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Since the Dilly, Dally, Delay & Stall Law Firms are adding their billable hours, the Toyota U.S.A. and Route 44 Toyota posts have been separated here:

Route 44 Toyota Sold Me A Lemon

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Abuse By The Chelsea Housing Authority

Appreciation to the Boston Globe for their continued coverage of this gross abuse of power --

Chelsea housing tenants suffer, officials benefit
By Maria Sacchetti

CHELSEA - Francine Dorrance, a single mother, was already broke, unemployed, and struggling to recover from a nervous breakdown in summer 2006 when the Chelsea Housing Authority moved to evict her over $276 in unpaid rent.

After a judge approved the eviction, Dorrance became homeless. It would be almost five years before she would again have a permanent address.

But Dorrance’s misfortune was a boon to the housing authority official who oversaw her eviction. Five days after a constable removed Dorrance’s belongings, Jacqueline Matos, a housing manager for the authority, moved into the vacant apartment. Matos still lives there, continuing to pay just $25 a month in rent, a small fraction of what Dorrance paid.

“When I saw Jackie moving in there . . . that killed me,’’ said Dorrance, 46, who now lives in another city with her youngest child.

Matos’s takeover of the apartment - and the ability of her two adult children to obtain their own subsidized apartments - reflects what some residents say is a troubling pattern of unequal treatment.

A Globe examination of court and housing records and interviews with current and former tenants found cases in which insiders received benefits at the expense of the low-income residents the housing authority was supposed to serve.

Former housing director Michael E. McLaughlin, who resigned last month following news reports that he deliberately concealed his $360,000 pay package, liked to boast that he collected every penny of rent tenants owed, sending threatening letters for even small unpaid bills.

But he was generous to inner-circle people such as Matos, whose former husband, James McNichols, is the authority accountant now under investigation for allegedly shredding work documents and authorizing more than $200,000 in questionable payments to McLaughlin on the day McLaughlin resigned.

The Chelsea Housing Authority is the only public housing authority in the state known to give a housing manager an apartment and to charge almost no rent, according to federal and state housing officials. While low-income people are told they could wait up to two years for a subsidized apartment to become available, Matos and two other housing managers live in public housing units for just $300 per year under a program that authority officials say improves tenant safety.

“That’s wrong,’’ said Thomas Connelly, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. “If they are in there, they should be paying the same rent as any other resident should be paying.’’

Some tenants frowned on the deals, but the housing authority said federal and state housing officials cleared the arrangements for Matos, who lives in Dorrance’s former three-bedroom townhouse with a grassy yard, one of the nicer spots in public housing, and for two other managers, Alexandra Jimenez and Nyomi Peña-Hurley. Each earns around $50,000 a year, according to housing records, and pays $25 a month rent in exchange for running monthly crime watch meetings, monitoring the area, and working extra hours on public safety.

Judy Weber, the court-appointed temporary receiver now in charge of the authority, said that state and federal regulators approved the agreements for all three housing managers and that it was part of a practice that began in 2002. “It was a judgment made by the authority and the regulators at the time, and it was approved,’’ Weber said.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development confirmed that that it approved a subsidized apartment for one Chelsea manager, but agency spokeswoman Mary-Leah Assad said officials are reviewing that decision.

Matos said she did not seek to evict Dorrance to take her apartment and pointed out that a Chelsea District Court judge approved the final eviction. Housing officials said Matos had asked for a different apartment, but was assigned to Dorrance’s.

“It’s a safety issue, and it’s good to have a housing manager on the property,’’ Matos said in an interview. “It just makes things better all around. Ever since I moved there, it’s been much more quiet.’’

Matos moved into Dorrance’s former apartment just as Matos was separating from her husband, according to court records, and at the time the couple owned a Billerica home that later sold for $289,000.

Matos’s two children later got their own apartments in public housing. Her son, Angel Ortiz, 28, stayed there until 2009, when he was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl in Northborough. The charge was initially dismissed in lower court, but a Worcester County grand jury indicted him this month on several charges related to the alleged crime, including child rape. He is to be arraigned next week in Worcester Superior Court.

Housing officials say Matos’s children applied and waited like everyone else, but the state said the Chelsea Housing Authority should have cleared it first with the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Meanwhile, several tenants say they lived under constant threat of eviction during McLaughlin’s 11-year tenure. One woman said the housing authority tried to throw her out after she discovered that officials had overcharged her $22,000. Another faced eviction for not paying a $173 extermination fee. An elderly woman was given three days to vacate a two-bedroom apartment because it was too big for her, sending her to the hospital in a panic.

Housing authorities are allowed to evict tenants over small debts, but, among lawyers who defend poor people facing eviction, Chelsea has a reputation for being particularly aggressive. Despite federal recommendations to housing officials to avoid evicting people over minor debts and to remember that their mission to provide “decent, safe, and sanitary’’ housing for low-income people, Chelsea has raised the threat of eviction over debts as small as $108.15.

The Chelsea Housing Authority “pursued their interests in a very aggressive manner that many tenants experienced as intimidating,’’ said William Berman, a law professor who supervises the Suffolk University Law School’s housing clinic, which has provided free legal aid to tenants in about 100 cases against the housing authority in the last decade. “Some tenants found it difficult to pursue legitimate grievances against the housing authority due to the imbalance of power and the specter of retaliation.’’

Until McLaughlin’s abrupt resignation four days after the Globe reported his salary, the Chelsea Housing Authority was held up as a success story. Almost every year since McLaughlin took over in 2000, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development showered the authority with awards that brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus money while reducing the number of required inspections.

McLaughlin did not respond to a request for comment, but in an October interview, he said he had transformed a badly managed agency into one that collected “100 percent’’ of the rent, including unpaid debts dating to the 1960s. He said he saved $10 million by cutting the staff in half and restricting spending.

“The housing authority is in fantastic shape,’’ said McLaughlin, a longtime Democratic power broker. “That’s cold, hard fact.’’

Now, as the FBI investigates whether McLaughlin illegally diverted federal funds for his own use, his tenure is undergoing a dramatic reappraisal. The entire board of directors resigned under pressure from Governor Deval Patrick, clearing the way for the court-appointed receiver to review all the agency’s policies and procedures.

“From the outside, things looked very good over there,’’ said HUD spokeswoman Rhonda Siciliano. She said her agency’s past praise for Chelsea had been based on a rigorous inspection process, but she admitted: “Obviously there were some things we weren’t aware of. We’re in the process of reviewing that situation.’’

Chelsea is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with a median household income of less than $40,000. Turnover is so rare among the 1,450 public housing units that officials closed some waiting lists with hundreds of applicants two years ago.

Hawa Muya, 21, a Somali refugee who had been living in a shelter with her three children and mother-in-law for four months, left the housing authority offices with bad news when she came looking for a home one day in November.

“They said I could wait two years or one year,’’ Muya said glumly.

Tenants who already live in public housing say that the backlog of demand gives officials an advantage in disagreements, because they can evict tenants without fear that the apartment would stand empty. Several tenants said the authority came down hard against those who challenged them, even when those disputes turned into costly legal battles.

In 2002, tenant Darlene Scuturio turned to the state for help when she faced eviction over the housing authority’s new pet policy. Scuturio asked for a waiver to keep her dog, Ginger, who was over the 20-pound weight limit, saying the pet alleviated stress from her depression and anxiety disorder.

After the authority refused, she filed an antidiscrimination complaint. Then, according to court records, the authority moved to evict her based on alleged lease violations from years earlier.

The state attorney general filed a lawsuit accusing the housing authority of discriminating against Scuturio and retaliating against her by moving for eviction. The state later filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of another tenant, Dianna Stephenson.

In separate settlements, the authority had to pay $78,000 in damages to Stephenson and $20,000 to Scuturio, and housing officials had to adopt policies and undergo training on serving tenants with disabilities.

But by then, Scuturio had suffered an emotional collapse under the constant pressure. She filed for bankruptcy, so she never saw the money, and left public housing to stay with a friend. Later, she had to give up her dog.

