The Next Opportunity for Growing Renewable Energy in New England: Going Big by Going Regional

Jul 23, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The story of renewable energy development in the United States has included many important moments in which the states have provided leadership – most notably through fostering the shaping and building of new markets for renewable energy markets through programs like Renewable Energy Standards (also known “Renewable Portfolio Standards”).  These efforts have been of great value to the states who put them in place and have complemented and reinforced the incentives and programs to build up renewable energy resources like wind and solar by the Federal Government.

We are at a critical moment in the history of renewable energy development.  The collapse of coherent federal renewable energy policy, due to congressional inaction, in the form of failed attempts to put in place a Renewable Energy Standard and renew the Production Tax Credit, has created a greater need for state action – especially when clean renewable energy is an essential puzzle piece in solving the fundamental climate crisis that we face.

An interesting new element in this story is the quest by the New England States, working through a variety of vehicles, to develop a new “regional procurement” strategy that will allow the states to minimize the cost and maximize the benefits of renewable energy development for the region. This idea, also being discussed by leading scholars, could be a way to move forward smart and effective energy and climate policy, producing great value for a very reasonable investment.

This is far from a theoretical question.  Last year, in July 2011, the New England Governors directed their staff and the New England States Committee on Electricity who work with that staff, to continue to develop and build a mechanism for regional procurement. On July 29-30, 2012 the Governors meet again in Burlington Vermont and will hear a report on how that work has gone.  Will they take the critical step of moving beyond study and consideration of this idea and take action?

Energy Efficiency: A Regional Legacy of Transformation

Jul 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Department of Energy @ flickr.com

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

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

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

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

And it’s been a success that continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waves of Change: Planning for New England’s Unprecedented Sea Level Rise

Jun 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Waves off West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Photo: nd-nʎ@flickr

Sea levels are rising 3-4 times faster along the east coast, from North Carolina to Massachusetts, than the global average, says a new study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). This “hot spot” of rising water puts us at unique risk from the changes that are happening to our ocean and will “increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration,” according to the report.

The reasons for our higher than average sea level rise are complex and involve changes in ocean circulation, temperature, and salinity, among other things (read the full report here if you want all the details). But you don’t need to understand why it’s happening to know that this is a problem we need to figure out how to manage. Look at the recent debate in Matunuck, Rhode Island over whether to “Save the Beach or Save your House” for an example of why this matters – and matters right now.

Ocean resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. We have to find a better way to plan for our oceans and coasts in the face of the unprecedented changes that are already happening to them.

And there IS a better way. Regional Ocean Planning is one of nine objectives of the National Ocean Policy. It’s a way to make decisions about our ocean resources that helps us factor in multiple uses and changing conditions – by using the best data and latest information and, most importantly, working together.

Regional Ocean Planning is a science-based process of improving decisions about ocean resources before conflict arises – by involving everyone who has a stake in those resources, including municipalities, conservation groups, recreational users, and commercial and industrial entities.

The rate of sea level rise is predicted to continue increasing if our global temperatures keep rising. Hopefully our level of planning will rise as well.

New Video: Real New Hampshire Voices Speak Out on the Northern Pass Proposal

Jun 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Northern Pass’s developer has a long track record of public statements attributing the deep New Hampshire opposition to the current proposal to the go-to developer bogeyman – “not in my backyard” obstructionism. Accusing critics of short-sighted “NIMBYism” is even part of Northern Pass’s expensive marketing campaign (which suffers from other deliberately false and misleading claims). Continuing this tradition, the CEO of the developer’s parent company recently derided opponents as “special interests.”

This is loaded, derogatory rhetoric, and exactly the wrong frame for having any constructive dialogue with the New Hampshire communities that face living with the project’s major new infrastructure, as I argued on NHPR last year. And on a personal level, after nearly a year and a half of advocacy on the Northern Pass project, I can say with certainty that the New Hampshire opponents of the current proposal don’t fit the caricature. Those with backyards that would be affected are indeed concerned about their homes, but also about the broader issues of whether the project will benefit their communities, New Hampshire, and the region. Like CLF, they aren’t seeing meaningful public benefits that would make the burdens of the project worth bearing.

Our colleagues at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests recently produced a pair of videos that help bring to life some of New Hampshire’s very real concerns about the project, many of which are key parts of CLF’s Northern Pass advocacy.

