President Obama Steers U.S. Climate Policy Towards the Lighthouse of New England Leadership

Jun 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

President Obama has always talked a good game on climate. But simply stating that “for the sake of our children and our future we must do more to combat climate change” is not a substitute for action. Today, the President proposed a package to step up the actions of the federal government to confront and attack this fundamental threat to our communities, economy, families and environment.

CLF applauds the President’s actions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing our climate – emissions that damage the public health as well as our environment; harming our kids and our climate. However, we feel obliged to point out that these are simply overdue steps in the implementation of the Clean Air Act. In the landmark case of Massachusetts v. EPA the Supreme Court clearly laid out the duty of the federal government to address the pollutants causing global warming under that law.  This is not about unilateral action by the Administration:  it is about the executive branch doing its essential job of implementing the law enacted by Congress and interpreted by the Courts.

While the emissions reductions efforts the President is proposing are modest, they are very much a step in the right direction — as long as they aren’t undermined by any approval to move dirty and dangerous tar sands oil through our country.

Addressing, Not Just Feeling, the Impacts of Climate Change

The President’s plans for taking on the practical business of adapting to and managing life in a changing climate is another common sense step in the right direction. Given the real and devastating impacts of blistering summer heat, rising seas, extreme rain and snow storms on our communities and economy, this work is essential.  The focus of the Administration on climate adaptation efforts by U.S. Department of Agriculture is heartening.  It is hard to think of something more fundamental to our families and communities than food; drought and other climate change impacts are wreaking havoc on our food system, and so far, this issue has not received sufficient attention.

Building on a Record of State Leadership

By moving forward with emissions reduction measures, the federal government sets off (at last!) on a path blazed by the states that have been leaders in the effort to reduce dangerous emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gasoline.

New England, along with a few other states and regions, has been a beacon for the nation on climate and energy policy. Over the last decade New England, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy, has reduced its emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, the chief cause of global warming, by over 10%: reducing regional emissions by over 20 million tons a year.  Our emissions reductions have been accompanied by a rise in new economic investment in clean energy and technology. In Massachusetts alone, an economic survey showed the Clean Energy economy growing by 11.2% between July 2011 and July 2012 with a business census revealing 71,523 people employed at 4,995 clean energy businesses across the state.

CLF and its allies in the region are continuing to set a high bar for both the states and the feds, pushing for a Coal Free New England where our electricity comes from increasingly clean sources and is used more and more efficiently, as well as reducing emissions from our transportation system by shifting to cleaner cars, increasing transit use and building smarter and healthier communities. We must continue to pursue emissions reductions that meet the mandates of science and science-calibrated laws like the Massachusetts and Connecticut Global Warming Solutions Acts.

CLF is all about environmental solutions – and therefore we cheer the decision to further expand the aggressive development of renewable energy on federal land and federally owned, managed and financed facilities.  From intelligently and carefully sited wind farms to solar panels on housing projects to delivering on the promise of offshore wind, the time has come to go fossil free.

The Moral Duty to Act – Retreat or Surrender Are Not Options

There is no going back – the plans for emissions regulation, adaptation planning and renewable energy development unveiled today are  long-overdue steps that require aggressive action to bring to fruition. The duty to act might be invested by law in the Administration but the moral duty to protect future generations rests with all of us and we must hear the call and push our elected representatives, from the President on down, to take action.

Mass DEP hosts public meeting on KIDS vs. Global Warming Petition

Jun 19, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

DEP hearing on Global Warming - Kids vs. Global Warming

A Boston Latin School student calling on MA DEP to ‘connect the dots’ and take climate action.

“If the government’s action to address global warming were a basketball game, they are playing like it’s the first quarter when in reality there are only a few seconds left on the clock.” A well put simile stated by Eshe Sherley in her video that started the KIDS vs. Global Warming Petition public hearing at Mass DEP last week. On Thursday June 13, young students from the Boston Latin School who are members of Youth Climate Action Network spoke to Massachusetts DEP and asked the agency to do more. These students along with two Boston College Law students demonstrated that they are concerned for our futures by creating a petition asking DEP to do what it is supposed to do.

“Connect the dots” is what one student from Boston Latin School asked DEP to do. He and many other frustrated students and environmental organizations are asking DEP to change its attitude towards global warming and step up its game. In the hearing the students listed out particular environmental projects that they want DEP to take on, from reducing carbon emissions to making environmental initiatives in Massachusetts transparent and user friendly for the public. These students also listed out activities that they have led and demonstrated how they have made a difference in their school. For example, these students implemented water bottle filling stations in their school, and even created a “Green Day” – a  day where students tried to be green as possible.  Raffle tickets were given to students who traveled to school by taking public transportation, biking, walking or carpooling. These students demonstrated how they made a difference in their school community and wanted to encourage their government to do the same for Massachusetts.

