Call Your Senators Today to Save Ocean Treasures!

Oct 7, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Cashes Ledge

Over the last few months, support has grown to permanently protect our most precious ocean areas, the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts. If you are among those who signed our petition to President Obama, thank you! Your voice is making a difference.

But now we need your help once again. Your Senators need to hear from as many constituents as we can rally that you support this Marine National Monument. Please, call your Senators today with this urgent message. Just a few minutes of your time could help create a remarkable legacy of protected areas for future generations.

Step 1: Call the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak with one of your senators.

Step 2: When someone answers, say:

“Hello! My name is ________. I am a constituent, and I ask Senator ________ to support a Marine National Monument designation for Cashes Ledge and the coral canyons and seamounts in order to save vulnerable species and ensure a healthy ocean for future generations.”

That’s all you have to say! Want to add more? Here’s what permanently protecting New England’s ocean treasures will ensure:

  • Protection from industrial exploration, including oil and gas drilling
  • Insights from scientific research, which are especially crucial in the face of climate change
  • A healthy economy: thriving fish and whale populations boost local fishing and tourism industries

Step 3: Click here to let us know how your calls went. It helps us to know that you’ve called, and your feedback helps us in determining our next steps in this critical campaign.

Thank you for your continued commitment to CLF and the creation of the Atlantic’s first Marine National Monument. We can’t do it without you.

Setting the Record Straight: Marine Monuments Have a Long, Proud Legacy

Sep 29, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A cunner swims through healthy kelp forest at Cashes Ledge

A cunner swims through healthy kelp forest at Cashes Ledge

Former Conservation Law Foundation Staff Attorney Roger Fleming, who is now a part of the Oceans litigation team at EarthJustice, details how the National Monument establishment process through the Antiquities Act serves the public’s interest. 

By Roger Fleming

One hundred-nine years ago this week President Teddy Roosevelt created the first national monument, protecting the magnificent Devil’s Tower formation in Wyoming. Since then, sixteen presidents – eight from each party — have used the power granted by Congress in the Antiquities Act to create more than 115 monuments protecting the nation’s natural and historic heritage on land and at sea, from the Statue of Liberty to the Marianas Trench.

Now we have a chance to see that proud tradition in action again to protect a national treasure right here in our backyard with a Marine National Monument off New England’s coast. On September 15, 2015, NOAA hosted a town hall meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, in order to discuss the possible establishment of a monument that could include deep sea Coral Canyons and Seamounts and Cashes Ledge. Scientists have identified these areas as deserving of special protection due to unique undersea terrain and nutrient upwelling that supports cold water coral gardens, our largest cold water kelp forest, fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and more.

A broad coalition of scientists, small business owners, fishermen, faith groups, civic leaders, and conservationists have sent a clear message that we need to save these ecologically important places before irreparable damage is done, so that future generations can enjoy their unimaginable beauty and a healthier marine environment. That is exactly what the Antiquities Act is intended to do.

Unfortunately, opponents in the fishing industry have attempted to muddy the waters with unfounded concerns about the “process” being used to provide protection for these areas.

Opponents who spoke at NOAA’s town hall event argued that the monument designation process is undemocratic, and that decisions about how to manage these areas should be left to the New England Fishery Management Council, which oversees fishing in the region’s federal waters.

Many who gave comment also complained about a lack of opportunity for public comment on the monument designation. Let that sink in for a moment: complaints about a lack of public comment were made while giving public comment.

Let’s set the record straight on a few things.

First, the monuments process is democratic.

President Obama has the authority to establish permanent protection of these areas through designation of a monument under the Antiquities Act. This Act is another tool provided to the democratically-elected president by our democratically-elected Congress to preserve areas identified as historic landmarks and areas of scientific interest before it is too late – before the opportunity to save a valuable resource is lost. This president’s predecessor, George W. Bush, created four monuments in the Pacific Ocean covering a total of 860,000 square kilometers. None exist in the Atlantic Ocean.

Second, there has been—and continues to be—public input into the process.

Already in this nascent proposal for a new marine monument there has been a town hall meeting where anyone wishing to do so was given the opportunity to speak and an ongoing public comment period through which over 160,000 people have already written in support of saving these important places. Arguably, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to provide opportunities to be heard on a proposal, in circumstances where it is not at all required to by law.

