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.

The Elephant Not in the Room at the New England Governors – Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference: Tar Sands Fuels and Climate Impacts

Jul 10, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This Sunday marks the start of the annual New England Governors–Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-ECP) Conference. Each year, these regional leaders join forces to discuss pressing policy issues of mutual importance to their states and provinces. While energy issues have been a regular feature of recent NEG-ECP conferences, we understand that a certain energy elephant will be conspicuously absent from the conference room this year: tar sands fuels.

01212014 tarsands pic 1

Dirty tar sands fuels could soon make up 18% of our fuel mix – jeopardizing New England’s hard-won efforts to curb carbon emissions.

Tar sands fuels are slated to hit the region soon, and in a big way. While our current fuel mix is virtually tar sands free, the expansion of tar sands pipelines in the region and nationally means that this dirty fuel could soon make up as much as 18% of our fuel mix by 2020. This rapid shift has huge climate consequences, given that tar sands fuels emit significantly more greenhouse gases than conventional fuels. While New England has been a national leader in pursuing policies to reduce carbon pollution, tar sands could wipe out all those hard-won efforts. A rapid 18% increase in tar sands fuels penetration would not only offset the progress the region has already made in reducing emissions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but impede future efforts as well.

The environmental community has called on leaders attending the NEG-ECP conference to make tar sands fuels a central issue. Twenty-five leading environmental organizations sent the letter below to the organizers of this year’s NEG-ECP conference. There have been some encouraging signs that individual states and cities are starting to look at the issue – South Portland, Maine, for example, is considering an ordinance aimed at preventing shipping of tar sands fuels, and the New Hampshire legislature passed several bills to ensure pipeline safety in 2014, one of which Governor Hassan herself will sign at a ceremony directly after the conference. But the issue has still not been added to the agenda for the NEG-ECP conference. CLF and our partners will continue to urge the New England states to make tar sands-derived fuels a priority issue, even after the delegates to this year’s conference go home.

Update: Shortly after publishing this post, CLF received this response letter from Governor Hassan in New Hampshire. Governor Hassan notably commits to raise the issue of tar sands with delegates of the NEG-ECP conference in the coming year and notes that states in the region are working together to develop the tools necessary to track the carbon intensity of petroleum fuels entering the region. We commend Governor Hassan for these important steps.


Twenty-five national, regional, and state environmental groups signed the following letter, which was provided to each of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. Read the full letter with all signatories.

June 13, 2014

The Honorable Maggie Hassan
Governor of New Hampshire
2014 Chair of New England Governors-Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference
State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301

Dear Governor Hassan,

We write with respect to the upcoming New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-ECP) Conference scheduled for July 13-15 this year in New Hampshire. We ask the Conference to confront growing public concern about the encroachment of tar sands into Eastern Canada and New England by pipeline, rail, barge, and as a refined fuel, and convene working committees to evaluate the threats posed by tar sands spills and evaluate standards for fuel carbon intensity in the region.

As you are likely aware, pipeline proposals in both the U.S. and Canada have focused significant public attention on the risks of transporting tar sands diluted bitumen through pipelines. Simultaneously, new research suggests that the annual influx of tar sands-derived fuels into the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region could have a substantial climate impact that would negate the carbon pollution reductions the U.S. Northeast region has sought under its landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Climate policies in Canada such as Quebec’s greenhouse gas cap and trade system could be undermined.

Together, the transport of tar sands diluted bitumen via pipeline and the consumption of tar sands as a refined fuel is a grave risk to the region. We believe the NGA-ECP Conference should provide state and provincial decision-makers with an opportunity to understand these risks and identify policy solutions to address these pressing issues.

Pipeline proposals to carry tar sands diluted bitumen
Public concern over the transport of diluted bitumen has grown considerably in the past several years. Many of the concerns have focused on the potential impact of a spill to waterways given that diluted bitumen has different chemical properties than conventional oil.   Now that Enbridge’s Canadian Line 9 is approved to bring tar sands to Montreal, many in the U.S. believe that the Portland Pipe Line Corporation will request permission from the U.S. State Department to reverse the flow on the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL) in order to transport tar sands. In response, dozens of communities in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Quebec have passed resolutions in opposition to a reversal. A spill of diluted bitumen from the PMPL pipeline could threaten drinking water supplies, wildlife, fishing and other water dependent industries, and public health across New England.

