Earth Day

Another in the string of catch-up posts from this spring…

Earth Day was remarkable for us here in New York State for two reasons this year.

First, the vast majority of the countries of the world signed the Paris climate agreement that day at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Of course, this was a remarkable event for the whole world and we all hope that we finally have the political will to follow through on what the science tells us we must do to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming while assisting people everywhere to adapt to the effects that are unavoidable and already underway.

Second, just days before a final deadline, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected the water quality certificate application that would have permitted the construction of the Constitution methane pipeline.

Those of us in the environmental community have been battling against the further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure as part of the fight against global warming. Building pipelines for fossil fuels is akin to building whaling ships as whale oil was being displaced by other lighting sources. It doesn’t make sense to prop up a dying technology.

Unfortunately, the decision in New York came too late to save forests in a 22-mile swath of Pennsylvania, where some land was taken by eminent domain and cleared despite the owners’ objection and the fact that the whole project did not have all the permits needed to move forward. We were especially heartbroken for the Holleran family, who lost the majority of their producing sugar maples.

The pipeline company is trying to challenge the DEC’s decision in court. I sincerely hope that the court upholds the DEC’s action to protect our environment and health.

Advertisements

Good News for the Southern Tier

Like many other former industrial powerhouses, my home region, the Southern Tier of New York (midway across the southern border of the state with Pennsylvania), has struggled with economic development.

In recent years, while there has been some growth in the education, health care, and arts sectors here in the Binghamton area, the formerly strong manufacturing and hi-tech sectors are a shadow of their former selves.

Since 2011, New York has had an economic development system organized as various regional economic development councils, which make plans which compete for funding. The eight counties of the Southern Tier have won some funding in prior years, but this year the stakes were especially high, with three regional prizes worth $500 million ($100 million a year for five years) each available. The other five regions will share a larger-than-usual pot of funds, so no one is left out.

The Southern Tier economic development plans have always been well-received, including in 2011 when the timeline for initial plans was very tight and coincided with a record flood. Some of our projects have been funded, but progress has been slow, leading to additional hand-wringing and pressure to allow shale gas development, even though only a few jobs would be generated at considerable environmental cost.

While I am grateful that shale gas development was (mostly) taken off the table in New York State last December, our area needed more concrete plans to add jobs in our region.

In the form of one of the $500 million awards announced yesterday, we finally have commitment from the state to help make that possible.

The Greater Binghamton area where I live is central to the plan, with major revitalization centered around the Route 17c corridor.  The Binghamton segment is mixed-use, blending business, retail, arts, increased living space, downtown University presence, and waterfront development. Johnson City is centered on health science/technology and culture, with Endicott, the original home of IBM, centered on advanced manufacturing, including an industrial 3D printing center.  We are excited to begin!

There are projects already lined up for the first year allocation of $100 million, with plans to leverage additional private capital. Of course, the rest of the region is not left out. There are plenty of other projects being funded, too, including food/agriculture initiatives for our many rural communities.

I have been one of the rare cheerleaders for our region, which tends toward pessimism about everything, including our typical-for-the-Northeast weather. I often used some of the earlier projects of our Regional Economic Development Council as alternatives to fracking in my years of commentary on that topic, for which I was frequently ridiculed.

I am ecstatic that my optimism is being rewarded.

Excelsior!

(Excelsior is the state motto of New York and is usually translated as “Ever Upward.”)

 

SoCS: growing up in the sticks

I grew up in the sticks.

It’s an expression I don’t hear much anymore. OK – I don’t hear it at all anymore. I’m not sure how widespread its usage was but it means to grow up in an out-of-the-way place. I grew up in a town of 200 people, give or take, in western Massachusetts along the Vermont border. We had a little general store which had the post office in it. We had a paper mill where most of the people in town worked. We had a school that went up through eighth grade. We even had a little bar/restaurant called “The Club.”

Everything else – big grocery stores, clothing stores, the high school, doctors, banks, etc. – was twenty miles away.

