem builds a thriving economy. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of balancing act our whole society and economy will need to master again and again as we confront the crisis of global warming.

The issues addressed in the editorial are even more pertinent today as the State has, unfortunately, moved forward another tentative decision proposing to approve another permit needed by that power plant without considering the critical issue of climate and compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act. That tentative decision is reported on the website of the Boston Business Journal accurately noting that “CLF views this Salem issue as an important test case for the viability of these relatively new greenhouse gas emissions rules.”

Indeed, in our statement about the decision our Massachusetts Office Director Sue Reid notes, “The rushed and flawed approvals process for the Footprint Power Plant threatens the progress Massachusetts has made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are the state agencies denying the public the thorough vetting that a major new fossil fuel power plant like this deserves, the Patrick Administration is setting a terrible precedent for how similar projects are addressed—fast-tracking a major new source of greenhouse gas emissions while acting in violation of federal and state law.

Dismantling the Latest Legal Delays in the Fight for Cape Wind

Jan 28, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

WindThe new year has brought more of the same when it comes to the decade-long battle over the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project proposed to be built in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts. While Europe continues to leap forward with deployment of offshore wind – tapping into this resource’s unparalleled capacity to deliver tremendous quantities of clean electricity – yet another dubious lawsuit has been filed in an effort to further delay America’s first offshore wind project. In a week that saw Cape Wind again successfully beat back its opponents’ legal claims, this time winning a favorable decision from a federal appellate court , longtime Bill Koch–backed Cape Wind opponents filed yet another new lawsuit in federal court in Boston.

The case is called Town of Barnstable v. Berwick; however, no one should be fooled as to who’s really driving this new case. As detailed in press reports and earlier posts, we have good reason to believe that it’s Mr. Koch’s Alliance, not the Town, that is continuing to pay the bills in the ongoing pursuit of a longstanding strategy of “delay, delay, delay.” This is expected to be the first of two posts that will focus on the new lawsuit’s fatal flaws.

Latest Legal Claims Fail to Stand Up to Scrutiny
We will set aside, for now, the new lawsuit’s fundamental errors of fact and instead focus on explaining why the new legal claims are wrong. Basically, this new lawsuit alleges that the Cape Wind project violates the United States Constitution in two ways: first, that Cape Wind allegedly violates the Supremacy Clause (because federal law governs interstate electricity markets); and, second, that Cape Wind supposedly violates the Commerce Clause (on the claimed basis that Massachusetts is impermissibly favoring an in-state developer over possible out-of-state developers, even though most of the Cape Wind project will be built in federal, not state, waters).

Two recently decided federal lawsuits in Maryland and New Jersey are instructive in understanding that both of the anti-Cape Wind arguments in this new lawsuit are without merit. In fact, these two legal arguments are so weak that they would reveal the real purpose of this newest anti-Cape Wind lawsuit – i.e., delay through endless, meritless litigation – even if Mr. Koch had not publicly confessed to such a strategy.

Let’s look at both of the new lawsuit’s central arguments separately.

The “Supremacy Clause” Does Not Apply
The “Supremacy Clause” of the U. S. Constitution says that federal law generally trumps state law; in areas where the federal government has pervasive, all-encompassing laws and regulations, states are not allowed to enact laws or policies that directly contradict the existing federal laws. Wholesale, interstate electricity markets are an area that the federal government regulates, through a federal agency called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

In many parts of the country, FERC has created independent companies to manage and run the regional electricity grid. Here in New England, FERC has licensed the Independent System Operator-New England (ISO) to manage and run central aspects of New England’s electricity grid. For Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and several other states, FERC has licensed a company called PJM to play a similar role with respect to that region’s electricity grid. Because PJM and ISO are very similar to each other, these two recently decided cases I referred to above may have some legal bearing on the recently filed lawsuit against Cape Wind. (For those who are interested, the names of the two lawsuits I am discussing are: PPL Energyplus, LLC v. Nazarian, the Maryland case; and PPL Energyplus v. Hanna, the New Jersey case. I’ll refer to them here as Nazarian and Hanna.)

PJM and ISO are concerned with making sure that their respective geographic regions always have enough electricity to keep the lights on for electricity customers. One thing that they do to ensure this is to run a so-called “Forward Capacity Auction” three years ahead of time. Electricity generators bid into this auction, in effect offering to sell electricity in the geographical area three years in the future. These Forward Capacity Auctions are a principal means by which these operators of the electricity grid ensure that they will have enough electricity in the future. The procedures used to run these auctions are approved in advance by FERC; the auctions themselves are monitored by FERC; and FERC has to approve the results of the auctions. In short, federal law governs every aspect of the ways these auctions are run.

