Going to Church in the Senate: The Ministry of Responding to Climate Change

Mar 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  6 Comment »

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has made a number of passionate speeches throughout the week regarding climate change impacts and the dire need to address climate change. He is establishing himself as a courageous leader on the single most important issue facing this country – the reality of a changing climate and our moral, economic, and human obligation to respond to the threat we continue to blindly build. He will not let his colleagues (or the country) forget the seriousness of this issue and the need to respond to it.

Interestingly and importantly, this past week, Senator Whitehouse spoke with strong references to Pope Francis and his call to Catholics to care for Creation – a connection we rarely hear in the Senate. In fact, a more common theme these days, among congressmen and clergymen alike, has been to invoke the Bible to justify a do-nothing approach to climate change, arguing that the idea that we can irreparably harm our environment runs contrary to scripture.

As a Roman Catholic myself, I can confidently say that the Church’s call to advance social justice on the one hand (i.e., protecting the poor, caring for the Earth and its creatures) and protect human life (i.e., opposing abortion, birth control, etc..) on the other hand, creates a conflict for voters that has often been exploited and manipulated by the dominant political parties in the United States. Indeed, there even have been a number of masses I have attended during election years past when I have been made to feel that a candidate’s position on abortion is the only deciding factor when voting. This isn’t because the Church asked me to vote one way or the other, but it was because “life” was only viewed through the single issue of abortion, and not the global lense that would allow one to consider the disproportionate impact that our continued reliance on fossil fuels, and our steadfast refusal to respond to climate change is already having on the poorest of the poor and on Earth’s natural systems.

I hope that by choosing the name Francis, our new Pope has done more than signal a concern for the poor and the environment. I hope that by choosing this name, and by being a former student and teacher of chemistry, Pope Francis’ mission will be to remind Catholics everywhere that they can believe in the science of climate change, advocate for the protection of all creation, and for social justice and the poor, and still be a good Catholic. Indeed, without such advocacy “justice will be unachievable.” http://conservation.catholic.org/u_s_bishops.htm

St. Francis of Assisi preached the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves. On November 29, 1979, Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis to be the Patron of Ecology. During the World Environment Day 1982, Pope John Paul II said that St. Francis’ love and care for creation was a challenge for contemporary Catholics and a reminder “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.”

It would be truly inspirational if the Church would begin to pray during its Prayers of the Faithful that our political leaders make the right choices when it comes to caring for our natural world; and then, perhaps, Catholics would learn as much about the ministry of our new Pope during mass as they might from the Senate floor.

Public Hearing: Gas Pipeline Expansion

Mar 19, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

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

Vermont Gas Systems Expansion

Thursday evening, March 21, 2013

7:00 p.m 

Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont

At a time when climate change is upon us we must think carefully about putting in place new fossil fuel systems that will be around for a very long time. Keeping us hooked on fossil fuels for many years is a bad idea.

The Board will be considering the proposed route, which runs through valuable wetlands and farmland. This is the beginning of a bigger project to supply gas across Lake Champlain to New York. It also moves Vermont closer to being able to access gas supplies from fracking, which is ongoing in New York and Pennsylvania.

Come let the Board know what concerns you have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that Vermont takes steps now to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels. It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.

Gina McCarthy: Right Choice for EPA, Bridge Builder, Wicked Big Sox Fan

Mar 4, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

We are delighted by the news that Gina McCarthy has been nominated as Administrator the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Over the course of the last two decades the staff of Conservation Law Foundation has worked productively with Gina in her various roles in Massachusetts state government, during her tenure as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and, most recently, as Deputy EPA Administrator for Air and Radiation.

Gina is a fierce advocate for the health and welfare of our children and families. She was instrumental in the creation of the landmark nation and world-leading efforts to rein in mercury and toxics use and pollution in Massachusetts and across New England.

Gina is both a hard-nosed negotiator and a sympathetic ear always willing to listen to criticism and learn from just about anyone. Indeed, the “McCarthy Principle” of crafting regulations can best be summarized in her own words: “In nearly all cases the more people are involved in making a decision, the better the decision will be.”

