Friday, February 29, 2008

Action (or at Least Talk) on Climate Change

There are signs that some people are taking global warming seriously (whether they are the right people and enough of them is a question for another time). Fifty people, for example, went out in the cold the other night in Old Saybrook to participate in a discussion of the effects of climate change on the coast of Connecticut, here.

I'm rarely impressed by conferences or public meetings, but I was impressed by the one Westchester County put together on Tuesday to unveil a comprehensive climate change action plan (which our friend and longtime Long Island Sound activist Robert Funicello had a big hand in preparing). They were expecting 250 people and more than 400 showed up. I've been around environmentalists in Westchester for 25 years and when I go to a meeting I recognize a lot of people. That certainly was the case on Tuesday. Even better was that there were so many people I did not recognize. The county's action plan is here.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prepare to Say Goodbye to Lobsters in the Sound

One of the results of the experiment from hell, as Professor David Conover termed it a couple of years ago, is that Long Island Sound may soon no longer be part of the range of the American lobster. Another lobster die-off seems to be underway, similar to the devastating 1999 die-off, and Eric Smith, the head of the Connecticut DEP's marine fisheries bureau, says the end may be nigh. The New Haven Register:

Eric M. Smith, director of marine fisheries for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said state officials began to receive reports last fall of lobsters showing stress and disease problems similar to 1999....

According to Smith, summer 2007 was “a pretty bad temperature year” in the Sound. He said global warming could well be playing a role, since Sound lobsters are at the extreme southern end of their natural range.

Smith said fishermen complain pesticides must be the root cause of the latest die-off, but scientists haven’t been able to document pesticides as the killer.

“We’re a little perplexed,” Smith said of pesticides claims. “We don’t know what’s killing them.”

Smith warned members of Connecticut’s Long Island Sound Task Force that the current trend for lobsters in the Sound is grim.

“If the mortality rate continues in Long Island Sound for the next 10-15 years, we won’t have a lobster fishery,” Smith said.

Warmer water, almost certainly caused by global warming, seems to be the key factor. Long Island Sound is at the extreme southern inshore range of Homarus americanus, a cold-water species. If temperatures rise just a few degrees, the habitat has changed and is no longer suitable for lobsters. That's just one of the things that David Conover, of SUNY Stony Brook, meant in 2006 when he spoke at the Long Island Sound Citizens Summit:

“What we are doing with planet earth,” he said, “is a massive experiment from hell.”

This year's Citizens Summit, by the way, is Saturday, March 8, 2008, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Holiday Inn and Conference Center, in Bridgeport. The theme: The Long Island Sound Fishery: Flourishing or Floundering?


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Broadwater PR Battle is in Overtime

I haven't seen what, if anything, Broadwater has been doing on the PR front over the past two weeks. Maybe it's flooding the airwaves with ads, maybe it's organizing a grass roots movement of proponents, maybe it's holding secret meetings with government decision makers. Who knows?

What I do know however is that Broadwater seems to be continuing to take a hit in the press. Way back on the day I left for vacation, Newsday moved a story about a new letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation saying that Broadwater still hasn't answered the questions it asked in December and as a result Broadwater's application remains incomplete (here). Newsday then published anti-Broadwater letters from Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound and from Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington, a Democrat (here), and an op-ed piece by Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's AG (here). And the Westport News editorialized against it (here).

A couple of weeks ago, when New York State extended its own deadline for making its coastal zone consistency decision by 60 days, the anti-Broadwater folks thought Broadwater would use the extra time to try to win public support. But if this were a basketball game, we'd be in overtime and the anti-Broadwater team has come out aggressively and scored the first few baskets. Overtime isn't over though and Broadwater has a chance to catch up.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Might Be Deluded But I Think That Ultimately New York Will Reject Broadwater

Broadwater's proposal to put a huge LNG terminal in the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound was dead last week. I'm convinced of that. The Department of State was prepared to issue a decision saying the obvious -- that there's no way in the world an LNG terminal in the Sound is consistent with state policies for use of the coastal zone.

The suits at Broadwater and Shell had to be aware of this and so they went over the head of the Department of State, to Governor Spitzer. If I were to suggest what happened when they met, I'd be speculating. But the result was a 60-day extension of the deadline by which the Department of State has to make its decision.

