Monthly Archives: December 2017

68 Percent of Massachusetts Residents Live Green Community After 11th Designation Round

by Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources
December 28, 2017

The Baker-Polito Administration today announced that an additional 25 Massachusetts cities and towns have been designated by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) as Green Communities, committing to an ambitious renewable energy agenda to reduce energy consumption and emissions. With today’s designation, over half of the Commonwealth’s municipalities have earned their Green Communities designation and 68 percent of residents live in a Green Community. The 25 new Green Communities are now eligible for grants totaling $4,316,955 to complete renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in their communities. Since the program began in 2010, DOER’s Green Communities division has awarded over $65 million in grant funding to the Commonwealth’s cities and towns through designation and competitive grant rounds.

“The Green Communities Program helps the state achieve a renewable energy portfolio, while preserving taxpayer resources,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “With over 68 percent of residents living in a green community, the program continues to be a successful model for state and local governments working together to achieve impactful progress and responsible savings.”

“Municipalities across the Commonwealth are an important partner in our Administration’s efforts to utilize renewable energy and meet our carbon reduction goals,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “The Commonwealth will continue to invest in energy efficiency opportunities so these 25 new communities and future participants can reduce energy consumption and minimize their carbon use.”

The 210 Green Communities range from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and are home to 70 percent of Massachusetts’ population in municipalities as large as Boston and as small as Rowe. All Green Communities commit to reducing municipal energy consumption by 20 percent each, and this new group of twenty-five cities and towns have committed to reduce their energy consumption amounting to savings of 296,968 MMBtus in five years, energy use equivalent to heating and powering nearly 2,302 homes, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 23,630 tons, equivalent to taking 4,975 cars off the road.

“The Green Communities Program is vital to ensuring a balanced approach to long-term energy use reduction and a sustainable Commonwealth,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “I commend the 25 communities joining the Green Communities Program and look forward to continued collaboration in achieving our combined interest of integrating energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.”

“We are proud to work closely with cities and towns in every part of the state,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson. “The newest Green Communities are helping the Commonwealth create a clean, affordable and resilient energy future.”

“I am very proud of West Boylston and the twenty-four other municipalities who have received their Green Communities designation today,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “Massachusetts residents are committing themselves to a greener future. Their work should set an example for the rest of the nation.”

“Congratulations to Brimfield and New Braintree on their hard work to fulfill the criteria to qualify as a Green Community,” said State Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “This municipal-state partnership has been so successful and provides much needed assistance to communities as we strive for a cleaner, more sustainable Commonwealth.”

“Congratulations to Brimfield for earning the Green Communities designation. The town’s commitment to energy conservation and clean energy alternatives will go a long way both for the environment and the bottom line now that they are eligible for Green Communities grants like this one,” said State Representative Todd Smola (R-Warren).

“I am pleased to see the towns and cities I represent being recognized for their environmental protection efforts,” said State Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham). “Becoming a designated green community is a great accomplishment that I am proud to see Franklin, Plainville and Wellesley achieve.”

“Congratulations to the Town of New Braintree on their Green Community designation,” said State Representative Donald Berthiaume (R-Spencer). “This grant funding will allow New Braintree to further reduce their energy costs while freeing up critical municipal dollars for use elsewhere within the town budget.”

Under the Green Communities Act, DOER’s Green Communities Designation and Grant Program can provide up to $20 million annually to qualified cities and towns. The goal of the Designation Grant Program is to support communities’ investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that further the clean energy goals determined by the designated communities. Initial Designation Grants are based on a $125,000 base for each designated Green Community, plus additional amounts tied to per capita income and population, and for municipalities that provide as-of-right siting for renewable energy generation.

Funding for these grants is available through proceeds from carbon allowance auctions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and Alternative Compliance Payments (ACP) paid by retail electric suppliers that do not meet their Renewable Portfolio Standard compliance obligations through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates.

