Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tips on Writing Scoping Comments

Written comments are being accepted from now until April 12, 2011. A number of public comments have already been posted on the DOE-Normandeau site. You may write as often as you like.

I've never heard of anyone who yearned to write the great American scoping comment, but since none of us was born knowing how to write this genre, here's advice from a scoping comment writing coach. Some of the material that follows comes from Elizabeth Mullin's The Art of Commenting: How to Influence Environmental Decisionmaking with Effective Comments (2000). It will also explain how the process works.

Scoping is the process of identifying concerns or issues to be studied by DOE-Normandeau (and its sub contractors) as it prepares the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). As Mullins explains, there's actually a draft draft EIS; that will be written by the contractor (Normandeau et al.) after it sorts through and categorizes all of our comments. DOE will go over the draft draft and supervise Normandeau's writing of the  DEIS. In other words, Normandeau is our immediate audience as scoping comment writers

You may deliver your comments orally at one (or more) of the five scoping meetings from March 14-19, but be sure also to submit them in writing. You may submit written comments now, before the public meetings, then attend the public meetings and hear what opponents and proponents have to say, and submit additional comments in light of what you hear. If you forget something or a new issue comes up, write another comment and get it in by April 12.

All of the public comment that comes in before April 12 will be inventoried and converted into categories of issues that are lumped together into larger subject areas in the scoping report. The number of commenters who wrote about an issue will be indicated. For instance, the underground/underwater Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) Scoping Report creates a purpose and need category and states that "nine commenters noted that the purpose and need statement should establish the evidence that the need for electricity exists in the area, or will exist if projected population and planned land use growth are realized" (p. 9). (The CHPE "raw data" is here, the recently completed scoping report here.)

For Northern Pass, DOE has stated that it will be looking at these categories:

"Impacts will be analyzed across a number of resource areas, including:
  • Air quality (including climate change and greenhouse gas emissions)
  • Water resources and drainage
  • Geography, geology, and soils
  • Land use
  • Threatened and endangered species, special status species, and related sensitive resources
  • Airspace utilization
  • Public health and safety
  • Noise
  • Natural hazards
  • Hazardous materials
  • Accidents and intentional destructive acts
  • Cultural and historical resources 
  • Recreational resources
  • Visual resources
  • Socioeconomic impacts, community services and infrastructure
  • Environmental justice considerations (disproportionately high and adverse impacts to minority and low income populations)
  • Cumulative impacts (past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions)
  • Irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources
But DOE also says that "this list is not intended to be all inclusive or to imply any predetermination of impacts, and DOE invites interested parties to suggest other issues to be considered." Create your own categories if you feel these do not cover your concerns; specifically request DOE to look at them. If you don't ask, you might not get what you want.

Similarly, DOE states that it will consider "alternative routes." They say nothing about "alternative designs," e.g., burying the lines. If this is your concern, request that the DOE consider alternative designs and/or routes. Again, if you don't ask for it, you probably won't see it in the scoping summary report.

The private contractor, Normandeau, not the DOE, will read, inventory, and categorize the raw data of our public comments and prepare this scoping report. This will necessarily be a subjective process. How would you categorize the hypothetical comment that "Northern Pass is an immoral project that will ruin my economic future and scar the landscape"? Most likely, this comment would be categorized under "socioeconomics" and "visual resources." The "immoral" nature of the project would probably slip through the cracks.

To guard against this slippage, the scoping comment coach recommends that writers overtly direct the DOE to examine specific issues broken down into categories. Don't let the contractor decide what the category is; tell the contractor how to categorize your concerns. Once the contractor converts your comment into a statistic for the scoping report, your comment essentially drops out of the process.

Thus, for instance, the comment that "Northern Pass is an immoral project that will ruin my economic future and scar the landscape" should be rewritten to direct the DOE to study your concerns, e.g.,

 The DOE should investigate the following issues for the DEIS:
  • the immorality of the project, specifically, is it just to impose the burdens of this project on people who stand to gain nothing from it? (or whatever the moral grounds are);
  • the negative economic impacts of the project on landowners who will not receive adequate compensation for their property;
  • the detrimental impact on landscape, which is essential to tourism here.
That's just one way to foreground the writer's concerns and give the comment a better chance of surviving intact as Normandeau rolls it into the Scoping Report summary.