“It’s sad,’’ said her brother, Scott Scuturio. “In the end they won.’’

An elderly woman had a similar experience, winning the fight with the authority with the help of a lawyer, but in the end leaving Chelsea public housing.

Hawa Muya, 21, a Somali refugee who had been living in a shelter with her three children and mother-in-law for four months, left the housing authority offices with bad news when she came looking for a home one day in November.

“They said I could wait two years or one year,’’ Muya said glumly.

Tenants who already live in public housing say that the backlog of demand gives officials an advantage in disagreements, because they can evict tenants without fear that the apartment would stand empty. Several tenants said the authority came down hard against those who challenged them, even when those disputes turned into costly legal battles.

In 2002, tenant Darlene Scuturio turned to the state for help when she faced eviction over the housing authority’s new pet policy. Scuturio asked for a waiver to keep her dog, Ginger, who was over the 20-pound weight limit, saying the pet alleviated stress from her depression and anxiety disorder.

After the authority refused, she filed an antidiscrimination complaint. Then, according to court records, the authority moved to evict her based on alleged lease violations from years earlier.

The state attorney general filed a lawsuit accusing the housing authority of discriminating against Scuturio and retaliating against her by moving for eviction. The state later filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of another tenant, Dianna Stephenson.

In separate settlements, the authority had to pay $78,000 in damages to Stephenson and $20,000 to Scuturio, and housing officials had to adopt policies and undergo training on serving tenants with disabilities.

But by then, Scuturio had suffered an emotional collapse under the constant pressure. She filed for bankruptcy, so she never saw the money, and left public housing to stay with a friend. Later, she had to give up her dog.

“It’s sad,’’ said her brother, Scott Scuturio. “In the end they won.’’

An elderly woman had a similar experience, winning the fight with the authority with the help of a lawyer, but in the end leaving Chelsea public housing.

In 2007, Joan Embree was told that she had to surrender her two-bedroom because it was too big for her. If she did not move, officials said, her $236-a-month rent would more than double.

Embree had lived on Exeter Street for almost 30 years, near relatives who fed and cared for her. She resisted moving to the unfamiliar high-rise that officials had selected, saying she felt it was unsafe. But that summer, Matos told her the movers were coming in three days to take her there, to an apartment she had never seen.

Bedlam ensued. Embree’s elderly sister confronted Matos, who reported the sister to the Chelsea police. Embree suffered a panic attack that landed her in the hospital.

Embree’s lawyer, Betsey Crimmins, threatened to go to court, halting the move. Embree said she later agreed to move to another building when a spot opened, then balked when she visited and spotted cockroaches. Instead, she moved in with relatives until she could get housing in another city.

“She was an anxious woman to begin with,’’ Crimmins said. “It definitely caused her psychological distress.’’

A third tenant gave up her claim that the authority owed her $22,000 in rent overcharges to avoid losing her home.

Milagros Irizarry said the authority tried to evict her after she told them in 2007 that they had overcharged her $22,000 in rent over several years, according to records in Chelsea District Court. Tenants pay a portion of their income in rent, typically 30 percent, but Irizarry said the housing authority incorrectly counted adoption subsidies as earnings.

Housing officials denied the overpayment in court records, but acknowledged they offered Irizarry three months’ free rent to settle the dispute. After she refused, housing officials accused Irizarry of allowing her daughter to live with her in the past without permission, and moved to evict her. In court documents, Irizarry said that a housing official threatened to “see to it she never lived in housing again.’’

As a trial, and the possibility of eviction, loomed in 2009, Irizarry dropped the claim so that she could stay in public housing, said her lawyer, Stephen Callahan of the Suffolk University Law School housing clinic.

Once a tenant is kicked out of public housing, he said, it is difficult to get housing anywhere else, even in a homeless shelter.

“It’s kind of a housing death penalty,’’ Callahan said.

Francine Dorrance would be homeless for several years, after a judge ordered her evicted in 2006. Dorrance, who suffers from mental illness and lives on disability, had lived in public housing for many years and had clashed with McLaughlin’s staff before. With a lawyer’s aid, Dorrance successfully fought eviction in 2004 after she withheld rent to force them to make repairs in her apartment.

But in 2006, she did not think she needed a lawyer. In court documents, she said her disability check never arrived, so she could not pay her rent. She signed an agreement pledging to pay on time, but the next month the check was missing again.

Within days, she was on the street. The state had already placed her two daughters in her mother’s care because of unrelated issues, Dorrance said, and her son went to live with his father.

Finally, this year, she was able to find an affordable apartment in another city in Massachusetts, though it is a struggle. She has regained custody of her youngest daughter; the others are adults.

“When they evicted me, my whole life was ruined,’’ said Dorrance. “Do you know how it feels to walk on the street having nowhere to go?’’

A month after Dorrance was evicted, the housing authority filed criminal fraud charges against her, saying she had concealed income and owed thousands of dollars in rent. A year and five months later, the charges were dismissed.

Dorrance quietly went away. She did not say a word about the housing authority, until the Globe requested an interview.

“I was tired of fighting,’’ she said. “And who was going to believe me? They had so much pull, I felt; nobody is going to listen to me.’’

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Suddenly Anti-Environmentalists

Ignoring the invisible health hazards of mercury contamination caused by coal fired power plants for more than 20 years has been a sorry legacy of the Big Polluters who generously fund campaigns, as just a quick review of Coal Mining indicates. Their false drum beat of "job loss" are likely to grow louder with approaching elections.

For today? Savor a victory for the environment!

Springtime for Toxics

Here’s what I wanted for Christmas: something that would make us both healthier and richer. And since I was just making a wish, why not ask that Americans get smarter, too?

Surprise: I got my wish, in the form of new Environmental Protection Agency standards on mercury and air toxics for power plants. These rules are long overdue: we were supposed to start regulating mercury more than 20 years ago. But the rules are finally here, and will deliver huge benefits at only modest cost.

So, naturally, Republicans are furious. But before I get to the politics, let’s talk about what a good thing the E.P.A. just did.

As far as I can tell, even opponents of environmental regulation admit that mercury is nasty stuff. It’s a potent neurotoxicant: the expression “mad as a hatter” emerged in the 19th century because hat makers of the time treated fur with mercury compounds, and often suffered nerve and mental damage as a result.

Hat makers no longer use mercury (and who wears hats these days?), but a lot of mercury gets into the atmosphere from old coal-burning power plants that lack modern pollution controls. From there it gets into the water, where microbes turn it into methylmercury, which builds up in fish. And what happens then? The E.P.A. explains: “Methylmercury exposure is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies and young children, because studies have linked high levels of methylmercury to damage to the developing nervous system, which can impair children’s ability to think and learn.”

That sort of sounds like something we should regulate, doesn’t it?

The new rules would also have the effect of reducing fine particle pollution, which is a known source of many health problems, from asthma to heart attacks. In fact, the benefits of reduced fine particle pollution account for most of the quantifiable gains from the new rules. The key word here is “quantifiable”: E.P.A.’s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.’s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn’t know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.

Even so, the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

And it’s a deal Republicans very much want to kill.

With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.’s radical anti-environmental turn hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. But something remarkable has happened on this front. Only a few years ago, it seemed possible to be both a Republican in good standing and a serious environmentalist; during the 2008 campaign John McCain warned of the dangers of global warming and proposed a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Today, however, the party line is that we must not only avoid any new environmental regulations but roll back the protection we already have.

And I’m not exaggerating: during the fight over the debt ceiling, Republicans tried to attach riders that, as Time magazine put it, would essentially have blocked the E.P.A. and the Interior Department from doing their jobs.

Oh, by the way, you may have heard reports to the effect that Jon Huntsman is different. And he did indeed once say: “Conservation is conservative. I’m not ashamed to be a conservationist.” Never mind: he, too, has been assimilated by the anti-environmental Borg, denouncing the E.P.A.’s “regulatory reign of terror,” and predicting that the new rules will cause blackouts by next summer, which would be a neat trick considering that the rules won’t even have taken effect yet.

