Author Archives: karenkahn33

As Trump Rolls Back Environmental Regs, Coal Operations Expand

coal mining imageThe following story, authored by SAFE board member Karen Kahn, is reposted from the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Rural Action, an Appalachian Ohio nonprofit, has spent two decades working to clean up a watershed in Southeastern Ohio polluted by old coal mines. Now, the organization and its supporters are fighting the permitting of a new surface mine proposed by Oxford Mining Co.

Rural Action, in partnership with the federal and state governments, universities, and other nonprofits, has invested $9 million to date to clean up the watershed. Of that, nearly $3 million has been spent on Sunday Creek, which is directly threatened by the new mine operation.

The group’s work has had a significant impact on water quality over the years. The west branch of Sunday River Creek had no fish when the work began, and now hosts 17 different species.

At a recent public hearing, Michelle Shively, Rural Action’s Watershed coordinator, said, “We hope that the Ohio EPA and Oxford Mining Co. will take into account the tremendous investment and resulting water quality improvements that have occurred in the Sunday Creek watershed and take the necessary precautions to not endanger the biological communities and quality habitat downstream.”

Andrea Reik, a local resident who spoke at the public hearing, asked a question that must have been on many minds. “Why would we go backward? It makes no sense. It’s crazy, and we need to continue saying no.”

In the face of global climate change, Reik is asking the right question. Why continue to destroy, as she said, “precious resources” with new mining operations that would bring 100 temporary jobs to the area but further risk global collapse? Why not look to new opportunities that will grow jobs for a green energy economy, that build on the work of Rural Action to bring back a diverse, healthy watershed? Jobs in coal mining should not be the only option for the people of the region.

But that’s not the logic of the Trump administration, which campaigned on a promise to bring back coal mining jobs. It’s now working hard to dismantle regulations that make mining less profitable—probably the only reason that Oxford Mining is proposing to reopen mine operations.

One of the administration’s top goals is to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate action plan. The administration announced its plan to repeal the regulations last October and is now in the process of holding public hearings. Three of the four hearings are in coal-friendly areas of the country, but on February 28th, a hearing was held in San Francisco. According to Mother Jones, “dozens of angry Californians filed into the San Francisco Public Library” to oppose the proposal.

“The rescission [of the Clean Power Plan] is a political act to fulfill Trump’s promises to polluting industries,” said Marc Sapir, a family physician and former public health officer at the hearing. “If this EPA cared one iota about the nation’s public health and well-being, it would engage the appeals court in defending the Clean Power Plan.”

Mother Jones reports that an EPA fact sheet removed from the EPA website (along with any references to climate change) reported that the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children in 2030. As the proposal for a new mine in the Sunday Creek watershed makes apparent, the plan also would have reduced mine pollution in our nation’s waterways.

The residents of southeastern Ohio unfortunately won’t be able to count on the federal government to protect their waterways. The administration has already rolled back the “stream protection rule,” which was intended to protect Appalachia’s streams and rivers from being filled with coal mining debris. The EPA has also put a moratorium on the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, which expanded protections of 20 million acres of wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

These actions come on top of a mass exodus of scientists and other staff at the EPA, as the organization is revamped to prioritize profits over the rights of U.S Citizens to clean air, water, and land.

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PA to MA: The Fracking Connection

by Patricia A. Gozemba

Tuesday, March 6 at 7 PM – 9 PM 45 Pauline St, Winthrop, MA

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Clean Water Action, Mothers Out Front, and Mass Power Forward are bringing people from the fracking fields of the Marcellus Shale in PA to MA to share their stories of the daily horrors that they live with from the unregulated fracking industry.

The fracking industry is thriving. The people and their communities are not. There continues to be a big push in MA by our utilities to build new pipelines, paid for by ratepayers like us, to get the PA gas to the coast for export. The utilities tell us that the pipelines will secure a supply of gas to heat our homes in the winter. Conservation Law Foundation and a slew of other independent analysts point out that this is hogwash and just an opportunity for utilities to make more money.

Hear the folks who live in the fracking fields tell their story.

You’re Invited to “We’re In This Together: Battling for Clean Energy and Fighting Fracking from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts.”