What happened in both the Nazarian and Hanna cases is that, after the capacity auction was run by PJM, Maryland and New Jersey were concerned that there would be a future shortage of electricity in their states. As a result, after the auction was run, and after the federal agency (FERC) approved the results of the auction, Maryland and New Jersey tried to do an impermissible end-run around the auction results by offering additional money – outside the auction – to anyone who would build a power plant in their states. In fact, in the Maryland case, the state actually said publicly that the reason for its action was specifically to do an end-run around federal law and regulations that were responsible for the PJM auction and its results! Not surprisingly, the courts in both cases ruled that state laws or policies could not directly contradict federal law in a specific area in which the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction. This violates the Supremacy Clause.

These two decisions simply have no applicability to Cape Wind. Neither the Commonwealth of Massachusetts nor the developers of Cape Wind nor the utilities that signed contracts with Cape Wind are trying to do an end run around the ISO’s Forward Capacity Auction – nor around any federal statute, regulation or rule. In fact, the Cape Wind project was well on its way to being permitted before the ISO ever held its first Forward Capacity Auction in February 2008.

State Interests Trump Commerce Clause Concerns
The second argument being advanced in the recently filed anti-Cape Wind lawsuit relates to the U. S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Basically, as a general rule, the Commerce Clause says that in the absence of a compelling justification no individual state can pass a law that benefits in-state residents and harms out-of-state residents. For example, Massachusetts cannot pass a law that says: “At all grocery stores in Massachusetts, in-state residents get a 10% discount on the prices shown, and all of-of-state residents must pay a 10% premium on the prices shown.” This (hypothetical) law would violate the Commerce Clause because it discriminates in favor of in-state residents and against out-of-state residents.

In both the Nazarian and Hanna cases, the plaintiffs claimed that the state laws that would encourage construction of in-state power plants violated the Commerce Clause because they were aimed at getting power plants built – but in state only. However, the courts in both cases ruled that this does not violate the Commerce Clause. That is, the holdings in both Nazarian and Hanna cut directly against the legal theory that the anti-Cape Wind lawyers are asserting in the newly filed case.

In both Nazarian and Hanna, the courts found that states have regulatory authority over many aspects of siting and permitting power plants. These include environmental concerns and legitimate concerns about getting enough electricity for their state’s electricity customers. In both Nazarian and Hanna, the courts found that these legitimate areas of state interest trump any Commerce Clause concerns.

In fact, the Judge in the Nazarian case wrote that individual states are allowed to facilitate the financing and construction of “certain types of power plants within its borders (such as environmental-related regulation)” without offending the commerce clause. Of course, that is what Massachusetts did when it established a requirement for electric utilities to enter long-term contracts to buy clean renewable energy – a requirement that ultimately resulted in two long-term contracts signed between utilities and Cape Wind, as well as a number of contracts with other projects. What’s more, most of the Cape Wind project isn’t even located within the borders of Massachusetts – it’s in federal waters. The judge in the Nazarian case also said that federal law specifically “preserve[s] states’ jurisdiction over certain direct regulation of physical generation facilities [including, specifically to] promote certain environmentally desired types of generation facilities.” Again, this holding shows why the new lawsuit against Cape Wind will fail.

New Day, Same Old Delays
We all know there is a climate-change emergency, and that it is crucial to develop non-carbon-emitting power plants to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. We all know that building Cape Wind is good public policy.

Based on a review of the latest weak, meritless claims advanced by opponents, we also know that their central strategy appears to be nothing more than the same old “delay, delay, delay.”

CLF Statement on Brayton Point Power Plant’s Notice of Intention to Shut Down by 2017

Jan 27, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF Calls Plan Good News for Mass. and New England Communities and Environment, Underscores Need for Planning to Ensure Stable and Just Transition

In response to the notice from the owners of the Brayton Point power plant to ISO New England announcing the company’s intentions of retiring all units of the Brayton Point coal- and oil-fired power plant by 2017, the Conservation Law Foundation issued the following statement:

“This announcement provides certainty about the closure of the Brayton Point power plant. The fact that the largest coal- and oil-fired power plant in New England will definitively close by June of 2017 is good news for the communities of Massachusetts and New England, and is an important step on our path to a cleaner energy future and healthy environment,” said Seth Kaplan, Vice President for Policy and Climate Advocacy at Conservation Law Foundation. “CLF has been sounding the alarm about the financial and environmental issues that signaled the end was near for the plant. Planning for a stable and just transition must move forward immediately to ensure clean, reliable electricity for the local community and for the broader environmental and economic benefit of the Commonwealth and the region.”

