Saturday, December 11, 2010

Environmental Justice: Some Questions for PSNH

In her 2009 scoping comments on a proposal by the Transmission Agency of Northern California to build a 600-mile overhead HVDC transmission corridor through low-income intermountain communities with minority populations in Shasta County, a project called "TANC TPP," Jean L. Saffel invokes the policy of environmental justice and raises a number of critical questions related to it.

What is environmental justice?

On February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which directs federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high adverse human health or environmental effects of its activities on minority and low-income populations.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work."

As Saffel explains, "environmental justice involves reviewing a project’s significant
individual or cumulative impacts on human health or the environment, including
interrelated social and economic effects," to prevent disproportionate adverse
effects upon disadvantaged communities, e.g., those with lower income and higher
unemployment rates (48).

One of the disproportionate adverse socioeconomic effects of a major transmission project like TANC concerns the universally acknowledged drop in real estate values, which seriously disadvantages senior citizens on fixed incomes, Saffel notes:

"Many senior citizens in Oak Run and Round Mountain will not live long enough to
recover from the financial impacts of this corridor project. How will TANC mitigate such
impacts for lower income residents such as seniors, those on fixed incomes, etc?
For many Americans their home and equity in that property is all they have to carry
them through retirement and their so-called golden years. These Transmission Lines
will create a significant reduction in property values of seniors, dramatically changing
people's lives. How will they manage to survive until their end days? How will we?
The ratepayers who are beneficiaries of TANC TTP are not the people whose lives,
living environment and property values will be disrupted by this project. Who will
mitigate for these long-term costs for our communities? Will TANC?" (48)

 TANC's profitability, she concludes, does not justify environmental injustice:

"Improving TANC’s profitability is not an equitable, fair or environmentally just
reason to build TANC TTP and leave the irreversible environmental impacts in the
laps of economically strapped counties and the equally strapped impacted families" (50).

Will PSNH mitigate for the long-term costs of the Northern Pass project on the economically strapped North Country, including our senior citizens who will not live long enough to recover from the financial impact of the project? Will PSNH say it's "too expensive" to mitigate by burying the lines or running them along public ROWs? Does PSNH find it acceptable that those who will profit from the Northern Pass are not the people whose lives, living environment, and property values will suffer for it?   

  Saffel's full report is worth a read. (But a warning for those on dial-up and satellite:
it's a big file, 5MB.)

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