Join with concerned environmentalists on Tuesday March 6th from 7-9 pm at the Lyceum Room in the Edward B. Newton School for an evening with community leaders from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. They live at the other end of the fracked gas pipelines that connect to Massachusetts. Speakers sharing their powerful stories will include Lois Bjornson, Craig Leland Stevens, Brian Latkanich and Jane Worthington whose communities are surrounded by fracking wells and facilities. This event is free and open to the public. Sponsored by Clean Water Action, Friends of Belle Isle Marsh, Mothers Out Front and the Mass Power Forward coalition.

Film: TOMORROW Feb. 2&9 at 6:45 pm

Tomorrow movie poster photoJoin us on Groundhog Day in Salem, for the first of two screenings and community discussions of the award winning and hopeful documentary film, Tomorrow.  On February 2 we will watch part one, and February 9 part two.

Tomorrow depends on the human race living more sustainably.  Come and hear stories about people doing just that, today.

A free screening sponsored by Citizen’s Climate Lobby North Shore, Team Tomorrow, and SAFE.

Dates:  Watched over two succeeding Friday nights:
February 2 & February 9, from 6:45 – 8:45 pm each night (Snow date: February 16)

Venue:  First Church in Salem, UU 316 Essex Street Salem, MA
http://www.firstchurchinsalem.org

Contacts: Jeff Barz-Snell, jeffreysnell@comcast.netJim Mulloy, jcmulloy@gmail.com

 Background:
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

In 2012, “Nature” published a study led by more than 20 researchers from the top scientific institutions in the world predicting that humankind could disappear between 2040 and 2100. It also said that it could be avoided by drastically changing our way of life and take appropriate measures.

Two film makers travel the world in search of solutions that can help save the next generations. The result is Tomorrow, an inspiring documentary that presents concrete solutions implemented throughout the world by hundreds of communities.

From the US to the UK and through Finland and India, together they traveled to 10 countries to visit permaculture farms, urban agriculture projects and community-owned renewable initiatives to highlight people making a difference in the fields of food, energy, finance, democracy, and education.

Their common ideas and examples make Tomorrow one of the most essential and unexpectedly inspirational viewing experiences of our time.

TODAY, we sometimes feel powerless in front of the various crises of our times.

TODAY, we know that answers lie in a wide mobilization of the human race.

Over the course of a century, our dream of progress commonly called “the American Dream”, fundamentally changed the way we live and continues to inspire many developing countries.  We are now aware of the setbacks and limits of such development policies.  We urgently need to focus our efforts on changing our dreams before something irreversible happens to our planet.

TODAY, we need a new direction, objective… A new dream! The documentary Tomorrow sets out to showcase alternative and creative ways of viewing agriculture, economics, energy and education.

It offers constructive solutions to act on a local level to make a difference on a global level.  So far, no other documentary has gone down such an optimistic road…

TOMORROW is not just a film, it is the beginning of a movement seeking to encourage local communities around the world to change the way they live for the sake of our planet.

The Hidden Costs of Salem’s Gas Leaks

SAFE Public Forum, November 28, 2017

How many dangerous gas leaks lurk under the streets of Salem, MA, is a question of debate. But SAFE knows that there are many gas leaks and we’re concerned because 95% of gas is methane—a potent force in climate change. Additionally, methane leaks kill trees, are potentially explosive, hurt human health, and cost ratepayers.

On six days of observation in August and September of 2016, SAFE working with nationally recognized experts on gas leaks–Bob Ackley, President of Gas Safety Inc., and Professor Nathan Phillips of the Department of Earth and Environment of Boston University–surveyed the 93 miles of roadway in our city with cutting edge technology, a Picarro Gas Analyzer , a data collection device.

In a SAFE sponsored public forum on November 28, 2017, THE HIDDEN COSTS OF SALEM’S GAS LEAKS, we shared our timeline, process, and further questions regarding gas leaks in our city. Mayor Kim Driscoll explained her experience of being with Ackley and Phillips as they collected data. Phillips explained the threats of methane’s contributions to climate change, Ackley detailed the safety challenges of gas leaks, and SSU Prof. Marcos Luna briefly described his process of analysis and shared maps of the entire city locating all of the points of gas leak detection.

In October, 2016, Phillips reported that he and Ackley had reviewed the raw data and had found evidence of hundreds of methane leaks.

As required by state law, National Grid in December of 2016 reported to the MA Department of Public Utilities all of the gas leaks in each municipality that it serves. HEET mapped those reports. Salem had 62 unrepaired gas leaks .

How would SAFE reconcile the widely varying reports of methane leaks?

