Monthly Archives: May 2017

Three Boston Congregations Team Up for Community Solar Project

Barr Foundation
Guest Author, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond
Associate Minister for Ecological Justice, Bethel AME Church

Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, a Class of 2009 Barr Fellow, shares three lessons and a new video documenting a novel collaboration of three churches committed to action on climate change and equity.

Three Boston congregations recently joined forces to put solar panels on their rooftops, capable of producing 70 kilowatts of clean energy to power our congregations. This is equivalent to the amount of electricity required to power about eight homes. Just as the project was getting started, cuts to the state solar compensation program almost killed the project, but we persevered through anyway.

I’m incredibly proud of Second Church (Dorchester), the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin (South End), and Bethel AME Church (Jamaica Plain), and the staff at Resonant Energy, for our collective hard work and determination to make this project possible.

As people of faith we are asking the question: how can we be stewards of the earth and tackle urgent problems like climate change while also addressing equity issues? Solar on our churches is one great way to start. Our congregation has already invested in exploring how to reduce our impact on the planet in many ways, including water conservation, recycling, and energy efficiency. We saw playing a leadership role in solar energy as another way to walk the talk.

As people of faith we are asking the question: how can we be stewards of the earth and tackle urgent problems like climate change while also addressing equity issues? Solar on our churches is one great way to start.

In addition to producing clean energy, a solar installation has many other benefits: it shows us how solar works, lets our community members and our leaders experience it, and illustrates how clean energy can provide additional benefits to our community, like good jobs. This is why we chose solar installers based on their track record of hiring people of color, including someone who lives right in our church’s neighborhood. I’m excited to share this video that we produced to document the project:

In reflecting on the project, which took about 15 months, we learned many things. Here are my three main takeaways from the project:

  1. First, we must take leadership. Our project allows our churches to demonstrate how to contribute to reducing pollution, increasing resilience, and bringing economic benefits to our communities. We learned lessons that we can share with other churches and institutions that want to contribute to clean energy solutions and produce local energy. We are also helping our congregations to think more about the impact that our energy use has on the planet—and on people. We also thought a lot about how local projects like this one catalyze excitement and a sense of ownership, demonstrating what we can do when we work together collectively. People are so proud of our leadership role.
  2. Similarly, it is important to provide tangible local examples for everyone in our community to see that what is possible. Local projects can catalyze excitement and a sense of ownership. Addressing climate change can seem like an overwhelming task for an individual or a congregation, and many people think that small actions don’t make a difference—but I firmly believe that they do. We must have examples in our communities—all of them—to show that clean energy is readily available, affordable, and accessible. We need more churches, businesses, institutions, public agencies, and others to use their buying power to show that this is possible.
  3. Third, the “just transition” to clean energy must be a priority for everyone working to address climate change. To rapidly deploy the amount of clean energy that is needed to meet our climate goals, we must work together to ensure that all members of our community can share in the benefits of clean energy. It is my view that when we are working on clean energy policies and projects, we must be truly inclusive and make sure that communities are driving progress together. And we must understand that climate progress without good jobs, safe housing, and access to health care leaves many people out.

I’m a climate activist. I recognize that putting up solar panels on a few churches is just one step; we have many, many more to go. But this project allows people to see that each of us can be—and must be—part of the green revolution, for our planet and for our neighbors.

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Editorial: Valley’s environmental activists have rich history

Daily Hampshire Gazette
May 16, 2017

The Valley’s environmental activists are continuing their rich history of civil disobedience by taking a stand at the Otis State Forest.

Forty years ago the activists were members of the Clamshell Alliance, many from western Massachusetts, trying to block construction of a nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Today’s activists are members of the Sugar Shack Alliance, protesting the expansion of natural gas pipelines. Like their counterparts of four decades ago, pipeline protesters favor energy options they contend are less expensive, safer and friendlier for the environment.

Sugar Shack demonstrators argue that their civil disobedience, resulting in some arrests, is a principled act calling attention to a misguided energy policy — just as their Clamshell counterparts did in the 1970s.

A total of 24 people, most from the Valley, were arrested during the first week in May at the Otis State Forest, where the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. plans four miles of underground pipe as part of its Connecticut Expansion project. The protesters blocked access roads for the tree-cutting needed to widen the company’s right-of-way through the forest.