More generally, whenever you hear dire predictions about the effects of pollution regulation, you should know that special interests always make such predictions, and are always wrong. For example, power companies claimed that rules on acid rain would disrupt electricity supply and lead to soaring rates; none of that happened, and the acid rain program has become a shining example of how environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand.

But again, never mind: mindless opposition to “job killing” regulations is now part of what it means to be a Republican. And I have to admit that this puts something of a damper on my mood: the E.P.A. has just done a very good thing, but if a Republican — any Republican — wins next year’s election, he or she will surely try to undo this good work.

Still, for now at least, those who care about the health of their fellow citizens, and especially of the nation’s children, have something to celebrate.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tea and Corporations

Tea Party name is a misnomer

The Tea Party got it wrong when it picked its name. They thought the original Boston Tea Party was about being anti-government. The Neo-Tea Partiers' anti-regulation policies protecting corporations are exactly opposite to what took place in 1773.

What went on back then was the model for the corporate takeover of government we are experiencing today. Mad, bad King George III was a bought ruler, a shareholder in the giant East India Company. At their urging, and to his own profit, King George authorized the Tea Act of 1773. Over 2000 colonists rallied in Boston. A group led by Samuel Adams dressed as Indians and went aboard all the ships at Griffin's wharf and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

Today's reaction against corporate greed is coming from the 99% movement. Tea monopolies are not the target, but the "public be damned" policies of petroleum, gas, coal giants, and especially banks and hedge funds are. They get favorable legislation by bribing congressmen with obscene campaign contributions. The extremely wealthy 1% are protected by the Neo-Tea Partiers and their captive Republican party.

We citizens who are offended by corporate "personhood", by campaign finance practices, and by the preposterous disparity in personal wealth don't have an obvious "tea chest" solution. The Occupiers have made us all more aware, more outraged. But it will require long, even tedious, political action to correct our country's inequities. Demonstrations help, but it takes reformation of our laws to accomplish the goals.

For a detailed exposition of all this a good sourcebook is Thom Hartmann's
"UnEqual Protection: the Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights."

It's written in layspeak and really covers the territory.

Richard C. Bartlett, Cotuit

The Deciding Moment:
The Theft of Human Rights

Thom Hartmann's blog)

"The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called a corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they possess, and in the restraints under which they act.
Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out a money-making policy.
There is comparatively little difference in the strength of men; a corporation may be one hundred, one thousand, or even one million times stronger than the average man.
Man acts under the restraints of conscience, and is influenced also by a belief in a future life. A corporation has no soul and cares nothing about the hereafter...
A corporation has no rights except those given it by law. It can exercise no power except that conferred upon it by the people through legislation, and the people should be as free to withhold as to give, public interest and not private advantage being the end in view."
- William Jennings Bryan, address to
the Ohio 1912 Constitutional Convention

Completion of Largest Solar Facility in New England

WMECo Celebrates Completion of Largest Solar Facility in New England
2.3 MW Indian Orchard facility is the Company's second large-scale project

SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Dec. 21, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECo) today celebrates completion of its second large-scale solar energy facility in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield. The facility features 8,200 solar panels and produces 2.3 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

WMECo officials joined local and state officials in celebrating the transformation of the former foundry site into a clean, renewable energy facility. The Indian Orchard facility joins WMECo's Silver Lake Solar facility in Pittsfield as one of the largest in the Northeast region and is the largest in New England.

"WMECo continues to demonstrate that large-scale solar can be developed and delivered in a cost-effective manner for our customers," said Peter J. Clarke WMECo president and chief operating officer. "These projects represent significant progress toward meeting the Commonwealth's renewable energy goals and diversifying the region's energy supply with non-carbon-emitting fossil fuels," Clarke said.

"I'm very pleased to be here with Peter Clarke and other WMECo officials today to make this great announcement," stated Mayor Domenic J. Sarno. "This continues to build on my Administration's vision for green economic development. Seven months ago we were standing on a remediated brownfield site. Today, this site is now a tax-generating property and is home to the largest renewable energy facility in New England. I appreciate WMECo's continued collaboration with the City of Springfield," added Mayor Sarno.

The project brought nearly $12M of new construction to the region and is will contribute $400,000 of annual property tax revenue to the City of Springfield. Springfield is one of the two Gateway Communities in WMECo's service territory and is home to approximately 65,000 WMECo customers.

"Investments in renewable energy cut long-term energy costs, create local jobs and bring us closer to meeting our statewide clean energy goals," said Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. "We have 67 megawatts of solar energy installed statewide--equal to the amount of electricity used by 10,600 households annually--and this project builds on this accomplishment by keeping this economic opportunity here in the Commonwealth."

The Commonwealth has a goal to install 250 MW of solar generation by 2017. Under the landmark Green Communities Act (GCA), each Massachusetts electric utility may own up to 50 MW of solar, subject to approval by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).

Western Massachusetts Electric Company, a Northeast Utilities company /quotes/zigman/236013/quotes/nls/nu NU -0.11% , serves approximately 200,000 customers in 59 communities throughout western Massachusetts and is committed to the environment, economic development and the health of the communities it serves. For more information about WMECo, visit our Web site at . Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

SOURCE Western Massachusetts Electric Company

Lee: Saving Municipal $$$ with solar

Lee Solar energy plan jolts neighborhood
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff

LEE -- Citizen opposition has flared up over a Boston company's plan for a solar energy/recreational project they claim will lower property values and increase traffic on a heavily traveled town road.

Broadway Electric wants to install solar panels on roughly three acres of a 175-acre parcel off Stockbridge Road -- a major secondary route between Lee and Stockbridge. The town property was once targeted for a municipal golf course nearly 20 years ago.

In addition, the energy firm would build three playing fields, primarily for the youth soccer and football programs in Lee. The proposal also includes setting aside two acres for a citizens group that would privately fund, build and maintain a dog park.

The solar array is one of four Broadway Electric plans to install and maintain. They would generate a total of three megawatts of electricity to power all of Lee's municipal buildings. According to town officials, the other three include one each at the water and sewer treatment facilities and the former town landfill. Company officials haven't said what the overall project would cost.

However, several neighbors feel the Stockbridge Road aspect of the project would aesthetically have the greatest impact on the town.

"Anybody take into consideration what [the project] would do to my property if I wanted to sell it," questioned Bob Bartini of Fairview Street. "I sure as heck don't want it in my backyard."

Bartini and others who spoke during Tuesday night's Board of Selectmen meeting also cited how the athletic fields will generate more traffic, especially on weekends and be costly to maintain.

The recreational area would replace the two youth soccer fields being displaced by the solar array at the sewer plant on Route 102 and create a third field for youth football and possibly lacrosse.

The board emphasized it has just begun reviewing the project and will seek more public input before presenting a final plan to a town meeting for approval.

"We're going slowly and want to know more about what [the solar arrays] will look like," said Selectman Patricia Carlino. "We as a board must entertain the information and present it to the public for discussion."

Town officials are considering the project in an effort to reduce the $500,000 annual electric bill it pays Western Massachusetts Electric Co.; the two public schools and wastewater treatment plant accounting for two-thirds of the cost.

"The point of all this is we're trying to save money for the [taxpayers]," said board chairman David Consolati.

If town meeting voters approve the project, Lee would enter into a 20-year purchase agreement for electricity with Broadway at 7 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to the current 12-cent rate the town pays to WMECO. The projected savings for Lee taxpayers would be between $1 million and $2.5 million over a 20-year period.

Nevertheless, some local proponents of alternate energy sources are also skeptical about the Stockbridge Road, as well as Route 102 sites, both exposed to residential neighborhoods.

"I'm for green energy, solar energy, but I'm concerned about aesthetics," said Monica Ryan.

Thomas Wickham, a member of the town's ad hoc energy committee, cited how the solar panels will have minimal impact with the greatest return for the town.