In an act of professional generosity, Ackley and Phillips shared their data with SAFE which then enlisted Professor Marcos Luna of Salem State University, Chair of the Graduate Program in Geographic Information Services, to analyze the data and plot it for SAFE and the city of Salem. By early fall of 2017, Luna estimated that conservatively speaking there were 232 leaks of the size that NGRID typically reports to DPU and upwards of 1,000 leaks of varying sizes.

SAFE is grateful for the generosity of the experts who are collaborating with us in working to solve the problem of identifying and hopefully remediating the methane leaks in Salem. We invite you to view the above video of the forum and send questions or comments to SalemSAFE@gmail.com. You may also post your questions and comments to www.facebook.com/groups/SalemSAFE

–Patricia A. Gozemba, Co-Chair of SAFE

Salem News: Repair Leaks the Gas Leaks

The Salem News reminds residents to keep the pressure on the utilities to repair gas leaks. National Grid reports 62 leaks in Salem; SAFE in its own survey identified at least 232 leaks. That data will be reviewed tonight, November 28, at “The Hidden Cost of Gas Leaks” forum, at the Salem State Enterprise Center. The program begins at 7 pm.

In Our View, the Salem News editor writes:

Local environmentalists —  including, notably, Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich — have been pushing for years to get National Grid and other utilities to plug the tens of thousands of small gas leaks throughout the state. They’ve made some progress, but not nearly enough.

So organizations like Salem Alliance for the Environment, better known as SAFE, deserve accolades for keeping this issue on the front burner. The group is sponsoring a forum Tuesday night at Salem State University called “The Hidden Costs of Salem’s Gas Leaks,” to try to educate the public and mobilize the community behind state legislation aimed at forcing utilities to do a better job.

While Salem’s event is locally focused, the problem affects the entire region. According to utility reports, Salem had 62 gas leaks at the end of 2016, which puts it better off than some of its neighbors; Peabody had 154, Marblehead 117, and Lynn 267. Elsewhere in the region Gloucester had 43 leaks last year, Lawrence 110 and Newburyport 18.

The leaks are graded on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being the most severe, and 3 the weakest. (Those interested in finding out where the gas leaks are in their community can consult the interactive map put together by the Cambridge-based nonprofit The Home Energy Efficiency Team at https://www.heetma.org/squeaky-leak/natural-gas-leaks-maps/)

And those numbers are just from utility reports. SAFE, which worked with Gas Safety Inc. last year to track gas leaks in Salem, identified 232 in the city. Moreover, the group correlated gas leaks with dying street trees. Their work was so convincing that Salem has halted planting of new trees in some areas until the utilities repair the leaks.

“The whole matter of gas leaks is unacceptable,” Salem City Councilor Steve Dibble said. “While this gas is coming out, it’s hurting the environment — actually killing trees throughout the city of Salem. It’s bad for humans, and it just isn’t a safe practice.”

Dibble is certainly right about the risks. Folks in Gloucester still recall the destruction of an East Main Street home that exploded when gas leaked into the basement. Many of the gas lines in the city date back to 1911.

That’s part of the problem. Repairing or replacing old or faulty lines is costly, time-consuming business.

“It’s an issue we’ve been aggressively tackling,” National Grid spokesman Bob Kievra told reporter Dustin Luca. Kievra said his company hopes to eliminate all Grade 3 leaks over the next decade.

Kievra said the work comes with a “pretty impressive” price tag. According to The Home Energy Efficiency Team, there were 16,507 active gas leaks across Massachusetts in 2016. There were 11,930 leaks that had been repaired in that time. A 2015 Harvard University study estimated the gas leaking from those faulty or broken pipes costs utilities $120 million a year.

Activists and public safety officials urge residents to report leaks, no matter how small.

“We want people to … just be really vigilant about gas leaks around their homes and houses, their buildings, places, wherever they smell gas,” SAFE’s Pat Gozemba said. “The worst thing that can happen is people get complacent about the smell of gas, and you take it for granted — because you never know when another gas leak is beginning, and that gas leak is the one that could blow.”

Right now, however, there’s little incentive to plug street leaks deemed “nonhazardous,” since the utilities just pass on the cost of the escaping gas to their customers. SAFE is backing a bill at the state Legislature to prevent charging ratepayers for that gas. It’s a sensible proposal — ratepayers shouldn’t be paying for gas that doesn’t reach their homes, most certainly when the escaped gas is killing the trees in their neighborhood. Mayor Kim Driscoll and the Salem City Council have backed those efforts, which deserve region-wide support.

