“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.

Improving Travel – Post Circ Highway

Feb 1, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Vermont keeps working on better ways for people and goods to get where they need to go. The threats from climate change and the high cost of maintaining our travel ways mean we need to be smarter and greener.

In 2011 Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin announced that the Circ Highway – an expensive, polluting and ill-conceived highway project outside Burlington — would not be built as planned. In its place a Task Force would work on solutions that won’t bust the budget or foul our air and water.

Over the past year a good part of that work looked at targeted improvements in the immediate Circ area. The result is a study of the network . With this are recommendations that were just adopted by the Task Force to move forward with making improvements to some existing roadways in and around Williston.

A public meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 from 7:30 – 9:00 PM at Williston Town Hall, with a presentation of the findings of the study and the recommendations. The meeting is hosted by the Williston Planning Commission. Refreshments will be served.

CLF has been mostly pleased with this work and encouraged that new and more effective solutions are moving forward. As we noted in comments to the group, a bigger role for transit and roundabouts could cut costs and pollution further.

Come learn about new projects and let the transportation officials working on these projects know what you think.

Tar Sands in Vermont? No Way!

Jan 29, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

photo courtesy of someones.life @ flickr.com

I joined with residents of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom today and fellow environmental colleagues to protect Vermont from the devastation of tar sands oil.

We filed a legal action to ensure Vermonters have a say over any proposal to move tar sands through Vermont. See press release here.

The request asks that the increasingly imminent proposal to move tar sands through an existing Northeast Kingdom pipeline be subject to state land use (Act 250) review. See request here.

Tar sands oil poses unique risks to the many natural treasures of the Northeast Kingdom and also imposes extreme climate change risks.

Tar sands oil is a gritty tar-like substance that produces far more emissions than conventional oil. The vastness of the tar sands reserves in Western Canada means that using tar sands oil delays efforts to move towards cleaner energy supplies, and sends us backwards on climate change.

As James Hansen, a leading climate scientist has said, the exploitation of tar sands on mass will be, “game over” for the climate.

Already there are requests to move tar sands east from Alberta to Montreal. The only realistic way to move it beyond Montreal to the deep ports it needs for transportation is through the Portland Montreal Pipeline which passes through Vermont.

There has already been one spill in this old pipeline in Vermont. A spill of tar sands oil – which is much harder to clean up – would be devastating.

Our filing requests that any plans to use the pipeline for tar sands oil be reviewed though Vermont’s land use development law – Act 250 – to protect our land, water and air resources threatened by this dirty fuel .

The Time is Right for Affordable Heat

Jan 17, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Vermont is poised to take a big bite out of the high cost and pollution of heating our homes and businesses. Slashing a full one-quarter of both lies within our reach.

Over the past decade, the cost Vermonters pay for staying warm has more than doubled. This strains our pocketbooks, our environment, our health and our security. Watching our dollars go up in smoke drains our economy.

What can we do? Building on the enormous success of our electric efficiency efforts, we can improve the heating efficiency of our homes and businesses in a similar manner. While some efforts have begun, most of the savings opportunity remains on the table. Throughout Vermont, heating efficiency has saved the average homeowner about $1,000 a year.  (See a recent editorial here).

A new report of Vermont’s Thermal Efficiency Task Force provides a strong roadmap for jumpstarting heating efficiency and renewable heat for our homes and businesses. The Task Force recommendations show how Vermont can stretch its heating dollars farther and provide over $1.4 billion in direct savings. That’s $1.4 billion that is not going up in smoke, literally leaking out of our homes and businesses.

Affordable heat means lowering bills. Every year Vermont struggles to fund low income heating assistance (LIHEAP). With affordable heat, Vermont can reduce the funds needed and can use LIHEAP dollars to help more Vermonters. Cutting fuel use by one-quarter means that for every four homes that are weatherized, help is available for one additional family.

