CLF Welcomes Zak Griefen in Newly Created Role of Environmental Enforcement Litigator

Nov 2, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Zak Griefen

CLF is pleased to welcome Zak Griefen, a Vermont native and former litigator for Cheney, Brock and Saudek, in the newly created role of environmental enforcement litigator. Based in CLF’s Vermont office, but working on cases throughout New England, Zak will be focused initially on cleaning up our region’s inland and coastal waters by ensuring that polluters are aware of their Clean Water Act permitting requirements and bringing federal litigation when necessary. The environmental enforcement litigator position was created to hold polluters accountable for the violations of environmental regulations—Clean Water Act and others—that are rampant across New England, compromising our region’s health and the health and safety of our citizens.

Zak has a BA from the University of New Mexico, and earned his JD, cum laude, and Master of Studies in Environmental Law, magna cum laude, from Vermont Law School in 2005, where he was an editor of the Vermont Law Review. Admitted to practice in VT and MA, he served for two years as clerk to the judges of the Vermont Environmental Court, and then practiced civil litigation in Montpelier, where he lives with his wife and two children. Zak, who served as a summer intern at CLF in 2004, is an avid angler and is particularly interested in protecting healthy streams and promoting sustainable land use.

Connecticut River Water Sample Confirms Tritium Pollution

Aug 18, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Water sampling confirms that pollution from the Vermont Yankee  plant is fouling the Connecticut River.  For the first time, water samples of the Connecticut River reveal that tritium, a radioactive substance from the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility, is in the river.   Previous sampling ignored Conservation Law Foundation recommendations and failed to investigate areas along the shoreline where the tritium from the plant would be expected to be found.

This finding confirms that the Vermont Yankee facility is too old to keep operating.  Beyond any legal violations, this shows the abject failure of Entergy to responsibly manage Vermont Yankee.  Entergy is first failing to avoid pollution problems and then failing to clean up the messes it makes.

The continued lackluster oversight by regulators must stop.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should not allow Vermont Yankee to pollute with impunity.  Last week another radioactive fish with stontium-90 was found in the river.  This week tritium is confirmed in the Connecticut River.

Vermont Yankee should stop polluting our waters and Entergy should stop saying the plant is responsibly managed.

The Cost of Doing Nothing: Toxic Algae Bloom Hurts Tourism, Changes Senator Inhofe’s Tune

Aug 17, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Yesterday, National Public Radio reported on a severe toxic algae bloom that is plaguing a popular lake in Oklahoma.

The algae in Oklahoma was spurred by familiar factors – lower water levels in the lake due to higher  water consumption by people, hotter conditions and low rainfall attributable to climate change, and nutrient pollution swept into the lake by stormwater runoff from the surrounding land area.

What was new was to hear public officials acknowledge that the lack of clean water is hurting the local economy and impacting people’s health.

As NPR Reported:

“ Across the state, the lack of water has even cut into tourism. Low water levels in northeast Oklahoma’s Grand Lake resulted in a spike of toxic levels of blue-green algae.

Gov. Mary Fallin says this hit just as visitors were arriving for July 4 celebrations.

It took a toll on businesses and tourism at the lake itself,” Fallin says. ‘Some of the businesses I talked to at Grand Lake told me they saw a 50 percent drop in the number of people who were coming into their businesses.’”

As the CLF Scoop reported earlier this summer, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe got sick after swimming amid the toxic blue-green algae in Grand Lake, and pinned his own illness on the algae.  Inhofe is known as one of the staunchest anti-environmentalists in Congress, and has opposed regulation to address climate change.  The Senator himself reportedly admitted the irony, suggesting that “the environment was fighting back.”

CLF hasn’t been sitting on the sidelines like some.  We’re fighting back against the sources of toxic algae blooms in New England – polluted stormwater runoff, inadequate management of sewage, and carbon dioxide emissions that accelerate climate change.  Reversing the devastating toxic algae blooms that regularly shut down bays along Cape Cod, Lake Champlain, New Hampshire’s Great Bay, Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, and elsewhere throughout the region is a top priority for CLF.

Unfortunately, it has taken a crisis to convince some elected officials what CLF has known for years.  Clean water generates economic growth, health, and tourism, while creating outdoor spaces that nurture our spirit.

TAKE ACTION: Defend the Beach!

Aug 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

With the record setting temperatures this past July, thousands of New Englanders decided to make their escape to the beach. Unfortunately, these relief-seekers were met with an unpleasant surprise: many found that their favorite spot was closed due to high pollution levels.

A place to escape is one of the numerous ways that New England’s ocean improves our quality of life: From fresh local seafood to over $60 billion a year of economic benefit in fishing and tourism to the promise of clean energy from offshore wind, our oceans provide us with ample bounty. However, this summer’s pollution problems are a stark reminder that we can’t take a healthy ocean for granted.