At the same time, TransCanada is moving ahead with its Energy East pipeline proposal which, if approved, would carry tar sands diluted bitumen and potentially impact hundreds of communities across all of Eastern Canada. Once diluted bitumen is loaded onto tankers there is also the possibility of a marine oil spill into both the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. The pipeline would also have the climate pollution impact equivalent to adding seven million new cars to Canada’s roads.

An influx of tar sands into the region’s refined fuel mix
A new analysis indicates that by 2020, as much as 18 percent of the U.S. northeast region’s fuel supply could be derived from carbon-intensive tar sands ­- up from less than 1 percent in 2012. If that occurs, it would increase greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10 million metric tons per year. This would offset the carbon pollution reductions that the region is seeking under its landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative over the next five years. Unless states take immediate action to hold the line against growing carbon emissions, and boost efforts to support the clean fuels sector, the influx of tar sands fuel would undo years of progressive climate policy.

We ask the NEG-ECP adopt a resolution to convene a committee of environmental agencies to develop standards and recommendations around fuel carbon intensity across the region.  Last year, the NEG-ECP passed Resolution 37-3, concerning transportation.  This resolution built on priorities raised at the 2012 conference to facilitate a more sustainable transportation future and identified the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while exploring opportunities to advance the green economy through investments in clean, efficient, and sustainable transportation. A resolution at the 2014 conference addressing the encroachment of high carbon intensity fuels like tar sands in our transportation fuel mix is correlated to, and logically evolves from, the transportation resolutions adopted at the 2012 and 2013 conferences.

We also ask the conference adopt a resolution to more fully investigate the threats associated with the transport and spills of diluted bitumen both by pipeline, rail, and barge.   Rapidly growing evidence shows that spills of diluted bitumen pose greater threats to water resources than conventional oils, with serious implications for emergency response and clean up. Major tar sands spills in Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013 provide direct evidence of these unique challenges. Now is the time for state and provincial decision-makers to better understand the inherent risks of transporting diluted bitumen and options to confront and eliminate these risks.

We would also be pleased to have an opportunity to present our views and research on these issues and thank you for considering these recommendations.




Vermont Gas — Faulty Analysis, Faulty Results

Jun 16, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Taking climate change seriously means taking a hard look at proposals to expand fossil fuels in the region. Science tells us we need to move quickly – run, don’t walk – away from fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable sources of energy.

The massive new pipeline proposed by Vermont Gas will run (not walk) through Vermont and across Lake Champlain to serve an industrial customer in New York. It will be a pipeline in place for 50 to 100 years – long past the time we need to move away from fossil fuels.

Common sense says a new fossil fuel project will increase greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis from Vermont Gas defies common sense. It is based on unreasonable and unrealistic assumptions about future uses, methane leaks and the global warming features of methane.

Following current science, CLF filed testimony at the Public Service Board showing the troubling and faulty analysis by Vermont Gas.

Professor Jon Erickson, a leading ecological economist at the University of Vermont explained the imperative to reduce emissions based on the recent IPCC assessment and how expansion of natural gas “would likely result in considerable, long-term lock-in to natural gas use resulting in total GHG increases and nonrenewable energy dependence that is incompatible with long-term state policy.” (p.8). You can read the testimony here.

Shanna Cleveland who authored a report of gas leaks and has been active in a number of regional gas proceedings explained several shortcomings in the Vermont Gas analysis including:

1) leak rates that underestimate emissions (pp.  8-10); 2) emission estimates that do not correspond to the system that supplies gas to VGS (p. 10); 3) unreasonable assumptions by VGS that all gas will replace oil (p. 10-13); 4) failure to use the most recent figures for the global warming potential of methane (pp. 14-16); and 5) failure to account for excess capacity (p. 16). These shortcomings show that VGS significantly underestimates the emissions that will result from the project. Ms. Cleveland then identifies steps that can be taken to reduce emissions and make sure we use our limited supply of gas wisely. (p.20-25). You can read the testimony here.

James Moore, a developer of solar projects for consumers explained how cleaner, low cost solar is available now to meet heating needs and how expanding natural gas undermines Vermont’s ability to meet its clean energy goals. (pp.5-6). You can read the testimony here.

As President Obama said in a recent interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times: “Science is science …. And there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that’s in the ground right now that the planet’s going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.”  Concerning natural gas, where methane leaks can wipe out any climate benefits of natural gas, it is important for states to get it right. That means saying “NO” to carte blanche approval of massive new pipelines. It also means industry and regulators building in conditions to pipeline use that support the needed transition to cleaner and lower cost energy supplies.