Affordable heat reduces pollution. Every gallon of fossil fuel we don’t burn means less pollution. Whether we are adding solar to our roofs or insulating/weatherizing our homes we leave a lasting positive legacy for our children by taking seriously our responsibility to tackle climate change and reduce pollution.

The long and short of it is that Vermont — and Vermonters — can’t afford to keep wasting energy, wasting money and wasting clean air. Vermont’s commitment to affordable heat is our ticket to more comfortable homes and businesses, and a thriving and affordable clean energy economy.

A Prescription for a Better Transportation System for Massachusetts – and Why it Should Matter to Climate Hawks

Jan 16, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There is an epidemic of truth telling underway, globally, nationally and in Massachusetts.  And as hard as some of that truth is to hear it is a very healthy and important exercise.

On the global level the business and political leadership is finally waking up to the deep and systemic threat of a changing climate.  The 2013 Global Risks Assesment from the World Economic Forum describes how business and political leaders see climate risk as the only thing competing with “risk of financial collapse” as the biggest threat facing the world economy:

respondents also identified the failure of climate change adaptation and rising greenhouse gas emissions as among those global risks considered to be the most likely to materialize within a decade. Compared to last year’s survey, the failure to adapt to climate change replaced rising greenhouse gas emissions as the most systemically critical. This change in our data mirrors a wider shift in the conversation on the environment from the question of whether our climate is changing to the questions of “by how much” and “how quickly”.

Meanwhile back in America, the experts preparing the National Climate Impacts Assessment dropped a terrifying draft report on the government and the internet, seeking public comment. That report, summarized in a “Letter to the American People,” described how the changing climate is already visible:

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of  extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.

 The report then goes on to lay out in excruciating detail the impacts of global warming that have been observed and are anticipated by very solid science – laying out the facts in over a thousand pages of text (147 MB PDF) and 32 alarming charts and graphs.

So what does all this have to do with transportation infrastructure, and paying for it through taxes, in Massachusetts?

It matters because the transportation sector is the second largest (or largest depending on what definition of “sector” you use), and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. If the Bay State is going to meet the mandate of the Global Warming Solutions Act and live up to its Clean Energy and Climate Plan we will need to invest in a modern and effective transportation system.  The Governor and his Department of Transportation have laid out the formidable challenge of updating a chronically underfunded and neglected system to meet these challenges in a startling clear and powerful document titled, “The Way Forward: A 21st-Century Transportation Plan”.

The job of solving our transportation infrastructure crisis brings together a powerful coalition.  Citizens who just want a transportation system that will let them lives,  the business community who are shouting from the front page of the newspaper about how the weaknesses in our transportation system are undermining our economy and need to be addressed through investment and Climate Hawks who want Massachusetts to again lead the nation and the world.  Leading, as it did at the time of the American Revolution and as it did as the cradle of the movement to abolish slavery, both through our words and thoughts but also lead by example by building a better Commonwealth with the clean and climate-protective transportation system of the future.

Why We Need to Repair and Maximize the Efficiency of Our Existing Natural Gas System Before Looking to Expand

Dec 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As the exuberance for “cheap, domestic” natural gas has heightened, so has pressure to build new pipelines and power plants.  Often lost in the frenzy, however, is the sobering reality that our existing natural gas infrastructure is in need of some serious care and attention.  A recent study highlighted the fact that the pipelines that deliver gas to our homes and businesses are riddled with thousands of leaks.  A large number of those leaks can be blamed on a system that still includes significant amounts of cast iron–some of which dates back to the 1830s.

Explosions in Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2011 as well as a 2009 explosion in Gloucester, MA were traced to aging cast iron.  Coupled with the massive San Bruno explosion, the issue spurred the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a “Call to Action” urging regulators and pipeline operators to accelerate the repair and replacement of high risk pipe.  Given this sense of urgency, the estimated timelines for replacement seem interminably long:

  •  81% of the remaining cast iron is buried in only 10 states:
Miles of
Iron Mains (2011)
New Jersey
New York
  • Of these states, seven have implemented programs with deadlines for complete replacement:
  • New Jersey – 2035; New York – 2090; Pennsylvania – 2111; Michigan – 2040; Illinois – 2031; Alabama – 2040; Connecticut – 2080; Missouri – 2059.

