Local Action, Global Impact

Feb 5, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Sterling College @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Sterling College @ flickr.com

Taking action to tackle climate change comes naturally to New Englanders. We spend a lot of time outdoors and we see first-hand that our climate is changing.

Many of us burn wood to heat our homes. We’ve been doing this for generations. It just makes sense. Wood is a local fuel that is available and low cost.  Many of us also grow vegetables that feed us and our neighbors. Local food tastes better, isn’t trucked here from far away, and it always delights us to see the bounty of our humble backyards. It all seems part of our natural frugality and common sense.

On broader matters of energy, the same ethic holds.

New England states are leaders on energy efficiency. While other regions are busy selling more electricity and producing more pollution, New England was the first to include energy savings in our electricity markets. We’ve reduced polluting greenhouse gas emissions and soot while avoiding expensive and massive new transmission projects. The result is lower electricity costs and less pollution for everyone.

In the realm of renewable energy, our region’s efforts deserve praise and support. Going back to the 1970s oil embargo, we re-developed local hydroelectric sites and Burlington, Vermont replaced coal with woodchips.

In the past decade, the demands of climate change bolstered New Englanders’ efforts. Many of our states have renewable energy requirements. And the percentage of smaller scale renewable energy is growing in many states in the region. At a time when some sunny states like Florida are seeing limited growth in generation from residential solar, many Vermont utilities are already meeting fifteen percent of the peak demand with solar. And that is in a state with fewer sunny days than Seattle. Like our backyard gardens and woodstoves, our roofs and fields are now using a local resource to harness energy from the sun.

The sale of renewable energy credits or (RECs) by some solar companies means that the renewable aspects from some local solar panels are not claimed in Vermont. To be sure, all companies need to be up-front and honest with consumers about what they are buying. And customers maintain the choice to own the renewable power their panels generate. But that does not diminish the overall good from all solar panels operating anywhere in New England.

Climate change is a global problem. A solar panel that produces electricity replaces or avoids the need to produce power from more polluting power sources, in the gas, oil, nuclear, and coal dependent New England grid — no matter who owns the RECs. Each solar panel in use increases the overall supply of renewable energy to our region. And with rapidly encroaching climate disasters, we can’t get to more renewable energy — everywhere — fast enough.

Solving global climate problems demands that we each do our part. For decades, New Englanders have stepped up and used their common sense to solve energy and pollution problems. We are still at it. Going forward, putting a price on carbon pollution will create even more incentives and opportunities to grow local renewable energy and move away from polluting fossil fuels. Instead of sending billions of dollars out of our region to support polluting oil and gas companies, pricing carbon will build on our past successes, keep more money in the region and do our part to further cut greenhouse gas emissions.

New Englanders’ local actions cutting pollution reaps global rewards. We need to keep at it.

Coal-Fired Power Plant Owner Shows No Commitment to Bridgeport or the Environment

Feb 2, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A little over a year ago, the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut, home of one of the last coal-fired power plants in New England, passed a resolution calling for the plant’s owner, PSEG, to shut down the 50-year old behemoth and rehabilitate the property for its next use. But PSEG decided instead to double-down in Bridgeport, announcing it would add a second fossil-fuel plant on the same property and that it would keep burning coal “for as long as it makes financial sense.”

The City then formed a Citizens Action Committee (CAC) to investigate.

Last September, the Committee issued its report, calling on PSEG to do the right thing: shut down the outdated coal-fired plant, which continues to dump hundreds of thousands of tons of poisonous pollutants and greenhouse gases into the air every year. The Committee also urged PSEG to establish a fund supporting the community’s efforts to heal the damage the plant had done to people’s health and the local environment.

Finally the Committee asked the plant owner to create a task force to determine whether a new gas-fired plant even makes sense – that is, could a big new fossil-fueled power plant ever comply with the Connecticut Global Warming Solutions Act’s (GWSA) mandate to drastically reduce emissions by 2050? And, particularly given growing concern over sea level rise (and the plant’s perilous location on the coast), is there a better use for the site?

Let’s cut to the chase: the answer to these questions is simple. There is no way Connecticut can meet its GWSA mandate if PSEG continues to build and operate coal and gas plants across the state “for as long as it makes financial sense” (to PSEG!) to do so. The reality is, any other economic use would be better for Bridgeport than a new fossil-fuel power plant with another pollution-spewing smokestack.

