Monday, December 21, 2009

It is up to us to solve the climate crisis

"Stand with Tuvalu" was the rallying cry at the Copenhagen climate summit. Tuvalu, the Maldives and other island nations are looking at a harsh future where rising sea levels will swamp their homelands. This was their chance to have a voice, and now the entire world knows their fate, but they went away overshadowed again by the US and China. While many may be disappointed in the outcome of the summit, we can all be proud that it was the NGO community that took the stage along with small developing countries and small island states, those that stand to lose the most in this crisis, to rally the world toward a meaningful science-based solution.

No one disputes that the UN system of consensus is difficult if not impossible when you have 193 countries trying to agree on something this huge. It all comes down to politics, money and survival. When you look at the science, the summit was a failure. No deadlines for a legally binding agreement were set. No individual committments were made by any country. The science tells us we need to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The EU is pledging 20%, the US a mere 3%. Every year that we delay makes the goal harder to meet.

What came out of the summit in the end was this: a political agreement crafted in a last minute meeting between China, Brazil, South Africa, India and the US, a meeting that Obama just happened to walk in to. China and India agreed to report their emissions reductions and submit to international analysis, and the US and others agreed to provide $30B a year over the next 3 years to a development fund for developing nations with a goal to have $100B per year by 2020. (Bangladesh quickly made it clear that the developing world was looking for something closer to $600B a year.) Again, money vs. power in a huge game of climate chicken.

What I find heartning, however, is how a country like Brazil made such a large turn around. On one of the last days of the summit, they pledged to contribute to the development fund (even though they are a develping nation that stands to gain from it as well). While they are one of the largest emitters of CO2, those emissions are largely due to deforestation, something they want and need to solve. Domestic policital pressure from within their country from environmental groups and others has completely changed internal politics to make Brazil a willing participant in negotiations.

What some are saying now, is that the 30-35 countries that represent 90-95% of the worlds carbon emissions need to lead this process, something that Obama has begun with the Major Emitters Forum. The US and China have to stop fighting and make some real movement. China is developing the technology and the US needs to keep up. Political pressure has to remain strong in every country, especially here at home to develop strong legislation, strong regulation and a strong green economy. That is where we come in. Our work and yours, working with our Senators, developing green solutions, conserving energy and above all educating others is the most important work of all. Thank you for all you do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It might be a long winter for coastal homeowners

I am in West Virginia for a conference and have been watching storm footage from the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay this week. This video from Nag's Head North Carolina shows that we should pay attention to Nor'Easters just as much as hurricanes. Extra-tropical storms often last for several days and occur over several tidal cycles, allowing waves to chew away at the coast as storm surge penetrates further inland. Hurricanes are few and far between in New England, but extra-tropical lows are a yearly occurance. We tend to think first of the destructive power of hurricanes which have often accelerated and have weakened by the time they reach us. This power is concentrated, but occurs over hours rather than days.

The Mid-Atlantic coast is now facing a winter with no sand reserve on their beaches to buffer further winter storm damage. What little sand has accumulated over the summer or has been replaced through nourishment is largely gone. Rows of houses have been lost, and the season has just begun. Millions of dollars of renourished sand has gone offshore (some of which will return with time). Estuaries, such as the Chesapeake and Narragansett Bay funnel wind driven water into their upper watersheds causing erosion of salt marsh and floodplains - problems not only for ocean facing beaches, but for rivers and coves as well.

Rhode Island needs to position itself to withstand prolonged winter storm events. Our work to protect and restore salt marsh and coastal buffers is incredibly important. We are also developing a living shorelines policy for Rhode Island to create buffers where shorelines have already been structurally hardened. We need room to retreat, but we also need to soften our edges. Look for more soon about our new program and read about living shorelines on this NOAA web page, and on this page from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Negotiating over climate gets increasingly desperate

