The Battle to Save the Climate Continues: The Northeastern States Reboot and Improve “RGGI”

Feb 7, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

I was on television the other night talking about the impact of sea level rise and storms on Boston and how the impacts of global warming mean that coastal cities like Boston face very real threats. During that interview, I found myself comparing the process of adapting to a changed climate to finding out the house is on fire and grabbing the cat and the kids and getting out – steps that should be followed by calling the Fire Department in order to save the rest of the house and neighborhood.

The climate equivalent of calling the Fire Department is reducing carbon emissions to head off even worse global warming and the wide gamut of effects that we are feeling and will feel from that phenomenon. On the national level, our problem is that Congress is not sure what kind of Fire Department we should have – and in fact a powerful contingent of folks in Congress refuse to believe in the existence of fire.

But here in the upper right hand corner of the U.S., the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, our state governments have been rolling the big red truck out of the garage and taking action to address the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, a key source of this pollution causing global warming, by capping carbon emissions through the program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”).

Today, February 7, those states (including the New England states of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut) announced an agreement  to strengthen that cap on carbon  from 165 million tons down to 91 million tons (2012 levels).

This step, along with associated refinements to the RGGI program, is an important step toward meeting the climate imperative of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but we temper our applause by clearly noting that more sweeping action will be needed to get there. Listen to the wise words of Jonathan Peress, my colleague and our lead advocate on RGGI from our official release marking this announcement:

“This is a very meaningful step in the evolution of RGGI and a powerful example of how markets can drive solutions to climate change,” said N. Jonathan Peress, VP and director of CLF’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program. “Over the past four years, the RGGI program has proven that putting a price on carbon emissions and using the revenues to expand energy efficiency and clean energy as part of our mix is a formula that works. The program refinements announced today will further accelerate the ongoing transition away from dirty and inefficient fossil fuel power plants to meet our energy needs. Once again, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have demonstrated a path forward for others areas of the country.”

RGGI, the nation’s first market-based cap and trade program requires power plants to hold permits, known as “allowances,” for each ton of CO2 they release into the atmosphere. Revenue from the sale of these allowances is reinvested in energy efficiency programs that reduce costs for businesses and make the states more competitive.

Peress continued, “We applaud the New England states for supporting and strengthening RGGI as an important tool in their toolkits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing a clean energy economy. The RGGI program has proven that carbon cap-and-trade programs can reduce carbon pollution while contributing to economic growth and prosperity. However, state leaders still have much to do to meet the emissions reductions levels dictated by science and our understanding of what it will take for our region to thrive in the face of climate change. Today’s action to strengthen the regional electric power plant cap-and-trade program is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”

The new cap level locks in emission reductions achieved to date, and continues to drive additional reductions through 2020. Since it was launched in 2009, economic experts say the increased energy efficiency that RGGI is driving has been generating greater rates of economic growth in each participating state.

During the years (nearly a decade) since RGGI was first proposed, much has changed. Emissions have continued and we have moved closer and closer to climate disaster, Congress has considered and failed to pass (despite success in one chamber) a comprehensive climate bill, international negotiations on a climate treaty have faltered. But it hasn’t been all bad news: states, including RGGI states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, have adopted legal requirements for climate action and California has moved forward with its own similar program.

When we began the RGGI adventure, we knew that while action would be necessary on the national and global level, the states and regions were the best forum to really take action immediately and effectively. That strategy has paid off in many ways, including the pivotal Supreme Court case brought by Massachusetts and allied states, with support from a host of environmental groups including CLF, that continues to propel forward action by EPA. Now, this decision by the states to turn RGGI up a notch in order to protect the climate and build clean energy and efficiency tells us that this is still the path to travel.

Preparing for the Rising Tide – Across New England

Feb 5, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Boston Harbor Association has a powerful message about the very real threat of sea level rise driven by global warming.  Their report, “Preparing for the Rising Tide”, is a dramatic wake-up call about the fundamental threat to the historic and economic heart of Boston.