Here's another hypothetical comment that doesn't tell the contractor specifically how to classify it and doesn't tell the DOE what to study: "I want to go on record as opposing this project unless the lines are buried."

That might be rewritten to: "The DOE should include an alternate action that examines the feasibility of burying the lines, including an examination of nearby corresponding projects . . .", etc.

One writing coach goes even further and recommends filing a separate comment for each topic:

"Write a separate comment for each topic you cover. The agency issues a Scoping Report which deals with comments by topic or issue.  A team will inventory them (by sender). They'll pencil "soils', or 'wildlife' or 'recreation needs' at the top of your comment, and sort them into stacks. If you combine a bunch of issues in one letter, you might hurt your chances that your comments will be inventoried accurately and get
included in the scoping report."

The more common advice is to explicitly request the DOE to look at specific issues, to identify those issues in a way that individualizes them and thus increases the chances that they'll survive intact through the inventory process, to avoid "bundling" and blurring issues, and to write as clearly as possible.

The Sierra Club (Atlantic Chapter) public comment on CHPE provides a good model of how to insure that your concerns and issues survive intact. Another Sierra Club Atlantic committee also models the format in a scoping comment that bears reading because it directs the DOE to examine issues that are germane to the Northern Pass project, e.g., is this project needed?

For advice on issues to address in your scoping comments, see the Conservation Law Foundation's page.

The beauty of the public comment period is that you can go back and rewrite as often as you want before April 12. The comments can be entered online at northernpasseis.us.

Write clearly, write often, and remember that your immediate audience will be Normandeau et al.

Sign Gallery (11-20)

Please send us a picture of your home-made or other sign opposing Northern Pass and we'll post it here. Each "Sign Gallery" post will feature 10 signs. Signs 1-10 are here.

Address for pictures: burynorthernpass<at>gmail.com. Thanks!

#11. Rte. 3, Stratford. "Hydro Quebec. No Canadian power line." Set in a sugar bush with tap lines running along the ground, sugar house in background. Feb. 2011.

#12. Amey farmlands, Clarksville. Northern Pass wants to put towers across this beautiful land! February, 2011.
#13. Colebrook area. Feb., 2011

#14. Coleman State Park. Feb., 2011
#15. http://nonorthernpass.logosoftwear.com/ (this is not a commercial endorsement nor offer to sell)

#16. Thornton. Feb., 2011.
#17. Left, Rick Samson; right, Jim Dannis. Sign painted by Linda Samson. Lancaster, Feb. 25, 2011. Sign to be mounted in Easton.
#18. Martin's Agway, Rte. 3, Lancaster (adjacent to the PSNH building). Feb. 25, 2011.
#19. PSU Student Union "Stop Northern Pass" Info Table. Feb., 2011.
#20. Sign and map at Dalton Municipal Bldg. Shaded areas show 1/2 mile on either side of center line of preferred and alternate routes with lists of directly affected property owners. February, 2011.

Northern Pass and Health Effects (3)

Conclusion of a three-part series written by Campbell McLaren, MD, FACEP. Dr. McLaren practices emergency medicine at Littleton Regional Hospital.

Parts 1 and 2 examined the association between childhood leukemia and power lines. Part 3 briefly reviews some of the regulations adopted in other states and countries to guard against harmful EMF exposure.

             International and State policies relating to EMF Regulation

World Health Organization                      
Endorses Prudent Avoidance* (2000)

American College of Physicians              
EMF levels reduced significantly 300'-500' from a transmission line.
Prohibition of power-lines near residential areas and schools                                                                                                                   

No houses within 330' of HV lines.
First country to adopt Prudent Avoidance.
No schools near power-lines.