A Berkshire Superior Court judge last year granted Tennessee Gas a permanent six-acre easement for its pipeline through the state forest on land it acquired by eminent domain under the federal Natural Gas Act. Opponents contend that the conservation land should be protected by Article 97 of the state Constitution.

Among those arrested May 2 was Ron Coler, a member of the Ashfield Select Board who explained his motivation: “Here at the municipal level of governance, we can wait no longer and, simply stated, it is time to cross the line. Because of the lack of serious commitment and much-needed leadership to the real threat of global warming, I feel compelled to answer that call myself, alongside my Sugar Shack Alliance family, and engage in this grassroots, nonviolent, direct action.”

His words echo those of Ruth Rae, a 48-year-old librarian from Northampton who explained in 1979 why she was willing to use vacation time from her job at Hampshire College in Amherst to serve a 20-day jail sentence for criminal trespassing. She was arrested in August 1976 for refusing to leave the nuclear power plant construction site in Seabrook, and was ordered to jail three years later after refusing to pay a $100 fine.

Rae told the Gazette at the time there is no doubt she was trespassing when she sat on the ground, singing and planting trees with 177 other protesters who were arrested. Rae explained that occupying the construction site was less harmful to society than the nuclear power plant that eventually would be constructed. “I don’t like the idea of going to jail, but when I decided (to occupy the site), it was a very deliberate decision. I was ready to pay the consequences.”

Though the Clamshell Alliance did not succeed in blocking construction of the Seabrook plant, only one of two planned reactors was built. The protests — along with the 1979 reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania — helped stoke the “No Nukes” movement that resulted in far fewer nuclear power plants than envisioned during the 1960s when advocates called for as many as 1,000 across the country. Eventually just 112 reactors were built.

Ironically, that has contributed to more power plants run by fossil fuels, including natural gas. Still, activists who occupied the Seabrook site 40 years ago, say they have no regrets. Robin Thompson, now 62, of Amherst, was held in 1977 for 11 days at the National Guard armory in Manchester, New Hampshire. She told the Boston Globe last month: “It does give me pause that carbon emissions are going up. But I still believe nuclear power is an absolute disaster waiting to happen.”

The legacy of today’s pipeline protesters is yet to be determined. They took credit for the decision last year to halt the Northeast Energy Direct project planned by Tennessee Gas Pipeline through western Massachusetts.

Though the Sugar Shack activists are unlikely to stop the pipeline expansion at Otis State Forest, their civil disobedience is a statement calling on other local leaders to take a similar stand “in the midst of all these government leaders who refuse to do their job and truly lead us out of this climate mess,” as Coler puts it. “Let our actions demonstrate true leadership and serve as an example to the ‘higher’ governing forces.”

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Coalition urges FERC confirmation delay, Trump investigation

Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter
May 15, 2017

Environmentalists want the Senate to delay confirmation hearings for vacant Federal Energy Regulatory Commission posts until President Trump’s business ties and former FBI Director James Comey’s firing are investigated. Photo by Ryan McKnight, courtesy of Flickr.

More than 160 groups opposing President Trump’s nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called today for delaying Senate confirmation hearings while lawmakers probe the president’s potential conflicts of interest and ties to foreign governments.

“President Trump’s unknown personal and professional ties with foreign leaders and foreign corporations raise serious and legitimate concerns for those he would seek to install in these highly consequential positions,” a number of groups, including the newly formed “FERC Vacancies Campaign,” wrote to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Also signing the letter were Green America, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Beyond Extreme Energy.

The groups, which are also meeting with members of the Senate panel next week, argue that Trump’s FERC picks — Neil Chatterjee, a top energy aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson — could be subject to “behind-the-scenes pressure” from the president.

FERC is led by acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable, both Democrats, who have been unable to make high-profile decisions since former FERC Chairman Norman Bay abruptly left in February, depriving the five-seat commission of a quorum.

“FERC’s role in protecting the U.S. energy grid is essential to our national security,” the groups told Murkowski. “Recent events regarding President Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey, including his apparent demand for loyalty in how the Director carried out his decision making and activities as head of the FBI, heightens our alarm and concern.”

Their letter is part of a broader effort to align FERC critics with bipartisan fallout Trump is facing after the firing last week of FBI Director James Comey. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the president to stop talking or tweeting about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allow the inquiry to move forward.