Really? Decades to get the job done, at best?  And about a century to fully “modernize” pipes in some states? Sad, but true.

Though public safety is the primary driver behind pipe replacement and repair, whether the natural gas industry ultimately delivers on its claims for being less damaging to the climate than oil or coal depends on how well natural gas infrastructure addresses leaks.  In addition, those who are clamoring to blindly forge ahead expanding new natural gas infrastructure before we’ve fully assessed the condition of our current system would do well to remember the lessons that New England has already learned so well about the financial and environmental benefits of looking to efficiency first.  Not only is investment in new pipelines and power plants expensive, but it comes with serious and lasting environmental consequences whose costs are too often discounted or ignored.  Why not maximize opportunities for operating the existing natural gas system more efficiently first, before building (and paying for) more?

Despite the fact that we know natural gas prices are predictably volatile, several states have begun to take action to lock energy customers into long-term commitments to buy natural gas-fired power, thus locking them into paying for the fuel even when the price spikes.  For example, here in Massachusetts, one legislator has championed the idea of providing 10-20 year long term contracts for a new natural gas plant.  The problem with signing a long-term contract for electricity from gas is that while customers benefit when the cost of gas is low, they suffer when the price spikes, as it inevitably does.  That’s notably different from long-term contracts for renewable energy which typically have a guaranteed, fixed price.

Proposals for new massive interstate pipelines are in the works as well.  Spectra, a Houston-based natural gas pipeline company is proposing a $500 million expansion for Massachusetts. And all the lines on the map for proposed expansions of pipeline leading from the Marcellus Shale to the Northeast rival the Griswold Family Christmas lights display.

Before we spend billions on new infrastructure chasing the next gold rush, we must repair and rebuild our existing infrastructure and examine the tried and true tool of efficiency.   A recent study on the potential for natural gas efficiency in Massachusetts showed that efficiency could reduce winter electric demand enough to support the increased use of gas on the system without building new infrastructure:

The Benefits of Energy Efficiency

From Jonathan Peress's presentation at the Restructuring Roundtable on June 15, 2012


But there is a risk that regulators will not fully take these very real benefits into account as they review and approve the latest energy efficiency plans.  Indeed, traditional energy efficiency naysayers are using the low price of gas as an excuse to call for reduced investment in efficiency.

The bottom line is that natural gas does have a role in our energy future, but it  is one that must be carefully managed and minimized over time if we are to have any hope of averting climate catastrophe.  In the meantime, before we jump to expand new natural gas infrastructure, we need to look closely at what we already have in the ground and apply the lessons we’ve learned about efficiency.




Risky Business: Leaking Natural Gas Infrastructure and How to Fix It

Nov 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On the day after Thanksgiving, an explosion shook the City of Springfield. A natural gas pipeline leak led to the explosion that injured eighteen people and brought down two buildings.  The details behind the cause of this explosion are still being pieced together, but  once again, public confidence has been shaken in the pipeline system that is supposed to transport natural gas safely and reliably to homes, businesses and institutions in communities throughout the nation. Today, CLF is releasing a report on the importance of addressing problems with our aging, leaky natural gas  infrastructure. (You can download a free copy of that report here, and find the press release here.)

In Massachusetts, local distribution companies operate almost 21,000 miles of pipeline—that’s almost enough pipe to encircle the earth. But people seldom give much thought to those pipes that are running beneath their homes, beneath their businesses and beneath their feet.

That has been changing since the explosions that rocked San Bruno, California in 2010 and Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Shortly afterwards, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation issued a national “Call to Action” to address pipeline safety, but there are still many hurdles to be overcome. One of the toughest obstacles to tackle is the replacement of aging, leak-prone pipelines and the swift repair of leaks on the system. Public safety is the primary driver behind the repair and replacement of aging pipes, but it is also important to recognize the added benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving a valuable resource, and reducing ratepayer costs.