But PSEG is a fossil-fuel power company desperately holding on to the old energy economy. So instead of meaningfully addressing the Committee’s report, PSEG negotiated in secret with a hand-picked group of “community” and environmental representatives (CLF and many others were originally excluded). The result of these behind-closed-door meetings was a draft “Community Environmental Benefit Agreement” so weak and one-sided that PSEG’s legal team should have called it the “PSEG Benefits Agreement.”

Close the coal plant as soon as possible? Nope, how about later. Address Connecticut’s climate laws? We’ll think about it. Invest in local renewable energy projects? Perhaps, if they meet our corporate “investment guidelines.” Help fund the restoration of Bridgeport’s health and environment? A little bit, but if anyone speaks out of turn, you won’t see a cent.

It should come as no surprise that when CLF was allowed to join the negotiations – and we saw how hollow and unenforceable PSEG’s draft “benefits” agreement was – we threw the penalty flag. Public process and participation – at least ours – is not for sale. The stakes are too high, and a sustainable, clean energy future is everyone’s responsibility, PSEG included.

After half a century of breathing coal pollution, Bridgeport deserves more. If PSEG wants our support, CLF is standing by to discuss any number of market-savvy, win-win climate solutions for Bridgeport. Business as usual just isn’t one of them.

Gov. Baker’s Clean Energy & Climate Plan Merely Skims the Surface of Meaningful Climate Action

Jan 29, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week, the Baker Administration released its first update to Massachusetts’ Clean Energy and Climate Plan. This plan – a requirement of the state’s landmark climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) – is intended to guide the state in reaching its statewide emissions limits of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.

In its updated plan, the Administration confidently asserts that it will meet the state’s aggressive emissions reduction goal on schedule. But, up until now, all signs showed that the Administration was NOT on track to reach that goal. A recent analysis by the Global Warming Solutions Project showed that, by 2020, Massachusetts would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% below 1990 levels – trailing the mandated target by 5%.

The Administration’s strategy to make up the difference? Hydroelectric power from Canada. In fact, 17% of the climate plan’s purported emissions reductions by 2020 rely on long-term contracts to procure Canadian hydropower.

But this calculation belies the truth about hydropower, which relies on reservoirs that flood forests and release carbon dioxide, making the true emissions from this fuel source much higher than Governor Baker contends. Furthermore, the transmission lines Governor Baker is counting on to carry all that supposedly clean power from Canada to Massachusetts do not yet exist. They haven’t even been permitted yet (which must be done by other states), let alone constructed or made operational. And there is no assurance any of that will be completed by 2020 (if it’s completed at all).

A bad bet on hydropower isn’t the only way the Baker Administration’s plan goes wrong. Here are highlights of others ways it fails to deliver:

  • The section on transportation downplays current statistics showing that people are driving more, not less – a reality that threatens to wipe out the planned emissions reductions from this sector entirely. While the plan frames this problem as a mere caveat, it’s much more than that, and the plan should address this challenge head on by utilizing more aggressive measures in this sector.
  • Energy efficiency has been downplayed since the last version of this plan and deserves a stronger emphasis as the most cost-effective solution to reducing emissions.
  • The plan fails to address the Commonwealth’s stated reliance on new natural gas pipelines – a “sin of omission,” to quote our partner, Mass Energy. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel – and it brings with it a slew of climate warming emissions. An overreliance on Big Gas will cripple the state’s ability to cut emissions as deeply as climate change demands.
  • In addition to what the plan gets wrong, it also misses a big opportunity to get one thing right: increased emphasis on wind and solar, preferred renewables that aren’t burdened by the same challenges plaguing hydropower.

Implementing the GWSA is of the utmost importance if we’re to prevent more damage to our climate from greenhouse gas emissions. Backfilling the state’s climate plan with tenuous hydropower commitments that misrepresent its true emissions profile is a recipe for disaster.

And this isn’t the only way the Administration is failing to meet its obligation under the GWSA. CLF is also working to ensure that the GWSA’s goals are met by suing the Department of Environmental Protection at the Supreme Judicial Court over its failure to issue regulations to fully implement the GWSA, as the statute requires (check out our oral argument here).

The Administration needs to step up to the plate to ensure that climate change and its immediate and future threats to Commonwealth communities are meaningfully addressed – skimming the surface won’t do.