In this video, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Susan Arnold explains our history of protecting the White Mountain National Forest and the problems with Northern Pass’s proposal to build new towers through this nationally treasured landscape:

(If impacts in the White Mountain National Forest are of interest to you, I’d also recommend a recently launched resource with lots of information on the details of Northern Pass’s current proposal and the unique permitting process that applies: ProtectWMNF.org.)

In this video, you’ll meet a Deerfield, NH family that would be directly affected by the project:

(In line with prior non-responses to criticism and strong-arm tactics, Northern Pass’s developer posted an odd rebuttal to this video on its website, attacking as “inaccurate” certain general statements and images showing towers close to the family’s house. Leaving aside that accuracy in communications hasn’t been its own priority, the developer has released no detailed mile-by-mile design of the project to back up its post, nor does it deny that its representatives told the family that towers could be built very close to their home. And if you watch the video, it’s clear that the “rebuttal” is more about trying to discredit the Forest Society than providing a meaningful response to the video’s substance.)

From the families who live along the proposed route, to the small businesspeople in the state’s tourist economy who are concerned about the effect of the project on their livelihoods and communities, to the New Hampshire residents and groups questioning the wisdom of erecting massive new towers through treasured landscapes like the White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire’s many critical voices are focused on real, legitimate concerns about the impacts of Northern Pass on our state and beyond. We will not be marginalized, bullied, or deterred as we raise these issues in public forums and in the federal and state permitting processes to come.

CLF was not involved in the production or content of the videos above. They are posted here with the permission of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

New Study: Energy Market Changes Undermine Economic Case for Northern Pass

Jun 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: flickr/brianjmatis

This week, the New England Power Generators Association (the trade group for most of the region’s power plant companies, also known as NEPGA) released a new study analyzing the potential effect of the Northern Pass project on New England’s energy market – the first independent study addressing this issue. More than two years after the deeply flawed energy study that Northern Pass’s developer commissioned and has cited unrelentingly since, NEPGA’s study is an important, credible contribution to the public discussion surrounding the Northern Pass project.

The new study’s conclusion: the supposed energy benefits of the project – that it will lower the region’s energy costs and diversify the region’s power supply – won’t materialize. The study also shows that the economic merits of the current proposal are much weaker today than they were when the proposal was formulated two years ago, due to reductions in the cost of natural gas.

You can read NEPGA’s press release about the study (PDF) here and the full study (PDF) here. You’ll find press coverage of the study in the Union Leader here, in the Concord Monitor here, on WMUR-TV here, and on New Hampshire Public Radio here.

A few key takeaways:

  • The study’s finding that natural gas prices have declined is not news to Hydro-Québec or to Northern Pass’s developer, which is trumpeting new domestic natural gas supplies as a “game-changer.” What this means, in practical terms, is that the project will not put much downward pressure on the already-low regional market price of power. That’s a problem for Northern Pass: reducing regional energy costs is at the heart of the Northern Pass sales pitch. (As we’ve pointed out before, this “benefit” in fact perversely would put upward pressure on – rather than lower – the rates that most New Hampshire consumers pay.)
  • With the economics of the project so tenuous, there is a clear risk that the proponents will seek to qualify Northern Pass power for the benefits afforded to new renewable energy sources under state clean energy laws, a legal change that would unfairly undermine the market for renewable energy development in New England. (The risk that hydropower imports will need subsidies to cover new transmission costs has also recently been cited by critics of the Champlain Hudson Power Express project in New York.) If it’s true, as proponents insist, that Northern Pass doesn’t need subsidies, New England should accept nothing less than a binding legal commitment from Hydro-Québec and Northern Pass’s developer not to seek or accept them.
  • NEPGA’s study suggests that Northern Pass would shift Québec hydropower exports from New York and Ontario to New England. This effect may completely offset the supposed carbon emissions reductions from Northern Pass (which are inherently dubious for other reasons) because it is extremely likely that New York or Ontario would ramp up natural gas power plants to make up any deficit. In this regard, the study shows yet again that a rigorous big-picture regional analysis – of the kind that could be provided in the comprehensive regional assessment of our energy needs and the role, if any, for more Canadian imports that CLF and others have sought and Northern Pass’s developer has opposed – is essential to making a well-informed decision on a proposal like Northern Pass.
  • The developer’s hair-trigger response – to question the credibility of the sponsors of the study and not the study’s actual findings, a classic Bulverism – speaks volumes. At every turn, the developer has refused to acknowledge or address the problems with its current proposal, even in the face of unequivocal facts that debunk the supposed benefits. Sadly, we can expect the potential rollout of the “new route” for a piece of the project later this summer to follow a similar script.