» Read original press release

» Learn more about making your town a Green Community

Tennessee Gas admits it discharged tainted pipeline wastewater near Agawam compressor station

By Mary C. Serreze, MassLive / Springfield Republican
December 26, 2017

AGAWAM — On Nov. 20, a contractor for Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. improperly discharged 16,500 gallons of pipeline wastewater from a storage tank to the ground near the company’s natural gas compressor station on Suffield Street.

The water, which contained metals and other contaminants, had been used for “hydrostatic testing” of the Connecticut Expansion pipeline project under construction by the Kinder Morgan subsidiary.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 12 sent Tennessee notice of an “urgent legal matter” and demanded information about the incident to see if there was a violation of the Clean Water Act. Tennessee responded on Dec. 21. The documents are contained in a biweekly progress report Tennessee filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

The water contained reportable levels of copper, iron, and lead, and exceeded standards for two chemicals: tetrachloroethylene (known as percloroethylene, or PERC), and bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, also known as DEHP, according to independent lab tests Tennessee provided to the federal agencies. PERC, an industrial solvent, and DEHP, used to produce polyvinyl chloride, are classified by the EPA as likely carcinogens.

A pipeline watchdog group on Friday said that FERC has allowed Tennessee to engage in “sloppy practices” by allowing the company to police itself.

The Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network, in a letter to the federal agency, said Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. and its contractors should be kept “on a much tighter leash” and held to strict procedures and oversight.

» Read full story

Pipeline protesters’ charges downgraded, allegations made of police bias

By Terry Cowgill, Berkshire Edge
December 8, 2017

Great Barrington — More than a dozen pipeline protesters and indigenous “water protectors” who were arrested and arraigned after incidents over the last several weeks at the site of the Connecticut Expansion pipeline in Sandisfield saw their criminal charges either dropped or converted to less serious civil charges at Southern Berkshire District Court Thursday morning.

The charges, consisting mostly of trespassing and disorderly conduct, were minor in nature, with the exception of a young man and woman accused of assaulting a state trooper. That charge against the woman, Karla Colon-Aponte, was dismissed by Judge Paul Vrabel.

Colon-Aponte was charged with assault and battery on a police officer after a confrontation in the state forest Oct. 24 with State Police Trooper Jeff McDonald, who wound up violently shoving Colon-Aponte to the ground. Click here to see video of the confrontation shot by water protector Eliot Bender.

During the morning court session, Vrabel breezed through the charges, not only dismissing Colon-Aponte’s assault charge but converting the trespassing and disorderly conduct charges of more than a dozen others to civil offenses. They were all ordered to appear on Jan. 30 for hearings.

Sugar Shack Alliance protesters outside the Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington. Photo: Terry Cowgill
“I have to leave here by 12:30,” Vrabel said at one point.

Another protester, Jacob Renner, of Sharon, Conn., stands charged with two criminal counts of assault and battery on a police officer, trespassing, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. As of Thursday, Renner’s charges, which stem from a Nov. 1 incident, still stand.

Renner was told to appear for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 11, though Renner’s court-appointed attorney is still negotiating with prosecutors, according to Vivienne Simon of the nonprofit anti-fossil-fuel group, the Sugar Shack Alliance, which has been heavily involved in the protests and held a joint news conference with the water protectors in front of the courthouse Thursday after court concluded.

» Read full story


PCBs, fracked gas pipelines endanger human and planetary health, warns author activist

By December 5, 2017

Author and environmental activist Sandra Steingraber spoke at Lenox Memorial High School under the sponsorship of the Housatonic River Initiative and Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

Lenox — The slow struggle to remove PCBs from the Housatonic River is an ongoing saga that started decades ago, while the fight against fracked gas pipelines in Western Massachusetts is a much fresher continuous crusade. But the PCB problem and the pipeline problem are interconnected.