The students are calling on DEP to issue regulations under the MA Global Warming Solutions Act. In particular, the petition calls on DEP to Publish the delinquent rules expressly required by Mass. General Laws Chapter 21N Section 3(d) establishing declining levels of annual aggregate emissions rates as mandated by that law.” In response to the student’s demands, DEP gave a presentation on what the DEP has done and is working on.  But DEP’s actions fall far short of what it is required to do, frustrating the students, environmental organizations and others in the room. The students hope their petition will light a fire under DEP to respond with a sense of urgency and help create a healthier environment. CLF and many others stand with the students in calling on DEP to get the job done now.

Air Quality Alerts; What You Can Do About Them

May 31, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Mindy McAdams, Flickr

Kids playing in Boston’s Christian Science Plaza Fountain, by Mindy McAdams on Flickr

The heat is here!

Even though it’s technically still spring until late June, it feels as though summer has already come to stay in southern New England. While we New Englanders pride ourselves on being able to handle all kinds of weather, the health risks posed by poor air quality shouldn’t be ignored.

On a hot summer day, I know I make sure to check the weather in the morning before leaving to see how hot it might get and if there’s a chance of rain. Weather reports and weather websites are good at giving us lots of data about the day’s weather in general (hourly temperatures, chance of rain, and radar maps tracking storms), but don’t always give a detailed explanation when there’s an air quality alert (like there is this weekend).

What does an Air Quality Alert really mean?

The Air Quality Index combines measurements of ground level ozone and particulate matter to determine when levels of those pollutants might be harmful to humans.

Ground level ozone forms when pollution from cars, construction equipment, factories, and power plants containing oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic chemicals mix in sunlight. While lots of ground level ozone is formed in urban areas on hot days, it can also be blown over long distances by wind. Particulate matter is just what it sounds like, particles from construction dust and pollen down to heavy metals and toxic pollutants. Both ground level ozone and particulate matter can be inhaled and cause serious respiratory problems. Southern New England and the mid-Atlantic seaboard are at special risk for ground level ozone and particulate pollution due to the combination of big cities and winds blowing east.

Ground level ozone and particulate matter at levels that commonly occur here in the summer can cause some very unpleasant health problems for even healthy adults (coughing and wheezing isn’t a lot of fun), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening for kids with asthma or other breathing problems, adults with chronic conditions, and the elderly. And some studies suggest that ground-level ozone can actually cause asthma and breathing problems in kids. Adults at risk and parents of kids at risk probably know more about all of this than the average person, but hearing that there’s an Air Quality Alert on the weather can still leave anyone with a lot of questions.

As you can see from the AQI scale, a score of 50 would be labeled “good” and 51 would be “moderate,” so more precise data is essential. That information isn’t always available on a weather report, which is where the EnviroFlash website comes in. They plot the hourly Air Quality Index measurements on maps, so you can check out the forecast and close to real-time information about local air quality:

EnviroFlash this morning

What can I do about bad air quality in the summer?

While there are of course steps that people at risk from elevated ground level ozone and particulate levels can take to protect themselves from dangerous breathing events, the good news is that there are simple and very important things we can all do to help prevent elevated air quality:

  • Prevent your car from contributing to vehicle emissions: try to limit driving trips and take public transportation if possible.
  • Reduce the amount of electricity that your household uses, keeping the worst-emitting fossil fuel fired power plants from being pressed into service: Keep your air conditioner a few degrees higher, and make sure to turn lights and electronics off when you’re not using them.

 

 

EPA Must Follow the Law, Set Rules for Power Plants

May 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

While harm from climate change becomes more apparent every day, EPA is dragging its feet in setting much-needed limitations on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. This failure is a plain violation of the Clean Air Act. So CLF recently took the first step to spur EPA into action. Working with attorneys at Clean Air Task Force, we let EPA know that if it does not act, we will sue.

Kite on Marconi Beach

Kite on Marconi Beach, courtesy of EandJsFilmCrew @ Flickr. Recent extreme weather caused significant damage at Cape Cod’s Marconi Beach.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to issue regulations limiting emissions of air pollutants that may “endanger public health or welfare.” We know well that greenhouse gases drive climate change and therefore endanger public health and welfare in many ways: droughts pose risks to our food supply; sea level rise increases flooding of vulnerable communities; and extreme weather events threaten to wash coastal infrastructure out to sea. Nevertheless, during the early and mid-2000s, EPA all but ignored greenhouse gases. Many states and environmental groups (including CLF) sued to make EPA do something.