"They are dark, they are low to the ground and produce clean electricity," said Wickham, who also chairs the Lee Planning Board.

The Selectmen plan to have further updates on the solar energy project in January

Vermont Yankee Tritium in Connecticut River

DOH discovers tritium in Connecticut River
By BOB AUDETTE / Reformer Staff

BRATTLEBORO -- According to the Vermont Department of Health, a water sample taken from the Connecticut River just offshore from Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon tested positive for tritium.

The sample, which was taken about six feet from the shore on Nov. 3, had a level of 1,120 picocuries per liter.

A sample analyzed by a laboratory contracted by Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, tested at 1,230 picocuries per liter.

The EPA limit for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter.

According to Bill Irwin, chief of radiological health and safety for the Vermont Department of Health, no other radiological materials have turned up in the river or in groundwater samples taken at the plant and from off-site monitoring wells.

"The only radioactive materials we have identified so far have been consistent with the levels found everywhere from nuclear weapons fallout," said Irwin. "But we continue to take samples for other radioactive materials that might be from fallout or from nuclear power generation."

According to DOH's website, the water samples have been sent to a contract laboratory to be analyzed for hard-to-detect radioactive materials including strontium-90.

Confirmatory gamma spectroscopy and analysis for tritium will also be done.

"Our concern is that we continue to have the opportunity to evaluate the environment for further contamination and keep a close BRATTLEBORO -- According to the Vermont Department of Health, a water sample taken from the Connecticut River just offshore from Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon tested positive for tritium.

The sample, which was taken about six feet from the shore on Nov. 3, had a level of 1,120 picocuries per liter.

A sample analyzed by a laboratory contracted by Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, tested at 1,230 picocuries per liter.

The EPA limit for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter.

According to Bill Irwin, chief of radiological health and safety for the Vermont Department of Health, no other radiological materials have turned up in the river or in groundwater samples taken at the plant and from off-site monitoring wells.

"The only radioactive materials we have identified so far have been consistent with the levels found everywhere from nuclear weapons fallout," said Irwin. "But we continue to take samples for other radioactive materials that might be from fallout or from nuclear power generation."

According to DOH's website, the water samples have been sent to a contract laboratory to be analyzed for hard-to-detect radioactive materials including strontium-90.

Confirmatory gamma spectroscopy and analysis for tritium will also be done.

"Our concern is that we continue to have the opportunity to evaluate the environment for further contamination and keep a close

Friday, December 23, 2011

Levity and Lightbulbs on the Campaign Trail

When a candidate(s) lacks substance, sometimes it's necessary to make a non-issue an issue, rally around a phony flag and applaud your own success that's a non-success, even as the rest of the world moves on.

So it goes with the Silly Light Bulb issue.

Whether you like it or not, you will be forced to buy more efficient light bulbs, dammit!

And hasn't this been a silly waste of time and effort?

Future Dim For 100-Watt Bulb, Despite Congress' Stall
By Peter Overby

The trillion-dollar budget bill that Congress passed last weekend includes plenty of non-spending provisions tucked into it. One of these so-called riders is aimed at saving the 100-watt incandescent light bulb.

But the move is more about politics than light.

Strictly speaking, the issue is this: Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs waste a lot of energy. So under federal law, they're being slowly phased out. The first to go, starting on New Year's Day, is the 100-watt bulb.

But what looked like energy efficiency when President George W. Bush signed the law four years ago now looks like oppressive big government to many conservatives.

"Let me tell you, President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want in the United States of America," GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said on the campaign trail in June.

Speaking during a House debate in July, Texas Republican Michael Burgess said consumers should be deciding whether to use 100-watt bulbs, "not bureaucrats in Washington."

I think one of the portions that's not being told by our legislators is the importance of really using energy-efficient lamps. You know, up to 20 percent of a consumer's cost of operating their home comes from their lighting.
–Bill Hamilton, Home Depot

Ultimately, this save-the-bulbs campaign produced the rider in the spending bill, which says the Energy Department cannot spend money to enforce the phase-out of 100-watt bulbs.

At least, not for the next nine months.

Too Late?

The rider won plaudits on the right.

"Congressional Republicans have stood up for American consumers' being able to make the choice of what lighting products they wish to use," said Frank McCaffrey, a commentator with the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government.

But from the perspective of the lighting industry, this rider is several years too late to make a difference. And it doesn't want Congress changing things now.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, representing 95 percent of the light bulb industry, spent months giving show-and-tell demonstrations to lawmakers.

The association's Joseph Higbee said its representatives would hook up two incandescents side by side — an old 100-watt bulb using argon gas and a new 72-watt bulb using halogen.

"And you can't tell the difference. We wanted to make sure every congressman and congresswoman understood that they and their constituents would still be able to purchase an incandescent light bulb," Higbee said.

The association's member companies long ago started changing their product lines from traditional incandescents to halogens, compact fluorescents and LEDs, Higbee said.

"Delaying enforcement undermines those investments and creates regulatory uncertainty," he said.

Uncertainty — the word that always pops up in debates over regulation. And uncertainty is something that big retailers want to avoid here as well.

Jaclyn Pardini, a spokeswoman for Lowe's home improvement stores, said the company "is committed to abiding by the [original] legislation and it does not change our plan" to stop selling 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.

Shrinking Production

The nation's biggest seller of light bulbs is Home Depot.

"It really doesn't mean a whole lot to us at the retail level," said Bill Hamilton, Home Depot's vice president of merchandising for electrical products.

He said the politicians aren't giving consumers the whole story. [NO KIDDING?]

"I think one of the portions that's not being told by our legislators is the importance of really using energy-efficient lamps. You know, up to 20 percent of a consumer's cost of operating their home comes from their lighting," he said.

Besides, he said, this isn't just a question of U.S. production and U.S. policy. Europe, Australia and Canada are also moving away from the old incandescent bulbs. And worldwide, production of the old incandescents is shrinking.

So far, there haven't been any reported runs on 100-watt bulbs. In fact, Hamilton says demand is up right now for all light bulbs — the old ones and the new ones.

From: Home Depot Shines A Light On Bulb Choices

HAMILTON: OK. It'll be energy-efficient halogen and energy-efficient halogen will be 30 percent more efficient than standard incandescent models. They're a very bright white light. The next would be compact fluorescents. Compact fluorescents come in a wide variety of colors. They're about 75 percent more efficient than standard incandescent lamps and they last about eight to 10 years.

And then you have LED technology that is really the emerging technology, and really where I think where consumers will go in the future. You still get great coloration of light similar to what you have out of your standard incandescent lamps. They're controllable, fully dimmable. They work great in extreme temperature, so heat and cold. But consumers will have choices for every type of light socket they have in their house today. And the good news is they'll all be more energy efficient than what they're putting in there today.

Hidden treasures in peril: Middleborough Historical Association

Hidden treasures in peril
Many small museums are struggling in a down economy, while others survive, even thrive, thanks to dedicated volunteers
By Emily Sweeney

... volunteers at the Middleborough Historical Association have been working diligently to preserve the one-of-a-kind antiques that are on display at the Middleborough Historical Museum.

It’s known to many as the “Tom Thumb Museum,’’ because the collections include the child-sized clothing and tiny personal items of Charles Sherwood Stratton, the 19th-century celebrity dwarf whose stage name was General Tom Thumb. The artifacts are housed in a cluster of historic buildings on Jackson Street. The museum closes every winter because it has no heat.

“If we could heat those front two buildings, it would make such a difference,’’ said Cynthia McNair, president of the historical association. She worries about the lack of climate control at the museum, and hopes the extreme temperatures don’t deteriorate the precious antiques.

Because the museum is only open seasonally, it isn’t eligible to apply for many grants, said McNair. “It’s a Catch-22.’’

McNair said the museum fell into dire straits a few years ago when one of the ceilings caved in. Repairs needed to be made immediately, but the association wasn’t sure how to pay for them.

“Three summers ago, we met and we’re going, ‘Which building should we save?’ ’’ she said. “That’s how bad things were.’’