The report starts with very solid science that shows how the homes, businesses and cultural institutions (like the New England Aquarium) that sit on the waterfront are now on the edge of entering, and have in some cases already entered, a very real danger zone.  A zone where the flooding and catastrophic damage that Hurricane Sandy brought to the New York region would tear across our coastline – with the prospect of worse to come.  Indeed, had Sandy hit only 5 ½ hours earlier than it did, when tides were high, the floodwaters would have reached Boston City Hall, nearly ½ mile inland from the City’s waterfront. In other words, Boston got lucky compared to New York City and other communities that were brutally whacked by the storm.  And this near miss begs the question:  do we really want to leave the vitality of our coastal communities to chance?

The report provides a few key lessons:

  • Many vulnerable places, like the entrance to the UMass Boston campus, key MBTA stations like the one at the New England Aquarium and sections of waterfront buildings like the Long Wharf Marriott are in very real danger, today, from the severe storms that are becoming an unfortunate, and all too frequent, visitors to the Northeast.
  • Indeed, some of these vulnerable places would have suffered very real and painful damage if Sandy had slightly changed course and struck Boston instead of New York, or if Sandy had arrived just a few hours earlier.
  • As climate change continues to worsen due to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, a build-up that grows a little bit every day, the likelihood of a severe flooding event increases. In a very real way the march of time is our enemy here – with each passing year, as we continue to pump enormous quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the chance of a catastrophic flooding event grows.
  • Addressing this fundamental problem will require an integrated approach that reaches across all aspects of society, the economy and government – fundamentally transforming the way we plan, use our land and water resources, build, travel, manage our buildings and use energy – in order to make our communities more resilient and able to handle inundation and other impacts from the changing climate but also to reduce the emissions that are causing the problem in the first place.

In other words, while it remains critically important to tackle the root causes of climate change by reducing energy waste and cleaning up our energy supply, that’s not enough any longer. The emissions we produce today from driving our cars and heating and lighting our buildings will produce effects that are beginning to materialize now – as with Superstorm Sandy – and that will present ever more daunting challenges for future generations. We therefore need to brace for impacts that already have been set in motion. And we must adapt a broad range of infrastructure and institutions to make our communities more resilient to those impacts.

Conservation Law Foundation, as a group with roots in Boston and nearly 50 years of work here, applauds the work of the Boston Harbor Association in preparing and releasing this Report.  As a regional organization that works across New England, we recognize that the Report reflects an absolutely vital case study that provides guidance for planning and preparations in Massachusetts’ largest city, while also providing an example of the kind of sober analysis and planning that needs to unfold from Connecticut’s Long Island Sound coastline to the frigid waters of Downeast Maine.

This Report is a reminder that we must act now to protect our communities from the harm that has already been done – and we need to act on emissions reductions to prevent even worse and more catastrophic harm beyond the massive flooding outlined in TBHA’s chilling maps.   This is the mandate of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act that has been on the Commonwealth’s books since 2008. Having had the foresight to enact this law the question becomes whether we here in Massachusetts will have the courage to truly implement it.  TBHA’s Report, which looks at both the impacts that are unavoidable and the even worse impacts if massive greenhouse gas emissions continue, provides a compelling reminder of the  consequences of inaction.

From Off the Coast of Massachusetts: A Cautionary Tale About Natural Gas Infrastructure

Jan 30, 2013 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

The front page of the Boston Globe last week presented a powerful, timely and cautionary tale about  two liquefied natural gas terminals  that sit off the coast of Gloucester and Salem. Those terminals are the tangible reminder of a massive push undertaken by energy industry insiders to build such terminals.  The intensity of that push, which began to build around 2002, becoming most intense during the 2004  to 2007 period and then petering out in the years since, contrasts sharply with the reality described in the Globe article: that those two offshore terminals have sat idle for the last two years.