Speaking on Saturday, December 2nd in Lenox, acclaimed author, activist and biologist Sandra Steingraber addressed both of these local environmental issues. Like the late Rachel Carson, Steingraber has written extensively about the links between the environment and human health. Drawing from her environmental health expertise, she explained to the audience gathered at Lenox Memorial High School that the environmental crisis is actually twin crises of what is happening to our planet, and what is happening to our bodies.

“The root of these two trees of crises is our use of fossil fuels,” she said.

Natural gas, she explained, is not just used for energy. It is also the origin of plastics. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were once used in commercial manufacturing of not just plastics, but also as insulating fluid in electrical transformers, in paints, hydraulic equipment, and other uses. Steingraber delved into describing what PCBs are and why they are so harmful to our health – causing cancers, testicular dysgenesis syndrome, and even long-term memory loss. Although the U.S. banned the toxin in 1976, the contamination remains in the environment and in our own bodies.

“As soon as a technology is entrenched, it’s almost impossible to dislodge even after we discover really harmful effects,” Steingraber told The Edge in an interview prior to her talk. She said this is true of both PCBs and fracking. “Also there is no cleanup. Both fracking and PCBs create unfixable problems.”

As a biologist and cancer survivor, Steingraber knows well the damage petrochemicals like PCBs can do to the human body. As an anti-fracking activist, or “fractivist” with a science background, she is also very aware of the harmful effects of this type of extreme extraction on our health and our climate.

“Fracking exists as branches of both trees of crises,” Steingraber told the Lenox audience.

The underlying science drew her into the fracking fight in her home state of New York. Having keen knowledge of the inherent health and climate risks, she could not sit back and allow fracking to happen in the place where she is raising her kids. Steingraber donated the entirety of her $100,000 cash award from the Heinz Foundation to the New York anti-fracking movement and thus co-founded New Yorkers Against Fracking. She worked with a broad activist coalition demanding that Governor Cuomo ban fracking statewide, which he eventually did in 2014.

“For me the fight against fracking was about embedding science in a really powerful social movement,” Steingraber said in an interview with The Edge. Sometimes, though, the science itself fails to sway decision-makers. This was the case with an underground gas storage facility planned for Seneca Lake, near Steingraber’s home in upstate New York. Federal regulators approved the project and construction was underway – but local citizens physically intervened.

“If you’re not going to listen to my data, then you’re going to have to listen to my mother’s body standing in front of this truck,” said Steingraber, who participated in the Seneca Lake blockade and served jail time for this act of civil disobedience. “I think we do have an ethical obligation to prevent harm and protect places that we love and that our children depend on.”

“The climate crisis is really a crisis of parenting,” she added. She explained that she cannot protect her children from harm or plan for their future without taking climate action. For her, engaging in climate activism is of the same importance as other safety precautions like vaccinations or paying attention to car seat recalls.

In the case of Seneca Lake, this meant putting her body on the line. And she was not alone. Members of the Sugar Shack Alliance – the direct action group that has been fighting pipelines here in western Massachusetts – came out to Seneca Lake to help support the activists there. Steingraber acknowledged this solidarity and lauded the anti-pipeline activism in the Berkshires. “Our struggles are connected,” she said. In The Edge interview, she compared the growing pipeline resistance to civil rights-era protests: “I think the pipelines have become the lunch counters of the 21st century.”

Steingraber’s work fighting fracking in New York State is the subject of a new documentary film called Unfractured. (See trailer below.) The film recently had its international premiere at the DOC NYC film festival in New York City and is currently on the film festival circuit. Steingraber showed the film trailer at the end of her talk on Saturday.

The film threads together three storylines – the campaign to ban fracking in New York, Steingraber’s experience traveling to Romania to join fractivists there, and the fight against the gas storage facility at Seneca Lake. All three storylines end positively. “There are three David versus Goliath stories where David wins. I think for people fighting hard in the current political climate, they might need a story about winning,” Steingraber told The Edge.

She offered some inspirational parting words of wisdom: “When you fight with your whole heart, you can win.”