Luckily, the museum inherited some money from a local estate, just in the nick of time, which enabled the association to fix the roof and make repairs. Volunteers are now reorganizing the museum and arranging the displays. Their goal is to raise the museum’s profile and draw more visitors over the next couple of years.

“Our attendance was definitely lower this year,’’ said McNair.

In an effort to attract bigger crowds, they’re planning to revamp the exhibits and commemorate the 150th anniversary of Tom Thumb’s marriage on Feb. 10, 1863, to Middleborough native Lavinia Warren.

“We made it this far,’’ she said. “The potential is here. We have a lot of work to do.’’

Similar efforts are underway at the Robbins Museum of Archaeology, which is located across the street from the Middleborough Historical Museum. It’s maintained by the nonprofit Massachusetts Archaeological Society and houses thousands of Native American artifacts, some of them more than 10,000 years old. The museum’s hours of operation were recently scaled back from three days to two.

“All of the little museums and societies have had a tough time in the recession,’’ said Suanna Crowley, a geoarcheologist who regularly leads tours there and is known to schoolchildren as “Dr. Dirt.’’

Despite the reduced hours, Crowley said, everything else is going pretty well at the museum, which she calls “a hidden gem.’’

The Robbins Museum is trying to expand its educational programming and interpretive gallery offerings, and its collection keeps growing, she said.

“We’re actually seeing an uptick in programming and foot traffic at the museum,’’ Crowley said. “We feel kind of lucky.’’

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanks to the Boston Globe!

Were it not for the Boston Globe's reporting, the public would not be aware of such egregious abuse.

Governor Deval Patrick has failed miserably on oversight, maybe due to campaign distractions elsewhere oe focusing on Predatory Gambling and backroom deals.

Yet another Governor with no roots to the Commonwealth or its future!

Will we ever learn?

UMass to review Jack Wilson’s pay pact
Panel will examine terms and process
By Todd Wallack and Mary Carmichael Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts is launching a review of an agreement that allows former president Jack Wilson to continue drawing his presidential salary while on a yearlong sabbatical and then, as a professor, earn nearly triple the average salary of senior faculty members.

The Globe reported last week that when Wilson, who left the presidency in June, moves into a teaching position next year his salary could reach $316,784, an average of the salaries of the provosts at the five UMass campuses.

That is much higher than the salaries of almost all senior UMass professors, which the university originally said could serve as a benchmark. It also differs markedly from the amounts in Wilson’s previous employment contracts, largely because it the calculations involved were skewed by inclusion of the medical school provost’s salary - far higher than that of the other provosts.

Wilson is being paid his presidential salary of $425,000 this year while he prepares for his professorship and takes the sabbatical, which involves a large amount of informal work for the university.

“There are lots of questions about this. I just found out about it when I saw the morning paper,’’ Governor Deval Patrick said Wednesday. “My understanding is that not even all members of the board were informed about this. I don’t think I should have an opinion on it or venture an opinion on it until I get the facts.’’

Departing university presidents are often given sabbaticals and professorships at public and private universities, where officials say corporate-style perks are needed to attract qualified candidates. Critics said former presidents should not receive presidential pay during sabbaticals or unusually high salaries for professorial work.

“I understand the value of an appropriate salary to attract the best talent for our public universities,’’ state Senator Michael Moore, cochairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education, said in a statement Friday. “However, I share the frustration of many middle-class families who are angered by generous perks and golden parachutes at a time when they can’t send their own child to college. With UMass more expensive than ever, I think it sends the wrong message.’’

UMass has appealed repeatedly to the state for more money. It recently decided to close a campus pharmacy and trim health services available to students. But it retains many high-paid administrators, including Wilson. Of the 50 public employees in Massachusetts with the highest annual base salaries, 47 are part of the UMass system.

Wilson’s most recent salary agreement was negotiated by former board chairman Robert Manning in July 2010. Manning consulted the board’s compensation committee in defining the terms, but was not required to discuss the details with the full board nor to make the agreement public, the university said.

Manning did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.

James Karam, the current chairman of the UMass board of trustees, said the compensation committee would review the process that set the terms of Wilson’s transition to ensure it complied with university policies. The panel is expected to reach a conclusion in January - well before Wilson starts his term as a professor, which leaves time to set his final salary accordingly.

Karam said the committee “believes the intent was for the salary to be the average of the four provosts’ salaries excluding the medical school, which would bring him into the [$200,000] range.’’

Several members of the compensation committee agreed that the inclusion of the medical school in Wilson’s salary calculations was a point of contention. “My concern would be that the transaction was fair and appropriate - fair to the outgoing president and in the same breath appropriate with respect to the best interest of the university system,’’ said Henry Thomas, a committee member.

Philip Johnston, a former state legislator and Cabinet member who is also on the compensation committee, said the group had previously reviewed the 2010 agreement as well as other contracts. “We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,’’ he said. “It’s a reasonable contract for someone who has served a long time as president of the university and did a great job. It’s modest and well-deserved.’’

That said, Johnston added that he was not sure how the medical school provost’s compensation came to be factored into the 2010 agreement, given that it was not included in earlier pacts.

“That needs to be examined,’’ he said. “. . . If it was an addition, we need to understand why.’’

Wilson himself said he believed the contract should not have included the medical school salary. He said he would ask the university to leave it out when setting a final number.

How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take To Screw A Congressman?

Efficient light bulbs receive overwhelming support by consumers according to the poll below and yet the short-sighted ignorance of a small minority prevails.


Below are comments of others and a recap of some of the anti-environmental attacks.

Spending bill blocks light bulb standards


The shutdown-averting budget bill will block federal light bulb efficiency standards, giving a win to House Republicans fighting the so-called ban on incandescent light bulbs.

GOP and Democratic sources tell POLITICO the final omnibus bill includes a rider defunding the Energy Department's standards for traditional incandescent light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient.

DOE's light bulb rules — authorized under a 2007 energy law authored signed by President George W. Bush — would start going into effect Jan. 1. The rider will prevent DOE from implementing the rules through Sept. 30.

But Democrats said they could claim a "compromise" by adding language to the omnibus that requires DOE grant recipients greater than $1 million to certify they will upgrade the efficiency of their facilities by replacing any lighting to meet or exceed the 2007 energy law's standards.

Fueled by conservative talk radio, Republicans made the last-ditch attempt to stop federal regulations from making their way into every Americans' living room.

"There are just some issues that just grab the public's attention. This is one of them," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "It's going to be dealt with in this legislation once and for all."

After giving up in recent weeks on dozens of other riders aimed at stopping EPA rules because of opposition from Senate Democrats and the White House, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told POLITICO that the light bulb rider was "going to be in there."

"Speaker [John] Boehner to Chairman [Fred] Upton to Chairman [Hal] Rogers, they all strongly support keeping it in," said Barton, who served as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2007 when the light bulb language got approved. "And it's a personal commitment because of their philosophy."

The White House was not publicly spelling out which riders it didn’t want in the final spending package, with communications director Dan Pfeiffer only saying Wednesday that the House GOP plan would "undercut environmental protections."

On Twitter, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) wrote: "I strongly oppose that language. I hope it's deleted from any final bill that we pass.”

House Democrats recalled Upton was an original co-sponsor of the light bulb provision inserted in the 2007 energy law and bemoaned his rightward shift since running last fall for Energy and Commerce chairman.

"This is just another poke in the eye," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

"It's the power of Michele Bachmann and the presidential campaign," added Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee that approved the original language. "What can I say? If we can solve the energy problem with the outcome on the light bulb, America would be a great place."

Before the final deal, House Interior-EPA Appropriations ranking member Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the light bulb language — much to his chagrin — was one of the last remaining holdups.

“There’s an issue with light bulbs and that’s so inconsequential I’m too embarrassed to even discuss it,” he told reporters. “It’s not even worth talking about; it’s something that can always be worked out.”

True to his word Moran declined to say who was fighting against the House language.