That push to build LNG import facilities, which was such a mania in energy industry circles circa 2005, yielded some crazy ideas, like the proposal to hollow out a Boston Harbor Island and the infamous Weavers Cove project in Fall River. The offshore terminals, while the least bad of those proposals, reflected short sighted thinking detached from careful regional planning.  Both in terms of the need for these facilities and design decisions like regulators not forcing the projects to share one pipeline to shore instead of (as they did) twice disturbing the marine environment to build two duplicative pieces of infrastructure.

Today, the hue and cry is no longer about LNG, instead we are bombarded with impassioned demands for more natural gas pipelines as well as more measured discussions of the need for “smart expansions”. Will we have the collective intelligence to be smarter and more careful this time? Will the permitting process force consideration, as the law requires, of alternatives that make better use of existing infrastructure and pose less risk to the environment and the wallets of customers? Fixing natural gas leaks and becoming much more efficient in our use of gas is a key “supply strategy” that needs to be on the table and fully examined before committing to new pipelines.

And as it so often is, the overarching issue here is protecting future generations by addressing the climate issue. Science and prudent energy analysis, makes it clear that we need to put ourselves on a trajectory to end the burning of fossil fuels, including natural gas by the middle of this century. Given this reality every proposal to build massive and long-lived facilities to import more of those fuels must be viewed with great skepticism.

Tar Sands in Vermont? No Way!

Jan 29, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

photo courtesy of someones.life @ flickr.com

I joined with residents of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom today and fellow environmental colleagues to protect Vermont from the devastation of tar sands oil.

We filed a legal action to ensure Vermonters have a say over any proposal to move tar sands through Vermont. See press release here.

The request asks that the increasingly imminent proposal to move tar sands through an existing Northeast Kingdom pipeline be subject to state land use (Act 250) review. See request here.

Tar sands oil poses unique risks to the many natural treasures of the Northeast Kingdom and also imposes extreme climate change risks.

Tar sands oil is a gritty tar-like substance that produces far more emissions than conventional oil. The vastness of the tar sands reserves in Western Canada means that using tar sands oil delays efforts to move towards cleaner energy supplies, and sends us backwards on climate change.

As James Hansen, a leading climate scientist has said, the exploitation of tar sands on mass will be, “game over” for the climate.

Already there are requests to move tar sands east from Alberta to Montreal. The only realistic way to move it beyond Montreal to the deep ports it needs for transportation is through the Portland Montreal Pipeline which passes through Vermont.

There has already been one spill in this old pipeline in Vermont. A spill of tar sands oil – which is much harder to clean up – would be devastating.

Our filing requests that any plans to use the pipeline for tar sands oil be reviewed though Vermont’s land use development law – Act 250 – to protect our land, water and air resources threatened by this dirty fuel .

Natural Gas Leaks: A Risky Business In Need of a Fix

Jan 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

A few weeks ago, Springfield, MA, was rocked by a natural gas explosion that destroyed a building, ruined a city block, and was hailed as a miracle because no lives were lost.

The pipelines that lie below our communities, always out of sight, came suddenly came into focus. The explosion reminded us of the sobering reality that our streets are not always safe. Despite smart investments in energy efficiency and new energy technologies in New England, when it comes to natural gas, whose infrastructure is among the oldest in the nation, we have been reluctant to prioritize investment in replacing and repairing the pipes and valves that we rely upon not only to heat and power our homes, but to keep us safe.  When it comes to natural gas efficiency and investment, there is much more we can do – so much more.

We need to improve safety, increase efficiency, and reduce the risk to communities and to our planet. It is my belief, as well as that of my colleagues here at CLF, that we can and should make our communities healthy and safe from the unnecessary risk of explosions from old and leaky pipelines. This is vital, for two reasons.

It’s vital because methane, the major component of natural gas, is 25 times more potent as a global-warming causing gas than CO2. In a year that has broken so many temperature records, and in an age when climate is showing the signs of human distortion, we are constantly reminded of the strain we are placing on our global ecosystem. It is a strain we need to urgently reduce.