First, we argued, greenhouse gases are air pollutants subject to EPA regulation. Second, we said, EPA had to decide one way or the other whether greenhouse gases were dangerous; if so, the Clean Air Act imposes an absolute duty on EPA to regulate them. In a fine opinion by now-retired Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court agreed with us: greenhouse gases are pollutants subject to EPA regulation, and EPA had to decide whether they are dangerous. Two years later, EPA decided that greenhouse gases do, in fact, pose a danger to public health. This means EPA is required by law to regulate them.

After all that, EPA did begin to regulate greenhouse gases. However, it did not limit emissions from the single largest category of greenhouse gas polluters – power plants – which account for nearly 40% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. If any polluters need robust regulation, power plants do. Finally, after more pushing from CLF and other environmental organizations, EPA published proposed standards for greenhouse gas emissions by power plants.

Under the Clean Air Act, these proposed standards started a clock – EPA had one year to issue final rules. Instead, EPA announced on Day 364 that the final rules would be delayed indefinitely. This delay is both illegal and wrong. EPA now has sixty days to fix its error and issue final rules that seriously address the most pressing problem of our time.

If it does not, CLF and Clean Air Task Force will turn to federal court to compel EPA to act.

Energy: Out with the Dirty, In with the Clean

Apr 23, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Come join Conservation Law Foundation and our allies THIS SATURDAY in Burlington, Vermont for a discussion on Vermont’s Energy Choices.

Vermont’s Energy Choices: Old Dirty Problems and Clean Energy Solutions
Saturday, April 27th, 1:30 PM at the Billings Auditorium at UVM in Burlington

The time is NOW to move away from dirty sources of energy such as tar sands, nuclear, oil and coal. Solutions are available now to move us away from expensive, dangerous and polluting energy.

Come hear national and international experts on the problems of dirty energy – from fracking to tar sands – and  the real-world successes of renewable power – including community based renewable power in Europe.

Throwing up our hands is not an option. Come find out how to make a clean energy future our reality.

You can sign up and more information here:  See you Saturday!

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.

Global Warming Conference – Saturday March 16 – Montpelier, VT

Mar 11, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Senator Bernie Sanders is hosting a Global Warming Conference – What does it mean for Vermont?  — on Saturday March 16 from 10am to 4pm at Montpelier High School in Montpelier Vermont.

Bill McKibben will be the Keynote Speaker and Senator Sanders will be joined by Vermont and national leaders for workshops and discussions about climate change and what it means for Vermont.

I am pleased to join Senator Sanders and Bill McKibben for this event. It is a great opportunity to learn more about how we can tackle climate change together.

The event is free and open to the public and lunch will be provided.

More information is available here.

Forward on Climate Rally: We’re Strong Together

Feb 28, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The National Mall was quiet when I stepped off the 350 Massachusetts bus last Sunday. As the sun rose over the Washington Monument and I was tasked with finding breakfast for eleven of my very hungry peers from Stonehill College, I could not help but feel excited and energized for the day ahead. This was a historic moment. So much is at stake in our fight against climate change.

A few weeks earlier I attended the Keystone XL rally in Portland, ME and I could not believe the crowds- over 1,000 people showed up! I wondered: How many people would show up in DC? You can imagine my excitement as the morning went on and thousands upon thousands of Americans from all across the country gathered on the National Mall. They gathered to hear from environmental leaders like Bill McKibben of 350.org, Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). They gathered to stand together, sharing a simple concern. And they gathered to share a simple message with the country: We need to act now, together, on climate change.

As these and several other speakers shared their stories with the 45,000 Americans gathered in front of them, the urgency with which we must address this complex climate change problem was evident. It’s going to take a great deal of effort, time, and some significant behavior change, but the Americans who gathered together on this frigid day are just a few of the millions of us who are ready for some serious legislative action on climate change.

Stonehill students at the Forward on Climate Rally

At times, the crowd roared. They cheered in agreement when it was noted that, “We will never be able to eat money and we will never be able to drink oil.” The emphasis was certainly on the Keystone XL pipeline and President Obama’s ability to stop this project in its tracks. While the cheering was frequent, the signs were funny, and people smiled at the young children running around, the mood was somber as the march began toward the White House.  As the Rev. Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus noted, “We’re fighting for existence.” That day, on the National Mall surrounded by thousands, the fight was alive.

As Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) President John Kassel noted in his blog post on the topic, this type of movement certainly needs strategists, lawyers, and scientists to succeed, but also the “people in the streets, in villages and barrios, on college campuses and in cornfields and in automobile assembly plants.” Due to the excellent organizing of 350 Massachusetts, the Commonwealth sent a sizable and diverse delegation of 7 full buses including 11 of my fellow students and friends from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.