Environmentalists and clean energy types have tried to mount a last-ditch defense, with plans for a Friday press conference that includes representatives from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, Philips Electronics North America, Consumers Union, the Alliance to Save Energy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Republicans for Environmental Protection also hoped to shame its GOP brethren into backing down.

"In the real world, outside talk radio's echo chamber, lighting manufacturers such as GE, Philips and Sylvania have tooled up to produce new incandescent light bulbs that look and operate exactly the same as old incandescent bulbs, and give off just as much warm light," said Jim DiPeso, the group's policy director. "The only difference is they produce less excess heat and are therefore 30 percent more efficient. Same light, lower energy bills. What's not to like?"

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Interior and environment subcommittee, said she wasn’t driving the debate over light bulbs. “Is it a must have for me? No,” she said. “That was not something that I got focused on or took up as an initiative."

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the Interior and environment appropriations subcommittee, said Senate opposition to the light bulb provisions had up to this point been minimal.

"Amazing, isn't it?" he said. "They objected to all the other EPA riders and stuff. That was the instructions from the White House. But apparently the light bulb ones didn't bother them too much."

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) sponsored the underlying light bulb amendment attached earlier this summer to the Energy and Water spending bill. "This is a small part," he said of the language making it through House-Senate conference negotiations. "It's a trillion dollar bill."

Asked why it kept coming back among all the other legislative riders sought by Republicans, Burgess deadpanned, "I don't know. I think it's just a testament to the power that I wield in the United States House of Representatives."

Darren Goode contributed to this report.

Congress Blocks Light Bulb Efficiency Standards with Spending Bill
by Jennifer Mueller

Under a 2007 energy law signed by President George W. Bush, the United States. was poised to cut energy use and climate pollution equivalent to 17 million cars by retiring the incandescent light bulb. Last week, Congress blocked those regulations from going into effect as planned next month by inserting language into the spending bill that averted a federal government shutdown on Friday.

While Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) referred to the rider as “another poke in the eye” and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) credited the postponement of efficiency standards to “…the power of Michele Bachmann and the presidential campaign,” the rider only preserves the 100-watt incandescent temporarily, until October 2012.

According to The Wilderness Society, the irony of defending the 135-year-old incandescent technology is that light bulb manufacturers supported the new regulations. Consumers could have saved $15.8 billion in energy costs annually by full adoption of the new, more efficient, but still incandescent, bulbs the industry has introduced.

“In the real world, outside talk radio’s echo chamber, lighting manufacturers such as GE, Philips and Sylvania have tooled up to produce new incandescent light bulbs that look and operate exactly the same as old incandescent bulbs, and give off just as much warm light,” Republicans for Environmental Protection Policy Director Jim DiPeso told Politico. “The only difference is they produce less excess heat and are therefore 30 percent more efficient. Same light, lower energy bills. What’s not to like?”

Whatever the presidential campaign about the light bulb uprising out there, most American’s actually support efficiency standards, with 61% regarding them favorably according to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll. “Of those surveyed, 71%, said they have replaced standard light bulbs in their home with more efficient options, and 84% said they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the alternatives,” the paper reported.

Budget Deal Reflects Process Tilted Towards Special Interests
"In the new year, conservationists will be ready to fight harder than ever to protect America’s wildlife and natural resources."
Miles Grant

Congressional leaders announced a budget deal today and are reportedly considering on a two-month extension of a payroll tax break.

“There’s no doubt this bill has come a long way since we started 2011 with the truly appalling House Appropriations Committee budget, reflecting outrage across the country over its attacks on wildlife, air, water and public health, including deep cuts in conservation investments,” Adam Kolton, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s National Advocacy Center.

The budget bill does not include some of the most controversial cuts and provisions:

•Cuts just $219 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s $8.68 billion enacted fiscal year 2011 budget, much less than the original House Appropriations cut.

•Riders to block new mercury pollution rules, climate pollution standards, fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks, and Clean Water Act expansion were dropped

•Programs like the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, Multinational Species Conservation Fund received a cut of only 5 percent or less from their enacted fiscal year 2011 budgets, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund actually received a 7 percent increase.

“But the polluter riders that remain reflect a process where powerful special interests still have keys to the back room. In particular, the last-minute rider to effectively exempt Arctic drilling from national air quality standards shows the back door is always open for Congress’ Big Oil donors,” said Adam Kolton.

Among the anti-environment provisions in the bill:


•Halts implementation of the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that were enacted in 2007 with strong bipartisan support. Energy efficiency measures are one of the cheapest and quickest ways to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. The standards will prevent more than 100 million tons of carbon pollution per year—the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road. These standards are supported by the industry that is already developing newer high-tech incandescent bulbs to replace the venerable 135-year-old version, saving consumers $15.8 billion annually.

•Gives oil companies a free pass from complying with critical Clean Air Act requirements to control air pollution from offshore drilling. Specifically, the bill would move air permitting for Arctic offshore drilling from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of the Interior, which would effectively exempt Arctic drilling from national air quality standards.

•Undermines protections for endangered and threatened wild bighorn sheep. A century ago, bighorn sheep thrived in the West, with numbers in the millions, but contact with diseases carried by domestic sheep has reduced overall bighorn populations to the thousands. To avoid this complication, federal agencies were charged with reducing interactions between the two species—an effort that has proven remarkably successful with the help of National Wildlife Federation, the Nez Perce tribe and other stakeholders. This bill would undermine that charge and result in the decline of wild bighorn sheep populations.

Public Lands & Waters

•Halts funding for the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study. As recent, repeated catastrophic floods have shown, our federal Missouri River policies are outdated, often conflicting, and in need of revision. This study would for the first time provide a comprehensive analysis to ensure better management, including flows that better mimic nature, land protection that allows for flood storage, and protection of fish and wildlife.

•Blocks the EPA from issuing permits to control pollution from logging activities. This exemption would allow discharges associated with a broad suite of timber management activities to proceed regardless of impacts to water, including most importantly those associated with roads. Roads are a leading threat to water quality in forested areas because they collect sediment-laden runoff that degrades water quality and alters hydrology to increase the threat of flooding and harms steelhead and salmon populations. These effects can be severe, which is why the EPA and states require discharge permits for other types of industrial activities with similar impacts, including state highways, municipal stormwater, mining, and oil and gas drilling.

•Reduces opportunity for citizens to participate in how public lands are governed, undercutting one of the foundations for the management of federal lands. In the current system, one of the more meaningful rights is the public's prerogative to petition the federal courts when a citizen believes that a federal decision has not adhered to the rule of law. This bill would severely curtail these rights by reducing opportunities for the public to appeal decisions on Bureau of Land Management lands related to grazing.

•Obstructs the public’s right to appeal decisions on the movement of livestock across public lands, also known as trailing. This unnecessarily creates conflict between livestock and wildlife and takes away stakeholder’s ability to reduce this conflict.

•Prohibits the Obama administration from finalizing new guidelines for planning federal water projects and programs required by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. Revision of the federal water resources planning principles and guidelines (P&G) provides an unparalleled opportunity to protect the public, protect and restore the environment, and improve the economic vitality of communities across the nation for decades to come. The current P&G are decades old and produce projects that unnecessarily damage the environment, often fail to protect the public, and undermine sustainable economic development. For example, despite the construction of innumerable flood damage reduction projects during the past 20 years, the nation’s flood damages have increased at an alarming rate. During the same period, federal water projects played a major role in increasing the percentage of North America’s freshwater fish species at risk of extinction from 20 percent to an estimated 40 percent.

“As Congress works towards a long-term payroll tax extension, we’ve already seen the House take what should be a straightforward bill to help the economy and load it like a bad holiday fruitcake with giveaways for polluters,” said Adam Kolton. “Greasing Big Oil's land grab for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline won’t create jobs. Neither will blocking long-overdue rules to clean America’s air. In the new year, conservationists will be ready to fight harder than ever to protect America’s wildlife and natural resources.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

State energy cuts likely

Struggling to fulfill its mission with staff cuts, this Administration will be known for its anti-environment position. When you don't have widespread special interests making campaign contributions and lobbyists stroking the egos of lawmakers, residents lose.

