The East-West Highway Hits a Speed Bump

Aug 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Photo courtesy of Lhoon @ flickr.com

The concept of a private East-West highway that would cut across Maine is a proposal that CLF has had significant reservations about, for various reasons, since its inception. Recent events and discussion have only heightened those reservations.

The East-West Highway has been an on-again, off-again proposal since at least 1937. The concept last came under serious scrutiny in 1998, resulting in a report that the costs of building an East West highway outweighed the benefits, and that report’s focus was largely on the economic costs and benefits and not the environmental or community costs. The most recent proposal has generated a storm of criticism. A recent panel discussion of transportation experts that included Peter Mills, former State Senator and the current head of the Maine Turnpike Authority and former rail executive Matt Jacobson laid out the various economic and environmental problems with the proposal. See a video of that presentation here.

During the last legislative session, we at CLF believed that the decision by the Legislature to fund a study of a proposed private East West Highway to the tune of $300,000 was a waste of scarce state resources, both in the $300,000 that was allocated for the study and in the amount of time that the Department of Transportation staff would have to spend on designing the scope of that study. The proposal has proved so unpopular that the sponsor of the legislation, State Senator Doug Thomas, recently asked the Governor to suspend the study until more trust could be established with local people as noted in these articles here and here. Rather than slow down the study, as the Governor has proposed or propose new legislation to prevent a private party from exercising the power of eminent domain as Senator Thomas has done (a thinly veiled effort by Senator Thomas to change the subject to one he is more comfortable with although just as much of a red herring), Maine would be better off in evaluating how to increase the amount of traffic on its rail system.

As others have noted, Maine has an East West Highway: our railroads.  Rather than throw good money and time after bad, we should be spending time and money on how we can create better incentives and improve efficiencies in order to increase the flow of goods that leave and enter Maine via rail. The recent news that the Maine Northern Railway has tripled its volume of traffic is indicative of the economic value that rail can bring to Maine, especially for its natural resource industries.

In addition, the environmental benefits of not only using an existing system and avoiding all of the impacts that constructing a major new highway would have but also the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by transferring the shipping of freight from highway to rail are enormous. So perhaps the best result of this timeout would be for the money originally allocated to yet another study of an East-West highway to be reallocated to a study of maximizing the use and benefits of Maine’s existing infrastructure that can move goods across Maine.

Septic Systems Slaughter Stripers: CLF Fights Back

Aug 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

The other night, I broiled a gorgeous piece of striped bass for dinner. Though I savored each bite of this healthy, delicious, lean protein, I couldn’t help think of the grim images of other sizeable stripers that washed up dead in the latest fish kill to occur on the shores of Cape Cod in late July.

Healthy striped bass like these inhabit many of New England's coastal waters. Nutrient pollution from septic systems creates toxic algae blooms in Cape Cod waters that threaten these fish. Photo credit: Bemep @ Flickr Creative Commons

According to the Cape Cod Times, on July 25, Falmouth residents began calling local officials complaining about foul odors and dead fish washing up on the shores of Little Pond Estuary–one of the many areas along Cape Cod where fresh water from the land mixes with salt water from the ocean. Upon investigation, officials confirmed the presence of what one resident referred to as a “heap of large dead fish…on the shore.”  Among the dead fish were dozens of striped bass, some measuring as long as 40″. The story noted that this is not the first fish kill of its kind in Falmouth’s Little Pond, nor is it the first on Cape Cod. You can see pictures of the dead stripers and read the full article here, and also check out a previous post to this blog discussing another Cape fish kill that occurred a couple of years ago: “1,000 Dead Fish on Cape Cod: When Will the Killer Be Brought to Justice?

The tragic slaughter of these beautiful fish–much beloved by sport fishermen who bring tourism revenue to the Cape and other places on New England coast that these hard-fighting fish frequent–could have been stopped.

Scientists who investigated the fish kill identified nitrogen pollution from nearby septic systems as the main culprit.  You see, nitrogen is a common component of human wastewater. When too much of that wastewater flows unchecked into an estuary, the nitrogen feeds explosive blooms of toxic algae that  make the water smell foul, unpleasant to look at, and unsafe to swim in. Blooms of harmful algae also throw the entire ecosystem out of balance, resulting in an underwater environment without enough oxygen for even fast-swimming fish like stripers to survive.

Normally, most of the nitrogen that leaches from underground septic systems is retained in the soils. But, as this fish kill demonstrates, Cape Cod’s sandy soils present a unique problem because they are so porous that the pollution flows right through them and bubbles up into surface estuaries. Because of this unique pollution problem and the dire need to address it before more slaughter occurs, CLF is pushing EPA to recognize that the Clean Water Act requires these septic-system polluters to clean up their act.