What I'm convinced of is that New York State will stick to its guns and reject Broadwater on the merits and if residents of Long Island especially but also Connecticut make it known that the project is bad for Long Island Sound and that it is not needed, that there are real alternatives. I've watched New York State in action for a long time, and I know some of the people who will be helping Spitzer make his decision. They have a lot of integrity. But they'll want to be sure that they have grassroots support and the substantive ammunition to do the right thing. Is it guaranteed? No. It probably will be a very close decision. But I think they'' do the right thing.

In the meantime, I and the entire Sphere staff will be here

for a while, hoping I don't come back like this:
this could be you . . . or me!

Blogging will recommence in a couple of weeks.

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Stratford and Bridgeport Want to Sell Beach to the Feds

Bridgeport and Stratford are negotiating to sell a fantastic strip of beach to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will incorporate it into the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Much of the beach, which has nesting piping plovers, has been inaccessible since a bridge was destroyed in the mid-1990s, and part of the beach has abandoned cottages on it. The feds will restore public access to a level appropriate for a national wildlife refuge and remove the cottages. Stratford seems close to a deal and Bridgeport is still negotiating. Seems like good news on a dank winter morning. The Connecticut Post reports, here.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Here's What Happened on the Broadwater Issue Yesterday in Albany

I should have checked this before I wrote this. And I should have known better than to write it without checking.

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What Happened on the Broadwater Issue in Albany Yesterday?

Here’s today’s question: What did Governor Spitzer tell Adrienne Esposito when they met to discuss Broadwater in Albany yesterday?

Adrienne, the head of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, got the meeting after learning and expressing her unhappiness about a meeting the governor held with Broadwater executives – which, not coincidentally, Adrienne says, was followed by the start of a big Broadwater PR campaign and a decision by the New York Department of State to forego issuing its denial of Broadwater’s request in favor of delaying the decision by 60 days.

And here’s today’s idiocy, courtesy of Broadwater flack/lobbyist Gary Hale, from a Newsday story about how Connecticut is working to persuade Spitzer to say no to Broadwater:

"It sounds to me like they intend to use taxpayer money to make absolutely sure that we continue to have the highest energy rates in the nation," Hale said.

Right. And it sounds to me – and everyone else – that two big corporations, Shell and TransCanada, want to use a publicly-owned resource (Long Island Sound) to increase their already obscene corporate profits. As a former Connecticut resident, I can say that spending taxpayer money to stop Broadwater is a good use of state funds. I wish New York was doing the same.

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Connecticut is Working Hard to Stop Broadwater. Why Isn't New York Doing the Same?

I wish New York, the state I live in, was working as hard to stop Broadwater as Connecticut is, rather than apparently bending over backwards to give the corporate greedheads at Shell and TransCanada a chance to succeed (here) by using a publicly-owned resource (Long Island Sound) to increase their profits.

Here's an AP account that sketches what Connecticut is doing. A New Haven Register story is here, and the Connecticut Post here.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

New York State is Giving Broadwater a Chance to Win Our Hearts and Minds

What are the implications of New York State's delay of its Broadwater decision for 60 days? Denise Civiletti says there are a lot of them, and almost all of them favor Broadwater. Read what she says here.

The reason they favor Broadwater is because the state was ready to reject the proposal for a LNG terminal in Long Island Sound before it mysteriously asked for an extension of the deadline:

The DOS has already written its decision (74 pages long) and was prepared to issue it on time, according to a source I can't name, but who is in a position (inside government) to know. The DOS does not believe the floating gas terminal is consistent with the state's coastal resources management plan and its decision letter rejects the plan.

She also says Broadwater is laying siege to the region with its advertising and PR campaign (I rarely listen to local radio and I rarely watch cable TV, so I've missed it):

The media blitz has begun. Last night, I went out for a late dinner with my husband. We were at The Birchwood in Polish Town, here in Riverhead. They have several TVs positioned around the pub-style restaurant. The one facing my seat was tuned to Channel 12. In the course of about an hour, four Broadwater commercials aired.

Dick Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society says Broadwater is spending $100,000 on its media campaign. That's barely a drop of oil in the barrel for Big Energy companies like Shell and TransCanada. They could spend 10 times that without blinking. And they just might.

There's lots more in her post, including information about energy loggyists' ties to Eliot Spitzer.

The anti-Broadwater folks need to fight the Broadwater siege with everything they have. (There's was a comment made anonymously to this post; I can't really understand why anonymity is neccesary, so I'm not going to let it get by. Whoever sent it in, if you want to convince me that you need to remain anonymous, feel free, but if you want to submit it with you name, that'd be even better.)


