Saturday, September 24, 2011

Celebrating Trees in Our Communities


Celebrating Trees in Our Communities

This community oriented presentation by international arboricultural consultant, Frank Buddingh’  will explore the importance of trees and how they are intimately linked to our lives.


Attendees will be introduced to:
1. the elements within the community that impact the health of trees
2. conflicts within the areas of local environmental policy and social customs pertaining to the health of trees
3. health-promoting features of the tree population
4. the need for change within our communities in regard to the health of its trees and the future

“We owe some understanding to our trees, without them life on earth is simply impossible!”, says Frank who has worked with and consulted on trees for over forty years in many locations around the world. Franks clients have ranged from royal households and local governments to corporations and tree owners. He has a deep understanding of the needs of trees and the importance of balancing these needs with the needs of people. 

Thursday, October 13th at 7:00, Larchmont Library. Free.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Utilities and Hurricane Irene

LORAX's Patricia Podolak reports on Monday's WCBOL Committee on Environment & Energy Committee meeting:


FYI. This afternoon I took some time from my busy work schedule and attended the West. Co. Board of Legislators – Committee on Environment & Energy Meeting. The topic of today’s meeting was utility storm response. Representatives from Con Edison and NYSEG were present to discuss the recent electric outages and obstacles resulting from tropical Storm Irene. Leg. Kaplowitz was not present due to the recent, sudden passing of his father. Majority Leader Harckham chaired the meeting. Seven other legislators were in attendance. The meeting lasted 1.5 hours. 

In  brief overview:

·       PSC was invited to attend and was not present. Harckham termed this “very disturbing” and “an abomination."
·       Harckham raised the issue that no significant resources were available until Wednesday after the storm.
·       NYSEG emphasized the extreme differences between its service territory and that of Con Edison. Con Edison 380 sq miles. NYSEG 11,000 sq miles, 26 counties, 270 municipalities. NYSEG heavily rural and spread out, covering 44% of upstate. 15% of NYSEG customers were without power.
·       Con Ed said that they had 2 Incident Commanders (IC’s). NYSEG said that they had 1 IC and he came from a sister company in Maine and arrived on Wednesday.
·       Con Ed said that most power was restored by Thursday evening---97% of West Co. NYSEG took longer.
·       They both used first few days for clearing trees with help of DPWs. Then line outages addressed.
·       Both brought in out of state crews.
·       Con Ed sand bagged some substations due to the threat of flooding.
·       NYSEG said they experienced the worst infrastructure damage in 30 years. Brewster division heavily wooded and difficult to access. 3,000 wires down and 300 poles down.
·       NYSEG worked transmission segment first, then the distribution lines. Some substations were out.
·       Both claimed that they had a problem getting dry ice. One legislator noted that there is an ice company in Mamaroneck that was selling it after the storm.
·       Con Edison said that their approach has been having municipal liaisons and they plan to meet with municipal officials in the future and not the public
·       NYSEG said that they have too many municipalities to cover and that is why they can not have municipal liaisons. However, for this storm they said that they did use municipal liaisons in West Co.
·       Municipal officials were invited to speak. The Police Chief from Pound Ridge noted that their entire town was out and they only have NYSEG. He further noted that the municipal liaison approach was more of a problem than help for them because it introduced yet another layer in the process.
·       Both utilities said that they will not cover the cost of lost food because the outage was storm related.
·       There will be a follow-up meeting Sept 19 or 26. Issues were identified today. Plan of action to be addressed at next meeting.

In my opinion, both utilities should include the public in their meetings and not just select municipal officials.

With well organized emergency response and preparedness plans, everything should fall readily into place. There may be a few minor glitches which is all that a municipal liaison should have to become involved with. I agree with the Police Chief from Pound Ridge. Too many layers of bureaucracy can impede the restoration/recovery process and the municipal liaison should not play a major role.

NYSEG should use an in-state IC that is on staff.

It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the PSC is not in control where it should be. After years of dealing with this, it has become evident to me that the regulators are too close to the utilities. It is the PSC that should be investigated by our state elected officials. Reform is necessary at the level of the PSC. That is the only way to obtain significant change. Complaint letters to the PSC will only result in marginal actions.  

It should be further noted that trees are not the only cause of electrical outages during major storms. It is a complex issue that includes (and is not limited to) flooding, winds, aged infrastructure, employee training, emergency response procedures, etc.

There are individuals who have and who continue to try to address distribution line vegetation management issues. A regulatory approach would be the most effective. There are sensible ways and standards that can be utilized if officials are serious about it. However, one cannot ignore the significant impact of aged distribution line infrastructure (lines, poles, transformers, etc.) and lack of routine infrastructure maintenance. In the case of Con Edison, rather than clear cutting their transmission line where the outages are not occurring, it would be more prudent for them to shift resources to the distribution lines.