Today, we’re asking you to stand up for our oceans by standing up for the National Ocean Policy.

Thousands of miles away from New England, a freshman congressman from Texas is mounting a sneak attack on our ocean’s health. This congressman is threatening to cut funding for the National Ocean Policy – a policy designed to clean up our beaches and coastal waters, protect habitat for marine life, restore our fisheries and fishing industry, and promote responsible development of clean, renewable ocean energy.

Click here to urge your Representative in Congress to stop this sneak attack on our ocean.

Thankfully, Congress adjourned for the summer, but a vote could take place as soon as they return! So make sure your concerns are at the top of their list. Urge your reps to stand up for clean, healthy oceans and thriving coastal communities by supporting the National Ocean Policy today!


Shark Week Series: Risk and Fear

Aug 5, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

This is the fifth and last post in our Shark Week Series. Happy Shark Week, everyone!

Many rational people are very afraid of sharks. We can tell ourselves that the odds of attack are extremely low, especially in New England, but the primal image of the gaping maw and jagged teeth is hard to drive away with logic. As David Ropeik points out in his thought-provoking book, How Risky Is It, Really?, a risk feels bigger if you think it can happen to you, regardless of the odds. Sharks attacks are easy to imagine. However, if you look at the numbers, you should be way more worried about the drive to the beach, or lightning. The odds of death by shark each year in the U.S. are 1 in 3,748,067. You are way more likely to die from a dog attack. Here are some other things that are deadlier than a shark:

  • Car accident – you have a 1 in 84 chance of dying in a car crash each year
  • Death by sun/heat exposure – 1 in 13,729 per year
  • Death by fireworks – 1 in 340,733 per year

I do worry about sharks. Almost anyone who spends time in the ocean thinks about them. But I worry a lot more about getting sick from polluted water.

Potentially harmful bacterial pollution enters our coastal environment in partially or untreated wastewater and stormwater, in septic and cesspool waste, and from animal waste on or near beaches. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illnesses caused by recreational use of contaminated water are on the increase. For the fifth year in a row, beach closure or advisory days in 2010 topped 24,000 nationally, the majority which are due to bacterial contamination. Swimming in pathogen-contaminated water can result in respiratory infections, pink eye, stomach flu and many other health problems.

Many popular beaches have water-testing programs to help keep swimmers safe, but the testing is generally not daily, and the results are not “real time.” It’s a good idea to avoid the water during or after a storm, when bacteria levels are likely to be higher, since some of our stormwater is untreated. Worse still, many towns and cities in New England have antiquated Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) systems that are designed to release untreated sewage and stormwater into our rivers and oceans during storms. Some beaches close down as a result of storms, without even being tested, if it is known that CSOs will be flowing into the water. Fortunately, some CSOs are being upgraded and eliminated. But for now, there is still a very real risk of illness from swimming in contaminated water.

There is risk in everything we do. I’m willing to risk an encounter with one of the “Men in Gray Suits” if it means I get to keep surfing. But I’m going to be very careful about swimming in polluted water.

My point is not that we should be too afraid to enjoy our amazing beaches and ocean life. But, that we should work to protect them. Join CLF in advocating for our National Ocean Policy, in protecting the Clean Water Act, and in ensuring we leave a legacy of protecting these special places.

One town’s solution to cost of proposed stormwater regulations- CLF’s Cynthia Liebman responds

Aug 5, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Cynthia Liebman is a staff attorney at CLF Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Leslie Boudreau)

The most expensive stormwater runoff problem to fix is the one that’s not addressed. That’s the first point CLF Massachusetts Staff Attorney Cynthia Liebman makes in this smart letter to the editor published yesterday in the MetroWest Daily News. The letter is in response to the paper’s July 26 article stating that officials in the town of Milford, MA are considering suing EPA over the costs of EPA’s proposed regulations to clean up toxic stormwater runoff.

“Toxic algae blooms and other symptoms of pollution from paved areas undermine the clean water and recreational opportunities that make our towns desirable places to live, visit, and do business,” she writes. “EPA’s new pollution control program in the communities that discharge into the Charles River and its feeder streams provides more equitable cost sharing than the status quo.” More >

Untrustworthy Again – Entergy Orders New Fuel for VT Yankee

Jul 25, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The nuclear industry – and Entergy in particular – sure seems to have problems keeping promises.  Back in the 70s, nuclear power was “too cheap to meter.”  With Vermont Yankee, Entergy officials swore under oath there were no underground pipes.  Then those pipes were found to be leaking.  Last month, Entery told a federal court judge it needed an immediate court order to stay open to make the $65 million investment in new fuel.  The Court didn’t buy Entergy’s bullying and last week declined to order a preliminary injunction.  Today, Entergy announced it will purchase the fuel anyway.