This kind of advocacy will be needed to win this years-long struggle to get utilities to expedite their repairs, and we hope other voices will join in, too.

Salem News: SAFE Gas Leaks Forum 11.28.17

Dustin Luca of the Salem News “gets” the significance of all of the gas leaks in Salem–anywhere from 232 to more than 1,000. Learn why there is such a wide discrepancy between SAFE’s data and the official count of leaks from National Grid.

SALEM — Environmental advocates have been working for months to spotlight slow-flowing gas leaks across the city. Now, they’re kicking their efforts into high gear and looking for support.

Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE), Mayor Kim Driscoll and others will come together Tuesday at a forum aimed at identifying “The Hidden Costs of Salem’s Gas Leaks.” The event will take place at Salem State University’s Enterprise Center from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

“We don’t want to keep saying, ‘there’s all these gas leaks,’ and then say that again six months later,” said Pat Gozemba, co-chairperson of SAFE. “What we’re hoping to do is mobilize the community.”

Gas leaks are frequently discussed, often complained about and even routinely patched. But for the last couple years, the amount of protest in Salem has grown.

Bob Kievra, a spokesman for National Grid, said there were 84 gas leaks in Salem as of Oct. 1.

In Salem, however, the leaks have been linked to dying trees around the city. The leaks trap gas in the soil, starving tree root systems of the oxygen they need to breathe.

“The whole matter of gas leaks is unacceptable,” said Ward 7 City Councilor Steve Dibble. “While this gas is coming out, it’s hurting the environment — actually killing trees throughout the city of Salem. It’s bad for humans, and it just isn’t a safe practice.”

Dibble filed an ordinance with the City Council on Sept. 28 that, among other things, would require gas companies like National Grid to expedite gas leak repairs.

The ordinance is due to be fine-tuned following SAFE’s event next week and discussed in December, Dibble said, with the possibility of a vote toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

“From our side, with the local ordinance, we’ll open a mechanism to allow the city to recoup the costs of the dead or dying trees caused by the gas leaks,” he said. “It’ll also require the gas company to work with the city of Salem in advance (on setting up utility work).”

National Grid assigns three grading levels to gas leaks — grade 1 is the most severe, while grade 3 leaks are the weakest.

“We’re working to eliminate all grade-3 leaks in 10 years,” Kievra said. “It’s an issue we’ve been aggressively tackling.”

Kievra said the price tag on the work “is pretty impressive,” but that’s because the utility company is working on leaks statewide. According to a map of gas leaks in Massachusetts on HEETMA.org, there were 16,507 active leaks across the state at the end of 2016. Last year, 11,930 leaks had been repaired across the state — 99 of them in Salem.

But SAFE argues that the number of leaks in Salem is larger than what’s reported. For instance, although National Grid said there were 62 leaks in the city at the end of 2016, Gozemba said SAFE measured 232.

“Next month, December, they’ll have to report for 2017 how many gas leaks there are in the city of Salem,” Gozemba said. “We’ll be very interested in seeing how many they report, and how many they’ve fixed.”

Last August, SAFE worked with Bob Ackley, president of Gas Safety, Inc. to identify and track all gas leaks in Salem, leading officials to the 232 leaks number. Ackley also tested sites where trees were scheduled to be planted and found that 26 of the 246 spots registered levels of gas high enough to kill a tree.

In September, the City Council learned that other tree plantings were being put on hold as work was done to identify and push for the repair of the leaks.

The forum next week will pull all these efforts together to get residents to support pressuring National Grid to make repairs.

Part of that involves supporting Dibble’s ordinance, as well as five bills before state lawmakers this year — one of which seeks to stop utility companies from charging rate payers en-masse for the leaked gas.

Gozemba said SAFE also hopes the forum will encourage residents to report gas leaks to the Fire Department, which in turn notifies National Grid of a problem.

“The other thing we want people to do is just be really vigilant about gas leaks around their homes and houses, their buildings, places, wherever they smell gas,” Gozemba said. “The worst thing that can happen is people get complacent about the smell of gas, and you take it for granted — because you never know when another gas leak is beginning, and that gas leak is the one that could blow.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

SAFE Sponsored Gas Leaks Forum Nov. 28

LoGas Leak Flyer_FinalFinal2_Low ResSalem Gazette features a story by William Dowd on the upcoming Nov. 28th gas leaks forum:

A Salem Alliance for the Environment public forum aims to, in part, raise the public’s conscience about an epidemic of leaky pipes spewing out natural gas across the city.