Leading up to the monument proposal, there were years of study of these areas and numerous opportunities for the public and other stakeholders to provide relevant scientific, economic, and other information, and to otherwise make their views known as possible protections were discussed in different venues, including the fishery management process.  Because the President’s decision must be based on science, this will all be considered.

Third, the New England Fishery Management Council has a checkered history regarding public and scientific involvement, and an even worse record as a steward of the public’s ocean resources.

The fishery management process remains dominated by the fishing industry and fails to adequately consider broader public interests. One need only look to the status of New England’s iconic fish species, the Atlantic cod, for evidence of this. Cod stocks have collapsed and the region’s groundfishing sector was declared a disaster, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The record clearly shows that New England’s Council ignored repeated warnings from science about the deteriorating condition of cod stocks until it was far too late. Just last year more than a hundred-forty scientists and more than 150,000 members of public implored the council to protect more habitat for these and other depleted fish. But the Council instead voted to slash the amount of essential fish habitat protected by more than 60 percent.

The Council did succeed in identifying the ecological, economic, and social importance of the Cashes Ledge Closed area, and has closed the area to most bottom fishing. However, this action came only after an earlier vote to strip existing protections from that area. Further, the limited protections in place leave nearly all of the area open to other fishing, including the East Coast’s largest fishing vessels – industrial midwater trawlers – which are capable of stripping the area of essential forage fish, catching non-targeted fish, mammals and other marine animals as bycatch, and are known to contact the bottom when fishing. The protections in place are not permanent and could be removed at any time through the fishery management process.

Similarly, the New England canyons and seamounts have been identified by the Council as important ecological areas but they have received very few protections which are not worthy of their unique ecological importance.

Finally, this is not just about fishing.

New England’s “Fishery Management” Council has no authority to address other potential threats that could surface for the area, such as marine mining, drilling, or other industrial activity. Unlike the tenuous, partial protections now in place for Cashes Ledge and New England’s Canyons and Seamounts, a national monument provides permanent protection against all types of harmful extraction.

Such protection would benefit critically endangered right whales, which are known to depend on Cashes Ledge, fantastic deep-sea corals in the Canyons and Seamounts, and the important sea birds that feed on the surface of these rich waters.  Many coastal businesses, including many fishermen, support the proposal because they recognize there will also be broad economic benefits that will result from protecting these unique treasures and a healthier marine environment.

These areas belong to the U.S. public, and overwhelming evidence shows that the monument process is fair and that a marine monument would best serve the public’s interests now and into the future.

Solving New England’s Natural Gas Problem (Hint: It’s Not through Big New Pipelines)

Sep 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

For a few hours a day, on 50 days of the year, New England has a gas problem – not enough natural gas is available to meet demand for both heat and electricity. Two years ago, this problem led to dramatic spikes in the price of natural gas and the cost of electricity. Since then, how to solve that problem has been the source of political, economic and environmental debate.


Download our white paper to learn how liquefied natural gas can help solve New England’s gas problem – without hurting our climate, our wallets, or our drive towards clean, renewable energy.

The solution most often pushed by many corporate and government entities is to “flood the market” with new gas via one or more big new pipelines, with the multi-billion dollar cost to be borne by electric ratepayers (in other words, all of us). But that’s hardly the only solution – nor is it the most efficient, timely, or cost effective.

Since that troubled winter two years ago, as the clamor for big new pipelines has grown, Conservation Law Foundation has been examining alternative solutions. In a new white paper developed for CLF by Skipping Stone Consultants, we show how we can avoid the expense and long-term impacts of new infrastructure by instead maximizing the use of the pipelines and other infrastructure we already have. This solution not only addresses the supply problem on those few hours of the 50 coldest winter days, it also saves industrial, commercial, and residential customers millions of dollars. And it circumvents the need for costly and enormously inefficient infrastructure that will ultimately undermine regional efforts to meet the urgent challenge of climate change.

The Myth vs. The Reality

Pipeline proponents would have us believe that there is a gas shortage in New England and that the only way to save businesses and individuals from unreasonable electricity price spikes is to build massive new pipelines into and across the region.