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

CLF’s Most Read Blog Posts for 2013

Jan 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Building a Clean Energy Future: Transmission Is One Piece of the Puzzle

Dec 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

transmission-snapshot

Dealing with the fundamental challenge of global warming and ending the direct and painful impact of fossil fuel-fired power plants on our communities and our families will mean systemic and systematic change to all aspects of our energy system – and doing that will mean employing a wide range of tools and strategies.

A first tool we must employ is already in our hands: efficient and smart use of energy in our homes and businesses.   Confronting the effects and implications of energy production can and must lead us to move forward policies that encourage both conservation (simply using less energy) as well as efficiency (getting more from the energy we continue to use).

Another critical element in our arsenal for reducing emissions is the large, deep and pervasive deployment of clean energy generation.  Zero emissions electricity generation will take a wide range of forms and come in every imaginable size – from the smallest solar power installation to the largest wind farm.  Replacing the mammoth fleet of coal, oil and gas burning power plants that have kept the lights on for the last century will require a deep and abiding effort to find and embrace every reasonable opportunity to make clean energy.

Recently, I had the chance to participate in an online presentation about a tool that is needed to accommodate and make full use of our clean generation potential: electric transmission to bring clean energy from wind farms to the urban customers who can make use of that power.

The webinar was put together by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid – a group that brings together environmental groups and industry voices in support of renewable energy development as part of a series of such events they were convening to discuss developments in different regions. The slides and an audio recording from that event are still available online.

The story told that day is one of change – a change from the past when transmission was built almost entirely to meet the needs of electric reliability and satisfy rising demand for electricity to a new world where efficiency has ended such “load growth” and transmission is being built more and more to either move wind power from Northern New England or to import hydropower into the region from Canada to serve as “firming power” during times of less wind.

This change will not be easy or simple and it must be done right.  Imports of hydropower from Canada may or may not be part of the solution set we need – and any proposal to build transmission for that purpose must be carefully scrutinized and integrated into our planning for meeting the climate driven emissions reductions mandates on the books across the region.  This caution is even more true of natural gas infrastructure, whether it be pipelines or new power plants. Keeping our eye on the prize of meeting our climate and reliability goals in a sane and cost-effective manner will drive a push for greater efficiency, local clean generation and a measured amount of transmission to support bringing large-scale renewable energy (and wind in particular) to market.

 

Congress Can Let New England States Plan for Future Storms, or Not

Dec 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

USACE

The US Army Corps of Engineers works on many coastal projects in Texas. Will Congress let them coordinate with states in New England?

A little over a year ago Superstorm Sandy barreled up the east coast and wreaked havoc on coastal communities and in many states inland. The impacts were notably fierce in New Jersey and areas in and around New York City, but Rhode Island and other states also suffered serious impacts. Homes, businesses and the local infrastructure which creates communities – phone and electrical lines, roads and highways, drinking water and sewage systems, and TV and mass communication systems – were knocked out for days. Some folks couldn’t return to their homes for weeks and thousands of people along the east coast lost their homes completely. It’s estimated that 285 people were killed.

The significant challenges that coastal states face with increasingly large storms in the era of climate change are clear. Luckily, we have excellent policy tools designed specifically to help address the uncertainties of climate change in the National Ocean Policy, and ocean user groups across our region support its use. The National Ocean Policy uses regional ocean planning, improved science and data, requires better agency coordination and relies on deep involvement by stakeholders – all of which are needed to tackle these types of management challenges now. As one state official said, “We can either plan now or we can let nature plan for us.” This is especially true when the anticipated future increase in the number and severity of storms will make these challenges larger and more difficult. We have the tools of the National Ocean Policy at hand, but if some in Congress get their way the New England states could be barred from working with the federal agencies necessary to plan for coastal storm impacts.

The House of Representatives has recently passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, also known as WRRDA. The House bill contains a harmful additional provision, known as a rider, which would prohibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from coordinating with coastal states to implement any ecosystem-based management or regional ocean planning program. This provision, led by a Congressman from land-locked Waco, Texas, seeks to prohibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key coastal and ocean management agency, from coordinating with coastal states. This means that even though many states are conducting planning efforts to help protect their ocean resources and support their state’s ocean economy, they would not be able to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps on any projects under the National Ocean Policy. While driven by an anti-federal sentiment, the Flores rider actually weakens the ability of states to carry out ocean planning and coastal management for the welfare and health of its own citizens.

On the bright side, the Senate passed a version of the WRRDA bill containing the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO), which would establish a beneficial fund for improving coastal management and resilience. Championed by energetic Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, NEO will help set up an endowment supporting work by state, regional, tribal and federal entities, as well as nonprofit organizations and academic institutions to fund the baseline science, monitoring, and observation data needed to improve ocean use management, including economic development that will create jobs and support coastal economies.