State energy cuts likely
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- Funding for state energy and environmental agencies is expected to be cut next year, continuing the trend of decreasing appropriations in recent years.

Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. made that estimation at a 2013 budget hearing for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, or EEA, but said Gov. Deval Patrick’s office hasn’t given him a firm number yet.

"We’re expecting to see budget cuts at EEA and they will probably be of the same magnitude of order that we’ve seen for the last couple years," said Sullivan.

Funding for EEA has decreased by 22.5 percent since 2009. The state’s entire budget has increased by 8 percent over the same period.

EEA’s 2012 budget is $187 million. The umbrella agency is responsible for the departments of Environmental Protection, Fish and Game, Agricultural Resources, Conservation and Recreation, Public Utilities and Energy Resources, as well as the State Reclamation Board.

Sullivan said the state’s fiscal picture is improving, but rising health and human services costs will absorb most of the additional incoming revenue.

The hearing was one of two the EEA plans to hold before Patrick releases his budget next year. The other hearing was held earlier this month in Boston.

Joe Dorant, president of the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists, advocated for restoring funding to fiscal 2011 levels. The state budget appropriated $188 million for EEA that year, though projected expenses were $194 million.

Dorant said staffing for the departments has decreased from 1,200 in 1990 to 840 in 2011, which has left the departments unable to fulfill their core mission of regulatory enforcement.

"Simply put, we’re doing less with less," said Dorant.

Many in attendance called for a level-funded Department of Agricultural Resources, saying the agency’s efforts are critical to the success of local farming and preservation of prime agricultural lands.

Others spoke out about the need to remain vigilant in the efforts to stop the spread of zebra mussels, the invasive mollusk discovered in Laurel Lake and the Housatonic River.

"It’s absolutely imperative to the health of the other lakes in Berkshire County that we leave no stone unturned in dealing with zebra mussels," said Jack Hickey, president of the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts.

There was also a large contingent of bee keepers on hand from Worcester County who spoke out about the need for more bee inspections to prevent the spread of disease.

What's Lt. Governor Tim Murray hiding?

Murray's wreck records deemed public, state police refusing to turn them over

BOSTON (FOX 25 / - Massachusetts State Police are refusing to turn over information from a crash involving a top state leader even after the Secretary of State deemed it a public record.

Lt. Governor Tim Murray said he was inspecting storm damage when his state-issued Crown Victoria skidded on black ice and crashed in Sterling on Interstate 190 at 5:30 a.m. early last month. The car was totaled.

Murray quickly requested a breathalyzer test to prove he had not been drinking and he told police he was driving the speed limit.

While the vehicle was demolished, the vehicle data recorder inside the car was in tact. That black box records important information including how fast he was driving at the time.

However, State Police said they had no plans of downloading the black box because they didn’t need that data for their investigation.

FOX Undercover filed a formal request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, and when the State Police still refused to turn it over we appealed to the Secretary of State’s Public Records department, which decides what is and is not a public record.

The Secretary of State ordered the State Police to “review the records, redact where necessary and provide (FOX Undercover) with the responsive records... within 10 days, or provide this office with a more comprehensive response to support the Department’s exemption claim.”

Late Thursday, the State Police said they will provide more information to the Secretary of State’s office to try and overturn their ruling.

Their main argument for withholding the data is that they only download the black box information when crashes result in death, serious injury, or possible criminal charges, which was not the case in this accident.

A State Police spokesman also says the State Police don’t want to release the data because it can be misleading if not read in context, such as if a car was spinning on ice or flipped over. That might record a higher than actual speed because the tires are spinning.

There is nothing in the state’s Public Records Law that says the government can withhold information because it might be misinterpreted.

As for Murray, he’s not pushing for the State Police to release the information. A spokeswoman says the lieutenant governor will not ask the State Police “to deviate from their normal policies and procedures.”

Beacon Hill: Short-sighted as usual

Instead of focusing on the future and sensible policy, Beacon Hill backtracks and demurs to special interests, yet again! An interesting contrast is provided by Vermont's move to reduce Dirty Energy use.

Too focused on flawed Gambling Legislation and cramming through last minute legislation to begin lengthy vacations, this ignores that local control was surrendered to locate fossil fuel plants, specifically the one apparently not needed in Brockton.

Brockton Power Plant Not Needed?

Another Skewed Poll by Barrow?
West Bridgewater Cares

Wind bill in Mass. looks headed for demise

BOSTON—A bill designed to make it easier to win permits for land-based wind turbines in Massachusetts looks headed for its demise.

The Cape Cod Times reports (
) that state Sen. Benjamin Downing, co-chair of the committee responsible for bill, said he will call for a study of the bill. That effectively ends its chances of being taken up by lawmakers during the current session.

The bill aims to streamline permitting and create standards for large wind energy projects. Proponents say it's needed because wind proposals now face protracted review.

But opponents say the bill will reduce local control over such projects.
They also object to building the projects near residential areas.

Downing's statement comes after state Senate President Therese Murray's recent decision to withdraw her support for the bill.

Vt. to seek 90 percent renewable energy by 2050
By DAVE GRAM / Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- Gov. Peter Shumlin wants the state to satisfy 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050, largely eliminating its reliance on fossil fuels.

Shumlin joined Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller and other officials on Thursday to unveil a comprehensive energy plan that lifts what had been a moratorium on construction of renewable energy projects on state land; calls for more use of electric vehicles coupled with energy efficiency in the electric sector; says large-scale hydroelectric power like that imported from Canada should be considered renewable; and calls for expansion of piped natural gas in the state.

"Vermont needs to move forward to protect our environment, gain greater energy independence and drive innovation and jobs in the energy sectors. This plan puts us on that path," Shumlin said in a statement. "I am proud of the incredible work put in by the many agencies involved and the thousands of citizens who took the time to participate in shaping the ideas and actions that are included."

Key provisions in the document, which resulted from a year of work by Miller’s department and other agencies, five public hearings and heavy lobbying by interest groups, include:

-- An end to reliance on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The state is pushing to close the Vernon reactor when its initial 40-year license expires in March, but plant owner Entergy Corp. is suing in federal court to keep the plant open. A judge’s decision is expected any day. Even if Entergy wins and the plant operates for another 20 years, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given it permission to do, Miller said the state does not plan to rely on it for power supplies.
-- A push to reduce energy use in transportation, which accounts for more than half the state’s current energy demand, by getting more residents to use public transportation, ride bikes and walk. At the same time, many vehicles are expected to be powered by electricity. Energy planners see this as a way to even out energy use, with cars charging their batteries overnight, when demand for power currently is very low.

-- Greatly expanded use of biomass fuels, including wood pellets, corn and other crops grown to be burned, in the heating of buildings. Shumlin said this is key to the state’s efforts to reduce its reliance on foreign oil.

-- A continued push for energy conservation, a field in which Vermont frequently has been ranked as a national leader.

The plan is drawing criticism from some quarters.

Guy Page, of the Vermont Energy Partnership, a business group that supports continued operation of Vermont Yankee, said increased reliance on natural gas would increase the state’s carbon emissions. He maintained Vermont would be better off getting energy from low-carbon-emitting nuclear power.

Paul Burns, of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, faulted the plan’s support for an existing state policy of classifying large-scale hydroelectric imports from Canada as renewable. He warned they could squeeze home-grown renewable energy projects out of the market.

Another area of debate has been whether the state should allow energy projects on public land and, if so, what types. Large-scale wind power projects have drawn criticism from some quarters as despoiling mountain vistas and damaging wildlife. The plan calls for some limited development of renewable energy projects on public land, providing they meet strict permitting criteria.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

AG Coakley ignores environmental costs

What a disappointment from AG Martha Coakley!

Oh, sure! Dirty Coal-Fired plants are so much cheaper!

Somerset, MA: Pauline vs. Dirty Coal

This is your Ash - your Coal Ash in Massachusetts.