Public Hearing: Vermont Gas Pipeline Expansion

Jun 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on the proposed Phase 2 expansion of Vermont Gas facilities.

Vermont Gas Systems Expansion
Thursday evening, June 12, 2014 
7:00 p.m 
Middlebury Union High School Auditorium
73 Charles Ave., Middlebury, VT

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 Board is considering a proposal to expand the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline through Addison County and across to New York to serve the Ticonderoga Mill. 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 prior post explains some of the problems of expanding natural gas use.

Come 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

Maine is Ground Zero for Determining the Role of Natural Gas in New England’s Energy Future

Jun 10, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

One of the greatest energy and climate challenges facing Maine and the nation is making sure we get right the role of natural gas in our energy – and climate – future.

Right now, Maine is ground zero for this challenge. The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has opened a proceeding that could result in Maine electric customers paying up to $1.5 billion and three to four times their fair share of an interstate natural gas pipeline. Advocates for the plan say that those costs to Maine customers would ultimately be recovered through future savings on energy bills. Such a financing scheme for new infrastructure would mark an unprecedented and risky entry into the private energy markets by Maine and the other New England states. At the same time, even though natural gas is considered cleaner than coal and oil, it still releases significant greenhouse gas emissions, making the PUC’s proposal one that will have long-term impacts on our efforts to address climate change and to reform the energy markets.

CLF has taken the lead in this case to ensure a transparent, fair, and thorough assessment of this speculative gambit to manipulate private gas markets, as it represents a significant financial risk to electric customers. What’s more, we believe that a new interstate natural gas pipeline will overbuild our capacity and will result in an over-commitment to and over-reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel with a history of price volatility that presents a reliability risk to our electrical system.

Most significantly, state and regional goals of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gasses by 80% by 2050 will be thrown out the window if this strategy is approved by the PUC, along with any hope of mitigating the harmful effects of climate change. CLF will argue that before any new pipeline capacity is added, we must maximize efficient use of our existing pipeline system, make market changes that allow for more efficient and flexible use of existing gas supplies, fully utilize existing LNG and gas storage capabilities, and expand pipelines incrementally and only if and when market-driven need calls for it.

While Maine is ground zero on this issue today, similar proposals to expand natural gas infrastructure are cropping up across New England. CLF will be vigilant in ensuring that New England does not rely on natural gas as the sole answer to our energy supply issues, but rather as a bridge to a cleaner-energy future for the entire region.

New England Out Front in New Action Plan for Zero-Emission Vehicles

May 30, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Yesterday the New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, together with California, Maryland, New York, and Oregon, released a new Action Plan announcing the roadmap to achieving their collective goal of putting 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2025.  The Action Plan puts meat on the bones of a pledge first introduced by the eight states in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on October 24, 2013.

By increasing the sale of ZEVs—which include battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles—the eight MOU states are taking an important step in combating the air pollution and climate change challenges we face. The Action Plan takes critical steps to make the 3.3 million goal a reality, including these priority multi-state actions:

  • Increase collaboration among the states and private entities to promote the availability of ZEVs to consumers;
  • Evaluate opportunities to incentivize increased consumer adoption of ZEVs;
  • Increase use of ZEVs in public and private fleets;
  • Remove barriers to retail sale of clean transportation fuels;
  • Increase access to ZEV refueling stations at workplaces; and
  • Coordinate advances in ZEV refueling infrastructure.

Will we soon be seeing more zero emission vehicles in 4 New England states?

The Action Plan also identifies further action that can be taken on a state-by-state basis, including: devising incentives for ZEV purchasers through “point-of-purchase” rebates or state and federal tax credits, access to high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, preferential parking, reduced tolls, and reciprocity across MOU states.

In order for the MOU states to achieve their goal of 3.3 million ZEVS on the road by 2025, it will be critical for individual states to pursue these more ambitious actions, above and beyond the collective activities identified in the Action Plan. For instance, the consumer rebate program just announced in Massachusetts is a model other states can adopt to increase ZEV purchases.