We need ocean planning and we need all federal agencies — including the US Army Corps of Engineers – to be closely engaged with states and other federal agencies. We can’t be held hostage to the whims of a nonsensical political agenda when we have real work to get done; the difference could be destroyed communities and lost lives. Thankfully, large numbers of Senators and Representatives from New England and other states have spoken out in support of the National Ocean Policy and a National Endowment for the Oceans. Now the Congress needs to let states prepare for their own future by rejecting the irresponsible Flores Rider and enacting the National Endowment for the Oceans.

 

Driving Climate Change

Nov 20, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

climate-change-in-vermont

photo courtesy of Paul Krueger@flickr.com

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2013 edition  of the Sunday Rutland Herald / Times Argus.

The biggest contribution to climate change in Vermont comes from how we get ourselves around. As a rural state we rely on cars — and they burn a lot of gasoline, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions. To responsibly address climate change, we must take a hard look at our cars and our tailpipes and take a big bite out of our gasoline use.

Fortunately electric vehicle use is on the rise. According to Drive Electric Vermont, the number of electric vehicles on the road in Vermont quadrupled in the last year.  Currently more than 400 electric vehicles are registered across the state. In the last three months alone, Vermont saw a 50 percent increase in electric vehicles.

Vermonters are rapidly embracing this cleaner choice, and new initiatives will make it easier and less costly for more people to “drive electric.”

Vermont is one of eight states — four in New England and California, New York, Maryland and Oregon — that recently announced efforts to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the fueling infrastructure to support them. 

Electric vehicles can be either all electric or can be plug-in hybrids that rely on gasoline engines and can also plug into a socket for power. For most commutes, all-electric vehicles provide ample range between charges — about 80 miles — and can be plugged into an outlet either at home or work. Plug-in hybrids have the same travel range as gasoline-powered cars.

The cost of electric vehicles dropped over the past two years. Leasing an all-electric car costs about $200 per month and is quite comparable to the cost of many other car leases. The big savings is in pollution and fuel costs.

All-electric cars have one quarter the fuel cost of gasoline-powered cars. They run on the equivalent of about $1 per gallon gasoline.

Including all the costs over the lifetime of the car, electric vehicles cost less than a gasoline-powered car. Many makes and models of electric vehicles are currently available, including cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Tesla.

Operating electric cars reduces soot and greenhouse gases and gets us closer to meeting our climate goals and using our power sources more efficiently. Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline cars: They use more of the power available and produce less wasted heat.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one all-electric vehicle produces less than one-third of the emissions of a Subaru Outback. And riding a bicycle or walking near an electric car is like a breath of fresh air, since they don’t leave you breathing smoke and fumes.

To run clean electric cars, we must consider the source of electricity used to power them — and keep that electricity supply clean and renewable. Looking into the future,  all-electric cars will be useful in better managing our electric power grid as we work to achieve Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy use.

To encourage use of electric vehicles, Vermont already has low interest loans for public charging stations. And with its partner states Vermont will be developing additional incentives: improved building codes that will make it easier to construct new car charging stations, additional electric vehicles in public car fleets, financial incentives to promote cleaner cars, and lower electricity rates for electric vehicle  charging systems.

Vermont needs electric cars for many important reasons — to meet our climate goals, reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil and save families money. Electric vehicles provide a piece of the transformation that is urgently needed to move away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recent devastation in the Philippines is another critical wakeup call that reminds us all why we need measures like these.

The efforts of Vermont and other states, represent an important piece of the transformation required to head us toward cleaner and lower-cost ways to get around.

“NO” to Expanding Gas Pipeline in Vermont

Nov 13, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

At a time when climate change demands we do everything we can to move away from fossil fuels, building a new gas pipeline in Vermont moves us in the wrong direction.

The Vermont Public Service Board must decide if a new 41 mile pipeline will advance the “public good” of Vermont.

Conservation Law Foundation has participated in the technical hearings and provided expert testimony that the project will INCREASE greenhouse gas emissions, damage our climate and lock us in to fossil fuels for fifty to one hundred years.

Now it is your turn. Tell the Board what you think. You can provide written or email comments to the Vermont Public Service Board at this link.

Some issues to highlight can include:

  • At a time when climate change is upon us we must think carefully about putting in place new fossil fuel systems that will be around for a very long time. Keeping us hooked on fossil fuels for many years is a bad idea.
  • The proposed project would run through valuable wetlands and farmland, and expands Vermont’s reliance on fossil fuels at a time we need to be moving away from these polluting sources.
  • This is the beginning of a bigger project to supply gas across Lake Champlain to New York. It also moves Vermont closer to being able to access gas supplies from fracking in the United States.