It is also vital to replace and fix pipes leaking natural gas because it is so combustible. Springfield reminded us of this fact. So too did the explosions that that rocked San Bruno, California in 2010, Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2011, and Gloucester, MA in 2009, and most recently, Sissonville, West Virginia, to name only a few. These explosions are reminders of the serious care and attention that our natural gas infrastructure needs. If we fail to provide them with that care, we gamble with our safety, and with our lives, as this image from the San Bruno explosion vividly shows.

As my colleague Shanna Cleveland recently said, “The need for action is particularly acute in Massachusetts where over one-third of the system is considered ‘leak-prone’—made up of cast iron or unprotected steel pipe.” The leaks in Massachusetts are so significant that the gains by efficiency programs put in place by Massachusetts regulators are disappearing into thin air. A report released by CLF by that name (Into Thin Air, available to download for free here) documents how these leaks, known as “fugitive emissions,” are being borne not by the utilities, or by the regulators, but by consumers. Utilities pass the cost of lost gas onto ratepayers to the tune of $38.8 million a year. Here’s an infographic from that report:

Another report by Nathan Phillips of Boston University combines Google Earth and research into a compelling visualization of just how prevalent these leaks are.

Like the explosion in Springfield, Nathan’s map documenting the 3,356 separate natural gas leaks under the streets of Boston reminds us that, as we walk or drive down the street, we are often driving through an invisible cloud of natural gas leaking from aging pipes. If you are like me, to accept the avoidable risk of a predictably volatile gas is deeply unsettling.

With the exuberance for cheap, domestic natural gas on the rise, proposals for new massive interstate pipelines are in the works. Houston-based Spectra, a natural gas pipeline company, is proposing a $500 million expansion for Massachusetts alone. Before we go down that route, I would like to make three simple suggestions.

1) Whether the natural gas industry ever delivers on its claim of being more environmentally friendly than coal or oil depends on how well natural gas infrastructure addresses leaks. We develop more accurate tools for assessing the greenhouse gas emissions from pipelines.

2) Not only is investment in new pipelines and power plants expensive, but it comes with serious and lasting environmental consequences whose costs are too often discounted or ignored.  Before we blindly rush ahead with investments to expand, we need to look closely at the full range of costs.

3) Finally, we would do well to remember the lessons we have learned so well about the environmental and financial benefits of looking to efficiency first. Efficiency, both in the traditional sense of reducing our use of natural gas, and in the sense of maximizing the efficiency of our existing natural gas infrastructure by replacing outdated infrastructure and repairing leaks will reduce risk, reduce costs, reduce environmental impacts and put people to work throughout the region.

As the explosions in San Bruno, Gloucester, Allentown, and Springfield have reminded us, this is about the safety of our communities. We should not let promises of short-term profit in new projects trump both the near-term risk of thousands of leaks and the long-term sustainability of this region and stability of our climate.

Ignoring leaky natural gas infrastructure is risky business. Let’s fix what we have, and maximize our efficiency gains, before aggressively expanding. We’ll be more sustainable, and safer, that way.

 

Storm Clouds Gather Over Brayton Point

Dec 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Frank C. Grace, www.trigphotography.com

Frank C. Grace, www.trigphotography.com

Coal-fired power is dying, not only across the nation, but across New England as well.  The region’s coal-fired power plant fleet has started to succumb to the costs of operating a coal-fired dinosaur in the age of energy efficiency, growing renewable electricity generation, and–for now–low natural gas prices.

Predominantly coal-fired Brayton Point Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, is the state’s largest single source of carbon emissions (producing over 6 million tons in 2010). Another harmful pollutant emitted by Brayton Point is particulate matter, which is measured daily by monitors that continuously check the opacity of the soot coming out of the plant’s smokestack. Brayton has been violating their limits for emitting that soot, and failing to monitor their emissions of several other harmful pollutants. Yesterday, CLF filed a notice of intent to sue Brayton’s current owners, Dominion Resources, for those violations. CLF’s upcoming lawsuit is just the latest in a growing list of bad news for Dominion and Brayton Point.