Last week, a federal judge in Boston accepted the joint schedule that CLF and our partner Buzzard’s Bay Coalition worked out with EPA lawyers so that the Cape Cod cleanup litigation can move forward.  You can read more about our lawsuit and the clean water solutions that will help save the stripers here.

Déjà vu all over again on the St. Croix River

Aug 9, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Photo by Robert F. Bukaty, courtesy of Portland Press Herald Archives

As mentioned in prior posts here and here, CLF’s lawsuit to reopen the St. Croix River to alewives resulted in this letter from EPA agreeing that the Maine Alewife Law violated water quality standards for the St. Croix.

Yesterday, the Maine Attorney General responded to that letter here and the response is disappointing to say the least.  The first half of the letter is not even related to the Alewife Law but rather a gratuitous attempt to bolster the State’s efforts to restrict the jurisdiction of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and other Maine tribes.  The second half of the letter does not contest the findings in EPA’s letter that the Alewife Law constitutes a change in the St Croix’s water quality standard but rather attempts to justify that change as a fishery management exercise unrelated to the Clean Water Act.

As I noted in a interview yesterday on MPBN, you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig.  Nor is the State’s “commitment” to the so-called adaptive management plan for the St Croix currently under consideration by the International Joint Commission of any real value.  As noted in this article by Colin Woodard, the adaptive management plan may be better than nothing but just barely.

What this means for the St Croix is really nothing more than status quo – passage at the Grand Falls dam will remain closed to alewives as long as the State is willing to let bad science and a small minority of self-interested fishing guides call the shots.  This is even more unpalatable given the current crisis that our lobster fishery is in. A resurgent alewife population (close to 3 million before the State closed fish passage) could only help that industry that can use alewives as bait fish. A robust alewife population would also help the Maine groundfish and whale watching industries, for whom alewives are a key source of food.  For these reasons, as well as the health of the St Croix ecosystem as a whole, CLF remains committed to restoring alewives to their native habitat in the St. Croix.  Stay tuned for next steps.

Biking More, Driving Less, in Portland, Maine

Aug 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Bike Lane on Park Ave, near Deering Oaks Park, Portland. (Photo courtesy of Corey Templeton @ flikr)

I felt like thumping my chest last week after reading an article in the Portland Press Herald about the decline in the number of cars registered here in Portland and the increasing number of people who are getting to and from work by bus, bike or foot. Ours is a small office (4 full time employees and this summer 4 student interns) and it was not unusual to see 5 or 6 bikes in the office, representing commuters from Deering Oaks, the West End, South Portland and Falmouth. Last Spring, one of our interns, a 3rd year law student commuted from Biddeford by bus. As our intern Brian Lessels wrote on this blog, he, like others at CLF, are biking devotees.

photo courtesy of Justin D. Henry @ flickr

As the article points out, the move away from relying on cars has been born both of necessity due to their high costs and of choice. Certainly, no one wants Maine’s or the country’s economic challenges to persist but to the extent those challenges create the opportunity for more people to choose to both save money and reduce their environmental footprint by driving less, CLF will continue to encourage those choices by supporting commuting alternatives and incentives, public transportation opportunities, and livable and compact developments in our existing cities.

Getting out of our cars more and getting to work by bus, bike or sidewalk is a win-win proposition for our health, our communities and our environment. For more on CLF’s transportation work in Maine, see this fact sheet.

The Promise of Urban Agriculture: New Growing Green Report

Jul 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Urban agriculture holds great promise for Boston.

This post was coauthored by Melissa Hoffer & Jo Anne Shatkin.

We are excited to share with you the news that today CLF and CLF Ventures released a report that, for the first time, details the economic development potential for urban agriculture in Greater Boston, assesses its environmental and health co-benefits, and examines current market and policy barriers to expanded food production in Greater Boston. The report‘s findings confirm that urban agriculture can play an important role in creating a more livable, carbon resilient, healthier, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable city—if we put smart policies in place and encourage market development for Boston grown foods.

Download a free copy of the report here.

The City of Boston has taken important steps over the past two years to advance urban agriculture, and new businesses are taking root, including City Growers, a Mattapan-based farming business that is featured in this report. There is a palpable sense of excitement about the potential of this new urban vision for agriculture for communities; possibilities abound. But CLF and CLF Ventures believe it is more than possible— it is a necessity, and an urgent one at that as we face the challenges of climate change, an obesity epidemic, lack of availability of healthy foods in many communities, and a fragile economy.