Let the Board know what concerns you have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that Vermont takes steps now to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels. It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.

The Good, the Hopeful and the Ugly: Clean Energy in America and New England in the Fall of 2013

Sep 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

First, the good:  There’s some good news to report: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of Connecticut are well on the way to implementing key provisions in the clean energy laws that CLF helped craft. These provisions ensure that for years to come the residents of both states will enjoy the benefit of clean and cost-effective renewable energy generated by solar and wind power.

In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports, the utilities are proposing to buy 565 Megawatts of wind power from six wind projects in Maine and New Hampshire.  At least two of those projects will be built by Boston based First Wind.

The Connecticut utilities, reports the Hartford Courant, are proposing to purchase 270 Megawatts of clean power, with 250 of those Megawatts coming from a wind farm in Aroostook County, Maine and 20 Megawatts from a solar project in Sprague and Lisbon, Connecticut.

For over a decade, Conservation Law Foundation has been advocating for states to encourage and require these kind of cost-effective long term contracts between utilities and renewable energy developers (in financial jargon, “going long”). These kinds of contracts are a smart and cost-effective way of managing the transition to a clean energy economy and are consistent with the restructured competitive electricity system and markets that CLF helped to create in our region in the 1990’s. CLF supported similar contracts to make the Cape Wind project possible and worked to shape the laws in both Massachusetts and Connecticut that enabled and mandated the contracts that have just been proposed in both states.

And from Washington, hopeful news: Environmental Protection Agency administrator (and wicked big Red Sox fan) Gina McCarthy announced that EPA is moving forward with the regulations required by the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions of Carbon Dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas causing global warming, from new power plants. As CLF noted in our statement hailing this move:

The emissions limits proposed by EPA are critical to reducing the climate pollution that is raising sea levels, increasing extreme weather events and imposing devastating consequences on people and countries around the globe . . . For the past ten years, actions by the northeast states and countless power plant owners in the region have demonstrated that reducing greenhouse emissions is not only good environmental policy, but also enhances the region’s economic prosperity by more efficiently and cost effectively making and using electricity. Our long experience in decreasing electric sector greenhouse gas emissions in New England, while also reducing energy costs, has blazed a path for EPA to follow in implementing the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

 In a moving and unusually personal essay, Ms. McCarthy explained the regulations and put them the context of her long career in Massachusetts that began with her work as a town public health agent:

I didn’t plan for a life built around protecting the environment. In fact, I started my career as a health agent in the town of Canton, Mass., and later worked for the Stoughton Board of Health. But at some point I realized that at its core, the issue of a clean environment is a matter of public health. The two are inextricably linked.

 This is the perspective that we need to embrace – focusing on the practical connection between reducing emissions and protecting the public health.  This perspective underlay the efforts to slash dangerous emissions in the Northeast and is a solid foundation for the work that EPA is now doing nationally.

And, sadly and unsurprisingly, the “Ugly” is found on Capitol Hill in Washington DC: Recently, I wrote here about what a great choice President Obama made when he nominated Ron Binz of Colorado to be a Commissioner (and the Chairman) of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Mr. Binz is a reasonable and moderate man with an even temperament, a good sense of humor, deep knowledge of the energy world, the ability to see things from a range of perspectives (drawing on his broad experience as a consumer advocate, businessman and state energy regulator) and a clear sense of how to manage the difficult transition that the energy system is experiencing.

It is therefore very disappointing that his nomination is “in trouble.” Mr. Binz is being attacked for having had incidental contact with a lobbying firm hired by others to respond to the massive and unprecedented campaign against his nomination. The closest thing to a substantive complaint against Mr. Binz is this: he has stated that if the Federal government continues to move forward with the regulation of greenhouse gases that, unless carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is perfected and made commercial for natural gas fired power plants so they can run without contributing to global warming, gas will no longer be usable as a major fuel at some point in the future.  In public remarks, that reflect very mainstream thinking in the energy industry, he noted this reality and said that absent CCS the move away from gas must begin before 2035, using the phrase “dead end” to describe the situation.  If you have an appetite for deep engagement of complex energy issues featuring Jim Rogers, the retiring CEO of Duke Energy and Mr. Binz check it out on Youtube – the “controversial” remarks used to create a phony controversy can be found around the 30 minute mark.

Given the current state of affairs on Capitol Hill it is possible, if not likely, that this excellent nomination will fail. That would be a shame indeed.

 

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