Here is a very brief update from the saga of climate change politics over the last two days.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel speakes to a joint session of Congress and pleads for action on climate change to silence from Republicans and cheers from Democrats.
  • EU leaders including the British Prime Minister call on the US to contribute to an aid fund for developing nations to adapt to climate change.
  • European Commission President meets with President Obama to ask for US action before Copenhagen - which will be a "defining moment" for world leaders.
  • At climate talks in Spain, a coalition of African nations boycotts talks until developed nations agree to significant cuts in carbon emissions.
  • In the US, Senate Republicans boycott the Environment and Public Works Committee mark-up session - threatening to walk out until the EPA gives them more economic analysis.
  • Senate Republicans are still absent from the EPW committee, delaying a final committee vote. The Senate Majority leader has pledged to do a full economic summary of the bill when it is ready for the Senate floor, but this has not and will not move Republican leaders.
  • The bill will not reach the Senate floor for several months and definitely not before December 7th (the start of international negotiations).
  • Africans have rejoined the conversation in Spain after assurances that developing nations would negotiate on carbon emissions.
  • Senators Kerry and Graham are meeting with Obama officials to get their position on nuclear energy - and may be ready to compromise with the nuclear and oil industries.
Where is the US, and will Obama go to Copenhagen? Sources say he will go, but may not agree to firm targets without the backing of Congress.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Legislative wrap up and update

RI General Assembly Wraps up its Session
The Rhode Island legislature finished up its business last week and passed several important environmental bills in the process. Congratulations must go out to all involved with the Coalition for Water Security which wrapped up four years of work on a comprehensive water management bill for Rhode Island, the Water Use and Efficiency Act. This bill will go a long way in supporting water conservation and efficiency, and will help water suppliers preserve their rate structures while conserving resources.

Rhode Island will now also have a salt water fishing license, a new federal requirement. The fees collected from the seven dollar license will be used for fisheries conservation, monitoring and public fishing access. The license program will aid the federal government in their monitoring work and will allow for easier data collection on recreational fishing.

The Green Buildings Act also passed the General Assembly. It will require the Department of Administration to create regulations that establish policies for a green building standard using either the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, or similar standards. All new public buildings over 5,000 square feet will be required to be built to a green standard.

During the regular session, we scored another victory for the environment with the passage of the polluter fines bill which raises daily fines for polluters from 1 thousand to 25 thousand dollars a day. We will now look forward to the next session in January. Some issues that we know will come up again next year include CRMC reform and the Energy Independence and Climate Solutions Act. Read more on our Legislative Agenda page.

US Senate Climate Change Bill Markup
Today is the final day of markup for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to work on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, the Senate version of a climate bill. This bill will then go to other Senate committees which will make their own changes. The bill has given rise to all the partisan politics and political bickering one could ever want to see. This morning, the Republicans on the committee have boycotted the markup session because they want to see more EPA economic analysis of the bill, even though the EPA spent 5 weeks reviewing over 300,000 pages of documentation about this bill and the House's Waxman Markey legislation.

In response to the Republican delay tactics of this morning, the Senate majority leader has pledged to have the EPA do another 5 weeks of analysis on the final bill when he marries all the versions from various committees into one piece of legislation that would go to the Senate floor. This will delay full Senate debate by at least seven weeks or more, which will most likely put a Senate vote after the first of the year, after an international climate treaty has been negotiated in Denmark. This will put much more pressure on the United States delegation to make concessions and pledge emissions cuts. The European Union pledged support to developing countries during recent meetings in Spain, so the United States will really need to step up during negotiations.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rhode Island rallys for 350

Saturday, October 24th was the international day of climate action, organized by Over 180 countries participated, and over 5,000 separate "actions" were logged into the web page. People gathered in cities and towns all over the globe, on mountaintops and coral reefs, deserts and glaciers to bring light to the number 350ppm, the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide many scientist feel is a safe upper limit for the atmosphere. The challenge is to get our national and international leaders to take up 350 as a number for negotiations when a new climate treaty is written in December in Denmark.

Rhode Island held several events for the day of action. Lectures and celebrations were held in South County, Newport and Providence. The Neighborhood Energy Challenge was kicked off for Aquidneck Island and Jamestown, with over 80 people in attendance including senate president Paiva-Weed and Newport Mayor Jeanne Marie Napolitano. Lectures were held at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, followed by a rally at Waterplace Park. We displayed tape marking the future sea level in waterplace park to highlight the flooding risk for downtown Providence. Members of the Watson Institute for International Studies spoke about the issues that are facing African countries due to changes in climate. It was an inspiring and hopeful day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blogging Climate Change - A Call to Action

As part of Blog Action Day 2009, over 7,000 bloggers are writing today about finding a sustainable solution to climate change. Here in Rhode Island, climate change has some big implications. We are experiencing rapid changes that are already having an impact on the Bay and its tributary rivers.

We know for certain that Narragansett Bay is warmer on average than at any other time in recorded history. Over the past 30 years, the average mean temperature of the Bay has gone up two degrees Fahrenheit; the average mean winter temperature has increased four degrees. As water temperatures rise, we have seen a major shift in fish populations, with severe declines of the classic cold-water species like winter flounder, cod, and other bottom fish. We have seen increases in fish that tolerate warmer water like striped bass, summer flounder, and menhaden. Lobsters and scallops are declining, while squid and various species of crabs are up.