The report found that converting as few as 50 acres of vacant or underutilized land around Boston into agricultural production would spur job creation, improve access to healthy, local, fresh food, and reduce environmental harms. Key findings of the report include:

  • Land is available. 50 acres – an area the size of Boston Common – is a small portion of the vacant or underutilized land available in Boston.
  • Urban farms would stimulate the economy by creating jobs. 50 acres of urban agriculture in Boston will likely generate at least 130 direct farming jobs and may generate over 200 jobs depending on actual business characteristics and revenue.
  • Healthy, local and affordable food. 50 acres in agricultural production would provide enough fresh produce to feed over 3,600 people over a six-month retail season. If the produce is used to prepare healthy school lunches in Boston Public Schools, 50 acres could provide more than one serving of fresh produce for each lunch served to a student eligible for free or reduced school lunch over a six month period. If 800 acres of potentially available City-owned land were put into agricultural production, the food needs of approximately 10 percent of Boston’s total population could be fully satisfied during a six-month retail season.
  • Significant environmental impacts. Urban agriculture in Boston will result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 50 acres of properly managed soils would sequester about 114 tons of cabon dioxide (CO2) per year and may result in an additional CO2 reduction of up to 4,700 tons per year.
  • Community adaptation. No less than 6,000 new temperature records were set during the recent March 2012 heat wave, and more than 40,000 have been set for the year-to-date. Meanwhile, the July 2011-June 2012 period was the warmest 12-month period of any 12-months on record for the contiguous U.S., with the first half of 2012 being the hottest ever recorded. The International Energy Agency’s recent projection of a 10.8 degree F temperature increase over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century underscores the fact that a more decentralized food system will be necessary to enable our communities to better adapt to changing climate conditions, including the impacts of more frequent severe weather. Urban agriculture is a part of this solution.

As Jo Anne said in the press release announcing Growing Green, it’s clear that even 50 acres of sustainable agriculture on available land would be an economic stimulus and environmental resource for Boston. While we focused on a 50 acre test scenario, these conclusions are scalable across New England. Imagine how vibrant New England would be like with a robust and sustainable regional food system.

In addition to the potential benefits, the report also considers the policy and market barriers to fully realizing the potential of urban agriculture, examining the ways in which promoting urban agriculture will require city and state involvement and key needs for such involvement. Such barriers include the need for policies that provide affordable access to land, one of the key market barriers for both new and experienced farmers; strategies to reduce the risks associated with the Commonwealth’s hazardous material cleanup law; improved access to high quality compost; and better financing options to overcoming prohibitive capital and operating costs, amongst other findings.

Our ongoing work seeks to link urban agriculture to the larger regional food system, and focuses on how to overcome some of the barriers we have identified.

Boston is ideally positioned to play a lead role in coordinating with the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, other New England states, and cities around the region to build a vision for a New England regional food system and make it happen. Boston is emerging as a national leader in urban agriculture innovation, and can be a voice for the benefits of urban agriculture and as one of the region’s largest consumers, help to build the market for regionally grown food.

Download a free copy of the report here.
Find an infographic detailing the report here:
http://bit.ly/clfgrowinggreen
To read more about CLF’s Farm & Food Initiative, click here: http://www.clf.org/our-work/healthy-communities/food-and-farm-initiative/

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for Green Jobs

Nov 22, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The CLF Team.

This holiday season, what do many Americans have to be thankful for? In tough times, one answer that will be heard around more holidays tables is: “Jobs. Green Jobs.” At least, that’s my answer.

Yesterday was my first day as Conservation Law Foundation’s Senior Communications Manager. I feel fortunate to work for CLF, not simply due to this organization’s impressive history, or due to the great respect I have for all of my coworkers (pictured above). While unemployment remains stubbornly high, and job-creating clean energy programs are coming under attack, American workers face a difficult road. To have a job now is to be fortunate, to have one that works to build a vibrant future is to be blessed.

And so this Thanksgiving, I plan to give thanks for my job: one I believe in, and one I share with dedicated people. But I wonder: How many Americans can join me in giving such thanks? The answer depends upon how you decide to count.

Take the term “green jobs.” The definition of what precisely constitutes a “green job” can quickly become hard to constrain, as this Time story from 2008 argues. Phil Angelides, then Chair of the Apollo Alliance, defined a green job this way: “It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment.”

What about the clean economy? According to a recent report by The Brookings Institution, in 2011 the clean economy employs some 2.7 million workers. You’ll also see that these jobs are growing – in some segments, explosively. Sectors such as wind energy, solar PV and smart grid grew at a “torrid pace.” As Bob Deans over on NRDC’s Switchboard said so well, “green jobs are growing strong in a weak economy, supporting nearly 3 million American families in hard times.”