It’s true that, as managed now, New England’s natural gas delivery system – its pipelines, storage and import facilities – can’t deliver enough natural gas to meet demand during that short winter period when gas is in high demand for heat and electricity. But the reality is, New England’s pipeline problem is not one of capacity, but of deliverability. For the majority of the year, the region’s natural gas system operates at less than 50% capacity. On those coldest days when natural gas is in highest demand, the problem comes down to efficiency and deliverability – meaning we can’t get the gas to a specific location at a specific time to meet that demand.

Understanding New England’s current “gas problem” as one of deliverability rather than pipeline capacity reframes the debate – and makes clear the most efficient, timely, and cost-effective solution: increasing our use of the region’s existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure.

New Pipelines Will Hurt, Not Help

Building the massive new pipelines currently proposed is the most expensive and least effective means of addressing our current problem. It takes years to build a new pipeline – meaning it will be years before any of us see any benefits in our electric bills. What’s more, you and I could even see an increase in our bills if proposals to fund these new pipelines on the backs of ratepayers move forward.

These hard costs of construction and ratepayer impact are easy to track. What’s harder to measure – and arguably more important – is the long-term impact on our climate if we fail to take meaningful steps to shift our power grid away from reliance on fossil fuels like natural gas. Yes, gas is considered cleaner than coal and oil by many – but that’s all relative, given that methane, a byproduct of natural gas production, is up to 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon. With regulatory regimes like the Clean Power Plan and existing New England state regulations mandating aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, major investments that would increase our consumption of natural gas simply don’t make environmental or economic sense.

LNG Can Make A Difference This Winter

The best means of solving New England’s winter gas issue is to better utilize our existing natural gas infrastructure – specifically, our existing LNG facilities. LNG import terminals provide a ready supply of natural gas on pipelines from the east that are currently underutilized – the use of which will relieve constraints on the remaining pipeline system. Local gas distribution companies have LNG storage facilities that have ten times the capacity of our existing pipeline system. Right now, those storage tanks are filled at the beginning of the winter and then drained down over the heating season.

We propose that this storage be supplemented all winter long, to ensure supplies can be available and distributed throughout the existing New England-wide storage network. This would shore up the amount of LNG stored in the region during the winter months. The combination of LNG from the import terminals to the east and from storage units throughout the region would supplement the natural gas supply coming in through existing pipelines – freeing up more of that existing pipeline capacity for use by electric power plants.

The LNG needed to supply this approach can be contracted for with short-term contracts, unlike the locked-in 20-year commitment of a new pipeline. This means lower costs, saving local gas distributors and all of us ratepayers more than $340 million a year – and as much as $4.4 billion over 20 years – compared to building a big new pipeline. It also means greater flexibility for New England to make the necessary transition to rapidly developing clean alternatives – such as battery storage and increased distributed solar. And, even better, this solution is technically feasible and could be implemented this winter.

Learn More

Download our white paper to read more about how better use of our LNG infrastructure can address our gas deliverability problem efficiently and effectively – in ways that are good for our wallets and our environment.

Hundreds show to comment on Marine National Monument proposal

Sep 16, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF President Bradley Campbell addresses the crowd at the NOAA Town Hall meeting on Sept. 15, 2015

CLF President Bradley Campbell addresses the crowd at the NOAA Town Hall meeting on Sept. 15, 2015

Last night, more than 400 people attended a meeting at the Marriott in downtown Providence to discuss the possibility of a Marine National Monument in New England. Facilitated by NOAA, the meeting drew people from every corner of New England who are invested in gaining permanent protection for the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts.

Over the course of three hours, we heard from aquaria, fishermen, conservationists, scientists, faith leaders, business leaders, and concerned citizens. The majority of speakers, including many representing fishing interests, acknowledged the fragility and importance of the places being discussed.

Though most within the fishing industry opposed a Monument designation, many commented about the importance of keeping the Cashes Ledge area closed. The regional fishery management process is not perfect, but it is clear the New England Fishery Management Council recognizes the importance of Cashes Ledge. As one speaker noted, ultimately, we all share the same end goal: To ensure a healthy and sustainable ocean, with healthy habitats and healthy commercial fish populations.