Above all, NEPGA’s new study underscores that that no one should rely on the stale, incomplete, and misleading information that Northern Pass’s developer is using to sell the project to the public and to government agencies. We need a much deeper, clear-eyed understanding of what Northern Pass would mean for the region’s energy consumers, New Hampshire communities, and the environment on both sides of the border.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

The “New Route” for Northern Pass Won’t Cure Its Failings

May 24, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This summer, New Hampshire is bracing for news of the Northern Pass project’s future and its “new route.”

It’s now been nearly a year since the federal permitting process for the Northern Pass project was put on indefinite hold. North of Groveton, New Hampshire, the developer – Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) – is still working behind tightly closed doors to string together a new section of the project route, where there are no existing transmission corridors, by paying landowners substantial sums for property – in many cases, well above market value.

Earlier this month, the chief operating officer of NPT’s parent company, Northeast Utilities, told investors:

Where we are right now is in procuring the last 40 miles of the right-of-way, and I can tell you we are making very, very strong progress in lining up the right of way. I think we’re on track for the middle of the year, approximately August timeframe to have the right-of-way secured and then to be prepared to file with the [U.S. Department of Energy] the route….

NPT’s apparent plan (assuming it really can overcome the considerable obstacles to a new route):

Not so fast. Before the news arrives (if it does), it’s worth remembering that whatever new lines the developer manages to draw on the map do nothing to change the project’s DNA or to demonstrate that the project will benefit New Hampshire. A brief review is in order:

Where are the benefits for New Hampshire?

Through  costly marketing efforts, NPT has been trying to sell New Hampshire on the tremendous economic and environmental benefits of Northern Pass. But the supposed benefits just don’t hold up to scrutiny:

  • Reduced emissions from “clean power”?

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, CLF’s report on the most recent science demonstrated that new hydropower projects to supply power for Northern Pass are much worse for the climate than NPT’s false advertising claims have led the region to believe and are not meaningfully better than natural gas power plants (the power NPT predicts that Northern Pass would replace) in the early years after reservoirs are developed. As a result, contrary to mistaken but widely disseminated assumptions, importing hydropower from Canada is not a short-term solution that will reduce New England’s or New Hampshire’s carbon emissions. Indeed, the current proposal would have the perverse effect of protecting – rather than hastening the transition away from – PSNH’s low-performing, high-emitting power plants, which are New Hampshire’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. (Despite marketing the project based on its “clean” source of the power, NPT also refuses to acknowledge the relevance or importance of the troubling damage to ecosystems and communities that large-scale hydropower causes in Canada.)

  • Lower electric rates?

Those who would live with the new transmission lines, customers of NPT affiliate PSNH, are the least likely to benefit. Despite nearly two years of promises that PSNH would announce a plan to purchase Hydro-Québec hydropower for New Hampshire residents, there is still no agreement to do so. Any modest effects on the region’s wholesale electricity rates (which NPT’s consultant predicted based on outdated economic assumptions about energy costs) don’t translate into lower rates for PSNH customers (who instead are stuck paying the bill for PSNH’s inefficient and dirty power plants). In fact, if Northern Pass succeeds in lowering wholesale rates, it will likely worsen PSNH’s death spiral of increasing rates and fewer customers, leaving those residents and small businesses still getting power from PSNH with higher bills.

  • Growing New Hampshire’s clean energy economy and jobs?

There is a substantial risk that Northern Pass would swamp the market for renewable energy projects in New England, especially if state laws are amended to qualify Hydro-Québec power as “renewable.” Furthermore, the project’s high voltage direct current technology means that its massive investment in transmission capacity will wholly bypass the potentially fertile ground for renewable energy development in northern New England. Whatever the short-term construction jobs required (and NPT’s estimates are disputed), the current Northern Pass proposal may diminish the prospects for New Hampshire’s clean energy economy, including needed permanent jobs in the renewable and energy efficiency sectors.