United Kingdom                                                          
Homes to be built more than 450' from overhead power-lines, or lines are to be buried.

Prudent Avoidance. Routing of power-lines away from schools.

Regulations limiting power-lines near schools where people spend more than four hours a day.
Where feasible lines will be buried or a wide buffer-zone created in residential areas or near schools.

Boundary zone of 250' for 345 Kv lines.

Prudent Avoidance. Restriction of power-lines exceeding 115 Kv to industrial areas only.

Rhode Island &  Wisconsin                                                           
Moratorium on lines over 60 Kv.

Prudent Avoidance.

Prudent Avoidance. Denied 345 Kv line through downtown Chicago.

Prudent Avoidance.  

Prudent Avoidance.          

PRUDENT ACTION/AVOIDANCE: Whereby even without any demonstrable risk, the most achievable low-cost measure will be taken to reduce EMF exposure.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Northern Pass and Health Effects (2)

Part 2 of a three-part series by Campbell McLaren, MD, FACEP.
Dr. McLaren practices emergency medicine at Littleton Regional Hospital

 Part 1 examined the health risks of high voltage alternating current (HVAC) in general--the two fold increase of leukemia in children exposed to magnetic fields above 3-4 milligaus (generally within 500') for over four hours a day--and the precautionary principle and prudent avoidance that many states and countries have adopted.

Part 2 examines the health risks of the existing PSNH HVAC line and the proposed Northern Pass HVDC line.

The Existing PSNH HVAC Line

     On the existing PSNH right of way (ROW)--the 100-mile preferred route for Northern Pass through the White Mountains and down the I-93 corridor--is an HVAC transmission line. Several schools lie within 600'  of this existing PSNH HVAC line. This proximity to HVAC lines indicates a 70% higher risk of childhood leukemia (Dept. of Health, UK).
The Proposed Northern Pass HVDC Line
     The 100-mile “preferred route” on PSNH's current ROW would add HVDC lines alongside the existing HVAC lines, possibly necessitating widening of the ROW. 
     DC lines produce minimal electro magnetic frequency (EMF), but there is some indication that AC fields in combination with DC fields may cause adverse bio-effects through augmentation.
     DC lines do not require tall towers, but Hydro-Quebec is proposing 90'-135' towers. They presumably plan to add transmission lines to these towers in the future.
     If they add more AC lines, what kind of electromagnetic soup is going to be created, with what increase in health risk?
     Once the transmission towers are established the power companies are not required to inform the public of line additions.
     Is it worth risking one case of childhood leukemia in permitting Hydro-Quebec to drive their transmission line overland through New Hampshire?
     The burden of proof is on Hydro-Quebec to demonstrate that there is no increased health risk from their project.
     Note that in their flyer – in the Myth & Fact section – there is no mention of health risks.
     They cannot tell us that it is not harmful.
     If it has to traverse New Hampshire – then it must be buried.

Coming next in Part 3, regulations adopted by other states and countries in light of scientific suspicion concering the health effects of power lines.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Northern Pass and Health Effects (1)

This is a multi-part series on Northern Pass and health effects written by Campbell McLaren, MD, FACEP. Dr. McLaren is an emergency physician at Littleton Regional Hospital

Part 1. High Voltage Alternating Current (HVAC)

 For several decades much research has been directed at the health hazards of HVAC power lines.
     It was not until 1992 that an adequately funded program was authorized by the U.S. Congress. The Electromagnetic Frequency Research and Public Information Disseminating System (EMF RAPID) was directed and managed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies (NIEHS), the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the Department of Energy (DOE). Their brief was to clarify the potential for health risks from extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields.
     The end result was that the strongest evidence for health risk was for childhood leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in exposed adults.
   The RAPID Program recommended that the power industry site power lines to reduce human exposure. The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC), in 2002, classified extra-low frequency electro-magnetic fields (ELF/EMF) as possibly carcinogenic to humans. That statement was based on pooled studies demonstrating a consistent pattern of a two-fold increase of leukemia in children exposed to magnetic fields above 3-4 milligauss (a measurement of magnetic activity). Italy defines as harmful exposure to more than 3-4 milligauss for more than four hours a day.
     Children have a higher rate of cell division and have developing immune systems and are therefore at greater risk of harm from EMF fields.
     The American College of Pediatrics recognizes this danger to the pediatric population.