Monument designation about more than fishing

And while there was agreement that these areas are in need of protection, some were opposed to the President using executive authority to designate an area as a Monument, citing it as an overreach of power. However, as another speaker noted, sometimes a place is of such importance that the only way to ensure it’s not lost is through a tool like the Antiquities Act.

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

Photo by Brian Skerry

Cashes Ledge and the coral canyons and seamounts are two such places. And, in the end, commercial fishing isn’t the only human activity threatening their future. We need to safeguard these fragile seascapes from sand and gravel mining, oil digging, and other potentially destructive activities. A Monument designation will build on the existing protections for these invaluable ocean resources by the Fishery Management Council – and make them permanent.

Ultimately, it’s not the fishery management council’s duty or responsibility to preserve the scientifically important biodiversity at Cashes Ledge – nor should it be!

Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell, who joined the organization just last week, reiterated this point. “Even if the council is doing its job perfectly, it has no mandate to consider natural beauty, no mandate to consider scientific value, and no mandate to protect biodiversity or to protect jobs other than fishing jobs. So there comes a time when there are resources that are so exceptional, they’re outside the stove pipe of any given agency – and that’s what the Antiquities Act is there for.”

Regional Ocean Planning

Concerns about the Regional Ocean Planning process in New England were also brought to the podium, with some saying that a Monument designation undermines the ongoing ocean planning process. However, President Obama has publicly noted that ocean management and the designation of protected areas are concurrent priorities for his legacy. We at CLF are strongly committed to the regional ocean planning process, and are glad to have an Administration that recognizes the importance of both of these priorities.

Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

Marine Monument protection for the Cashes Ledge Closed Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts is within reach. Fortunately, NOAA has kept open the timeframe for public comments. Sign our petition here to let the Administration know why you support saving these ocean treasures for generations to come.


Bee Grateful! Massachusetts Legislature Focuses on Honey Bee Health

Sep 4, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Honey bees play a critical role in agricultural production. One in every three bites of food we eat depends on a crop that is pollinated by honey bees! As a reminder, pollination is what happens when a pollinator (often a honey bee) visits a flower and transfers pollen from the male parts to the female parts. By doing this, the pollinator fertilizes the plant and allows the plant to reproduce and create a seed or a fruit.

Despite their importance to our food system, honey bees are dying worldwide at record high numbers. In 2013, commercial beekeepers in the US reported average annual hive losses of around 50%, with some suffering losses as high as 100%. If this troubling trend continues, the impact on our food supply could be disastrous.

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering three bills that would improve the health of imperiled honeybees. ©Steve Johnson

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering three bills that would improve the health of imperiled honeybees. ©Steve Johnson

While other countries around the world have begun to take action to save the honey bees on which our food depends, the US Environmental Protection Agency has been slower to heed the warning signs. So individual states as well as high-profile retailers are stepping in to take action themselves. Keep reading to learn why honey bees are under threat and what actions Massachusetts’ legislators are proposing to help curb this potentially devastating problem.

What’s causing the decline in bee colonies?

An increasing number of studies point to a certain class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, as a primary culprit in the global pollinator crisis. Neonicotinoids are synthetic chemical insecticides that are used to control crop and plant pests such as aphids or leaf beetles. These insecticides are absorbed and transported throughout the plant to protect against harmful insects. But that also means that beneficial insects that rely on nectar or pollen from these pesticide-laced plants have increased oral exposure to neonicotinoid residues. Honey bees exposed to heavy doses of neonicotinoids die immediately. You may have heard about the incident in Oregon when 50,000 bees died because of a high dose of neonicotinoids sprayed on blooming linden trees in a Target parking lot. But honey bees exposed to even small levels of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flying and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower learning of new tasks, all of which impact their ability to pollinate.

Neonicotinoids are used widely across New England, both commercially and around our homes. Blueberries, potatoes, apples, and certain vegetables are often treated with neonicotinoids. Homeowners apply products with neonicotinoids to their lawns and gardens, often without knowing that they are harming nearby pollinators. A recent study found significant traces of neonicotinoids in 70% of Massachusetts’ honey samples taken from 10 out of 14 counties.

