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Climate change at the tipping point: CLF's solutions are driving the debate.

THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS AND THE release of groundbreaking new reports have brought America tantalizingly close to an historic tipping point in the effort to combat global warming. The public and Congress are ready to make a decisive swing away from denial to an engaged response to climate change. :he conservation Law Foundation has been at the vanguard of attempts to shift this critical balance.


CLF long ago recognized the importance of a speedy response to global warming. We saw that climate change, if ignored, could cause human suffering and wreak economic havoc on New England. If unchecked, climate change could drown our coastal communities, doom cold weather crops and forests, and ruin the maple sugaring and ski industries. And it could threaten public health with asthma-inducing killer smog, a product of warmer summer temperatures.

"If it were a nation, the six-state New England region would be the eleventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world," says CLF attorney Steve Hinchman. "Moreover, as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we are responsible for a significant portion of the historical build-up of greenhouse sasses in the atmosphere. We not only have an obligation to cut our regional emissions, but also the opportunity to show the world that, if done right, cutting greenhouse gas emissions can benefit our public health, economy, and quality of life."

Confronting the Inconvenient Truth

IT WAS FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE WHO threw one of the most powerful punches knocking out global warming skeptics. His 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, brought the frightening consequences of climate change to millions of moviegoers and sounded a call for change heard around the nation.

The release of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change this October dealt a blow to President George W. Bush's deceptive argument that Americans need to decide between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. The Stern report found that an investment of just 1 percent of the world's GDP now could prevent a global warming-caused economic depression costing a staggering 20 percent of global GDP.

A new Union of Concerned Scientists report hammered home the impacts of climate change in the Northeast. By 2100, "the typical summer in upstate New York may feel like the present-day summer in South Carolina," said the report. But, it continued: "By reducing our emissions now, we can prevent the more severe consequences of global warming and ensure a more promising future for our children and grandchildren." A separate report issued by the Natural Resources Council of Maine identified twenty "Most at Risk" communities along Maine's coastline where rising sea level could result in the loss of up to 30 percent of a town's land and cause millions of dollars worth of damage to property and infrastructure.

And in November 2006, CLF released its own report, Oceans in Peril, describing how global warming could bring a rapid collapse of the Northeast's ocean ecosystems, causing billions of dollars of harm. "Scientists predict that climate change could bring warmer water temperatures, sea level rise and changes in ocean circulation that would endanger coastal communities, fisheries and marine wildlife," warns the report.

Global warming naysayers have been sent into full retreat by this onslaught of new scientific and economic evidence. The new Senate Democratic leadership has already sent a letter to President Bush asking him to start regulating greenhouse gases. Unfortunately the President remains entrenched in his "do nothing" attitude toward climate change. "The Bush administration, by attacking science, by preventing all regulation, by acting on behalf of special interests, has put the country and the world in jeopardy," notes Hinchman.


CLF Shapes the Future

"WHEN YOU RUN THROUGH THE LIST OF THE MOST important initiatives to combat climate change, measures that are actually moving forward in the U.S., you end up with a list of almost every climate initiative CLF is working on," notes Senior Attorney Seth Kaplan, director of CLF's Clean Energy and Climate Change Program. "There is a very strong chance that the federal government will soon find itself catching up with and emulating what has been happening on the state and regional level," copying initiatives in which CLF has had a pioneering role.

Kaplan points to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as a key example. In December 2005, governors from seven Northeast states agreed to this precedent-setting plan to reduce global warming pollution from power plants. In January, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri signed the agreement; now, every New England state is committed to the initiative. The accord takes effect in 2009, and will reduce carbon dioxide pollution to a level 10 percent below current emissions by 2019. RGGI will create new investment in cleaner, more efficient energy technology, and establish a market-based cap-and-trade program that rewards smart companies for outperforming the new pollution limits. "What is significant about RGGI is that it is a start, that it is moving forward, and that it makes modest reductions in emissions in the electricity sector," says Kaplan. It is also a program being eyed by Congress as a model for a federal greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

The move by New England states to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard (also called a Renewable Energy Standard)will also help curb CO2 emissions. Though the specifics vary from state to state, an "RPS" requires that a percentage of electricity sold in the state come from renewables such as wind and solar. Every New England state except for New Hampshire has adopted an RPS, and in Rhode Island CLF advocates are working to ensure that the state's new standard is fully implemented. A federal Renewable Energy Standard may be proposed in the new Congress. "It is another example of the states providing leadership," says Kaplan.