Severe storms have increased 88% in Rhode Island in the past 60 years. Storm-related coastal erosion will force tough decisions to be made in towns and cities throughout the Bay, including where to protect or relocate infrastructure and where and how to rebuild after the next storm. Coastal managers are telling us that we have to plan now for an eventual 3-5 feet of sea level rise. Over the next decades, we are likely to lose neighborhoods and important coastal buffer zones to the effects of sea level rise and coastal storms.

Increased storm intensity also places added pressure on our water and wastewater infrastructure. Our current infrastructure is 30% undersized - pollution from sewage and stormwater exacerbates water quality problems by causing algae blooms that cloud the water and accumulate on the bottom and on our shorelines. These algae decompose, robbing the water of vital dissolved oxygen and contributing to large-scale dead zones and fish and clam die-offs.

Here is a call to action for Narragansett Bay:
  • We need to further reduce sewage, stormwater, and nutrient pollution by investing in advanced treatment technologies and infrastructure in our coastal communities.
  • We must continue to preserve and restore salt marsh habitat so that coastlines can retreat.
  • We must continue to remove obsolete dams and restore fish passage to tributary rivers.
  • We must invest in clean, sustainable, and renewable energy sources and crack down on old dirty power plants.
  • We need accurate data to give us the information we need to adequately plan for and manage coastal development.
  • We must take these steps now to increase our resiliency for the future. It will take political will and pressure by all of us to make it happen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Save The Bay Celebrates at Gooseneck Cove

On September 14th, Save The Bay and project partners celebrated the completion of the Gooseneck Cove restoration project in Newport. Tidal flow to this 64 acre salt marsh was restored through the replacement of culverts under Ocean Avenue and Hazard Road, and the removal of an old dam in the center of the marsh. Nearly 14 acres of the marsh had been lost due to constant inundation by both fresh and brackish water. Now, large areas of former marsh are growing again and wildlife is flourishing. Senator Jack Reed and RI Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed thanked the project partners and used the project of an excelent example of the success of state and federal funding partnerhips. Read more about the project on our Gooseneck Cove web page

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Save The Bay Takes to the Air

Thanks to the generosity of the non-profit LightHawk and volunteer pilot Tom LeCompte, we recently had the privilege to fly in a small Piper Cherokee over the Taunton watershed and Narragansett Bay to document the landscape and fragile ecosystems from the air. Viewing the watershed from above gives a new perspective on the connected habitat corridors that rivers and streams provide, and the large forested areas that we still have intact. The human imprint on the land is also visible in new ways from above.

We were able to get beautiful photographs of several of our habitat restoration sites as well as overviews of areas that are important to our advocacy work. Seeing the expanse of upper Mount Hope Bay reminds us of the danger and massive impact that a LNG facility would have there. Above Aquidneck Island one is very aware of the multiple land and water uses and the need to protect fragile ecosystems and human infrastructure by looking at the island as a whole. From the air, political boundaries dissapear and the concept of a watershed is apparent. We will use these photographs in our publications so that we can share that perspective with all of you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Massachusetts hears testimony on sustainble water resources

This past Wednesday, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture heard testimony on the Sustainable Water Resources Act. This act would require the Department of Fish and Game to develop stream flow standards for the streams and rivers of the state and will allow communities to establish sustainable water resources funds by charging a fee for new water withdrawals or increased sewer use. The act also makes changes to the dam safety statute that help to promote dam removal and protect rivers.

This legislation will ensure that the ecosystem needs of streams and rivers are weighed equally with competing water withdrawals and supply needs. It is critically important that we put these standards in place now to provide important ecosystems with the ability to adapt to changes in our climate and hydrological regime. Summer low-flow periods coincide with increased water demand due to lawn watering and other irrigation uses, and we can no longer afford to see stream habitats entirely dry during these critical periods.

In Southeastern Massachusetts and the Blackstone Valley, increasing growth and water demand are putting added stress on critical ecosystems that are home to rare and endangered species. The establishment of a Sustainable Water Resources Fund will provide communities with ways to offset these added burdens by providing funds for projects that enhance local recharge of stormwater and wastewater and achieve water conservation through retrofits and water reuse. Protection of public water supplies will also be enhanced by removal of inflow and infiltration and land acquisition.

