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 @

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.

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:

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.

Best (and Worst) of the Beaches

Jul 4, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

 It’s July 4th – as you head out to your favorite swimming spot, consider this…

While New England is home to many clean, scenic beaches, the sad truth is that hundreds of beach closures occurred in 2010 across the New England states.  Check out NRDC’s new report, Testing the Waters to see where your state ranked, and how clean your favorite beach was last year. (Spoiler alert: if you’re in Maine, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island, there’s room for improvement).

Why are these problems so pervasive?  Polluted stormwater runoff and sewage overflows are the major culprits – making beach closures more likely after it rains.  In Massachusetts, 79% percent of ocean beach standards violations happened within 24 hours after a rainstorm, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  

The solutions are not cheap – to tackle this set of problems problem will require a sustained commitment to fixing and improving underground sewer pipes, enlarging wastewater treatment plants, and installing green stormwater treatment to capture and clean runoff from roads and parking lots.  

The cost of doing nothing is also significant.  The US EPA estimated that in one year, 86,000 people lost a chance to swim because of beach closures in areas affected by stormwater pollution.

Clean water is essential to a thriving New England.  That is why CLF is applying legal leverage to improve management of sewage and stormwater runoff across the region.  We’re working toward a day when the pollution that causes beach closures will be a thing of the past, and swimmers will have their pick of beautiful New England beaches – whether or not it’s recently rained.

Celebrate the Earth with CLF this Saturday at EarthFest!

May 20, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Do you love the Earth? Fantastic concerts? Free stuff? Learning about the awesome work of your friendly neighborhood environmental non-profits? No matter what you and your family are into, celebrate it with CLF at EarthFest this Saturday, May 21, at the Hatch Shell in Boston. This annual event, presented courtesy of Radio 92.9, features hundreds of environmentally-friendly vendors and sponsors along with local non-profits doing green work in your community. And if that’s not enough rockstars for you, stick around for a stellar lineup featuring Atomic Tom, Sponge, LIVE’s Ed Kowalczyk and Ok Go, among other acts of musical greatness.

So tomorrow, come out and show your support for CLF and New England’s environment! Stop by our booth for environmentally-themed games, prizes and more. We’ll be strategically located between Lovin Spoonfuls and Boston Harbor Alliance in the non-profit exhibitor area between the Main Events area and the Vendor Cafe. We’ll see you there!

Let’s review:

Radio 92.9 EarthFest
Saturday, May 21
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Hatch Shell, Boston, MA

Enviros Challenge Brown on Response to ‘People Not Polluters’ Ads

May 13, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Conservation Law Foundation joined more than 30 national, regional and local environmental organizations today on a letter to Massachusetts senator Scott Brown chiding him for his response to a series of ads taking him to task for his votes on environmental issues. Brown’s public remarks and a Boston Herald editorial have attempted to deflect attention away from the issues raised in the ads and onto the tactics of the League of Women Voters, the organization behind them. The letter details Brown’s recent votes for two pieces of legislation that, if enacted, would severely impact public health, including the health of children. Brown has said in the wake of the ads that “as a father, I would never do anything to put my two daughters or anyone else’s children in harm’s way.” The letter supported the ads as being “scientifically accurate.” In a press release, CLF’s Seth Kaplan urged Brown to respond to the issues at hand, saying, “By voting to undermine EPA’s ability to protect public health and the environment, he is choosing to protect out-of-state polluters, not his constituents.”

VT Yankee — Source of Contamination Still Unknown

May 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As the pipes of the aging Vermont Yankee badly corrode, the arguments for its soundness are disintegrating just as fast. A recent New York Times article highlights the poor oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of America’s outdated nuclear facilities. Without the NRC doing its job, this leaves Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s owner, on its own. Despite every claim Entergy makes to the public, the records show a deteriorating plant and sloppy maintenance and inspection.

In January, an Entergy letter shows elevated levels of tritium in the groundwater at a new and unexpected location.  Entergy was ordered to submit bi-weekly reports until the source was found and corrected.  Four months later, we are still waiting.  The reports describe ways to find the location of the leak, yet action has been limited.

Bottom line – Yankee’s pipes are corroded beyond the point where they can be regulated.  Elevated levels of tritium were found near groundwater wells GZ-24 and GZ-6 around January 15.

Entergy released a sworn affidavit in February vaguely describing how they had “established an investigation team to systematically and methodically identify the source of the elevated levels of tritium in groundwater monitoring well GZ-24.” Although this report clearly downplayed the issue, Entergy insisted it was taking the leak seriously. However, in the subsequent biweekly reports, it becomes clear Entergy did not follow up on its word. The next report released claimed they had “implemented the action plan,” but all that was described was that sampling had indicated “fluctuating levels of tritium” at elevated levels.

Throughout the rest of the reports no action has been taken. Shockingly, even in Entergy’s most recent update, on May 6, there is no mention of a source being found, only that they have “identified six lines as potential sources” and that pressure testing will be conducted, something that was mentioned in the first affidavit.

It is clear that Entergy is not serious about cleaning up Vermont Yankee. Governor Shumlin and Vermonters have demanded that the plant be shut down. Time after time, Entergy shows it is not taking the action needed to responsibly run a nuclear power facility.

See Entergy reports here:  2-11-2011;  2-25-2011;  3-11-2011;  3-25-2011; 4-8-11;  4-21-11; 5-6-2011