Update: Massachusetts’ Senate Passes Climate Adaptation Management Plan

Jan 26, 2016 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

UPDATE: Victory! On Thursday, January 28, the Massachusetts State Senate voted unanimously to pass the Climate Change Adaptation Management plan and emissions reductions benchmarks. This victory wouldn’t have happened without bipartisan support and the leadership of Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Pacheco, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

Thank the Senators for their leadership:

The bill will now go to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Stay tuned for how you can help this bill reach its next milestone!

 

Find your senator’s contact information here, then call or email them today. Tell them that you support climate action and ask them to vote yes on S.451 (An Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change). Thank you for speaking up for Massachusetts’ communities!

CLF’s Next 50 Years: Shaping the World We Want for our Children and Grandchildren

Jan 15, 2016 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

2016 is a pivotal year for CLF.

This is the year that CLF turns 50. Since 1966, we have turned impossible odds into incredible milestones, protecting the things we all love about New England – our beautiful coasts and ocean, our mountains, our farms and forests – to ensure that our communities, our friends, and neighbors can thrive.

But, celebrating our first 50 years is not about looking backward. It’s about laying a strong foundation for our fight for New England’s future and the healthy, thriving world we want our children and grandchildren to inherit 50 years from now.

The Defining Challenge of Our Age
Today the stakes are higher than ever before in our history. The battles are more complicated and the fossil fuel lobby is well-funded to maintain its stranglehold on public policy and sabotage our clean energy future. Corporate polluters have funded a deceit and denial campaign about climate change that has put people and communities in New England and around the world at great risk.

But thanks to your work with CLF, decades of climate denial are being drowned out by unprecedented public demand for action, as awareness that climate change is happening here, right now, and in our backyard increases.

Indeed, stopping further damage to our climate is the challenge of our lifetime. But CLF never shies away from the big fights. We never give up and we know how to win. The actions we are taking in 2016 will define CLF’s  – and New England’s – next 50 years.

CLF Staff Attorney Jenny Rushlow argues to enforce climate law before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

CLF Staff Attorney Jenny Rushlow argues for the state to enforce climate law before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The Next 50 Years Starts Today
Last week we defended our climate before the highest court in Massachusetts. Alongside the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance and four courageous teenagers, we demanded that Massachusetts’ groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act – which mandates cuts to carbon pollution – be fully enforced. Our rallying cry for climate action at the Supreme Judicial Court will resonate and be heard throughout New England.

Our rallying cry for climate action will be heard in our push to protect our coastlines. Fifty years ago we stood up and demanded that Boston Harbor be cleaned up – and we won. Now we will take that fight to the next level by ensuring our coastal communities can stand strong in the face of a changing climate and rising sea levels. Our work will determine the future of coastline development throughout New England and across the country.

Our rallying cry for climate action will be heard as we shut down the last coal plant in New England. But we know getting rid of dirty coal isn’t enough. We are also fighting to make sure we don’t trade one dirty fuel for another – natural gas. In 2016 we will escalate our campaign to stop unnecessary and expensive Big Gas gambles, like the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which will be obsolete before they come online.

Our rallying cry for climate action will be heard as we revolutionize our energy infrastructure. We will ensure that new natural gas plants built in New England must reduce their climate-warming emissions over time and shut down by 2050. At the same time, we will drive the growth of affordable, home-grown energy sources, such as offshore wind and solar.

Our rallying cry for climate action will be heard in New England’s legislatures, as CLF comes to the table to help push laws and policies that move us towards a low-carbon emission society by 2020 and a zero-carbon society by 2050.

And our longstanding work on clean water, marine conservation, and healthy communities will become all the more urgent because of climate change. Our work to establish the Gulf of Maine’s Cashes Ledge and the New England canyons and seamounts as the nation’s first Atlantic Marine National Monument will help protect species threatened by ocean warming. Our work for better public transit will keep toxic soot out of our communities, vehicles off the road, and carbon out of the air. Our clean water enforcement work is needed more than ever as climate change causes record rain and snow fall in New England, overwhelming our dated infrastructure.

We’re Stronger Together
But we will only succeed with your voice amplifying our efforts. We cannot make the impossible possible without you. I look forward to our journey together in 2016 as we work to ensure that our next 50 years are as transformative for New England families and communities as our first. The time is now for your voice, your advocacy, and your action.

CLF Takes Next Step in Fight against Massive New Kinder Morgan Pipeline

Jan 13, 2016 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

In our drive to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline’s march through New England, today Conservation Law Foundation officially intervened to oppose the oversized and unnecessary project at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). We are confident that Kinder Morgan will not be able to justify this project economically if FERC carefully assesses the regional need for new pipelines.