The proposed changes to the dam safety statute bring a larger number of dams under state jurisdiction and will increase the potential fines for dam safety violations, providing added safety and oversight for this critical infrastructure. The impact of dams on our aquatic ecosystems is significant, and efforts should be made to make dam removal a viable alternative for both dam owners and the commonwealth when managing decrepit, unused or abandoned dams.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Federal Climate Legislation Passes the House

Last Friday's vote on the floor of the US Congress was certainly historic, but it may not have been the victory environmentalists have hoped for. The fact that climate legislation including a cap and trade provision even passed at all symbolically represents what is already a shift toward a new energy economy in America. It was very important for President Obama to get legislation passed to show the rest of the world that we are making progress, and he certainly pushed hard right up to the vote. The House leadership helped out by refusing to allow strengthening amendments that would hurt chances for passage. Concessions were made to almost every group that needed them.

While Congressman Langevin and others worked hard to strengthen the bill, their efforts were put on hold by the House Speaker while each member's yes vote was negotiated. Much has been said about the fact that so much was added at the last minute no one read the bill they finally voted on. Putting the politics aside and looking at the science, there are some serious flaws with the legislation.

The most eggregious is that it preempts the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act, a recent ruling that would have prevented the development of many new coal fired power plants that now may move forward. The coal and oil industries will get billions in free allowances and money for unrealistic carbon capture technology. The renewable energy standard was weakened to 15% by 2020, and 85% of carbon allowances will be given away.

With a weak cap on carbon and additional offsets, the bill barely keeps us at a business as usual position when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. So, maybe the vote was just a symbolic victory, but it was important and historic. The next step is to work to strengthen the bill in the Senate, which will certainly be very difficult, but we have dedicated champions in Senators Whitehouse and Reed.

The new EPA under the Obama administration is obviously a much stronger and more threatening agency, because much of the climate bill was used to undue and remove its authority. That should tell us where the battle will be. Industries do not like to be regulated. The dying fossil fuel sector is grasping at straws to prop itself up, but it won't stand the test of time. This is more evidence that we have reached peak oil, and a new energy economy needs to take its place. Unfortunately, we are not doing enough to make it an easy transition. Onward we march.

The RI General Assembly - taking a break

Happy New Year (fiscal year that is!) The Rhode Island General Assembly went into recess for the upcoming holiday with several issues left on the table. Their major concern was passing a budget for the new year which begins today. The Governor has now signed that budget, but the session is not over. The Assembly will likely come back either in late July or September to vote on bills that they have reconciled with the Senate, and the Senate will do the same.

One of those important bills is legislation that we have championed through the Coalition for Water Security, the Water Use and Efficiency Act. The House and Senate are in agreement, but each version of the bill has to pass through one more time before it is signed by the Governor.

The CRMC is on better legal footing due to the Senate providing advice and consent for the Governor's previous appointments of four sitting members and a fifth new member. The CRMC debate is not over, however, since this is a temporary measure designed to shore up the council. It still leaves several vacancies and an undetermined process for moving forward.

A bill we have been watching that would establish a saltwater fishing license is also up for consideration in the Senate. Read more about all these bills and those that did pass this session on our legislative agenda page, and stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scallops are Ready for Spawning!

On Monday, June 1st, the Save The Bay habitat restoration team went to work deploying scallops into cages in Narragansett Bay as part of our scallop restoration program. These scallops will spawn and help to repopulate parts of the Bay where these important shellfish have been lost. Save The Bay has been working for several years to reestablish eelgrass, an important habitat for scallops. Juvenile scallops attach themselves to eelgrass blades for protection. This is the third year of the spawner sanctuary in the Bay. Read more about the scallop and about the scallop/eelgrass connection.

Get Out for a Paddle!

The RI Blueways Alliance is celebrating paddling in the Narragansett Bay Watershed with Paddle09, a series of paddle trips throughout June and July. These trips are organized by watershed organizations, Save the Bay, RIDEM and local outfitters and are designed to introduce recreational paddlers to the varied and beautiful rivers and coastal waters in our watershed. This is a great way to see a new part of the state from a different perspective and to support our local watershed groups.