No More Opinions in the Times Regional Sections

Has anyone else noticed that the New York Times seems to have killed, without a peep from anyone, the editorial, opinion and letters page in its regional weeklies, the Westchester, Long Island, and Connecticut sections (which aren't really individual sections any longer anyway)? Bummer. I know that the reaction I got from the two pieces I wrote -- one about Connecticut and the Clean Water Fund (here), the other about Broadwater (here) -- that it was widely-read and that people paid attention to it.


Friday, February 08, 2008

So What Gives? There's Word That New York State Was Ready to Reject Broadwater Before Asking to Extend the Deadline for a Decision

For those following Broadwater, I call your attention to a comment by reporter-editor Denise Civiletti in the previous post (it's here for those disinclined to scroll) saying that a source has told her the Department of State has written its decision rejecting Broadwater's request for a coastal zone consistency permit but is not issuing it; instead it asked for a 60-day extension of the deadline to issue it:

... the DOS has already made its decision. It's already been written, and it's not what the big energy companies want. I've got that on excellent authority.

She told me in a subsequent email that her source is "iron-clad" and that she didn't report it yesterday (here) because she just learned it this afternoon.

I have no doubt this is true. But why would the state put out a statement yesterday saying it had requested the 60-day deadline extension? If they had made a decision in time for the deadline, why would they not simply issue it?


After a Day of Anxiety, New York Delays Its Broadwater Decision

Broadwater hit the fan yesterday. Anxiety is high. Early in the afternoon, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, send out an email saying her group had filed a Freedom of Information request with the state seeking documents and correspondence about Broadwater; they were particularly interested in anything to do with a meeting Governor Spitzer held three weeks ago with John Hofmeister, the CEO of Shell (Broadwater is a joint venture between Shell and TransCanada).

That meeting and a subsequent PR blitz by Broadwater pissed Adrienne off. Meetings between government officials and businessmen don’t necessarily worry me, unless environmentalists can’t get a similar meeting (and Adrienne learned of Hofmeister’s meeting with the governor, she asked for one too and is getting it, on Monday); PR blitzes don’t overly concern me either. It doesn’t even concern me that CCE criticizes the governor for holding a “secret” meeting with Shell but then arranges its own meeting with the governor (which presumably will be private if not “secret”) or that CCE criticizes Broadwater for its PR blitz when it’s hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to its own PR efforts.

Most interesting to me though was a sentence in CCE’s press release:

CCE has learned that Broadwater is in secret negotiations with NYS to delay the ruling for several months past the Feb 12th deadline.

I was doing real work yesterday and didn’t have time for blogging but I sent off a short email to Adrienne:

you sure of that? how do you know?

Her response:

I am sure.

Then I noticed this terrific piece posted by Denise Civiletti early yesterday morning, which included this:

Mr. Spitzer is in a bind. Both of the state agencies charged with reviewing the Broadwater plan hate it, but he’s under pressure from people like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to clear the path for its approval, according to sources inside the Spitzer administration. Word is the energy execs sat down with the governor to propose another extension of the state’s consistency review decision deadline.

By the time I got home from work, two reporters – Civiletti and Newsday’s Tom Cantalupo – had learned that, indeed, the state and Broadwater agreed to extend the deadline 60 days, and that it was the state that asked for the extension.

So what does the delay mean? I don’t know but I’m hard-pressed to see it as necessarily a bad thing. Having followed other big coastal zone decisions made by the Department of State, I have no doubt of the staff’s honesty and integrity. They are not pushovers for big development. If they asked for a delay, the probably need it. For one thing, they know they’re going to get sued. That reality probably makes them want to be sure their reasoning is sound beyond reproach and that they followed the right legal process to the letter. If it takes an extra 60 days to do so, that’s fine with me.

CCE seems to be concerned that an extra 60 days will allow Broadwater, with its deep pockets, to buy public support through PR efforts and ad campaigns. I’m dubious. The Broadwater argument has been going on since late 2004. How many hearts and minds remain to be changed?

Nevertheless, to go back to the top, it will be fascinating to see what CCE turns up from its Freedom of Information request, which should certainly be complied with before the 60 days are up. The only way for the state to dispel any suspicion is to release every document and email it was asked for, and then for those documents to show that the state is playing it down the middle.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More Clotheslines, Please

After you do your part to control global climate change by slowing down on the highway, you can do even more by hanging your laundry out to dry. According to this editorial...

Clothes dryers account for 6 to 10 percent of household energy use and emit up to a ton of carbon dioxide each year.