Her engagement, over the years, on nearly every conceivable environmental issue, ranging from the transportation system of Greater Boston, holding her own state transportation agencies to account for their obligation to help clean up our air, to the clean-up of contaminated groundwater at the Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod to her powerful leadership in crafting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has prepared her well for the breathtaking scope of issues that land on the EPA Administrator’s desk.

Her sincerity, humor, willingness to admit error, flashes of caustic (and often self-deprecating) wit are all qualities that disarm those who approach her, and help explain the deep loyalty of those who have worked with her directly.

At the end of the day, Gina is at heart still the same person who once served as a municipal public health agent, worrying about the families of one town in Massachusetts. But that person now has deep and essential knowledge about the complex worlds of energy, environmental and climate policy and a broad set of tools essential to meeting the powerful challenges that EPA faces in the 21st Century.”

. . . And she is wicked smart and a wicked big Red Sox fan.

Waves of Change: Who’s in Charge Here?

Jan 11, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Rules work better when we all understand them, but what happens when the rules overlap or conflict with one another? And, who is in charge of implementing all these rules anyhow? When it comes to the rules of the road we all learn the same common rules during the drivers’ education course. But, what happens when it comes to the rules which manage and protect our ocean and coasts?

Ocean and coastal resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. We use our coasts and ocean for so many things – fishing, boating, swimming, tourism, shipping, renewable energy – and there are no easy guidelines about who is in charge at any given moment, in any given spot.

Fortunately, we are on our way to making this puzzle of governance a bit easier to solve.

The National Ocean Policy directs federal agencies to coordinate management activities, implement a science-based system of decision making, support safe and sustainable access and ocean uses, respect cultural practices and maritime heritage, and increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.

Improving the way in which federal and state agencies work with each other and the public is a distinct goal of the National Ocean Policy. To do this, the NOP presents a set of nine priority objectives for policies and management actions and establishes a new National Ocean Council (NOC), which will be responsible for developing strategic action plans for these priority objectives and leading coordination and collaboration between federal agencies.

A well coordinated group of agencies can better serve the people they are supposed to serve, create the jobs and economic benefits we all need, help us enjoy and safeguard our waters, beaches, and wildlife for our families and our future.

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.





International Nuclear Lessons

Jul 27, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Environmental issues span the globe. When it comes to nuclear power, global action is needed. That’s why it was a privilege for CLF advocates to meet with a number of environmental lawyers from Japan, many of whom are members of the Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation.

The tragedy of Fukushima shows the need for the US to stop giving nuclear power a free pass. Just yesterday another mishap at the accident-prone Vermont Yankee facility resulted in the draining of some of the radioactive cooling water. Enough already.

Our conversation addressed how environmental groups operate. We also touched on some of the litigation tools available to protect our environment from the risks of nuclear power – from problems with the storage of waste, the possibilities of accidents, and the economic problems that nuclear power creates.

Our colleagues in Japan have a far keener sense of how important this work is. As different as our legal systems are, it was interesting to find the similarities as well, including how challenging it is to navigate the interplay of state or local government oversight with federal regulations.

The attorneys shared with CLF MA advocate Jenny Rushlow that most Japanese attorneys interested in practicing environmental law are only able to dedicate a small percentage of their time to environmental cases, as it is difficult to find compensation for that work. As a result, the attorneys we met with mostly take on environmental cases on a volunteer basis. The group reported on a number of high impact cases, including a current lawsuit aimed at classifying carbon dioxide as a pollutant, much like the Massachusetts v. EPA case.

Energy Efficiency: A Regional Legacy of Transformation

Jul 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Department of Energy @ flickr.com

In the past 25 years, our lives have become increasingly “plugged in.” We have an ever-increasing number of devices in our lives, our homes, and our offices that use electricity. What is amazing is that with our foresight and work during this same time period, our region now uses energy efficiently more than ever – reducing pollution, saving money, growing jobs, and cutting through partisan politics to succeed.

That’s a regional legacy to be proud of and one highlighted in the recent op-ed co-authored by former CLF President Douglas Foy. 