The project, known as the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline (or NED project), is a massive new pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of oil giant Kinder Morgan. Once complete, the pipeline would carry billions of cubic feet of fracked natural gas every day from the Pennsylvania shale fields to Eastern Massachusetts (through the backyards of many Massachusetts and New Hampshire communities).

An oversized reaction to a minimal problem
Tennessee Gas – which acknowledges that the project’s size dwarfs that of others in recent memory – has argued that New England needs all that gas to keep our lights on and our homes heated. But that simply doesn’t fit with the facts.

A recent report by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office concluded that the project is not needed to ensure electricity reliability at any time of year. At the same time, CLF’s own white paper debunked Tennessee Gas’s most recent scare tactic of claiming that electricity shortages are inevitable if we don’t solve our winter natural gas deliverability issues. But those deliverability issues occur just a few hours a day on the very coldest days of the year. A massive new pipeline is nowhere near the cheapest or quickest way to relieve those limited constraints.

On the contrary, building a pipeline the size of the Kinder Morgan project would be like swatting a fly with a wrecking ball. It makes no sense.

A bad deal for customers, our economy, and our climate
This isn’t the only reason we oppose the project. At a time when New England is already moving beyond its reliance on dirty, outdated fuels such as coal and oil, major costly investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure are simply the wrong direction to take for our economy and our climate. Indeed, as the region moves to stem more damage to our climate, this pipeline can only become an albatross. Either it will quickly fall into disuse as energy efficiency and home-grown clean energy overtake demand for dirty fuels – or its continued use will block progress toward reaching state and regional climate goals.

At its base, the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal is opportunistic, taking advantage of the fear caused by natural gas price fluctuations during the 2013–2014 polar vortex. It fails the test for economic need and would impose the costs of speculative natural gas expansion (including export abroad) onto the backs of current electric and gas customers.

We need local clean energy, not more dirty fuels
Our energy landscape holds no happy ending if the Kinder Morgan pipeline moves forward as proposed. New Englanders would not only lose money on the bet Tennessee Gas is asking FERC to approve – we would also lose much-needed resources and momentum toward shifting our energy future to one built on clean, local sources.

CLF’s intervention can be read here.

Northern Pass Enters a New Phase

Jan 8, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Northern Pass transmission project has entered a new phase, as the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee begins an extensive state permitting process for the controversial project.

Northern Pass as proposed will span 192 miles, traveling from the Canada/U.S. border in Pittsburg, through New Hampshire’s north country, down the spine of the state to Concord, and, ultimately, to Deerfield. The project would be a massive undertaking, one that the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Counsel for the Public recently described as being “of unprecedented scope for New Hampshire” and having “a lasting impact on its citizens and resources.”

The proposal would import up to 1,090 MWs of hydro-electric power from Québec, raising serious concerns not only about impacts on our landscape and communities, but also about New Hampshire’s energy future. At a time when the biggest threat facing our communities is climate change, it’s imperative that our energy choices advance clean solutions – like the development of local renewable energy – and not undermine them.

Starting next week, Northern Pass will be holding a series of information sessions about the proposed project. The sessions provide an opportunity for the public to learn more about the proposal and the Site Evaluation Committee’s review process, and to ask questions. Sessions will be taking place:

  • Merrimack County: January 11, 2016 at 6 p.m., Franklin Opera House, 316 Central Street, Franklin, NH
  • Rockingham County: January 13, 2016 at 6 p.m., Londonderry High School, 295 Mammoth Road, Londonderry, NH
  • Belknap County: January 14, 2016 at 6 p.m., Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, 62 Doris Ray Court, Laconia, NH
  • Coös County: January 20, 2016 at 6 p.m., Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, 101 Mountain View Road, Whitefield, NH
  • Grafton County: January 21, 2016 at 6 p.m., The Mountain Club on Loon Resort and Spa, 90 Loon Mountain Road, Lincoln, NH

The information sessions are an early step in the Site Evaluation Committee’s process and will be followed by a series of public hearings before the Committee. At least one public hearing will take place in each of the five counties affected by the project (Grafton, Coos, Belknap, Rockingham and Merrimack).

The dates for the hearings – which will provide the public the chance to comment directly on the project – have not been finalized. Once they are, we will let you know when and where you can make your voice heard on Northern Pass.

