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.
zero-emission-vehicles

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.

natural-gas-expansion

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.

climate-change-and-fisheries-management

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.

CLF Works for Clean Water in a Changing Climate

Mar 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Lake-Champlain-TMDL

A deluge of rain in spring 2011 caused flooding upstream of Lake Champlain. Extreme weather and damaging floods are not the only downside of Vermont’s changing climate. Mud-brown flood waters flowing to Lake Champlain also increase the loading of nutrient pollution that can cause toxic blue-green algae blooms and noxious weed growth.

The damaging floods of spring 2011 followed by Tropical Storm Irene in late summer awakened many Vermonters to the connection between climate change and extreme precipitation. But well before the “watershed moment” that was 2011, CLF’s Vermont Advocacy Center was pushing policymakers to connect the dots between our clean water challenges and the changing climate. Thanks in part to CLF’s efforts, Vermont is now poised to play a leadership role in the national climate change conversation around strategies to secure the natural resource we literally cannot live without: clean water.

CLF has worked for years to ensure that enforceable measures are put in place to clean up Lake Champlain, which has been heavily impaired by nutrient pollution. This pollution causes toxic blue-green algae blooms and noxious weed growth that make the water unsafe or unpleasant for swimming, fishing, and boating, and has led to massive fish die-offs in some parts of the lake.

In 2002, EPA approved a framework created by Vermont officials for cleaning up nutrient pollution in the lake, but it failed to take into account the growing scientific consensus that our climate is changing. In 2008, CLF sued EPA, under the Clean Water Act, to reopen this framework and revise it to include consideration of climate change. Specifically, CLF cited government studies such as the 2008 EPA National Water Program strategy document titled “Response to Climate Change.” It concluded that the climate chaos we are causing with our greenhouse gas pollution will “alter the hydrological cycle, especially characteristics of precipitation (amount, frequency, intensity, duration, type) and extremes.” The report also made a range of predictions that ring true in Vermont’s recent experience of the changing climate:

• “[w]ater-borne diseases and degraded water quality are very likely to increase with more heavy precipitation”;

• potential increases in heavy precipitation, with expanding impervious surfaces, could increase urban flood risks and create additional design challenges and costs for stormwater management”;

• flooding can affect water quality, as large volumes of water can transport contaminants into waterbodies and also overload storm and wastewater systems.

CLF and EPA ultimately settled the case, with EPA subsequently agreeing to redo the Lake Champlain cleanup framework to account for the ways in which Vermont will have to adapt our pollution-control efforts to a world in which heavy precipitation and flooding are increasingly the norm for New England. CLF’s success in the case has since been cited as a national model (e.g., “Using Legal Tools to Protect Lakes and Rivers from Climate Impacts“) and one CLF is working to replicate as it fights for clean water solutions on Cape Cod.

Now, CLF is actively participating in the new Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process to ensure that both EPA and Vermont officials succeed in finding a way to secure enough clean water in a changing climate, both because the job is imperative for Vermont’s future and because the lessons we learn here can apply elsewhere in New England and the nation. Fortunately, EPA is bringing some cutting-edge, forward-looking science to the table. For example, EPA has produced a report titled Projected Changes in Phosphorus Loads Due to Climate Change. It is helping Vermont policymakers plan for the added challenges that climate change presents to our ongoing pollution-control efforts. EPA is also working on a second report that will help regulators understand which on-the-ground pollution control measures are most likely to succeed when tested by extreme precipitation  like that we’ve seen recently and can expect more of as climate change worsens.

State officials are also recognizing the need to revisit regulatory standards applicable to developed areas that are the source of polluted runoff and increased flooding risks. CLF is an active stakeholder in the process of updating the state’s official Stormwater Management Manual. One key aim is to ensure that design standards match up with the scale of the extreme weather events we are witnessing. Moreover, CLF is advocating for pollution-control approaches that emphasize “Low Impact Design” and “Green Infrastructure.” These development techniques seek to preserve and/or mimic the natural landscape’s ability to soak up precipitation rather than concentrating its flow into destructive, heavily polluted volumes.

Since Vermont has been thrust into the forefront of states wrestling with this complicated issue, President Obama named Governor Peter Shumlin to his White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resiliency. Recognizing CLF’s leadership role in this effort, Governor Shumlin has tapped CLF advocates to join other Vermont experts in crafting climate-resilience recommendations to the White House Task Force.

The challenge of achieving clean water in a changing climate is a daunting one. First and foremost, we must do all we can to reduce climate-change pollution, thereby avoiding making the problem worse. In Vermont and throughout New England, CLF is fighting hard for clean energy solutions. At the same time, and with your continued support, CLF is helping Vermont lead the way toward water-pollution control measures that can stand up to the worst climate change has to offer.