The eight states participating in the MOU account for approximately one quarter of new car sales in the nation.  California’s ZEV program, developed by the state’s Air Resources Board, was the first model for promoting and supporting ZEVs state-wide.  The eight states have also been working toward lowered greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increased ZEV use at the local level, with examples like the all-electric transit bus fleet launched in March in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Unlike internal combustion vehicles, ZEVs do not emit GHGs through their tailpipes. While the generation of electricity and hydrogen required to operate ZEVs results in GHG emissions, the net lifecycle emissions for ZEV fuels is still less than conventional vehicles overall, with varying GHG profiles depending on the region and energy source.  With current innovations and increasing support for renewable fuel sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal, electricity production for electric vehicles will increasingly be sourced by low or zero emission sources.  In addition to decreased GHGs, implementation of the ZEV Action Plan will lead to decreased smog and therefore better health, increased national security, economic growth, and savings for consumers. Electricity is one-third the cost of gasoline or diesel per mile, and ZEV maintenance costs are far below those for conventional internal combustion vehicles!

CLF applauds the leadership and commitment of the eight ZEV MOU states, and urges additional states to hop on board.

Public Hearing: Vermont Gas Pipeline Expansion

May 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on the proposed expansion of Vermont Gas facilities.

Vermont Gas Systems Expansion

Wednesday evening, May 7, 2014

7:00 p.m 

Shoreham Elementary School,  130 School Road, Shoreham, Vermont

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 Board is considering a proposal to expand the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline through Addison County and across to New York to serve the Ticonderoga Mill. 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 prior post explains some of the problems of expanding gas use.

Come 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.


Climate Problems of Expanding Natural Gas

Apr 21, 2014 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Take natural gas. Its oft-touted low cost and climate benefits are overrated – reminiscent of the nuclear industry’s promise a few decades ago to provide power that would be “too cheap to meter.”

True, current low gas prices have helped the region close its old and polluting coal and nuclear plants. But simply replacing all our oil, propane and coal use with natural gas will not meet our climate objectives. Using gas instead of oil is like a drug addict replacing heroin with methadone – a step in the right direction, but one that fails to provide the meaningful and long-term recovery that we need.

Vermont, like other states in the region, committed to reduce greenhouse gases 75 percent by 2050. The state’s comprehensive energy plan calls for meeting 90 percent of our power needs with renewable resources by 2050. These are ambitious, necessary and achievable goals.


Photo credit: Alexander Baxevanis

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report again stresses the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report warns of food shortages and harm from flooding for major population centers, including cities on the East Coast, as a result of climate change.

The IPCC report also determined that methane, the major component of natural gas, is a more potent greenhouse gas than previously thought. Methane has long been understood to have far greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. The potency of methane breaks down over time. Over a hundred year timeframe, methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In a shorter, twenty year timeframe, methane is 84 times more potent. Based on the recent IPCC studies, these numbers are about twenty percent higher than in the previous IPCC report. In terms of climate change, methane leaked into the atmosphere from natural gas pipelines and wells is significantly more damaging than carbon dioxide. As methane is studied more, its impacts seem to be more severe. And there is no question it poses bigger problems in the short term when we need to be doing even more to reduce emissions.

The journal Science also recently reported on studies from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluding that overall methane emissions are up to 50 percent higher than previous accounts. These studies suggest that more methane is leaking from natural gas production and transportation. The recent gas explosion in Harlem, N.Y, and the map of leaks in Boston show the bitter reality of leaks that are too often undetected.

Since most of the natural gas supply comes from sources that use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” we also need to make sure that our use of natural gas is not harming the water supply and environment in communities hosting the gas wells.

It is time for companies, policymakers and regulators to catch up with science. Vermont Gas Systems still seeks approval to expand its operations to serve customers in Addison County, International Paper in New York and eventually Rutland County. The New England Governors have banded together to seek public funding for major new gas pipelines for the region. If built, these projects will put in place long-term fossil fuel infrastructure that is more damaging to our communities and our climate than previously thought.

To use natural gas responsibly, we must diligently measure the long term impacts of this energy source and also put in place requirements that will phase out its use over the timeframe of a few decades.

One model is the recent approval for the Footprint Power gas-fired electric plant in Massachusetts. It will sit at the same location of a closed coal-fired plant. The evaluation of its greenhouse gases did not simply compare it to the old coal plant. Instead, as the result of a settlement with Conservation Law Foundation, the plant developers agreed to binding annual emissions limits and a retirement date of 2050. These measures keep the facility’s operations in line with the Massachusetts greenhouse gas reduction requirements.