However, if you look at their methodology, you’ll see Brookings is only talking about the “clean production economy.” There are more people working to put America on a path to a thriving, sustainable future than those producing goods and services. There are people – like those of us at CLF – working in environmental advocacy. There are environmental journalists and photographers. There are scientists, consultants, fishermen, and investors. And there are many, many others.

I tried to find an answer, a number, to describe just how many Americans work in green jobs. I wondered: who else depends on a thriving environment for their future livelihood?

The answer is simple: all of us. The environment is not an economic sector any more than air is a private commodity. Those who work in green jobs share a mission to create a more sustainable future — a future that we all share.

And so, this Thanksgiving I plan to give thanks – thanks to my colleagues at CLF, to my friends at organizations like NRDC, Patagonia, BluSkye, and others.  I plan to give thanks to the 2.7 million workers in the clean production economy. May that number continue to rise.

If you can, email me the names of organizations, jobs or people to whom you give thanks to for helping to create a more sustainable future. I’ll compile your answers into a future post.

In the meantime, from both myself and all of us here at CLF, have a happy, sustaining Thanksgiving.

TAKE ACTION: Tell your governor to support the National Ocean Policy!

Aug 2, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New England Deserves A Healthy Ocean

A healthy ocean provides New England with so much—a place to relax with our families, a good living for those in the fishing and tourism industries, and habitat for an amazing array of sea life.  With the right planning, they could also provide us with clean renewable energy from offshore wind and solar power, and create thousands of new jobs for New Englanders–the health of our coastal waters and the habitat they provide for ocean wildlife sustainably brings $16.5 billion to our region’s tourism and fishing economy every year.

In order to sustain healthy coasts and oceans, and the economies of coastal communities that depend on them, we need your help to encourage our New England Governors to work together with federal, tribal and state agencies to implement a National Ocean Policy.

The National Ocean Policy (NOP) builds on the success of ocean management plans in Massachusetts and Rhode Island by bringing together coastal business owners, fishermen, scientists, the shipping industry, conservationists and other ocean users and the many government agencies charged with managing our ocean resources to create a sustainable plan for our ocean’s future. The NOP calls for immediate steps to protect critical marine habitats, ensure a sustainable future for our fishing industry and coastal communities, reduce coastal pollution and promote the responsible development of offshore renewable energy.

If we are going to preserve our beaches and coastline, protect marine life and promote the growth of our sustainable ocean economy, we need a strong National Ocean Policy. That is why it is so important that you write your Governor today to urge them to support this policy, and healthy oceans for all.

The future of transportation has arrived: CLF joins coalition in support of the electric vehicle

Jul 20, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

As American dependence on foreign oil only grows stronger, high unemployment remains steady, and pollution continues to rise, the current state of domestic affairs seems bleak.  One bright spot, however, aims to address and make a serious dent in these national crises: the electric vehicle (EV).  So bright is the future of EVs that over 180 businesses, municipalities and public interest groups – including the CLF – have signed a statement of support to advance EVs in the U.S.

With the magnitude of national problems and the strong universal support for the EV solution, I set out, as a newbie to EVs, to understand what all the hype is about.

Edison with an electric car in 1913. (Photo credit: americanhistory.si.edu)

While long touted as environmentally friendly and in many aspects superior to fossil fueled vehicles, the EV remains little understood, especially to a novice like myself.  Typically, when I hear EV I think Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid, but as the name implies, these are hybrids of gasoline engines and rechargeable electric batteries.  An EV is different as it runs on 100% electric power, foregoing the need for gasoline, excessive emissions, and perhaps most importantly, excessive prices at the pump.  In fact, using the national average of $ 0.11/kwh, it costs a mere $ 2.75 to fill up an EV Nissan Leaf to travel 100 miles!  To travel 100 miles in my modest Subaru Impreza at my local gas station’s regular unleaded price of $ 3.72, it costs $ 16.90!

The Tesla Roadster, the industry's fastest production EV at 3.7 0-60 mph and 245 mi. range. (Photo credit: Tesla Motors)

But someone like myself may ask: Where do I charge up?  The answer is simple: At home!  While the infrastructure for public charging terminals is still under development, imagine if you could essentially have a fuel station at your home, open 24/7, and charging next to nothing rates.  Well no need to imagine, as home charging stations for EVs are the mainstay of the current EV fleet, with charging times ranging from 3 to 7 hours to charge a car from empty to full.  With prices ranging from $1000-$2200 installed, home charging stations can appear pricey.  But no need to fear the sticker, as you will easily make that cost back in a year, as my Subaru Impreza has an EPA estimated annual fuel cost of approximately $2,500, compared to the EV Nissan Leaf’s annual fuel cost of around $550!