Neonicotinoids aren’t the only problem facing honey bees. Disease, parasites, and fungicides are also impacting their health. But, says Anne Averill, a professor of entomology at the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, “While no one knows for sure what is causing the [honey bee] die off, addressing even one of the factors could help stabilize and revitalize the population.” And increasingly, the factor being addressed around the globe is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Neonicotinoid Regulation

Many countries across the globe have stepped up and taken preventive actions to protect bees and other pollinators from the adverse impacts of neonicotinoids. The EU issued a two-year ban, which will expire this December, on the use of three common neonicotinoids on crops attractive to honey bees so that scientists could conduct further studies.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has been slower to act on restricting neonicotinoid use. But certain states and retailers are acting through laws and policies to prevent further harm to our pollinators. For instance, the Minnesota Legislature recently passed a bill that limits a retailer’s ability to label plants and nursery stock as “beneficial to pollinators” if they have been treated with a systemic insecticide (like neonicotinoids) that is known to be harmful to pollinators.

On the retailer side, Lowe’s Home Improvement announced in April that it would phase out the sale of plant and nursery stock treated with neonicotinoids in the next two years. And Home Depot recently announced that it will start requiring its suppliers to label any plants treated with neonicotinoids by the end of the year.

What is Massachusetts doing to protect pollinators?

In Massachusetts, the Legislature is considering three bills to help boost pollinator health. Here’s a quick summary:

H. 731 – An Act to Ensure Proper Stewardship of Honeybees by the Commonwealth

  • This Act would establish an advisory committee to evaluate the effectiveness of existing state regulations and policies in protecting the health of honeybee populations and make recommendations for changes to the Legislature and the Department of Agricultural Resources.
  • The advisory committee would be made up of two beekeepers and three farmers appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture, as well as a representative of the MA Farm Bureau Federation, the MA Beekeepers Association as appointed by the board of directors of those organizations, and a representative of UMass Extension.
  • Within 18 months of bill passage, the committee would present a report on its findings to the Legislature.
  • So What? At the end of the committee’s process, we’ll know whether and where there is room to improve existing state regulations.

H. 3417 – An Act to Establish a Committee Studying Bee Colony Collapse

  • As the name suggests, this Act would establish a committee to investigate methods and solutions to prevent bee colony collapse.
  • The committee would be similar in composition to that described in H. 731, but there would be a few seats for legislators as well as several positions for Governor-appointed representatives from environmental and pollinator health advocacy organizations, and one seat for a master gardener representing the public.
  • Among other activities, the committee would: study pesticide regulations from other states and countries that are more protective of pollinator health than those of the EPA; evaluate the effectiveness of pesticide applicator licensing; identify possible  funding  streams  for   efforts  to   promote  or protect  pollinator health; investigate the means used by  other states to gather data on populations of  bees or  other pollinating insects; and evaluate existing best management practices for  applying neonicotinoids in a  manner that avoids harming pollinating insects.
  • The committee would report to the Legislature the results of its investigation and its recommendations, if any, together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry its recommendations into effect on or before June 30, 2016.
  • So What? By investigating best practices across the world, the committee will learn what rules and research methods Massachusetts can import to better protect honey bees here at home.

H. 655 – An Act Protecting Massachusetts Pollinators

  • Rather than creating a committee to assess or study ongoing efforts to protect pollinators, this Act would actually establish several new legal requirements to protect pollinators, including:
    • Neonicotinoids could only be applied by a certified or licensed applicator who has completed a state-developed training program on the risks associated with their use.
    • Neonicotinoids could only be applied for agricultural or horticultural uses during blooming season (as opposed to ornamental uses, e.g., home gardens).
    • Applicators would have to notify any property owner on which neonicotinoids will be used of the risks associated with its use.
    • Any product sold in MA that has been treated with neonicotinoids would have to be labeled, including a brief description of the risks.
    • The MA pesticide board subcommittee must biannually review neonicotinoid use in MA and recommend ways to further limit its use.
  • So What? We’ll be able to better track the use and application of pesticides that contain neonicotinoids.

CLF is carefully tracking the progress of these bills – because healthy pollinators mean New England farmers can grow healthy local food. Stay tuned for a future blog post where we will share our perspective on the three bills and the date for an upcoming public hearing on the issue of pollinator health, where you can voice your support for pollinator protection in Massachusetts.