The need for action is particularly acute in Massachusetts where over one-third of the system is considered “leak-prone”—made up of cast iron or unprotected steel pipe. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 50% of the cast iron left on the United States distribution system is centered in only four states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Though Massachusetts regulators have been working to find solutions to this problem, there is more to be done.

This infographic underscores the need for additional work in Massachusetts. So significant are the leaks that the gains from efficiency programs put in place by Massachusetts regulators have been overwhelmed by the amount of gas lost through leaky pipes. The costs of those leaks are being borne not by the utilities, or by the regulators, but by consumers. Utilities pass the cost of lost gas onto ratepayers to the tune of $38.8 million a year.

“Fugitive emissions from aging gas pipelines across Massachusetts are polluting our environment – releasing more greenhouse gases than we are saving through all of our energy efficiency efforts,” said D. Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America. “This is problematic for the environment and the economy, but fixing this problem provides an important opportunity. Putting people to work fixing leak-prone pipelines will save Massachusetts ratepayers money by simultaneously modernizing our pipe infrastructure, improving efficiency and helping to protect the environment.”

Fortunately, there are some clear policy options that could be implemented relatively quickly to prevent this valuable resource from endangering the public and vanishing into thin air.  “The good news is that not only would these policies increase public safety and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also provide an opportunity to create good, local jobs,” according to Cindy Luppi, New England Director of Clean Water Action.  As she points out, “local neighborhoods, as well as first responders, will bear the brunt of impacts if this aging system experiences an explosion.   We hope all public officials will embrace real solutions that value health and safety, ratepayer equity and climate leadership.”

As outlined in our report, Into Thin Air, CLF is advocating for five specific policies to accelerate the replacement of aging pipe and ensure that existing pipeline is properly examined and repaired:

1)    Establishing Leak Classification and Repair Timelines that provide a uniform system for classifying leaks according to level of hazard and require repair within a specified time;

2)    Limiting or Ending Cost Recovery for Lost and Unaccounted for Gas so that companies have an incentive to identify the causes of lost gas and prevent them;

3)    Expanding existing replacement programs and adding performance benchmarks;

4)    Changing Service Quality Standards to include requirements for reducing leaks on the system;

5)    Enhancing monitoring and reporting requirements to give the public and regulators more information.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working with our allies at Clean Water Action and the BlueGreen Alliance to raise public awareness about the need to tackle this issue. We’ll also work with communities to make sure they know how to identify and report gas leaks and talk with them about the benefits of policies that make for a safer, cleaner natural gas system. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact me at scleveland@clf.org.

Doing The Math, Boston style

Nov 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The unique combination of lecture, rally, music show and secular revival known as the 350.org Do The Math tour came to Boston last night. As has been documented in coverage of earlier stops in the tour this is a very special event that brings together vibrant music, powerful information and an energizing call to action.

CLF proudly played a role in helping this worthy effort gain access to the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Boston and raising awareness about the event — the seventh straight sold out show in the tour.

CLF President John Kassel took the stage after a very energizing and customized video from 350 Massachusetts energized the crowd with a rap song that somehow pulled together Rex Tillerson, Barack Obama and the fact that the oil companies have “five times as much in the ground as it is safe to burn” – literally putting Bill McKibben’s powerful words to music.

John fired up the crowd with a call for greater funding for public transit (which met with a roar of approval from a crowd who had largely gotten there on the train), finishing the job of ending coal fired power plants in New England that CLF and allies has well underway and a massive push for new renewable energy projects including getting the Cape Wind project over the finish line. John ended by invoking the powerful history of Boston and the possibility that once again, right here and right now we could be again launching a revolution from this city.

For those who were there last night, and didn’t catch up with any of our clipboard toting staff in the lobby, you can join CLF today by clicking here.

John linked together the core message of Do The Math – that our adversary is the fossil fuel industry who have a business model that is incompatible with the survival of humanity – with the specific story told by the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF leads – that leaders of that same fossil fuel industry like Bill Koch are doing all they can to stop the flagship Cape Wind clean energy project.

