SALEM, MASS No storms here last night, but you may have heard the rumblings of Democracy right here in the Witch City of Salem, MA. The occasion was the fourth and final public hearing before the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for the "Filthy Five" regulations for oldest dirtiest power plants in Massachusetts. Yeah, I've got one of those plants in my back yard. You probably do too. Once it was pointed out to me that the format of these hearings is very much like an episode of "American Idol" I was unable to see it any other way. Each of the good folks who volunteered their time and evening to testify are ROCK STARS!
[Credit and thanks to Gary Braasch for allowing me to post this great photo of a Supercell thunderstorm cloud in Arizona. Truly incredible global warming pics, but see for yourself.]
Too hot, too cold–or perhaps just right…
For me and an intrepid group of (wonky-sweet-reasonable) Massachusetts residents, this has been a nine year grassroots odyssey of euphoric highs and deep dark lows. We have persevered through three grudgingly cooperative Republican administrations here in deep blue Massachusetts. Hearings for citizen input for the rule-making of the state regulation began about five years ago after more hearings to establish citizen desire for such regulations. With constant credible testimony, letter writing and just plain showing up, the public responded with a resounding "YES–cough, cough–YES." If you've never attended a public hearing on an important matter but cherish electronic participatory democracy, get off your couch and inject yourself into the carbon-based (human, not CO2) type. It's a freakin' blast! I bet you even run into a Kossack or two.
Each of the first three hearings were for the three pollutants Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide, and Mercury, taken one at a time. Air was not our only focus, as we also went about cleaning up a fly ash pit that had migrated into a drinking water supply for 80,000 people and doing an "Erin Brockovich" mimic lawsuit–both successfully completed. In addition to these hearings, thousands of volunteer hours have also been spent in a gazillion of meetings, a bazillion negotiations followed by the inevitable renegotiations. Who knows what's ahead?
Well, a nice story appeared in today's The Boston Globe and I'm going to savor the luxury of selecting my favorite highlights with this excerpt:
The six power plants, two of which are in Somerset, account for more than 70 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by all 32 plants in the state, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Carbon dioxide is produced by cars and power plants that burn oil, coal, or natural gas. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and radiates it back to earth, like a greenhouse, contributing to global warming.
Some Salem residents say that emissions from the local power plant, which has operated since 1951, have led to respiratory ailments.
‘'It would be wise for our elected political leaders to be as concerned about the health and medical costs of the constituents, as they carefully listen to the corporate world with their lobbyists in the State House crying to maintain the status quo," said Dolores Jordan, 77, a Salem resident.
Towards the end of the article is a reference to a Mass Climate Action Network (MCAN) study which clearly demonstrates the miniscule cost associated with this policy if Governor Romney had not engaged in 11th hour tampering for his new national wingnut constituents. MCAN's economist, Marc Breslow, gave compelling testimony with charts and graphs debunking the economic scare tactics of the plant owners. Unfortunately, there were the usual supporters of Romney's recent insertion of "squishy" language, or loopholes, into the draft regs which have stood in their unsquishy form quite nicely since 2001. If successful, this watering down will have the perverse effect of killing a much needed innovation-driven economic stimulus for the state and discourage greater investment in the plant, putting the plant's future into question. I was impressed with Mayor Kim Driscoll's testimony where she suggested that instead of sending the money generated by the policy overseas to plant trees in Belize, also a recent change, we should pump it back into the host communities; something certainly worth exploring. It was a terrific turnout with too many highlights to share here.
So what is the iceberg in the room that we've not yet spoken about? This just in from the journal Science and The Wall Street Journal, Greenland glaciers Dump More Ice into Atlantic, Adding to Rising Sea Level Although their editorial page remains in denial, reporting at the WSJ is waking up to the potential economic catastrophe ahead.
Greenland's southern glaciers have accelerated their march to the Atlantic Ocean over the past decade and now contribute more to the global rise in sea levels than previously estimated, researchers say.
Those faster-moving glaciers, along with increased melting, could account for nearly 17% of the estimated one-tenth of an inch annual rise in global sea levels, or twice what was previously believed, said Eric Rignot of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Another great article in The Christian Science Monitor is "Hotter Issue in Red States" which states:
From the Rocky Mountain West to the Southeast, influential red-state voices are beginning to call for more concerted efforts at local, state, and federal levels to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
And they are prodding Washington to address the challenge of adapting to the effects of global warming, which many scientists say are at work.
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I served on Governor Romney's Environmental Transition Team. It's Massachusetts–they run out of Republicans! I still hold out some irrational hope that he will reverse his recent reversal which was paired with some carefully phrased public statements of global warming denial. If Mitt doesn't come around on this, and sticks with his loopholes, all I can say is that the rest of the country ought to beware. Who knows what he really stands for?
I've come to know public health as one of those great everybody issues even though sometimes it seems to me that only the good die young. Global Warming is the ultimate everybody issue. This only translates into good policy if the process is infused with democracy and the citizens have the benefit of that great ole feedback loop of citizen action and empowerment. Simple and elegant. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
In the years ahead, when our children and grandchildren ask why we trashed their planet (two week old scary as all get out Washington Post article on the "Tipping Point"), at least many good folks in Massachusetts and elsewhere, can say with all sincerity, "Oh, Honey. We tried."