So, to me, where I lived was the definition of  “the sticks.”

I was surprised after I moved to Broome County NY – aka Greater Binghamton – that the definition of “the sticks” was different. In New York State, it seems that everything gets compared to New York City. There is The City, its suburbs and Long Island – and everything else becomes “upstate,” mashing together large cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, with smaller cities, towns, villages, and very rural areas, such as the Adirondacks.

So even though I live on the southern border of the state, just a few miles from the state line with Pennsylvania, I am “upstate.” I live in a town that is a hundred times larger in population than my hometown, about the size of the twenty-mile-away city that we used to go to for shopping and services when I was growing up. My current town is a suburb of Binghamton, which is a city with its own opera company, symphony, minor league baseball and hockey teams, and all kinds of other amenities that were much further afield when I was growing up.

Yet, because we are small compared to NYC, we are considered to be “the sticks.”

Go figure.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is: “stick.”  Come join in the fun! Find out how here: http://lindaghill.com/2015/05/15/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1615/

socs-badge
b
adge by Doobster @MindfulDigressions

 

Drought, farms, and climate change

On the morning news, I heard the staggering statistics that California, which is in extreme drought, uses 80% of its water for agriculture, growing a third of the US supply of fruits and vegetables. It has already taken some farmland out of production or substituted crops that use less water. Meanwhile, it is in its fourth year of drought with snowpack under 5% of normal. As in over 95% of normally expected runoff water will not be there this year.

This should be setting off all kinds of alarm bells across the country. We need to shift our food production to more local areas and sustainable practices. Now, not in some distant future. We need to change our expectation of what foods we eat in which season of the year. When I was growing up, we ate fresh sweet corn in mid- to late-summer, when nearby farms were harvesting. We would prepare extra corn, cut it off the cob, and freeze it to eat at other times of year. We need to get back to this sense of eating fresh foods locally and preserving the extra produce to eat later rather than expecting California to send us strawberries in February. Certainly some crops, like citrus fruits, will not grow throughout the country, but others, like salad greens, can be grown close to where they are consumed, even in northern urban centers in winter where they can be grown indoors.

During the long slog fighting against shale gas development in New York State, I used many arguments against various aspects of this industrialization of our state. One of them was that, in this time of shifting climate, we needed to preserve our New York farms and forests for food production. Much of the farmland in the US is projected to have major droughts and heat waves as atmospheric carbon increases, including California and the Great Plains/Midwest farm belt. The Northeast, while expected to warm, is not expected to have severe issues with water supply. New York must assiduously protect its soils, water, and air from pollution in order to feed itself and other states as climate stressors increase.

Defending Broome County

While it would seem that the impending fracking ban in NY would cut down on my incessant commenting on shale oil/gas issues, there has instead been a flurry of reports and editorials to answer, such as this one. Yes, I got carried away, but it really upsets me when people in other parts of the state misrepresent my home area. My (very long) comment to an editorial in the Syracuse Post-Standard:

I live in a Broome County town bordering PA and this editorial’s contention that we are looking forlornly across the border at prosperity in PA is dead wrong. Across the border in PA there is shale gas drilling going on, but a lot of negative impacts. Besides the health problems that have been documented in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there are socioeconomic problems with high rents, increased crime rates, inability to insure, finance, or sell homes near wells, plummeting royalty payments, noise pollution, light pollution, increased rates of homelessness, increased truck traffic, accidents, liens placed on properties when drilling companies didn’t pay their subcontractors, and strains on medical and emergency services. People who wanted to live in a nice country setting are now in a noisy industrialized setting. I am grateful that these problems won’t be coming to my town.