As New England’s other coal plants started to close or teeter on the edge of closure, Brayton Point Station was expected to be the last coal plant standing in the region. It is New England’s largest coal-fired power plant, and in the past decade its current owners, Dominion Resources, sank over $1 billion in pollution control upgrades into the behemoth. While Brayton Point does not have the kind of legal protection from market realities that PSNH exploits to prop up its dirty old coal generation in New Hampshire, many had assumed that Brayton Point was well-positioned to survive in the changing power generation landscape.

source: EPA and ISO-NE data

But the relentless pressure of low natural gas prices and the costs of starting up and operating an enormous coal-fired power plant have begun to affect every corner of the coal generation market in New England, and Brayton Point has not been spared. The plant’s “capacity factor,” which reflects the amount of power the plant generated compared to the amount of power it could have generated if used to its full potential, has taken a nosedive over the past three years. A plummeting capacity factor means that it is a better economic choice for a plant’s owners to keep it idle most of the time than to operate.

Dominion Resources, clearly, has seen the writing on the wall for coal in New England. After signing a binding agreement to cease coal operations at Salem Harbor Station as a result of CLF’s lawsuit against that plant, Dominion sold the Salem plant earlier this year. Following closely on the heels of the Salem sale, the company put Brayton Point on the market in September. While Dominion is marketing Brayton as a modern coal-fired power plant due to its recent billion-dollar pollution control investments, UBS recently assessed [PDF] the value of those investments (and the plant itself) at zero.

Brayton Point’s plummeting capacity factor and bleak sale prospects reflect both the current power of low natural gas prices and the weakness of these old, out-dated coal plants.  That trend will continue as the New England energy market continues to move forward with better integration of efficiency, conservation and renewable generation. Dark clouds are rising over Brayton Point. In the meantime, CLF and our partners will work diligently to hold the Brayton Point power plant accountable for producing its own dark clouds of pollution in violation of the law.

Bright Energy Forecast: Saving Electricity, Reducing Pollution, Saving Money

Dec 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

For decades Conservation Law Foundation has pushed for more energy efficiency, which continues to be the lowest cost, cleanest and most reliable way to meet power needs. More energy efficiency means fewer dirty coal plants, fewer monstrous transmission lines, and more money in our pockets. We all win.

The operators of the New England Power grid, the ISO-New England, released their energy-efficiency forecast. The news is pretty remarkable.  It shows the real effect of our commitment to energy efficiency. You can read the report here.

In states like Vermont, efficiency will more than offset expected growth and allow older and dirtier supplies to step aside.

 

By comparison New Hampshire, which has not invested as much in efficiency, continues to grow its power use and continues to pay too much for ever more polluting power supplies.

In the words of the ISO New England, the energy efficiency forecast shows the states’ investment in energy efficiency is having a significant impact on electric energy consumption and peak demand. About $260 million in transmission expenses have already been deferred for New England customers. (p.23).

That’s $260 million in our pockets.

What’s also important is that these are very conservative numbers: if states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island meet their goals for helping customers to save energy and money the reductions in energy use will exceed what the ISO is presenting.

This report shows that investments in electricity efficiency are really paying off – we need to apply the lessons from that sector to other areas, like ensuring we use natural gas and oil very efficiently as well, saving customers money while reducing pollution and fuel imports.

More savings are available. Some states are not making as large investments in energy efficiency as others. New Hampshire for example is causing its citizens to experience unnecessarily high costs.

It is good to see the bright payoff from what are only the beginnings of our efficiency investments.