They’re Still Number 1: PSNH’s Merrimack Station Leads the State Again in Toxic Chemical Releases

Feb 20, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

It’s clear to anyone paying attention to air pollution trends in New Hampshire that PSNH’s coal plants are a huge health and environmental liability for the state. And according to EPA data released last week, PSNH’s coal fleet continues to lead the state in toxic chemical releases: Merrimack Station in Bow remained New Hampshire’s number one toxic polluter in 2012, and Schiller Station in Portsmouth was number four.

Toxic-Chemical-Releases

“Merrimack-Station” by PSNH on flickr is licensed under CC by-nd 2.0

That these largely coal-burning facilities (one of Schiller Station’s units burns wood) are still the biggest releasers of toxic chemicals in the state is even more sobering given that the capacity factors (the ratio of utilization of a unit compared to its potential) for PSNH’s coal units hit their lowest levels ever in 2012:

I’ll say it again: a coal plant running at less than 1/3 capacity (the Merrimack units together ran at 32.23% in 2012) still releases more toxic chemicals than any other facility of any type in New Hampshire. 2012 was also the first full year that the $420 million scrubber was operational at the plant.

While Schiller Station dropped from second place in 2011 to fourth place in 2012 in toxic chemical releases, it’s a good bet that Schiller will be back in the number 2 spot when the 2013 numbers are released next year. Why? Though they’re still very low, the capacity factor for Schiller’s coal units nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013 (from 12.54% to 22.95%).

The bottom line: Even with a $420 million pollution control project online and rock-bottom capacity factors, PSNH’s coal-burning units are the state’s worst and fourth-worst toxic chemical releasers. The Public Utilities Commission and New Hampshire Legislature should keep this in mind as they discuss the future of PSNH’s electricity generating assets.

Toxic-Chemical-Releases

Source: ISO-NE and EPA Air Markets data

Groundbreaking Settlement Reached on Salem Natural Gas Facility

Feb 18, 2014 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

In a groundbreaking settlement with Footprint Power on its proposed natural gas facility in Salem, MA, the plant developers agreed to emissions limits and a future shutdown date to comply with Massachusetts mandates. The settlement ensures that, for the first time ever, a proposed natural-gas-fired plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels.

Our press release about the settlement is below. Look for more analysis about this settlement in future blog posts. 

BOSTON, MA  February 18, 2014 – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) today announced that the organization has reached a groundbreaking settlement ensuring that for the first time, a proposed natural gas-fired power plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels, including enforceable annually declining emissions limits and a date certain for future plant retirement. The agreement between CLF and the developers of the natural gas-fired Footprint Power Plant proposed at the site of a retiring coal-fired plant in Salem, Mass., has been filed for final review and approval with Massachusetts state authorities.

“At a time when many across the nation and the world see unrestricted growth of natural gas as a climate solution, this is the first settlement providing a pathway for new natural gas infrastructure to help enable rather than undermine a clean energy future,” said CLF President John Kassel. “By recognizing the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas-fired plants, this agreement reaffirms that natural gas and other fossil fuel projects must comply with state climate mandates, and has important implications for similar projects in the region and nationally.”

Since summer 2012, the proposed Footprint plant has been at the center of legal battles over concerns raised by CLF and residents of Salem and surrounding communities, on the grounds that neither the plant’s developers nor the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had demonstrated how the proposed facility could be consistent with the deep emissions reductions established by the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in 2008, requiring emissions to be cut at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Under the settlement announced today, the developers of the Footprint plant agreed to the first ever set of binding conditions for a natural gas plant that establish decreasing annual emissions limits and a retirement date of no later than January 1, 2050. These conditions will help to ensure that the new plant will not hinder Massachusetts’ progress toward reducing emissions. In addition, in connection with the settlement, the Patrick Administration has committed to provide support to municipalities with active or retired coal plants with up to $2 million in funding to build renewable energy facilities and transition to clean energy rather than relying on new fossil fuel plants.

“This agreement shows how natural gas can be a tool for reducing greenhouse emissions if it is appropriately conditioned and constrained in a manner that is consistent with the need to decarbonize our energy system,” said Shanna Cleveland, attorney for CLF. “Natural gas is often viewed as a bridge to the clean energy future; this settlement ensures that there is an end to that bridge. CLF will continue to advocate for sound legal frameworks around energy projects for the benefit of the citizens, communities, economy, and environment of Massachusetts and the entire region.”

The settlement will only take effect if the Siting Board incorporates the entirety of the agreement into the Final Decision as a condition of the approval that the Siting Board is proposing to issue for Footprint Power’s plant. A public meeting will be held at the Siting Board at 10 a.m. at One South Station, Fifth Floor, Hearing Room A in Boston, Massachusetts on Thursday, February 20.

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 conserve our natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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.

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