No regional plan addressing new imports

Québec continues to implement its ambitious plan to develop more wild Boreal rivers into a new generation of massive hydropower projects, which will increase its export capabilities. This January, Hydro-Québec commissioned the final turbine at its latest hydropower facility (Eastmain 1-A) and will commission other turbines (at Sarcelle) as part of the same overall project later this year. Construction at the $8 billion Romaine River hydropower project (the subject of the film Seeking the Current) has begun and is ongoing, with the first unit expected to come online in 2014. Northeast Utilities has affirmed that Northern Pass will tap the power from these new projects. Meanwhile, Northern Pass competitors are moving forward with new transmission projects in eastern New England and in New York, among others:

Northern Pass and competitor transmission projects (source: ISO-NE)

More than a year ago, CLF and others urged the Department of Energy to weigh the region’s energy needs and develop a strategic regional plan that would determine a well-informed role for new Canadian hydropower imports in the northeastern United States’ energy future – before moving forward with the permitting process for Northern Pass. NPT’s only response was that responsible planning – encompassing the other pending transmission projects and a full consideration of the reasonable alternatives – would unacceptably delay its project – a truly ironic claim given NPT’s own, unforced, ongoing delay. More incredibly, the Department of Energy has so far sided with NPT, without explaining why.

So as Québec builds more dams and NPT buys up land, our region has no plan of its own. With no framework to understand the nature and extent of the appropriate role for Canadian hydropower, it is difficult if not impossible to make a sound, well-informed decision on whether Northern Pass – or projects like it – should proceed.

Community and grassroots reaction throughout New Hampshire

Since Northern Pass was announced in 2010, the project has inspired a broad-based and spirited movement of people throughout New Hampshire to oppose the current proposal. Last spring, there were massive turnouts at the Department of Energy’s public hearings on the project, with literally thousands attending and providing written and verbal comments both questioning the merits of the current proposal and urging a thorough environmental review. And earlier this year, a coalition of citizens and organizations of many political stripes succeeded in persuading New Hampshire’s legislature to enact a bill preventing projects like Northern Pass from using eminent domain. In another effort, more than 1,500 donors contributed total of $850,000 to enable the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to preserve the treasured New Hampshire landscape surrounding the historic Balsams resort, including a parcel that NPT had sought to purchase as part of Northern Pass’s transmission corridor. To date, town meeting voters in 32 local communities have passed resolutions and ordinances against the current proposal. Critically, most of these communities are located along the NPT’s “preferred route” that follows PSNH ‘s existing transmission corridor, south of any “new route” that NPT may announce.

NPT’s refusal to consider routing and technological alternatives

At every turn, NPT has rejected calls for in-depth consideration of potential alternatives to its current proposal, including use of an existing high-voltage transmission corridor that extends from Canada, through Vermont and western New Hampshire, to Massachusetts; burying transmission lines in transportation corridors, as is proposed in the New York and eastern New England projects mentioned above; or adding capacity to that same New York project, consistent with that project’s original proposal (it has since been scaled back). Indeed, Northern Pass’s response to the public’s opposition to the project was to “withdraw support” for alternative routes and double down on its “preferred route.” While this stance may be in the economic interest of NPT and PSNH, it’s grossly at odds with a fair, well-informed permitting process that would vindicate the public’s interest in a solution with minimal environmental and community impacts.

If and when NPT comes back from its year of buying up North Country land and relaunches its effort to secure approval of the Northern Pass project, with the only change to the proposal consisting of a new line on the map north of Groveton, there should be no mistake: the fundamental flaws in the current proposal remain. Likewise, whatever NPT’s “preferred route,” CLF remains as committed as ever to securing a comprehensive and rigorous permitting process that identifies superior alternatives and a final outcome that moves us toward – and not away from – a clean energy future for New Hampshire and the region.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

CLF Position Paper on New England Interim Emergency Action by National Marine Fisheries Service: Fishing Years 2012 and 2103

Feb 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Another tipping point has arrived for New England fisheries.

Maybe the science assessment will change, maybe disaster relief will come from Congress, maybe our analysis (click here) of the government data is wrong, maybe cod will change their recent low productivity characteristics. But should fisheries managers bet the inshore fleet and large segments of the recreational fleet on it?