Active in a variety of different ways with sustainability and environmental issues at the College, our group of students were able to secure a grant to cover the costs of trip from our school’s “Green Fund” which awards small grants to groups of students looking to engage in environmental events and make campus a greener place! Needless to say, this was an incredible opportunity and it has energized and inspired all of us to take further action at our school to make a positive environmental difference. Whether this be our ongoing divestment campaign, our work to reduce plastic consumption of water bottles and “to-go” meal containers, or education regarding our composting options in the cafeteria, the Forward on Climate rally proved to all of us that we all share a joint responsibility to work together to fight and seriously address the threat of climate change.

Please join us in this critical fight to preserve and protect our previous environment. Join Conservation Law Foundation. If there’s one lesson learned from the rally, it’s that we must work together. Looking around the mall, you couldn’t help but agree that we’re stronger when we do.

“Forward on Climate” Movement, Fully Ready, Leaves Station

Feb 19, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

New England, I'm pleased to say, was well represented at the climate rally in DC this weekend.

“People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’.”  Curtis Mayfield.

Before 50,000 committed supporters, from many states and nations and braving frigid wind-chill temps, Bill McKibben announced on Sunday that all of the work he has done for the last 25 years has been in hopeful anticipation of that moment. The moment when the Climate Movement actually took off.

It certainly felt like a fully loaded train with a big head of steam, on a long journey. It was full of people who have gotten more than ready for the trip, and it was a wide-open, broad and inclusive group. Emcee’d by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, speakers ranged from Van Jones (author, former Obama aide and Pres. of Rebuild the Dream) to Chief Jacqueline Thomas (a First Nation Chief in British Columbia) to Maria Cardona (Founder, Latinovations) to Michael Brune (Sierra Club Exec. Director) and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The crowd was the same – young and old, people of all colors, people of faith and non-believers, northerners, southerners, mid-westerners and westerners, people walking and in chairs.

New England, I’m very pleased to say, was well represented, including large delegations from VT, NH and MA (and I’m sure from RI, ME and CT, but I didn’t find them in the large crowd), and topped off by a rousing address from Senator Whitehouse.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivering a rousing address to the crowd.

As Rev. Yearwood put it, “we’re fighting for existence.”

That is not an understatement. Climate models (increasingly showing their accuracy over time, if not underestimation of warming effects) show that unchecked, increasing warming will render large parts of the planet uninhabitable by mammalian life within the next few centuries. If the greater good of humanity (and other species) is not our polar star now, we are failing in our jobs as human beings: to paraphrase Curtis Mayfield again, there is no room among us “for those who would hurt all mankind, just to save [their] own.”

To address a problem that large, it takes a movement. Kudos to Bill McKibben and 350.org, Michael Brune and the Sierra Club, and all of the other groups that have organized, coalesced and launched this train. History will remember them well.

This movement needs to support savvy, well-planned and strategic actions. Sunday’s rally was wisely focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, over which President Obama has unique discretion, under applicable law. While the facts are clear on this one (James Hansen: “game over” for climate if KXL gets built), it is a hugely political game. Circling the White House, calling the President out on his recent commitments to act on climate, playing the political game as it is played, is needed for this vital decision.

But not all vital actions on climate change are like that. We certainly need people in the streets, in villages and barrios, on college campuses and in cornfields and in automobile assembly plants. This is the lifeblood of the movement. But we also need lobbyists and lawyers, economists and highly focused activists, scientists and doctors and investment analysts and progressive regulators – all working the system that shapes our economy.

Shutting down New England’s coal plants, for example, will not happen by marching alone. There is nobody who can do that with the stroke of a pen, as the President can on KXL. Rather, there are many skirmishes and battles to be fought, against extremely entrenched interests who will only succumb when faced with final, non-appealable orders, or when it’s clear they’ll lose more money than their shareholders will accept. The same is true for many fights in the climate campaign: ensuring that any transmission for clean energy is built on the right terms, guarding against overbuilding natural gas infrastructure, fully and properly regulating any fracking activity that is deemed acceptable, adjusting energy markets so that clean energy is favored and dirty energy is disfavored, rebuilding our communities so people don’t need cars as much and can live healthier lives, and many, many more.

“Forward on Climate” is the charge. All the rest is commentary, so to speak. But the commentary – as the Talmudic story goes – is where the work is. We actually move forward by studying and sweating the details, and it takes a long, sustained effort. We’ve been here before. Equal Protection of the laws – what does it really mean? For almost 150 years we’ve been working that out, and paying for it with blood and hopes, dreams and treasure. And lifetimes of effort. Restoring our planet’s climate to some sort of balance – equitable, healthy and just – is another, long-term struggle.

Please join us for this historic journey. Join Conservation Law Foundation. Join other organizations committed to this pivotal fight. We all need your help. And we’ll need it for generations to come. And for their benefit and very survival. “There’s no hiding place” against what we have wrought.