Climate Talks, Climate Action

Dec 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

16451794648_f54e94c55a_bThe COP21 talks in Paris put climate change front and center. They confirmed that climate change is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity of our generation. Coastal cities in the United States lie at risk from storm surges and sea rise. But they have it easy. Full nations in the Pacific will end up completely underwater as polar caps melt. Clearly climate change is about more than just polar bears.

In New England, we have already seen the destruction from more frequent and more severe storms. Power outages, road washouts and flooding take a serious toll on our prosperity. The quicker we come together to tackle the problem, the quicker we see results.

New England has made great strides in cleaning up our electricity supply. Through energy efficiency, we have flattened our load growth and avoided expensive and polluting new energy supplies. We are building and relying on more renewable power, and the region is poised to close the last of the coal plants in the next few years.

It is no secret that in rural areas, transportation is the biggest contributor of global warming pollution. As part of the COP21 efforts, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut joined eight other U.S. states, countries, and provinces to announce new efforts to put more zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs (battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles), on the road. You can read announcement here. The effort will strive to make all passenger vehicle sales in these places ZEVs by no later than 2050. Already, these partner jurisdictions account for about half of the global ZEV sales.

Putting a price on carbon pollution provides a valuable tool to spur innovation and tackle global warming. On the eve of the climate talks in Paris, President Obama stated that “the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it.”

Efforts to price carbon pollution will be debated next year in the Vermont Legislature. On the eve of the climate talks, advocates delivered over 25,000 postcards and petition signatures supporting the effort to the Vermont state house. With such encouraging words from President Obama, Vermont advocates are clearly in good company.

The Vermont effort is guided by three core principles. It calls for an effective carbon pollution tax that will not only reduce emissions, but will also be equitable. Low-income people already pay more than their fair share for fuel and heating. And they bear more of the impacts from polluting fossil fuels and climate change. The Vermont carbon pollution tax will level the playing field and ensure they are part of the transition away from outdated and polluting energy. The carbon pollution tax will also create jobs and grow the economy. A portion of the tax will be re-invested to grow clean energy right here at home.

Building on the COP21 efforts, Vermont and New England can show that by working together to advance common sense solutions, cutting carbon, and investing in clean energy, we can solve even the toughest problems. In doing so we will leave a healthy and more prosperous New England for future generations.

New England Energizes Paris Climate Talks

Dec 11, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

16980610589_ca17e514b1_oThe COP21 climate talks are in the home stretch, with a working deadline of Saturday for an agreement and a practical deadline of Sunday, when the vast temporary complex for the talk, and the supporting cast of logistical and security staff at the largely defunct Le Bourget airport, will become a memory.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been a rallying presence in this end-game. Earlier this week, he announced that the U.S. will commit $800 million in additional adaptation aid by 2020 to developing nations that will be submerged or otherwise will need to respond to sea level rise and other climate impacts. According to Kerry, the U.S. is now committed to reach $1 billion in such aid annually by 2020.

Through these and other actions, Senator Kerry has given the U.S. prominence in the self-dubbed “High Ambition Coalition” of nations seeking an agreement that is as ambitious, transparent, and enforceable as possible. The ultimate fate of the negotiations will be determined by whether this coalition, which includes the European Union and more than 100 other developed or developing nations, can resolve its differences with less developed countries like India, concerned that it cannot de-carbonize its economy as quickly as the Coalition would like, and island states like the Phoenix Islands, concerned about recovering compensation, losses, and damages when their countries are inevitably and irrevocable submerged.

The View from New England
The push for ambitious carbon cuts promoted by Kerry and the larger Coalition have crucial importance for the secretary’s home region of New England. Our energy system is currently at a crossroads – choosing between a path of continued de-carbonization or a path marked by immense new investment in natural gas pipelines and plants, which would lock us into fossil fuel dependency for generations to come.

A Paris agreement that includes ambitious commitments for carbon reduction will send a strong signal to regional, national, and international markets that fossil fuels have no economic future after COP21. If such an agreement emerges, the New Englanders present and pushing in Paris – including Kerry, Senators Markey (MA), Shaheen (NH), and Whitehouse (RI) – will fairly be entitled to bragging rights.

Conversely, failing to reach an ambitious agreement in Paris would dampen New England’s continued shift to an energy platform in which renewables predominate.

Read all of CLF’s recent blog posts on COP21 and New England’s path forward.