Join us September 2 to Protect Ocean Treasures

Aug 21, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

You are invited to join world-renowned National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry for an evening of scientific exploration about two extraordinary underwater Atlantic Ocean landmarks in New England.

RSVP to join us at the New England Aquarium in Boston at 5:30pm on Wednesday, September 2, 2015.

Come learn about the need to permanently protect these special places from human threats – forever.

A red cod swims in the healthy kelp forest on Cashes Ledge

A red cod swims in the healthy kelp forest on Cashes Ledge

Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, 150 miles off Cape Cod, are two spectacular underwater places located off New England’s coast. These precious ecosystems provide refuge for hundreds of species, many of which are rare and unique, and they are critical to the vibrancy of our coastal communities.

But these treasures are under threat from climate change, industrial exploitation and fishing.

That’s why we’re gathering with distinguished guests, including Brian Skerry and some of New England’s most prominent marine scientists: Dr. Jon Witman, professor at Brown University; Dr. Peter Auster, Senior Research Scientist at Mystic Aquarium; and Dr. Scott Kraus,ice President for Research at the New England Aquarium. 

We hope you’ll attend our free pre-event reception at 5:30, where you’ll meet fellow supporters from CLF and other environmental organizations involved in this historic effort to permanently protect Atlantic Ocean treasures – and make your voice heard in support of these marine treasures.

Now is the time to protect Cashes Ledge and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts – and we need your help! Your presence will show that the people of New England care about these underwater ocean landmarks. RSVP today.

September 2, 2015  |  Reception: 5:30   |  Event: 6:15

New England Aquarium, Simons IMAX Theater, downtown Boston

Celebrating the Opening of Boston Public Market

Jul 30, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This first-of-its-kind, all locally sourced market was brought about with the help of CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub

The grand opening of the Boston Public Market today included beautiful displays of plump summer fruits and glistening freshly caught seafood, but that’s not what caught my eye. My focus was drawn to the various stall arrangements for the more than 40 food vendors occupying the market. Some stalls were small with mini-kitchen set-ups. Others were large with refrigerators and full-size ovens, requiring ventilation and electrical outlets.

The Boston Public Market opened today – with help from CLF's Legal Services Food Hub.

The Boston Public Market opened today – with a little help from CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub.

With such a variety of vendor needs, the Public Market had to negotiate separate lease agreements with each vendor. And thanks to Conservation Law Foundation’s Legal Services Food Hub, the Market had access to free legal assistance for all of those leases!

Launched in 2014, CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub pairs eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and the nonprofits that support them with free legal assistance. Over the past year, the Hub has placed 56 cases with skilled attorneys in the region, leveraging more than $400,000 in donated legal services.

CLF is thrilled to see the Boston Public Market open its doors to the community, enriching our local food economy and increasing access to healthy, fresh food for Boston residents. So many stakeholders played a role in bringing this first-of-its-kind, all locally sourced market to fruition, and CLF is proud to be one of them. We look forward to building upon this success and ensuring our Legal Services Food Hub continues to impact communities throughout New England.

Keep an eye out for the Hub’s annual report, coming next month, for more on our success in scaling up New England’s local food system.

Experts Weigh In: Maine Doesn’t Need New Gas Pipelines

Jul 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week consultants hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) concluded that Maine should not enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline capacity because the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits to Mainers.

In many ways, this was a foregone conclusion – one that CLF predicted nearly a year ago and that the PUC itself (unofficially) reached before soliciting proposals from pipeline companies and spending taxpayer dollars on a lengthy consultant’s report. It’s a cautionary tale not just for Maine but for all of New England as the region weighs its energy future – and decides whether it will overinvest in natural gas or blaze a trail based on cleaner, renewable resources.

This process all started back in March 2014. After a cold winter sparked region-wide fears of an imminent shortage of natural gas to power our homes and businesses, Maine’s PUC was tasked with determining whether the state should contract for additional gas capacity under the Maine Energy Cost Reduction Act (MECRA). The PUC approached this work in two phases: first, soliciting and examining evidence and testimony from a variety of interested parties, including CLF, as to the need and economics of gas pipeline capacity procurement. And, second, if the economics made sense, to request proposals from pipeline companies.