“The Hidden Cost of Salem’s Gas Leaks” is the name of the forum to take place in Salem State University’s Enterprise Center, 121 Loring Ave., on Nov. 28 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, SAFE co-chair Pat Gozemba, Boston University Professor and tree scientist Nathan Phillips, President of Gas Leaks, Inc. Bob Ackley and Salem State University and geographer and graphic information science specialist Marcos Luna constitute the 90-minute program’s presenters and speakers.

In a recent interview with the Salem Gazette, Gozemba shared SAFE tapped Ackley and Phillips, widely considered the region’s gas-leaks expert, to survey Salem’s 93 miles of roads over a two month period, a project that got underway in Aug. 29, 2016. The survey’s results, released exactly a month later on Sept. 29, 2016, located 232 gas leaks.

The findings were nearly four times more than the 62 gas leaks that National Grid reported three months later. The public can view National Grid’s gas-leaks data at http://bit.ly/2A9wEK0.

The cost of leaking natural gas is multilayered and has adverse impacts on public safety and health as well as the environment: Leaks kill trees, add to climate change, can be ticking time bombs, harms human health erodes air-quality.

“Leaking natural gas pipelines are a prevalent and correctable problem, not just in Salem but across the commonwealth,” wrote Driscoll in an article posted to SAFE’s website in October. “Ninety-five percent of natural gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and fully 10 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be from these gas leaks.”

She added, “These impacts are worsened because as leaked methane kills off city trees, it reduces our canopy and further erodes our ability to combat climate change.”

Moreover, Gozemba said ratepayers absorb the cost of lost, unaccounted natural gas leaving pipes. Driscoll even mentioned the financial burden placed on ratepayers.

“Natural gas leaks are a cost directly passed on to Salem consumers,” wrote Driscoll in her article. “We need state action to put an end to that. Massachusetts ratepayers pay up to $135 million extra every year because of these leaks.”

Driscoll’s article published to SAFE’s website endorsed and expressed her shared support of a Salem City Council-passed resolution in September, urging state lawmakers pass the Consumer Cost Protection Bill. SAFE also lauded the resolution.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich’s landmark 2014 law established a three-tier gas-leaks classification system that prioritizes leaky pipes for fixture by utility companies based on the infrastructures’ dangerousness. And updates to the law passed in 2016, mandate that gas companies not only share information about leaks but also prove that they’re progressively repairing those that they’re “merely monitoring.”

The Marblehead Democrat has said gas companies oftentimes do not suture up gas-leaks in pipes deemed “non-threatening” after breaking asphalt for projects.

“It’s like a surgeon with a patient on the table who came in to have his gallbladder removed seeing an artery gushing, and closing him up without fixing the artery,” she said when the Marblehead Board of Selectmen endorsed her gas leaks legislation two years ago.

Since 2012, Gozemba said, “SAFE has been supporting Massachusetts legislation to protect consumers from paying for leaking gas and encouraging gas companies to fix leaks before roads are repaved and then dug up again.”

Alongside the use of sophisticated technology and the smell of emanating gas, a bumper crop of sickened trees across the city is indicative of the issue’s reach, says Gozemba.

In the early stages of the SAFE-prompted gas leaks’ survey project, she recalled taking Driscoll on “a gas leaks safari” trip with Ackley and Phillips.

“We we’re going down Peabody Street and there were a whole bunch of dead or dying trees one side of the street, an indication of gas leaks,” she said. “Kim looked at me and said, ‘I remember when we planted these trees.’”

On reflection of that moment, Driscoll said: “Both sides of Peabody Street were planted with new trees at the same time, but clearly those on the side with gas present, more troublingly the side close to homes, did not survive. We’re concerned about the loss of trees, of course, but the potential danger to people is even more alarming.”

The concern was so great, Gozemba said, Driscoll called the gas company and reported the leaks on the spot.

In September, Ward 7 Councilor Stephen Dibble filed an ordinance, in part, regarding gas companies’ management and elimination of natural gas leaks in Salem. It was sent to city lawyers for review and is due back before the Salem City Council Dec. 7, said Gozemba.

From the forthcoming forum to Dibble’s proposed local law, Gozemba said the hope is “a bettered schedule around repairing gas leaks and to fix leaks before roads are repaved and then dug up again.”