Similar requirements should be routine for any new natural gas project in our region. It only makes sense to first carefully evaluate the real climate impacts over the life of the project and compare those to a range of other alternatives. And we should not approve projects that increase polluting greenhouse gas emissions when compared to other alternatives or export to somewhere else the environmental problems from fracking. If any projects do advance, their use must be limited to ensure they actually replace dirtier fuels and to make sure they retire in the timeframe needed to allow us to meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

A version of this article first appeared in the April 13, 2014 edition of the Sunday Rutland Herald / Times Argus 

Business As Usual Meets the New Normal: Climate Change and Fisheries Management

Mar 26, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

What if a hurricane with the lowest low-pressure readings ever seen in human history was barreling toward the East Coast and all we did was debate if it was a category 4 or 5? John Bullard, regional director for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in New England, used that metaphor recently to describe how we are coping with the enormous transformations that are happening in our ocean right now from climate change.

He used this attention-getter at the overdue multi-agency session in Washington, DC, last week, the purpose of which was to consider the implications of climate change for fisheries management along the U.S. Atlantic coast. This meeting was overdue in that climate change impacts are already being observed by fishermen and scientists alike, and adjusting to our new “normal” will not be easy and will take time.

For New England, the challenge is stark. The Gulf of Maine is one of the most rapidly heating bodies of water on the Atlantic Coast, if not in the US. These temperature changes are sending the sea life off to seek their comfort zone – according to NMFS, 24 of 36 stocks evaluated seem to be moving north or away from coastal waters. To make matters worse, our ocean is also acidifying at increasingly alarming rates. This can cause major problems for shell-forming animals such as scallops and lobsters – the animals that much of our fishing economy depend on. Unfortunately, there has been little economic analysis about the implications of this issue yet.


Lobsters are just one of the species under threat from warming oceans.

Former fish czar Eric Schwaab also spoke at the climate change workshop, noting that the climate is likely changing faster than the fisheries governance structure. Sadly, New England’s fisheries managers have not particularly distinguished themselves in the first 30 years of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, even with a relatively stable ecosystem. Yes, I know there is no such thing as a “stable ecosystem” but it will likely seem like one compared to future manifestations. Now the natural variability will be happening within an ecosystem that is rapidly changing itself.

Bullard drove this home by saying that the current climate-changing 400 parts-per-million levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have never been experienced by mankind, let alone New England fishermen. He then made the obvious point that nothing in our oceans will ever be “normal” again, even though, right now, everyone is acting as if it will be. As if that huge hurricane heading our way will just be going out to sea.

Current examples of the effects of climate abound and were noted by various speakers: black sea bass in NH lobster traps, green crabs taking over the Maine coast, more summer flounder summering more in New England than ever before, no northern shrimp fishery to be found, and the looming end of the southern New England lobster fishery.

I’ve seen it myself, with the glut of longfin squid hanging out on the Massachusetts north shore the last two summers. While we can hope that these changes will be gradual and that an incremental approach will suffice, many ecologists suggest that the “state changes” could be rapid, extensive, and irreversible. Moreover, some New England fishermen who imagine that they will soon being fishing on Mid-Atlantic fish stocks may have forgotten that most of those fish are already in limited access fisheries and have been allocated to others.

Bullard put his finger on what is needed at such a critical pivotal moment: leadership. In his words (loosely transcribed), leadership requires responding to a threat with actions commensurate to the size of the threat even if everyone around you is acting like the threat doesn’t exist.

Amen. While it is hard to put aside my cynicism about the likelihood that this Rube Goldberg fisheries management system – Dr. Mike Orbach’s metaphor here at the meeting – is up to the task, the challenge is clear and the stakes could not be higher for fishermen and fishing communities up and down the Atlantic coast.

In the end, Bullard’s message seemed to me to fall largely on deaf ears at the workshop, with much of the to-do discussion focused on managing at the margin and improved coordination between the New England and mid-Atlantic councils. In other words, business as usual. The leadership to respond to the dramatic shifts in our marine ecosystems due to climate change was not yet evident at the workshop.

But there is hope for the future. While many of these forces of nature are likely beyond our control even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether, we can prepare for changes and increase resiliency by rebuilding as many fish populations as we can and protecting habitat. Dynamic, integrated management will help our fisheries, ecosystems, and communities respond to the realities of a new normal.

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