There were many powerful voices on the stage ranging from students to musicians (most notably the Charles Neville Trio, led by one of the legendary Neville Brothers, the first family of New Orleans) to powerful testimony from the great Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein about her recent visit to the storm ravaged neighborhoods of New York. But the undisputed star of the show was Bill McKibben who told the story of how as a 27 year old writer he had published the End of Nature, twenty-five years ago, innocently believing that he could sway decision makers and change the world simply by writing a book and how he had come to appreciate the need for deep and broad action and activism and mobilization across all sectors of society to push back against the interests of the fossil fuel companies who literally have invested in a course of action that will end life as we know it on this planet.

It was an evening of both hope and heavy messages.  An evening filled with information and observations that could bring you to the brink of despair or to the uplifting realization that you have the opportunity to help millions of people across the world, both present and future, by fighting to head off climate catastrophe.  It is the definition of daunting to realize that you are being asked to help accomplish something very important, but difficult, but the message from the stage at Do The Math was that we all must hear and heed the call to action.

What the Election Means for New England’s, America’s Environmental Agenda

Nov 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

On Tuesday, Americans across New England joined their countrymen in casting their votes. As the results have become clear, one thing has become clear with it: It was a good night for science and for clean energy.

Maine, for instance, elected former wind developer Angus King as its new Senator, who ran with an ad dedicated to the need to address climate change and support sustainable energy. (Watch that ad here.) Meanwhile changes in both houses of Maine’s legislature are likely to dampen Governor LePage’s unpredictable but largely obstructionist posture. The same is true in Massachusetts, which elected Elizabeth Warren, a strong supporter for renewable energy and climate change mitigation. New Hampshire and Vermont also saw the pendulum swung strongly in a way that is likely to advance much needed efforts to protect the health of their environment and communities. Rhode Island seems to be the only state that has kept its status quo. (For full perspectives on each state, click here.)

In the end, New Englanders voted for a strong environmental agenda, and for candidates who shared that support. These local trends also broadly echo national voting trends. Obama, for instance, was strongly supported by Latino voters. A landmark 2012 study showed that 92% of Latino voters believe we have a responsibility to take care of the earth. The pro-environment agenda endorsed by Obama no doubt contributed to his support.

In reelecting Barack Obama, Americans also voted for an administration that has made science-friendly appointments to science positions, that has a high degree of scientific accomplishment, and that has been very supportive of science education and research.  And while the President was disappointingly silent about climate change and clean energy policy during the campaign, his administration’s pro-health and pro-environment actions to reduce toxic air pollution and to improve automobile  fuel economy standards no doubt resonated with voters nationally.

While there were many issues on the ballot, here in New England and across the country, there are also some very simple lessons from this election. The voters said a few things:

Yes, we believe in science.

Yes, we believe climate change is happening.

Yes, we need more sources of sustainable energy.

Yes, we want candidates who move us away from the dirty energy of the past to a more prosperous future.

And no, dirty energy, you cannot buy my vote.

Despite historic spending, the money spent by the dirty energy industry to try to buy this election didn’t seem to have much effect. In the end, clean energy and science were big winners.

New England cemented its reputation on Tuesday as a bastion of progressive environmental politics. Voters across our region want action on climate change, they want to advance clean energy, and they want to strengthen their communities.

It is my sincere hope that the elected officials in each state listen to their voters and make progress on these issues. It is also my sincere belief that we will be stronger as a movement if we work together across our New England: while some of our issues are local and some cry out for national leadership, many are regional in nature and can most effectively be addressed at the regional scale.

And then there’s the pragmatic reality that visionary leadership from Washington is very unlikely at this politically fractious time. But with New England’s leaders – of all political stripes – largely sharing a common vision for an economically, socially and environmentally thriving region, we can and must chart our own course right here. To succeed, we need to work together. When New England works together, we have shown that we can.