Entergy’s fuel purchase decision is not surprising.  The court’s order noted that refueling will cost between $60 and  $65 million, and Vermont Yankee will generate $90 million in revenues by operating until March 2012.  Vermont Yankee’s revenues will cover its fuel costs.

Still, this is a dubious and risky business decision for Entergy.  Their Nuclear Regulatory Commission license is on appeal.  CLF is representing the New England Coalition in this appeal.  Also, Vermont Yankee does not have the needed permission to operate from Vermont past 2012.  This is an old reactor with a long and troubled history.  Retiring the facility as planned on March 2012 is the responsible thing to do.

Entergy’s credibility is buried along with its leaky pipes.  Any economic risk is Entergy’s own making.  Vermont continues to have a strong legal case.  States have the right to decide their energy future and land use and shouldn’t be forced to accept polluting, unreliable and untrustworthy nuclear plants and operators.  Let’s leave a clean energy legacy to our children and grandchildren.

Best (and Worst) of the Beaches

Jul 4, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Long Journey to a Cleaner Boston Harbor

Jul 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  9 Comment »

Peter Shelley, CLF senior counsel. Photo credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Twenty-eight years ago, we at CLF said we were going to take Boston Harbor back from the state polluters for the benefit of the children at the beach, the economic opportunities around a clean harbor and the future of Massachusetts. No one at CLF even suspected that this was to be a $4.5 billion, generational effort, let alone that billions more would be needed to rebuild metropolitan Boston’s water distribution system. Last week, the final major capital project from the original litigation to create that cleaner harbor was completed, producing feelings of great satisfaction as well as nostalgia. It was the light at the end of the tunnel that CLF entered on behalf of our members so long ago. Our supporters have been patient beyond recognition.

It is safe to say that it was worth the wait and the investment. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a new National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process, and Boston Harbor now also has its own watchdog—Save The Harbor/Save The Bay, a group CLF helped form to carry our vigilance forward. While CLF was just the point of the spear that made all this happen, there is no question that we were the point of that spear.

So many of the people who made this a success story are now gone. At the top of that list would have to be Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Paul G. Garrity and Federal Judge A. David Mazzone, neither of whom lived to see the final realization of their judicial efforts. Judge Garrity singlehandedly faced down the Massachusetts Legislature and refused to budge until they released their control of the sewer and water system by creating the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA). In the process, he may have issued the only city-wide building ban in Boston history. Judge Mazzone was the harbor cleanup program. He loved this harbor and threw his keen intellect, his brilliant strategic skills and his wonderful sense of humor—not to mention a couple of unbelievably good law clerks—into the challenge that was thrown before his court. Also in that list has to be Sam Hoar, a long time friend of CLF’s who died in 2004. Sam selflessly volunteered himself and some of the best lawyers at Goodwin, Procter & Hoar to help CLF survive the relentless legal briefing of the early days.

Among those who have moved on to other things are Doug Foy, Paul Levy, Doug MacDonald and Dick Fox. Doug Foy is gone only in the sense that he is no longer CEO of CLF. He needs no special introduction to the CLF family. His vision never faltered when he had made up his mind that something had to happen with Boston Harbor. Paul Levy and Doug MacDonald both performed project management miracles to bring one of the biggest and most complicated public works projects in Massachusetts history online both on schedule and on budget.  They, of course, were just the tip of the iceberg of the extraordinary staff at the MWRA. As for Dick Fox, lead engineer for CDM, the project design and construction lead, I’ll never forget the moment in open court when Judge Mazzone leaned his long frame forward, fixed Dick Fox in his eyes and said: “I’m going to hold you to your promises here.” Dick not only didn’t flinch; he responded “I expect you to.” This may have been a court-supervised cleanup, but make no mistake—it was a cleanup that happened because of the personal integrity commitment of lots of folks like Dick Fox.

Great credit also has to be extended to Diane Dumanowski, one of the finest reporters ever at the Boston Globe and one of the best environmental reporters in the country. Her series in the Globe on the collapse of the Metropolitan District Commission sewerage system, backed up by strong editorials from Globe columnist Ian Menzies, was the spark that ignited Doug Foy into action. Finally, no story about the Boston Harbor cleanup would be complete without mentioning Bill Golden, then solicitor for the City of Quincy, whose fateful jog on the feces-strewn Wollaston Beach in 1982 made him mad as hell and got the whole ball rolling.

CLF is not done with Boston Harbor, however. All the tributaries coming into Boston Harbor still suffer from significant pollution discharges from multiple public and private sources. These discharges expose Massachusetts residents to disease, damage the environment, and frustrate new economic opportunities. With the same energy we brought to the battle for Boston Harbor, we are hard at work fighting those upstream pollution sources with a terrific coalition of community groups and partner conservation non-profits. We look forward to similar moments of great accomplishment and satisfaction in the future when we can finally say that this great harbor’s entire watershed has a clean bill of health.

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