Given the risks of further potential declines of spawning stock biomass below the lowest levels ever observed, we think it would be just plain wrong and irresponsible to dodge this biological crisis and try to push it off to 2013. There aren’t any good choices but there may be choices that are less irreversible or harmful than others.

What is the New England Council thinking?

Northern Pass Attacks Land Conservation in New Hampshire, Loses in the First Round

Dec 28, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

courtesy Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests

Last week brought a fitting capstone to the botched year-long rollout of the Northern Pass project.  In a disturbing turn of events, the project developers sought to scuttle a historic plan to preserve a storied wilderness in New Hampshire’s North Country. Their attempt failed, but what the episode says about their future tactics is anything but encouraging for New Hampshire and the region.

Northern Pass Transmission, LLC (NPT) – a partnership between Northeast Utilities and NSTAR – has spent 2011:

It has been clear for some time that the current proposal is really about two things – securing profits for Hydro-Québec and propping up NU subsidiary PSNH’s weakening bottom line. CLF is not alone in wondering: what’s in it for New Hampshire?

Last week was a vivid preview. And if you care about New Hampshire’s iconic wilderness landscapes or the organizations that protect them, it’s not a pretty picture.

Earlier this fall, we learned that NPT was bidding to purchase a strip of land through one of the North Country’s crown jewels – the magnificent Balsams estate in Dixville Notch – from its owner, the Neil Tillotson Trust.

Enter the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), a key collaborator with CLF on Northern Pass advocacy and one of the state’s leading land conservation organizations. Culminating a decade of effort to preserve the Balsams landscape, SPNHF secured from the Trust a conservation easement over 5,800 acres of spectacular wilderness surrounding the resort, provided that SPNHF raises $850,000 for the easement by mid-January. (You can follow the effort here. Word is that, as of today, SPNHF is nearly a third of the way there.) The easement would preclude any transmission corridor.

The land is an ecological and scenic marvel, and the deal marks a historic land preservation achievement for SPNHF, the Trust, and New Hampshire as a whole.

The Balsams Resort in winter (photo credit: j-fi/flickr)

NPT’s bizarre and audacious response: launch a legal attack on the conservation plan.

Last week, NPT asked the state Attorney General’s Office to disapprove the easement on the ground that NPT’s earlier bid was higher. Then on Friday of last week, NPT made a very public offer to buy both the transmission corridor and the conservation easement, which would secure a right to site the Northern Pass project on the Balsams property. The last move was particularly odd because most bidding wars don’t involve publicly bullying a seller – a respected charitable trust no less – into accepting an offer.

As noted in the Concord Monitor and on NHPR, news came late Friday afternoon that the state Attorney General’s Office had approved the sale of the conservation easement to SPNHF, despite NPT’s objections and richer offers. The approval letter noted that it was well within the Trust’s charitable purposes and discretion to sell the easement to SPNHF for less than NPT’s offer. In other words, the Trust should be free to decide that preserving the Balsams property for the benefit of the North Country is more important than the Trust’s financial return.

Why was NPT’s attack on the conservation plan so troubling?

  • NPT sought to undermine land preservation efforts throughout New Hampshire. Land preservation almost always requires generosity – the landowner’s decision to accept less than market value or to make an outright donation of an easement. If it had been successful, NPT’s legal attack would have left no room for such generosity, granting any private developer the power to block a landowning non-profit’s preservation of its land whenever the developer offered more money than the conservation organization or community that would hold the conservation easement.
  • NPT is on war footing.  NPT is pursuing the equivalent of scorched earth litigation, resorting to strong-arm tactics and legal appeals to the state, including a threat of litigation to block the SPNHF easement that, as of today, remains on the table. At this early stage of the project’s permitting, this is exactly the opposite of what we need – a well-informed regional and statewide dialogue about our energy future, the project’s potential role if any, and the alternatives to traditional overhead lines along NPT’s proposed route.
  • NPT has broken its promise to find a route “that has support of property owners.”  The Trust made a decision not to sell to NPT; within days, NPT was crying foul to a state official.  NPT’s appeal to the state reveals, for all to see, that NPT will respect the will of landowners only when that will is to sell NPT the land it wants. As others pointed out before the Attorney General Office’s decision, NPT’s carefully-worded disinterest in using eminent domain (except as a “very last resort,” in the words of PSNH President Gary Long) is no longer credible, if it ever was.
  • NPT is willing to spend huge sums, but only to get the project it wants. Without hesitation or public discussion, NPT offered what amounts to a $1 million donation (of Hydro-Québec’s money) to the Trust, including a $200,000 grant to Colebrook Hospital and the money for the Balsams conservation easement. Clearly, NPT is willing to spend millions above and beyond market costs to get the route it wants, even as it rejects as too costly alternatives that could be better for New Hampshire.