Meanwhile, I think the editors should take a trip to Greater Binghamton and look around. It is not the poverty-stricken, despairing place you seem to think it is. Two of our biggest employment sectors are medical, anchored by Lourdes and two UHS hospitals, and education, anchored by BInghamton University and SUNY-Broome, with a new graduate school of pharmacy about to be built. We still have high tech jobs, though fewer than we once had, with IBM, Link flight simulation, and BAE, among others. Our most exciting new plans in high tech are in the the area of renewable energy/energy storage. Binghamton University’s Solar Lab has been conducting research for a number of years already and has developed a thin-film solar cell that uses only common elements without any rare earth elements. Two large projects are currently being built, a High-Tech incubator in downtown BInghamton and the SmartEnergy Center on the Vestal campus. The combination of these should expand our high-tech/energy sector in the future. Meanwhile, Broome County is a state leader in energy efficiency upgrades through NYSERDA Green Jobs, Green NY and in expansion of solar for homes and small businesses. The energy projects alone have created many times more jobs than shale drilling would have, without the pollution and industrialization of residential and rural areas that would have occurred with drilling.

And about the potential of shale drilling in NY. DEC had to weigh possible economic benefit versus potential costs of drilling to the state and to residents; it’s part of its job. The economic impact section of the draft SGEIS made a number of faulty assumptions, including that shale plays are uniformly productive, that large swaths of NYS would be viable to drill, and that the wells would produce for thirty years. Data from PA and other areas with shale drilling have shown that there are distinct sweet spots in shale plays that are high-producing, with the rest of the play being much less so. Most of the shale in NYS is too thin and too shallow to contain large amounts of methane and there are not natural gas liquids, which have a better economic profile than dry methane, at all. Shale wells of all kinds have very steep decline curves, with the vast majority of the gas being produced in the first 18 months and most of the rest in the following 3-6 years, much shorter than the 30-year timeframe the SGEIS assumed. The industry has done some test wells in various parts of the Marcellus and Utica in NY – and didn’t think it was worth applying for permits. The major companies in their own maps of the play never showed the potential drilling area going much over the NY border. Production numbers in PA bear this out; once you head north from the NEPA sweet spot, production goes way down. Because HVHF wells are so expensive to drill and frack, methane prices would have to more than double to break even in southern Broome County and the figures just get worse from there. It’s time to stop pretending that fracking – or casinos – are the future of the Southern Tier and get to work on building up renewable energy and conservation, while expanding on education, medical, high-tech, agriculture, next-gen transportation, recreation, and tourism jobs.

http://www.syracuse.com/…/new_yorks_hydrofracking_ban_drape…

Not One Well!!!!!!!!

Hours ago, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that high volume hydraulic fracturing will be banned in New York State. I am thrilled with the news, if a bit dazed. After spending countless hours on this issue over the last several years, the whole fractivist community is relieved and celebrating!

I will get to slow down on commentary a bit, but I’m sure that I and other NY fractivists will continue to fight expanded fossil fuel infrastructure and waste disposal in NY, as well as continue to help other states to rein in the pollution and health impacts that fracking is causing.

But now, from my home in New York on the PA border, I can proudly state:  Not One Well!

Giving thanks for no fracking

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I am thankful that there has been no shale gas drilling using high-volume hydrofracking in New York State, especially in Vestal, my hometown.

I’m also thankful that this has been the year that many independent scientists have published peer-reviewed work elucidating the damage that shale gas and oil extraction, processing, transport, use, and waste disposal are doing to human, environmental, and planetary health.

The work of climate scientists makes the high stakes abundantly clear. Humans must stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible, especially unconventional fossil fuels which have a higher greenhouse gas emission burden than conventional fossil fuels.

Therefore, I call on you as governor to enact a permanent ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction in New York State and to end the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and importation of waste products from shale drilling.

Instead, New York State must go all in for renewable energy and efficiency. Wind, especially off-shore wind, solar, electric grid upgrades, biomass, non-food-crop biofuels, heat pumps, geothermal, advanced battery storage, and other emerging energy technologies are what New York, the United States and the world need for our future, not an ever more desperate and expensive scramble for dangerous fossil fuels.

Sincerely,
Joanne Corey