The Missing Fine Print in Northern Pass Clean Air Propaganda

Tom Irwin | @TomIrwinNH

In a full-page advertisement in yesterday’s Concord Monitor, PSNH takes its greenwashing of the Northern Pass project to new heights of hypocrisy, this time not only continuing to tout the project’s unsubstantiated climate benefits, but splashing across the page, in large letters: “BREATHE DEEPLY, GRANDKIDS.”

detail-NorthernPassFactIn some respects, today’s advertisement is just the latest in a slick, spare-no-expense campaign designed to sell the Northern Pass project as clean and renewable—as a veritable no-brainer for anyone who cares about our energy future and the mounting threats of climate change. Nothing new here.

But coming from the owner and operator of the half-century-old Merrimack and Schiller coal-fired power plants, it’s hard to miss the rich irony in PSNH’s words of reassurance: “BREATHE DEEPLY, GRANDKIDS.”

Has PSNH somehow forgotten that, together, its coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Hampshire, racking up 2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the year 2012 alone? And that its coal-fired power plants have achieved the distinction of being among the worst polluters in New England, at times accounting for as much as 90% of New Hampshire’s total toxic pollution? And that coal-fired power plants like Merrimack and Schiller Station emit large amounts of fine particulate pollution that is harmful to respiratory health?

Perhaps what PSNH really forgot was the fine print, something along the lines of: “BREATHE DEEPLY, GRANDKIDS (provided you don’t live downwind of our coal plants, when they’re operating).”  Or perhaps PSNH was really referring to future grandchildren who will benefit from the retirement of these polluting, highly uneconomic facilities. Certainly, when the Merrimack and Schiller coal plants stop operating, grandchildren, grandparents, and everyone in between will be able to breathe a little easier. But that’s not PSNH’s plan—it wants to keep these plants running indefinitely.

Evocative taglines and slick marketing aside, if PSNH really cared about a healthy, clean energy future for the people of New Hampshire, it would start by committing to sell or close its obsolete, inefficient coal-fired power plants that are unnecessarily harming the climate, public health, and New Hampshire’s economy, and by recanting its opposition to efforts to reduce power plant emissions of greenhouse gases.

Until that happens, and until PSNH provides real, meaningful information for the public to assess the environmental impacts of Northern Pass (something its new Presidential Permit application utterly fails to do), its continued claims, no matter how much money is spent delivering them, will remain what they are today: hollow and untrustworthy.

Summer 2013 intern Alice Ju contributed to this post.

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