You can see a full list of trips on the Rhode Island Blueways Alliance website. Also, see Save The Bay's Summer Paddle Page for a list of our events. Hope to see you out on the water!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Federal Climate Legislation Markup This Week

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 now has a number - HR 2454. The text of the bill was released on Friday by the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Environmental groups are cautiously praising this compromise legislation, and Al Gore is rallying his supporters, saying that it will help build momentum going into the Copenhagen climate talks. The compromise version is far weaker than many environmentalists would like - it calls for emission reductions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Al Gore points out, however, that other provisions in the bill such as a renewable energy standard of 15-20% by 2020 may actually lead to larger emissions reductions. Once the shift begins, he believes, the change to renewable sources of energy will be "unstoppable".

While a bill with weak targets may be hard to swallow, there are other far reaching elements of this legislation that will increase funding and support for climate adaptation, such as agreements to use carbon allowances to prevent tropical deforestation, help with adaptation efforts and protect natural resources in the US and globally. According to the press release from the Nature Conservancy, support for US efforts to protect critical wildlife and natural resources could reach $4 billion. Markup of the bill will begin today at 1 pm.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ten Mile River Herring Scoop

The Ten Mile River Watershed Council conducted its annual herring scoop and cleanup at Omega Pond Dam in East Providence on Saturday. Last year over 200 herring were netted and transferred during the scoop. For many years the scoop was done by an informal group of fishermen as they collected fish for bait. Now the taking of fish is prohibited and all the scooped fish go into the pond.

Soon the scoop won't be necessary. Three fish ladders will be going up on the Ten Mile River, starting this summer with the Hunts Mills and Turner Reservoir. This could eventually result in a run of over 200,000 herring. The river is also an historic shad run with a potential for 25,000 fish. An eelway will also be installed for American eel which migrate upstream as juveniles after spawning in the Sargasso Sea.

The project is a partnership of the Army Corps of Engineers, the DEM Division of Fish and Wildlife, the City of East Providence, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and Save The Bay. You can read more about the project on our Ten Mile River web page.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Restoration is under way at Stillhouse Cove in Cranston

Save The Bay is teaming up with the City of Cranston, the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore a salt marsh in Stillhouse Cove off Narragansett Boulevard in Cranston.

The salt marsh has been impacted by runoff from surrounding development and historic filling. This has resulted in sediment accumulation on the marsh surface and growth of Phragmites australis.

In 2004, fill was removed from
the marsh and stormwater management was improved through the use of catchbasins that capture sediment. This phase of the salt marsh restoration included restoring 1.5 acres of valuable marsh habitat by reducing the height of the marsh through removal of approximately 1400 cubic yards of material and excavating new creeks. Because some of the matrial was deposited in the upper marsh, it is now being colonized by Phragmites australis and holds fresh water where mosquitoes can grow.

The on
going second phase of restoration includes removing material from the disposal area, excavating a new creek and seeding the edge of the marsh with warm season grasses.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lobby Day at the State House, April 21st

The Environment Council of RI will be hosting their annual Earth Day Lobby Day event at the State House on April 21, 2:30-4:30. Save The Bay will have a table and will be participating in a discussion panel on the Water Conservation and Competitiveness Act. The top three legislative priorities chosen by ECRI are the water conservation bill (h5828), the polluter fines bill (h5061, s50), and the diesel emissions reduction act (h5910, s491, s484).

Schedule of events:
2:30 - Lobby training by Ocean State Action
2:45 - Water legislation discussion panel
3:15 - Speaking program
3:30 - Lobby!

As a member of the Coalition for Water Security, Save The Bay has been actively involved in develpment of the water conservation bill. We have also lobbied for passage of the polluter fines bill, which would raise the maximum fines for polluters to $25,000 per day. This legislation has passed the Senate and rests with the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. We came very close on both these bills last year, and hope to have success in this session.

This year at the State House, Save The Bay has provided testimony on several bills that are important to the future health of Narragansett Bay and our watershed. Both the House and Senate have now heard testimony on the Energy Independence and Climate Solutions Act (h5706, s488). Many groups testified in favor of this bill, including student groups, the religious community, and small business owners. Our testimony focused on the threats to Narragansett Bay and the adaptations we all must plan for in the future.

I also testified on the Grow Renewable Energy Now Act (h5462, s703), a bill to establish a solar energy program for Rhode Island by increasing the renewable energy charge on electricity service and adding to the Renewable Energy Fund. The average electricity customer would see an increase of 15 cents a month, but the program would generate 2.5 million dollars to give out to residents, business owners and groups like Save The Bay to install solar power. I have also testified on the various green building standard bills that are in the works, but it seems like the bill to watch is for establishing an state energy efficiency building code, which would position RI to take advantage of federal funding.

Please join us at the State House on April 21st to learn more and help advocate for strong environmental legislation!