 

 

 

 

Why We Need to Repair and Maximize the Efficiency of Our Existing Natural Gas System Before Looking to Expand

Dec 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As the exuberance for “cheap, domestic” natural gas has heightened, so has pressure to build new pipelines and power plants.  Often lost in the frenzy, however, is the sobering reality that our existing natural gas infrastructure is in need of some serious care and attention.  A recent study highlighted the fact that the pipelines that deliver gas to our homes and businesses are riddled with thousands of leaks.  A large number of those leaks can be blamed on a system that still includes significant amounts of cast iron–some of which dates back to the 1830s.

Explosions in Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2011 as well as a 2009 explosion in Gloucester, MA were traced to aging cast iron.  Coupled with the massive San Bruno explosion, the issue spurred the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a “Call to Action” urging regulators and pipeline operators to accelerate the repair and replacement of high risk pipe.  Given this sense of urgency, the estimated timelines for replacement seem interminably long:

  •  81% of the remaining cast iron is buried in only 10 states:
State
Miles of
Cast/Wrought
Iron Mains (2011)
New Jersey
5,138
New York
4,541
Massachusetts
3,901
Pennsylvania
3,260
Michigan
3,153
Illinois
1,832
Connecticut
1,509
Maryland
1,422
Alabama
1,416
Missouri
1,180
  • Of these states, seven have implemented programs with deadlines for complete replacement:
  • New Jersey – 2035; New York – 2090; Pennsylvania – 2111; Michigan – 2040; Illinois – 2031; Alabama – 2040; Connecticut – 2080; Missouri – 2059.

Really? Decades to get the job done, at best?  And about a century to fully “modernize” pipes in some states? Sad, but true.

Though public safety is the primary driver behind pipe replacement and repair, whether the natural gas industry ultimately delivers on its claims for being less damaging to the climate than oil or coal depends on how well natural gas infrastructure addresses leaks.  In addition, those who are clamoring to blindly forge ahead expanding new natural gas infrastructure before we’ve fully assessed the condition of our current system would do well to remember the lessons that New England has already learned so well about the financial and environmental benefits of looking to efficiency first.  Not only is investment in new pipelines and power plants expensive, but it comes with serious and lasting environmental consequences whose costs are too often discounted or ignored.  Why not maximize opportunities for operating the existing natural gas system more efficiently first, before building (and paying for) more?

Despite the fact that we know natural gas prices are predictably volatile, several states have begun to take action to lock energy customers into long-term commitments to buy natural gas-fired power, thus locking them into paying for the fuel even when the price spikes.  For example, here in Massachusetts, one legislator has championed the idea of providing 10-20 year long term contracts for a new natural gas plant.  The problem with signing a long-term contract for electricity from gas is that while customers benefit when the cost of gas is low, they suffer when the price spikes, as it inevitably does.  That’s notably different from long-term contracts for renewable energy which typically have a guaranteed, fixed price.

Proposals for new massive interstate pipelines are in the works as well.  Spectra, a Houston-based natural gas pipeline company is proposing a $500 million expansion for Massachusetts. And all the lines on the map for proposed expansions of pipeline leading from the Marcellus Shale to the Northeast rival the Griswold Family Christmas lights display.

Before we spend billions on new infrastructure chasing the next gold rush, we must repair and rebuild our existing infrastructure and examine the tried and true tool of efficiency.   A recent study on the potential for natural gas efficiency in Massachusetts showed that efficiency could reduce winter electric demand enough to support the increased use of gas on the system without building new infrastructure:

The Benefits of Energy Efficiency

From Jonathan Peress's presentation at the Restructuring Roundtable on June 15, 2012

 

But there is a risk that regulators will not fully take these very real benefits into account as they review and approve the latest energy efficiency plans.  Indeed, traditional energy efficiency naysayers are using the low price of gas as an excuse to call for reduced investment in efficiency.

The bottom line is that natural gas does have a role in our energy future, but it  is one that must be carefully managed and minimized over time if we are to have any hope of averting climate catastrophe.  In the meantime, before we jump to expand new natural gas infrastructure, we need to look closely at what we already have in the ground and apply the lessons we’ve learned about efficiency.