In their letter, the groups demanded Chatterjee and Powelson’s confirmation hearing be delayed until a hearing is held to investigate “multiple and documented reports” of what they say amounts to FERC misusing its authority to block challenges to federal pipeline approvals, rushing environmental assessments and unfairly granting eminent domain.
Delaware Riverkeeper has made similar arguments in court. In April, the group filed an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging a lower court’s decision to toss a lawsuit against FERC for its alleged bias toward approving pipelines (Energywire, April 21).

Despite calls for a delay in FERC confirmations, Murkowski last week said she’ll move “as quick as possible” to restore FERC’s quorum.

And Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member, said last week that she was unfamiliar with Powelson but planned to research his background. Cantwell also said she’d already had a brief conversation about “market manipulation” with Chatterjee. The FERC nominee had also helped Cantwell and Murkowski navigate energy conference talks with the House last year, the senator said.

Ted Glick, a member of Beyond Extreme Energy, acknowledged calls for a delay may not stick given the bipartisan push to re-establish FERC’s quorum and the agency’s ability to make high-profile decisions.

“We know it’s a long shot, we’re not stupid,” Glick said. “We also know it’s the right thing to do. Sooner or later, you start winning victories.”

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Pipeline opponents vow to fight effort to reduce charges in Otis protests

By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
May 11, 2017

GREAT BARRINGTON — The state wants to reduce the charges against a group of anti-pipeline protesters who were arrested in Otis State Forest last week, but the activists are having none of it.

During an appearance at Southern Berkshire District Court on Thursday, 24 members of the Sugar Shack Alliance bristled when Judge Paul M. Vrabel ordered a civil responsibility hearing on June 20, at which a motion for the change will be made.

Alliance members, who had prepared to be arraigned on charges of trespassing on state property, came bearing “not guilty” signs to hold up at a press conference after the proceedings.

“The state pulled a trick on us,” said alliance member Vivienne Simon on the courthouse steps. “We were caught off guard today.”

Alliance members were arrested on Department of Conservation Resources land for blocking an access road and temporarily stopping ongoing tree cutting and clearing for 2 miles of new pipeline. Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. won an easement from the state last year to expand an existing corridor in Sandisfield for its Connecticut Expansion Project, a 13 mile natural gas storage loop that will run through three states.

Eighteen arrests were made May 2; six more protesters were arrested Saturday.

Berkshire District Attorney spokesman Frederick Lantz said reducing the charges is “fairly common practice when it is prudent and appropriate — legislators and the courts have asked us to do that.”

He said the less-serious civil charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct will keep the activists out of jail. They will still have to pay the $100 fine, however.

The protesters vowed to fight that change, saying the criminal charge they currently face better allows them to make their point about their arrest while trying to stop the pipeline project.

Simon, who was arrested May 2, said the state fears publicity from a trial that would allow the group to “address climate chaos” and get their message out.

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Republicans fail to repeal methane regulations for drilling on public lands

Vote on Obama-era rule to reduce emissions from oil and gas drilling on federal land fails 51-49 as three Republican senators defect

oil pumps
Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

A Republican move to undo limits on the emission of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has suffered an unexpected defeat in the Senate.

A bill to repeal a Department of Interior rule that reduces the venting, flaring and leaking of methane from oil and gas drilling on federal land failed by 51 votes to 49, with Republicans John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham siding with Democrats to vote it down.

The unexpected defeat is a blow to Republicans who eyed the methane rule as a priority for repeal. The rule, crafted under Barack Obama’s administration, would prevent around 180,000 tons of methane entering the atmosphere a year and save states more than $20m a year in lost royalty revenues.

Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, being about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. About a third of US methane emissions come from oil and gas drilling, which put the industry in the sights of the Obama administration’s climate change agenda.

Donald Trump has supported ditching the methane rule, which requires operators to use the latest technology to prevent leaks, and the House passed a bill to get rid of it. The Republican-controlled Senate appeared set to follow suit after senator Rob Portman of Ohio, considered a swing voter, said the rule “would have hurt our economy and cost jobs in Ohio by forcing small, independent operators to close existing wells and slowing responsible energy production on federal lands”.

However, the vote has instead resulted in a surprise win for environmental groups and climate researchers, who warn that methane emissions must be curbed if the US is to avoid the worst ravages of climate change.

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