Above all, the Balsams episode shows that NPT is not pursuing the Northern Pass proposal as a public-minded enterprise for the “good of all of New Hampshire.” With so much at stake for the region and New Hampshire, CLF’s work of 2012 is to secure a searching and rigorous public review process that will scrutinize every element of the Northern Pass project and ensure that the public interest – and not the dollars in NPT’s coffers – determines the project’s fate.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northernpass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Memo From New England: EPA’s Clean Air Standards Following New England’s Example

Dec 21, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There is a saying that as goes Maine, so goes the nation. That is proving to be true, with one slight twist: As goes New England, so goes the nation’s environmental policy.

If you look at a wind map of the United States you’ll see that all prevailing winds east of the Mississippi eventually converge right here, in New England. That helps make New England the place so many of us love – warm summers, stunning falls, and cold, snowy winters – but it also makes New England the tailpipe of the nation.

Beginning in the mid-20th century, researchers began documenting evidence of the effect of acid rain on Camel’s Hump in Vermont’s Green Mountains. They documented dramatic decreases in biomass, forest reproduction, seed germination, and other damaging effects among such species as red spruce, mountain maple, sugar maple, and beech – some of the trees whose brilliant fall colors draw millions of tourists to New England each fall. The cause? Acid rain.

Today, the problem continues, though in different ways. Antiquated coal plants built before 1970 have long enjoyed loopholes in the Clean Air Act that allowed them to emit toxic pollutants without modern controls. They have spewed a mix of mercury, arsenic, lead, and soot that harms all Americans by degrading our air and water quality, as well as our public health by increasing the rates of lung disease and causing asthma attacks, among other ailments. Even though many New England states have imposed modern controls on their plants, winds continue to carry pollution from the rest of the country that harms New England’s environment and its people.

That’s why today’s ruling from the EPA on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) is so laudable. As my colleague Jonathan Peress said in a press statement, these standards “amount to one of the most significant public health and environmental measures in years.” They are also similar to standards we adopted here in New England years ago.

According to EPA estimates, these standards will prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually among Americans by 2016. The standards will also save at least $59 billion measured as a reduction in premature deaths, lower health care costs, and fewer absences from work or school. That is undoubtedly a good thing. It is also undoubtedly long overdue.

The affected coal plants are toxic dinosaurs. According to an AP survey, the average age of the plants is 51 years – some of them were even built when Harry S Truman was president. EPA’s new standards will finally allow the public health protections, signed into law by George H.W. Bush as a part of the Clean Air Act of 1990, to do their job. As Ilan Levin, associate director of Environmental Integrity Project, said in a piece on Climate Progress, “The only thing more shocking than the large amounts of toxic chemicals released into the air each year … is the fact that these emissions have been allowed for so many years.”

Here in New England, we have long understood the importance of controlling harmful pollution. CLF together with a close coalition pushed for strict state air pollution standards to clean up the dirtiest plants in Massachusetts. In 2001, the Department of Environmental Protection adopted regulations known as “The Filthy Five” that went beyond the Federal Clean Air Act of 1970, and tackled the issues of mercury and carbon dioxide. From our experience with stringent state standards in Massachusetts and Connecticut, we know the substantial benefits to public health and the environment that will result from these rules.

Concern that these standards will directly shut down plants is misguided. According to an AP survey, “not a single plant operator said the EPA rules were solely to blame for a closure.” Instead, a confluence of factors have already initiated a broad technology shift we’re already seeing here in New England: coal prices are rising and natural gas prices are declining against a background of strict state clean air rules. Given this, many (but not all) of New England’s plants have either already installed modern pollution controls, or are actively planning for retirement, in ways that will keep the lights on.

I applaud the EPA, and Administrator Jackson, for their good work on these standards. We will continue to support them, and they’ll need our help.

And in any event, how long are people to suffer while clean air requirements on the books go unenforced? 21 years (since 1990) is too long. The time has come. Finally.

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