Finally, for those of us who have a hard time conceptualizing a world where cars run on electricity, Nissan has an interesting ad that flips the perspective to a world where everything runs on gasoline; suffice it to say, you don’t want it.

What can the EV do for American job growth?  For starters, EVs have already been successful in jumpstarting job growth and placing the U.S. in a competitive position in the manufacture of EV components.  Within three years, more than 20 different EVs will be on the market, with EVs and their components being built in at least 20 states.  Furthermore, the future of EV infrastructure will provide countless job opportunities for Americans, which will not only strengthen our economy, but do so in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

While cost savings and job growth are both attractive benefits to EVs, perhaps the greatest benefit is to environmental and public health.  The transportation sector is a significant cause of both global warming and air pollution, which affects everything from the global climate to those with sensitivity to air pollutants, such as asthmatics.  EVs have little or no tailpipe emissions, and even when power plant emissions are factored in, still have lower overall emissions of CO2 and other harmful pollutants, than traditional fuels.

Finally, where utilities provide clean energy options – natural gas, wind, solar, etc. – EVs could become truly zero emission vehicles, turning one of the America’s biggest environmental and public health problems into a solution for the world to follow.

As America faces some of the most difficult economic and environmental times in our nation’s history, the EV stands as a simple solution to tough problems.  It is not often that a decision can be made that saves you money, creates jobs and improves environmental quality.  The EV does all three.  The only thing standing in the way of success is ultimately the consumer, of which I will happily become one at the next chance I get, knowing that my EV will essentially pay for itself, while creating American jobs and saving the environment.

Editor’s note: Cory McKenna is a Cavers Legal Intern at CLF Maine. He is a student at the University of Maine School of Law.

Here’s a bright idea, Governor: Don’t reduce funding for energy efficiency programs in ME

Jun 20, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

With the passage of the state budget this week, the Maine legislature put politics ahead of the people in rejecting the Efficiency Maine Trust’s effort to maintain its funding for electrical efficiency programs. The Trust was proposing to increase a charge to electricity ratepayers in order to to sustain its funding levels for electric efficiency over the next three years and replace drained federal stimulus funds.

This was the perfect opportunity for our elected officials to help fulfill their campaign promises to produce growth and economic development in the state. How surprising then, that when presented with a chance to invest in a program that provides at least three dollars of return for every dollar invested, create thousands of jobs in Maine and stimulate commerce, the legislature’s Republican majority and Governor LePage openly rejected it.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the vote was at least in part a product of bias among  conservatives against a program that, because it happens to be good for the environment and was widely supported by Democrats, is perceived to have liberal leanings. In reality, the Trust and its programs are just as much about energy cost savings and economic development, goals to which both parties should aspire. The Trust is the public entity that helps to fund projects that enhance the energy efficiency of Maine’s homes, businesses and industries.

The work of the Trust is important for several reasons.:

  • The financing provided by the Trust inspires the replacement of outdated technologies, from machinery to light bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient alternatives that reduce overall energy consumption.
  • Less energy consumption means lower electrical bills for the recipient, lower energy prices and less frequent costly upgrades to our electrical transmission infrastructure to accommodate increasing demand, savings that are shared by all Mainers.
  • The funding provided by the Trust is only a portion of the overall efficiency investment. The Trust’s “seed money” results in significant private investment, borrowing from banks and other forms of financing. In short, the added push of the Trust’s funding for a project results in a commercial ripple effect that benefits many sectors of our economy, providing jobs and demand for products.
  • Greater energy efficiency means less electricity needs to be produced, which translates into reduced consumption of fossil fuels and reduced pollution.

But increasing electricity charges can’t be good for Mainers you might suggest. Therein lies the rub. First, the proposed increase was small, approximately one dollar a month for the average household—the cost of a cup of coffee. Second, the economy is not going to rebound while we stand by idly wishing for a miracle, it takes investment to get a return and the Trust is proven to produce returns. In 2010, the EMT saw its $17 million investment in efficiency projects render a lifetime energy savings valued at $95.7 million and serve as the impetus for an additional $76.9 million in private investment in businesses and homes across Maine. Efficiency spending not only saves money– it is an economic driver. Indeed, the Trust funding that the Legislature just denied was predicted to produce an $840 million benefit to Maine energy consumers.

So why would our governor and the legislature effectively defund a program that could generate such significant financial benefits to the state? The answer appears to be party politics that defy logic and economic policy and theory. Perhaps worst of all, it also happens to deviate from state law which requires that Maine, through the Trust, fund and pursue maximum achievable cost-effective levels of energy efficiency.

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