     Causation has not been proved, but numerous studies have shown an association and an increased statistical significance of the development of childhood leukemia in those children living in an environment of more than 3-4 milligauss.
     The magnetic field from a heavily loaded transmission line will fall off to less than 3 milligauss about 500' from the lines.
     Because of the lack of strong scientific evidence, many countries and states have adopted the Precautionary Principle* and/or Prudent Avoidance Policy*.
     Spain, Sweden, UK, and Australia  now prohibit the construction of high-voltage power lines withing 300' of homes or schools.
     Connecticut recommends burial of lines near schools.
     There are many other examples of adoption of the precautionary principle and prudent avoidance policy.
     The above studies and health risk evaluations were based on studies of high-voltage AC lines.

       *PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: Avoidance of unnecessary exposure to power-lines as long as there is scientific suspicion about their harmful side-effects. The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or the environment; in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.
       *PRUDENT ACTION/AVOIDANCE: Whereby even without any demonstrable risk. the most achievable low-cost measure will be taken to reduce EMF exposure.

Coming next in Part 2--what happens when HVDC lines are added to ROWs with existing HVAC lines?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colebrook High School Students Study Northern Pass

With apologies and compliments to The Onion

COLEBROOK, NH, Feb. 14, 2111--According to students in Ms. Long’s  3rd period  U.S. history
class, it's "really pathetic" how long it took for people in New Hampshire to realize what a bad idea Northern Pass was. The class said it was "laughable" that anyone would even have considered putting up 135' towers. "Whoa! That's almost as high as the state capitol dome," exclaimed Garry Johnson, just back from a class trip to Concord.

The classroom of 15-year-olds at Colebrook High School—all of whom were born in the late 2090s and grew up never having seen an overhead transmission line—was reportedly "amazed" to learn that electricity used to be shipped that way for hundreds and hundreds of miles and across international borders.

"Wow, that is nuts," said student Joan Guyot. “Like, didn’t they know how dangerous those lines were?” she asked. "I mean, was everybody just so ignorant back then or what?" Guyot added. "They used to put them right next to schools, too. But everybody smoked then too, so they were going to get cancer one way or the other."

The early-22nd-century high schoolers told reporters that while a few of them had seen depictions of these overhead lines in "old movies" such as Gone with the Wind, it was "really bizarre" to learn that anybody still thought of putting them up in NH  a hundred years ago.

"There were apparently these really important electric companies who said that it was too expensive to bury the lines," said  Keith Addison, adding that he couldn't imagine companies like that actually staying in business for very long if it were. "I guess in the end I feel really bad for people in New Hampshire back then. What a sucky time to live."

John Dumas said that "they had this sucky thing called eminent domain back then too. It meant that electric companies could take your land even if you didn't want to give it to them." "It wasn't too long after the end of slavery in this country," John explained.

After breaking into study groups to examine old newspaper articles in the Colebrook Chronicle from 2011 to 2014,  Ms. Long’s students spent much of the class period discussing, in disbelief, how even some supposedly smart politicians didn’t understand that they should demand that the lines be buried. "I get that they wanted to be reelected or whatever, but come on, “ said Jeremy Desmers. “That is so stupid."

Ms. Long’s class also discussed the opposition groups that sprang up 100 year ago in New Hampshire. Betsy Hardy commented that “those activists were, like, so old. They all had gray hair. Nobody under 35 did it.” John Connors concluded that must have been one of the reasons it took so long to defeat Northern Pass. “Old people do things very slowly,” he explained, “I mean, my grandmother moves like mud." “But she gets there eventually,” he added.

Ms. Long, 42, nodded and smiled.