Is this what the AG is supporting?

One single accident, one single Coal Ash spill at one of these sites, similar to what occurred in Harriman, TN, will destroy a community.

‎~ 50% of our electric energy in the US comes from Dirty Coal Energy.

It is extremely cheap because they don't have to pay the environmental costs from coal ash spills or mountaintop removal.

+ 500 Mountains have been leveled for coal removal.

For the AG to arrive at this preposterous statement makes one wonder how uninformed she is and how selective in her cost assessment.

And Fracking? Yet another environmentally toxic solution that has destroyed drinking water and environments.

This is about sustainability. Our current path is totally unsustainable.

Green alert on Coakley
BY: Bruce Mohl

Attorney General Martha Coakley insists she is as green as ever, but environmental activists aren’t so sure after her recent testimony on the state’s three-year-old Green Communities Act.

Coakley warned lawmakers on Beacon Hill that the cost of implementing the law over the next four years will be $4 billion, resulting in a 7 percent increase in electricity rates at a time when the state’s economy is struggling to emerge from recession. “We need to fully consider these costs and work to reduce them,” she said in her prepared remarks.

The attorney general’s stark presentation set off alarm bells in the state’s environmental community. “She seemed to be taking aim at our green energy policies across the board,” said Sue Reid, director of the Conservation Law Foundation Massachusetts. Reid says she is arranging a meeting with Coakley to discuss her position.

Jeremy McDiarmid, Massachusetts director of Environment Northeast, said Coakley’s presentation emphasized the cost of the state’s green policies and largely ignored the benefits. “We need to be looking at both the costs and the benefits on an equal footing,” McDiarmid said. “We need a balance.”

Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the state’s Division of Energy Resources, disputed Coakley’s numbers. He predicted electricity rates will rise 2 to 3 percent over the next three years and consumers who take advantage of the state’s energy efficiency programs to reduce their consumption may actually see their electric bills drop. “It’s a great story,” he said of the Green Communities Act.

The attorney general says she remains a big supporter of the Green Communities Act, but she believes parts of the law need to be overhauled. She pulled her cost estimates from a chart buried in a strongly positive Patrick administration report on electricity market reforms. The chart indicates the cost of the state’s electricity initiatives will be roughly $1 billion a year for each of the next four years.

Coakley didn’t mention in her remarks that the same chart also estimated the benefits of electricity market reforms -- in the form of energy efficiency, renewable energy development, and energy innovation -- will hover around $2.5 billion a year. Coakley left that information out of her speech because those benefits accrue over a long time while the costs will be felt immediately.

“Going green, in the short run, is going to cost us,” Coakley said after a bill-signing this week.

To reduce those costs, Coakley is calling for increased competition and transparency, more cost efficiency, and fewer sweetheart incentives for utility companies. She said long-term renewable energy contracts should be bid competitively, an apparent dig at National Grid’s deal to buy Cape Wind power. She criticized financial incentives given to utilities to meet energy efficiency goals and to sign long-term renewable power contracts.

“We are also concerned with policies that favor more costly technologies and would like to see technology-neutral policies that ensure that the least expensive alternatives are implemented first,” she said.

Her comments on technology-neutral policies mimicked those of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group of the state’s top business executives. The group says Massachusetts can reach its green emission goals and save $10 billion by adopting a technology-neutral approach with renewable energy.

Under current law, many renewable power generators are subsidized by ratepayers. They are issued one renewable energy certificate, or REC, for each kilowatt hour of electricity they produce. They then sell their RECs to power sellers, who buy them in order to prove that they are meeting the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which currently requires that 10 percent of the electricity they sell come from renewables by 2015.

Under current law, power from wind, solar, small hydro, and biomass projects can be used to meet the renewable portfolio standard. The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership would like to add energy efficiency and big hydro to the mix, but exclude them from the REC subsidy program. In essence, the business officials would let utilities meet their renewable energy targets using energy efficiency projects and large-scale hydro power imports from Canada, which are substantially cheaper than wind and solar. “We think you should go to the lowest-cost alternative,” said Dan O’Connell, CEO of the partnership.

Sylvia, the DOER commissioner, doesn’t think the partnership’s plan would work. He indicated he would keep the existing regulatory system in place to support wind and solar power development while separately encouraging energy efficiency and the importation of large-scale hydro power from Canada.

The green debate is on.

Durban: Progress from the bottom up, not the top down

What a disappointment!

In Glare of Climate Talks, Taking On Too Great a Task
A coal-fired power plant in Changchun, China. Many environmental officials say all countries should be bound by the same rules.

DURBAN, South Africa — For 17 years, officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered under the auspices of the United Nations to try to deal with one of the most vexing questions of our era — how to slow the heating of the planet.

Every year they leave a trail of disillusion and discontent, particularly among the poorest nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas and spreading deserts. Every year they fail to significantly advance their own stated goal of keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

That was the case again this year. The event, the 17th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, wrapped up early Sunday morning with modest accomplishments: the promise to work toward a new global treaty in coming years and the establishment of a new climate fund.

The decision to move toward a new treaty — and toward replacing the 20-year-old system that requires only industrialized nations to cut emissions — was hard-won, after 72 hours of continuous wrangling. But for now it remains merely a pledge, and all details remain to be negotiated.

Negotiators also left for another day the precise sources of the money for the fund and how and by who it would be disbursed. Called the Green Climate Fund, it would help mobilize a promised $100 billion a year in public and private funds by 2020 to assist developing nations in adapting to climate change and converting to clean energy sources.

There is no denying the dedication and stamina of the environment ministers and diplomats who conduct these talks. But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming.

What really is at play here are politics on the broadest scale, the relations among Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan and three rapidly rising economic powers, China, India and Brazil. Those relations, in turn, are driven by each country’s domestic politics and the strains the global financial crisis has put on all of them. And the question of “climate equity” — the obligations of rich nations to help poor countries cope with a problem they had no part in creating — is more than an “environmental” issue.

Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.

“There is a fundamental disconnect in having environment ministers negotiating geopolitics and macroeconomics,” said Nick Robins, an energy and climate change analyst at HSBC, the London-based global bank. Mr. Robins noted that the 20-year-old framework convention and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that amended it enshrined the two-tiered system in which so-called developed and developing countries are treated differently. China still is classified as a developing country and is thus exempt from any emissions limits, but it has a vastly larger economy than it had in 1992 and recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

“They are working from a 20th-century agreement,” Mr. Robins said.

The United States is determined to sweep away those distinctions and work toward a system where all countries are bound by the same rules. The conference here in Durban kept the tiered system alive for another few years, but it is fading. And by the time the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020, a good many leaders hope that it will be gone for good.

Todd D. Stern, the chief American climate negotiator, revealed his qualms about the inability of the United Nations climate bureaucracy to deal with the broad political and financial questions posed by climate change. “We want to see a green fund that is going to draw in a lot of capital from countries all over the world, including the United States,” he said at a briefing. “And although I love climate negotiators and spend much of my time with them, they are not necessarily the most qualified people to run a multibillion-dollar fund.”

So who is qualified to tackle these tasks? Two years ago, more than 100 heads of state and leaders of governments, including President Obama, joined the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen hoping to write a new, legally binding treaty covering all parties. That assignment proved too much even for the leaders, and the meeting collapsed in acrimony and finger-pointing. Few top leaders have shown up at the two subsequent meetings, in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010, and in Durban this year. The agenda has narrowed and expectations have shrunk, yet the ship sails grimly on.

Others think that real progress will not emerge from any global forum but from action at the ground level, by entities unencumbered by the United Nations climate process.

Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which arguably has done more to reduce carbon pollution in the United States than any other body, was in Durban as an observer. Ms. Nichols said that given the inability of the international bureaucracy or the United States Congress to move decisively on global warming, the job would increasingly fall to the states and local governments.

“Instead of waiting for them to negotiate some grand bargain, we have to keep working on the ground,” she said. “Progress is going to come from the bottom up, not the top down.”