 

 

 

Risky Business: Leaking Natural Gas Infrastructure and How to Fix It

Nov 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On the day after Thanksgiving, an explosion shook the City of Springfield. A natural gas pipeline leak led to the explosion that injured eighteen people and brought down two buildings.  The details behind the cause of this explosion are still being pieced together, but  once again, public confidence has been shaken in the pipeline system that is supposed to transport natural gas safely and reliably to homes, businesses and institutions in communities throughout the nation. Today, CLF is releasing a report on the importance of addressing problems with our aging, leaky natural gas  infrastructure. (You can download a free copy of that report here, and find the press release here.)

In Massachusetts, local distribution companies operate almost 21,000 miles of pipeline—that’s almost enough pipe to encircle the earth. But people seldom give much thought to those pipes that are running beneath their homes, beneath their businesses and beneath their feet.

That has been changing since the explosions that rocked San Bruno, California in 2010 and Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Shortly afterwards, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation issued a national “Call to Action” to address pipeline safety, but there are still many hurdles to be overcome. One of the toughest obstacles to tackle is the replacement of aging, leak-prone pipelines and the swift repair of leaks on the system. Public safety is the primary driver behind the repair and replacement of aging pipes, but it is also important to recognize the added benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving a valuable resource, and reducing ratepayer costs.

The need for action is particularly acute in Massachusetts where over one-third of the system is considered “leak-prone”—made up of cast iron or unprotected steel pipe. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 50% of the cast iron left on the United States distribution system is centered in only four states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Though Massachusetts regulators have been working to find solutions to this problem, there is more to be done.

This infographic underscores the need for additional work in Massachusetts. So significant are the leaks that the gains from efficiency programs put in place by Massachusetts regulators have been overwhelmed by the amount of gas lost through leaky pipes. The costs of those leaks are being borne not by the utilities, or by the regulators, but by consumers. Utilities pass the cost of lost gas onto ratepayers to the tune of $38.8 million a year.

“Fugitive emissions from aging gas pipelines across Massachusetts are polluting our environment – releasing more greenhouse gases than we are saving through all of our energy efficiency efforts,” said D. Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America. “This is problematic for the environment and the economy, but fixing this problem provides an important opportunity. Putting people to work fixing leak-prone pipelines will save Massachusetts ratepayers money by simultaneously modernizing our pipe infrastructure, improving efficiency and helping to protect the environment.”

Fortunately, there are some clear policy options that could be implemented relatively quickly to prevent this valuable resource from endangering the public and vanishing into thin air.  “The good news is that not only would these policies increase public safety and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also provide an opportunity to create good, local jobs,” according to Cindy Luppi, New England Director of Clean Water Action.  As she points out, “local neighborhoods, as well as first responders, will bear the brunt of impacts if this aging system experiences an explosion.   We hope all public officials will embrace real solutions that value health and safety, ratepayer equity and climate leadership.”

As outlined in our report, Into Thin Air, CLF is advocating for five specific policies to accelerate the replacement of aging pipe and ensure that existing pipeline is properly examined and repaired:

1)    Establishing Leak Classification and Repair Timelines that provide a uniform system for classifying leaks according to level of hazard and require repair within a specified time;

2)    Limiting or Ending Cost Recovery for Lost and Unaccounted for Gas so that companies have an incentive to identify the causes of lost gas and prevent them;

3)    Expanding existing replacement programs and adding performance benchmarks;

4)    Changing Service Quality Standards to include requirements for reducing leaks on the system;

5)    Enhancing monitoring and reporting requirements to give the public and regulators more information.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working with our allies at Clean Water Action and the BlueGreen Alliance to raise public awareness about the need to tackle this issue. We’ll also work with communities to make sure they know how to identify and report gas leaks and talk with them about the benefits of policies that make for a safer, cleaner natural gas system. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact me at scleveland@clf.org.

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