To join the Bury the Northern Pass email list, write to burynorthernpass@gmail.com

Monday, February 7, 2011

What Price Freedom?

Certificate of Purchase from the Save Franconia Notch campaign, 1928

I framed the above certificate and keep it on my wall. It's a nice bit of history about a place that I love, Franconia Notch, and it's on the wall to remind me that freedom sometimes comes at a price. It comes from the era of devastating, non-sustainable lumbering by J. E. Henry Co. and others. In "The Northern Pass Project: A New Boa Constrictor in the White Mountains?," Rebecca Weeks Sherrill More has written eloquently about the similarities between the dire threat that faced northern New Hampshire one hundred years ago and the equally dire threat that the Northern Pass project poses today. The Weeks Act of 1911, which authorized the federal government to purchase the private lands that form our White Mountain National Forest, was unprecedented legislation that ultimately saved the North Country from ruin. Lumber companies and private landowners had to sell voluntarily; no land could be taken by eminent domain. Acquisition got off to a slow start. Many landowners were simply not ready to sell until the 1930's and 1940's and even later. But today, the WMNF comprises 800,000 acres, and it belongs to the entire nation. (Northern Pass, by the way, has proposed erecting its monstrous towers through a stretch of this public land that the nation owns; the towers would be visible from Franconia Notch.)

In 1923, the 6,000-acre Franconia Notch came up for sale after a fire destroyed its grand hotel and the owners decided not to rebuild. The lumber barons began moving in to evaluate its timber potential; the area had not been logged for a generation. This time, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) stepped up to save the land. The state of New Hampshire contributed $200,000; a private Boston financier, James J. Storrow, contributed $100,000; and SPNHF and the New Hampshire Federation of Women's Clubs (NHFWC) raised the remaining $100,000. NHFWC conducted a brilliant nationwide grassroots fund raising campaign: it sold sponsorships of individual trees in Franconia Notch for $1. Newspapers across the country advertised the campaign. As the above certificate witnesses, on February 5, 1928, the Warren NH Graded School purchased two trees for a total of $2 (equivalent to approximately $20 today). How the school raised the money is not known. Perhaps there were bake sales, auctions, hay rides.

As Kimberly Jarvis comments, the primary impetus for saving the Notch was "the sense of public responsibility for preservation of the threatened beauty of nature." People understood that their civic duty obligated them to conserve this land forever and that it wouldn't happen for free. They also understood, however, that spreading the cost over a large number of people would lessen the impact. $1 for a tree.

This is important to think about right now. PSNH has rolled out an old financial analysis and published it in yesterday's Union Leader. There's no news here, and one has to wonder why they chose to recycle it to the public on February 6th. In any event, their analysis calculates the tax savings to individual towns of the Northern Pass project. Even the newswriter who reports the story feels compelled to point out that the analysis does not include the offsets from tax abatements on property rendered valueless by the towers, and there will be other revenue losses. Stay tuned until you hear the adjusted tax benefit, if any. And you can probably expect to start hearing figures about the cheap electricity that Hydro Quebec will sell us. Stay tuned here too, until the wholesale prices are translated into the retail prices that you will pay and you know how much your monthly household bill is supposed to go down. Don't hold us to it, we're working on an estimate, but your supposed saving could be as little as $1 or less per month.

But that's not the point of this blog. Even if your monthly bill went up $1, would you pay that price to preserve the threatened beauty of the North Country? Will you feel the same public responsibility as did the thousands of ordinary people and school children who saved Franconia Notch for our perpetual use and enjoyment? What will your legacy be?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not For Sale

The Northern Pass project was rolled out early in Massachusetts and Connecticut as "affordable." In Spring 2009, a Massachusetts publication, Affordable Energy News, explained why a participant-funded (private) line was so attractive; at a conference in Hartford in October, 2010, HQ-US also touted the low costs of Northern Pass to rate-payers.

From "New Transmission Line Could Bring Canadian Hydro Power to Massachusetts," Affordable Energy News, Spring 2009.