With the publication of “Power to Spare”  in 1987, CLF and others set forth the effective “out of the box” thinking that allows for reduced energy consumption while increasing economic growth. As the op-ed recounts:

“Our proposition was unique: To shift incentives that encouraged utilities to sell more power, to a new model that would reward them for promoting conservation. By putting efficiency on a level playing field with coal, gas, oil and nuclear, we would be able to lower demand, cut consumption, decrease total use and reduce pollution. We promised to boost the local economy at the same time through the job intensive investments in efficiency and by reaping the economic benefits of lower energy costs.”

And it’s been a success that continues.

Massachusetts passed the “Green Communities Act” and has grown energy efficiency jobs and lowered electric costs, with average rates for residential consumers dropping from the 4th highest to 11th highest place.

Rhode Island recently approved an aggressive efficiency budget and is expected to meet more than 100% of its anticipated load growth with energy efficiency, not through additional polluting electricity generation.

In New Hampshire, CLF Ventures recently managed a statewide project helping communities throughout the state identify ways to reduce energy consumption and costs through greater efficiency.

Vermont has its own efficiency utility that works statewide providing one-stop-shopping for businesses and residents to reduce costs and energy use with a budget designed to achieve over 2% annual savings.

Maine now has an independent energy efficiency authority which, in 2011, obtained state-wide energy savings equivalent to the output of a 110MW power plant by obtaining $3 of savings for every $1 invested by the program.

The transformation begun 25 years ago – that we are all a part of – continues. It provides a model for the country, and a model for further action to tackle climate change.

Vermont’s Clean Energy Shortfall

May 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: Ivy Dawned, Flickr

The end of any legislative session is tumultuous. Vermont’s citizen legislature, that meets part-time only a few months each year, is no different. In this year’s end-of-session tumult, progress on clean energy was left on the cutting room floor. This is a big disappointment. The same legislature that made skiing and snowboarding Vermont’s official winter sports failed to pass legislation that would keep those sports off the endangered list.

The Vermont Legislature stripped the Renewable Energy Standard from the energy bill it approved. Renewable standards require utilities to help address climate change by providing their customers with a certain percentage of power from clean, renewable sources. The more power we get from clean sources, the less power we get from older and dirtier fossil fuel plants. Twenty-nine states, including every other New England state, already have renewable standards, but Vermont is left behind in the dark ages of dirty power.

Throughout the session, CLF worked closely with other environmental organizations, business leaders and renewable developers to put in place a meaningful renewable standard so Vermont’s electric power users can do more to reduce carbon. The urgency of the climate crisis demands strong action.

There will be opportunities to move further ahead on renewable electricity next year, along with some legislation to help heating efficiency and electric vehicles, but each year we delay means more carbon reduction is needed. It is disappointing that in a year in which Vermont saw, in the form of flooding from Hurricane Irene, the kind of damage that climate change can do, and then saw one of the warmest winters on record (which wreaked havoc on ski areas and maple syrup production), we are not doing more to tackle climate change.

Earthquakes and Nuclear Plants

Aug 24, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The earthquake yesterday had us all wondering about our friends who were closer to it.  After the earthquake, a  colleague from Virginia noted:  “We all abandoned our building, which is probably not what you are supposed to do, but it seemed safer to be on the street than the third floor of a violently shaking building.  What’s even more scary is that the epicenter was essentially under Dominion’s North Anna nuclear plant.  When the NRC came out with a report last March ranking North Anna 7th in the country in terms of risk of damage from an earthquake, the Dominion spokesman noted that the plant was designed to withstand a magnitude 5.9-6.1 earthquake.”

Well that’s about what yesterday’s earthquake was.  And similar to the events in Japan, only three of four back-up generators were operating.  As CLF’s president, John Kassel said after the Fukushima tragedy:  “Several of New England’s remaining nuclear power plants are on their last legs and continuing to prop them up at the taxpayers’ expense is not a viable long-term strategy.”    These margins are too tight.  As these events show, Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight for safety is too lax in the face of Fukushima and the inevitability of earthquakes and other disasters.