But some homeowners associations have a no-clotheslines rule, apparently, so as not to offend the aesthetic sensibilities of the neighborhood. Personally I like the way laundry looks on the line, but that may be because of my age and the era I grew up in.

In Connecticut, meanwhile …

The Sierra Club and others are proposing a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would prohibit restrictions on the use of clotheslines. Such "right to dry" laws are being proposed in many states, and have been passed in a few.

Slow down and hang your clothes outside.What’s next? Forsake your leaf blower for a rake? Not a bad idea either.

(The painting above is called Shadow Decoration, by Charles Courtney Curran; you can see it at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, at Vassar; the photo is of my laundry.)


Monday, February 04, 2008

Why Should I Pay to Clean Up the Mess in Long Island Sound that Mamaroneck and New Rochellle and Rye and Larchmont Helped Create?

These editorial writers agree with me -- if the cost of upgrading Westchester's four Long Island Sound sewage treatment plants is too high for the residents of those four sewer districts to bear, let's consider spreading the cost over the whole county.

But for the sake of discussion, let's look at it another way.

If you live in Mamaroneck, Rye, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Larchmont, Pelham Manor, Harrison, or part of Scarsdale and White Plains, it's your sewage -- not mine -- that's contributing to the pollution problem. Your sewage is helping create the dead zone in the part of the Sound near you. Mine is going into a septic system that I had a couple of thousand dollars to replace when I moved into my house eight years ago.

For decades you have been dumping your sewage into the Sound but not paying the true cost; instead, you've been transfering the cost to the Long Island Sound ecosystem. The Sound has subsidized your economc well being by serving as a place where you could dump your sewage without paying the true cost. And now you want to ask me to pay to help clean up your mess.

I might agree to do so -- in fact, I'm inclined to agree to do so (although I can't speak for my neighbors elsewhere in Pound Ridge, or in Bedford, where they have their own sewage problems, or Yorktown, where they're paying to upgrade a sewage plant that empties into New York City's drinking water, or elsewhere in northern or western Westchester. But I tend to think saving Long Island Sound is worthwhile.

But how is it as much my problem as it is yours? Explain to me why I should pay to solve the problem you helped create?

If you've read my book or heard me talk, you might remember this quote, which Al Appleton said at a meeting to discuss the Sound cleanup, in 1990 in Rye:

"Pollution is free garbade disposal. It's using a public resource to subsidize a private activity. All we're really asking private activities to do is pay the true cost of doing business. We who are the public no longer want to use Long Island Sound to subsidize certain kinds of economic activities."

10:30 a.m.: I should add that this is a bit of a straw-man argument: the county government isn't formally proposing to spread the cost out (they want to get out of having to pay it); the only people proposing to share the costs are the editorial writers and me, and it's a question as to which of us has the least influence on public policy.


Friday, February 01, 2008

New York Wants to Help Westchester County Meets Its Obligation to Help Clean Up Long Island Sound

I don't see why, if New York City gets an extra three years to meet its nitrogen reduction goal, Westchester shouldn't get the same extension. It's not fair to Connecticut, of course, where exemplary communities like Stamford and Norwalk exceeded the 2014 goal of 58.5 percent reduction in nitrogen years ago, but it's hard to argue that a three-year delay is fine for New York City and its massive nitrogen input but not OK for Westchester with its much smaller nitrogen input.

But after reading this story about Governor Spitzer meeting with Westchester officials, I wonder just how much more time the state will grant Westchester and whether it's really the first step toward letting Westchester County off the hook in terms of its sewage upgrade responsibilities. I agree completely with Nancy Seligson:

Nancy Seligson, a Mamaroneck town councilwoman who is active in the bi-state and federal effort to clean the Sound, said more time would help, but she stressed that the focus should be on finding state and federal money for the work, not to evade the requirement altogether.

"I think it's fine if they could have additional time to try and figure out less expensive ways to accomplish the nitrogen reductions, but I still think the nitrogen reductions have to happen," she said.

One other point worth making about the news story. The phrase "state-mandated" makes it sound as if Westchester County was reluctantly dragged into this from the beginning. While it's certainly true that the previous county administration did everything in its power to resist upgrading sewage plants, the current administration campaigned on a "clean up the Sound" platform. So even though technically the upgrade is a state mandate, it was agreed to in cooperation with Connecticut and the US EPA, and Westchester County was strongly in favor of it, until they saw how much it was going to cost.

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