CLF testified before the PUC as it gathered the evidence and data it would need to make their determination. We reasoned that Maine should not enter into new contracts with pipeline companies – both because the legal basis for them was suspect (the investment in these new projects would have been paid for by ratepayers, which is unprecedented and risky) and because the costs – to our wallets and our climate – would ultimately outweigh the benefits to consumers.

PUC staff agreed with the economic argument in their own preliminary report, but the Commission nonetheless went ahead and accepted supply proposals from pipeline companies. As required by MECRA, the PUC hired an independent consultant, London Economics International (LEI), to examine these proposals. The consultant’s detailed report compared scenarios in which the state didn’t contract for additional pipeline and ones in which it did (based on the actual proposals the state had received).

LEI’s analysis reinforces both CLF’s testimony and comments and the PUC’s own staff report issued during the first phase of this proceeding: The costs of any contract for Maine to buy natural gas pipeline capacity trumps the benefits. In fact, LEI concluded that, even without Maine entering into a gas contract, gas prices should drop by 25% for Maine customers over the next few years due to already planned, market-based gas capacity expansions. The group also found that electricity prices should drop by 15% due to these lowering gas prices.

The LEI report rightly calls into question whether the PUC should have accepted proposals from gas companies in the first place – a process that has been costly to all participants, expended valuable resources of the PUC, and resulted in no different a conclusion than the PUC’s own staff analysis.

Maine law requires that, for any contracts like these proposed expansions, the benefits must outweigh the costs. The conclusions drawn by the PUC’s expert consultant in their report should prevent Maine from entering into such a contract any time soon.

Ultimately, there’s a larger lesson here – one for every state in the region considering its electricity future. Over this year-long process, the PUC spent hundreds of thousands of (tax-payer) dollars on experts and an intense, litigation-like process, only for their experts to conclude what was readily apparent at the outset – that subsidizing the gas industry on the backs of ratepayers is a bad idea, both economically and for the environment.

Those gas shortage fears that sparked this whole process in the first place ended up being completely unfounded over this past winter. Since then the economics of the energy markets have started to shift, with wholesale electric prices declining by 50% over the past year alone. Meanwhile, energy efficiency is decreasing the need for energy resources, fuel-free renewables are supplanting polluting power plants, and liquefied natural gas has become cost-competitive and available at times of peak need. With at least two new small-scale pipeline projects already set to come on-line and reduce energy costs even more over the next two years, now is the time for the New England states to invest in the stability of the cleanest energy future we can create – one that weans us off of natural gas within the next 35 years.

Portsmouth to Proceed with Long-Awaited, New Sewage Treatment Plant

Jun 22, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Portsmouth, New Hampshire, City Council recently reaffirmed its commitment to build a new sewage treatment plant at the site of the present antiquated facility on Peirce Island. Completion of the long-awaited upgrade may still be a few years away, though it could have happened sooner if the City had elected to shift its plans to a location at the Pease Tradeport. But the decision to rebuild at Peirce Island is still good news for the Piscataqua River and Great Bay estuary, which can’t afford further delay.Google PI

Portsmouth’s current sewage plant at Peirce Island is still failing to meet one of the most basic requirements of the Clean Water Act – so-called “secondary treatment” to reduce suspended solids and other pollution. While EPA has provided a ramp-up period to achieve that standard, until the upgrade is completed, it continues to exceed Clean Water Act discharge levels by 475 tons per year of total suspended solids and 877 tons per year of biological oxygen-demanding pollution. And, the plant’s potentially high discharges of bacteria and viruses have resulted in the closure of the shellfish beds in Little Harbor and along the Atlantic coast south to Odiorne Point. Upgrading Peirce Island to modern standards, and addressing these and other pollutants, is critical to restoring the health of our estuary.

We’ve worked for years to ensure progress at Portsmouth’s Peirce Island sewage treatment plant – one of the largest controllable sources of pollution in the estuary. We’re pleased to see the City Council avoiding the further delays that would have resulted from a last-minute change of plan, and we’ll continue to work to ensure the project stays on track. As towns like Exeter and Newmarket make progress upgrading their sewage treatment facilities, it’s important that the Seacoast’s largest city does the same.