"A frequent and often tumultuous debate around new transmission lines is who would pay for the costs associated with the new line. According to the proponents, 'the transaction proposed by the Petitioners resolves difficult and highly contentious cost allocation for new transmission. . . .
If the (proposed) HVDC Line were constructed as a Market Efficiency Upgrade and included in regional rates, the costs would be spread throughout New England, which is almost certain to create opposition'."

Instead, Hydro Quebec-US would directly pay for construction costs and receive transmission rights over the line, taking the risk of selling enough power to recover costs. Thus, the project would avoid "difficult issues regarding the benefit that different parts of the region would receive and the associated difficulties related to transmission cost allocation for a non-reliabilty project." Connecticut also supported the instant transaction and the funding mechanism, the article notes. It's easy to understand why.

(The full text of the article is here.)

On October 4, 2010, Steve Molodetz, VP of business development at HQ-US, addressed a business conference, "What's the Deal?," in Hartford CT.  Molodetz also stressed that Northern Pass would be a participant-funded venture with “zero impact on transmission rates” and no government or ratepayer subsidies, according to the report of the conference sponsor, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA).

Mr. Molodetz's power point presentation dated 9/30/2010 may be seen here. "Benefits to New England" of Northern Pass are on page 16.

New Hampshire is not just a line on a project map, however. If the true full costs of the proposed project were calculated and borne by those in Southern New England who stand to benefit from it, Northern Pass would not be so "affordable" and attractive. These costs would far exceed compensation for NH land purchased or taken by eminent domain for new and widened ROWs. They would have to include the impacts of the 140-mile transmission line on New Hampshire tourism and recreation, real estate values, property taxes, jobs, lost income and home equity, and more.

But even if a "user-pays" or true cost internalization system were adopted, it could never compensate for what is beyond price: a pristine backcountry, the White Mountains, the Great North Woods, physical places that are ideas in the mind as well, refuges for the urban weary, for the many people in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Rhode Island, and down below who flock across our border in search of solitude and its wilderness values. These things cannot be bought; they are not for sale.

Easton NH 2011 Town Warrant Articles Opposing Northern Pass

Easton NH has just completed writing its articles for the Town Warrant to be voted upon at the March meeting. The town is making more than a symbolic gesture to oppose the Northern Pass, as you will see in the following text. Easton hopes that other towns will do likewise and requests that you bring this to the attention of your selectboard.

The following two warrant articles opposing the Northern Pass Power Transmission Project will appear on the 2011 Easton Town Warrant:

Warrant Article: To see if the Town will vote to support the following resolution:

WHEREAS the Northern Pass Power Transmission Project as presently proposed would pass through the Town of Easton and the White Mountain National Forest, and

WHEREAS this project would blight the landscape and devastate the values of properties within its transmission corridor and adversely impact fragile wildlife habitat and wetlands located within said forest, and

WHEREAS this project would make the area less attractive for outdoor recreational activities and tourism, now be it

RESOLVED that the Town strongly opposes this project, and that a copy of this resolution be sent to: our governor, state and national senators and representatives and to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission.

Warrant Article: To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $2,500 to be expended by the Selectmen at their discretion to oppose the Northern Pass Power Transmission Project.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Free Lunch--Hydro-Quebec Electric Rates

The following excerpt is from a Bangor Daily News article, Jan. 30, 2011, written by the retiring head of Maine's Public Utilities Commission, Jack Cashman.

"While there is electricity being produced at relatively low cost by Hydro Quebec and other hydropower facilities, Cashman said those companies and producers are not selling the electricity at a low price.

“'Hydro Quebec and NB Power both have ability to produce power at reasonable rates. They also are not philanthropic,'” Cashman said. 'They understand what profit is and sell their power at going rates.'”

There are no cheap sources of power, Cashman concludes.

Except, of course, to conserve and use less.

The full article text is here.

Bury the Northern Pass, a group of concerned citizens in Grafton County, participates in the No Northern Pass Coalition. To join the email list, write to burynorthernpass@gmail.com