CLF has also been a major supporter of environmentally responsible alternative energy projects, including many proposed wind farms in New England. In Massachusetts, CLF attorneys helped fight back a federal amendment that would have killed the promising Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, and in Maine CLF intervened in the Redington Wind hearings to highlight the immediate need to construct wind projects that will help reduce the impacts of climate change. CLF Ventures is also working in Maine to promote the Aroostook Wind Energy project that may ultimately produce up to 500 Megawatts of electricity, an output larger than many fossil fuel power plants.

Improved energy efficiency--another opportunity for New England to cut its greenhouse gas emissions--has been a longstanding CLF priority. "The whole idea is to create business incentives for efficiency," says CLF senior attorney Sandra Levine. "For example, in Vermont we've worked to increase what are called system benefit charges, a small charge on your electric bill that goes to fund energy efficiency measures, based on the idea that investing in efficiency costs less and provides greater benefits than generating more power to meet needs." Other states could soon emulate Vermont, increasing system benefit charges and their investment in efficiency.

Cars, trucks, planes and other vehicles account for 27 of every 100 pounds of global warming pollutants that Americans release into the atmosphere. CLF is working through the courts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. In Massachusetts vs. EPA, CLF is party to a case in which California and eleven mostly Northeastern states are seeking to implement new clean car standards limiting global warming emissions of carbon dioxide. The Bush administration has sided against the states, arguing that C[O.sub.2] is not a pollutant and that the US Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate vehicle emissions of this chemical compound. Arguments were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in November, and a final court ruling is forthcoming.

In a related series of cases, CLF is helping Rhode Island and Vermont defend against suits by automakers who are seeking to block implementation of clean car standards recently adopted by these states.

"Of all the strategies to reduce greenhouse gases, the clean car standards are among the best available," says Hinchman. "We can cut C[O.sub.2] emissions from cars by a third just by changing the technology. This is a key first step in the transition to a carbon-free economy. We must either win these cases or go back to Congress and change the laws."

CLF is also working across the region to reduce traffic and encourage investment in public transit. In Boston, CLF recently settled a lawsuit with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, obligating the Commonwealth to complete a series of transit projects and improvements that were initially promised in exchange for the construction of the Big Dig. In New Hampshire, attorneys are challenging the costly widening of Route I-93 because the Granite State's Department of Transportation has failed to consider commuter rail alternatives even though its own own data shows the southern portion of the expanded road will fill to capacity within five to six years of completion. And in Vermont, CLF is showing that improving existing roads and public transportation are a better alternative to the Circ, an expensive new bypass highway planned for the outskirts of Burlington.

The Global Warming Tipping Point

THE DEBATE OVER GLOBAL WARMING HAS NOW shifted from skepticism to solutions. The impacts of climate change on our environment, communities and economy have been made clear by stacks of scientific studies. Increased public awareness of global warming is now forcing state legislatures, corporations and individuals to make real steps toward curbing the region's greenhouse gas emissions. Wind mills on mountain tops, new rail services, and improved efficiency measures for our homes, cars and businesses are all contributors to New England's battle against climate change. CLF's Clean Energy and Climate Change Program is pursuing these and other bold solutions to the overriding environmental challenge of our generation.


A cornerstone funder of CLF's global climate change work is the John Merck Fund, a charitable trust established in New York in 1970, currently headquartered in Boston. Since the 1980s, the John Merck Fund has viewed environmental protection as one of its top program priorities. Today, over 50 percent of the Fund's annual grant monies are allocated to environmental causes, with particular emphases on climate change, greenhouse gas reduction and environmental health.

The John Merck Fund views its funding as a catalyst--a way of supporting organizations that can effect constructive and measurable changes on global warming and other critical issues. Ruth G. Hennig, the Fund's Executive Director, explains: "Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face. It's imperative that we develop the means to shift the global economy away from fossil fuels, and we need to do it within a generation. That's why the John Merck Fund is supporting policy advocacy and market transformation to promote clean energy and efficiency." She adds: "CLF is an organization we look to for the legal and technical skills to move from simply identifying the problem to actually solving it."

Glenn Scherer is is a freelance writer living in Vermont.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Conservation Law Foundation
Author:Scherer, Glenn
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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