These are complex issues, and it is doubtful under current circumstances that complaints filed with the PSC will bring about long term necessary change.

Thank you.

Dr. Patricia Podolak
Chair, Utilities Oversight Committee
Town of Yorktown

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hydrofracking Report Out, Countdown Clock Begins


From Eco Politics Daily
Submitted by Dan Hendrick on Thu, 2011-09-08 10:51.
With the release of a study of economic and community impacts, the Department of Environmental Conservation officially has officially started the countdown clock on its plan to allow hydrofracking in New York State.
DEC Commisioner Joe Martens has said his  agency's goal is to protect the environment while creating economic  opportunity.DEC Commisioner Joe Martens has said his agency's goal is to protect the environment while creating economic opportunity.The public comment period for the revised draft environmental impact statement began Sept. 7 and concludes Dec. 12.  
Running concurrently with that public comment period, the DEC will also accept input on its proposed regulations governing high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
The fact that these two public comment periods are running concurrently reflects the Cuomo administration's intention to move swiftly with its hydrofracking review. 
The new studies conclude that hydrofracking will produce much-needed jobs: between 4,400 and 18,000 construction jobs and 1,800 and 7,200 long-term jobs. Estimated wages run between $621 million and $2.5 billion per year, while the state government is estimated to receive $24 million and $125 million in new personal tax revenues.
But many questions remain, including the possibility of imposing royalties on natural gas to help pay for the state's cost of regulating the industry. 
Exactly how any gas produced from hydrofracking will fit into New York's energy future and needs also remains a serious question -- in addition to the well-documented environmental concerns.
For now, one thing is certain -- the upcoming four public meetings (dates and locations not yet announced) are guaranteed to be lively.

---
The nearest locale for hearings in our area will be NYC. -mg -

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are Guidelines updated in Case 10-E-0155 Being Ignored??

PRESS RELEASE
Contact:

Mark Gilliland
GEF LORAX Working Group
c/o Greenburgh Nature Center
99 Dromore Rd Scarsdale, NY 10583
(914) 714-3056
lorax@markg.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NYS PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION’S NEW VEGETATION MANAGEMENT GUIDELINES PUT TO THE TEST

Are Guidelines updated in Case 10-E-0155 Being Ignored??

GREENBURGH, NEW YORK – The GEF LORAX Working Group applauds the New York Public Service Commission’s (PSC) re-examination of its 2005 policy and guidelines for vegetation management along high voltage transmission line Rights-of-Way (ROWs). This review, known as Case 10-E-0155, has resulted in updated guidelines, effective July 2011, for management plans of Con Edison, O&R and other transmission utilities statewide. More information about this can be found on the LORAX blog: http://loraxwg.blogspot.com/2011/05/published-order-for-case-10-e-0155.html.

An important element of the new guidelines is the use of what is termed a modified "tiered" vegetation management approach - which states that vegetation which could never grow into the wire protection zone should be left standing in the ROWs, rather than the utility simply undertaking unconstrained clear cutting, thus helping to maintain visual/noise buffers in many instances. The outcome of tiered management should be better vegetation management decisions based upon actual site conditions, not “one-size-fits-all.”

In addition, the new guidelines introduce the notion of “high density” ROWs such as those found throughout Westchester, Rockland and parts of Orange County. These suburban areas with dense populations of homeowners along the ROW will now be required to have special transmission vegetation management plans (TVMPs) defined specifically for them in order to reduce negative environmental and property value impacts.
However, it has come to LORAX’s attention that Con Edison is effectively ignoring these new guidelines. Numerous complaints from homeowners and property owners along the Catskill Aqueduct transmission corridor in Westchester County, previously impacted in 2009 by the clear cutting of all vegetation across the width of the ROW, have been received concerning Con Edison personnel stating that they intend to “complete the cycle” of vegetation management (without further landowner notification) as previously approved until completion of work sometime in 2012. The work outlined involves going back into the ROW and cutting down any re-sprouting trees, thence applying herbicides to the stumps and to other undesirable vegetation which may have emerged. The work will be done across the entire ROW (up to 130 feet on either side of the transmission line) regardless of terrain or vegetative buffer needs of residents. This work cycle will begin in Yonkers and travel up the ROW into northern Westchester. Work will commence in the Sprain Road area soon.

None of the new PSC guideline requirements are being addressed by Con Edison. A field supervisor stated during an on-site meeting with a resident that there was no need to define “high density” plans for this area. Furthermore, there was no intention of saving any re-spouting trees to help restore natural, native buffers to reduce noise and views of the nearby Sprain Parkway.

The GEF LORAX Working Group believes that it is imperative for the PCS to demonstrate a commitment to the new guidelines by having Department of Public Service (DPS) utility regulators work through the pertinent details of the new requirements with Con Edison, and thence ensure Con Edison implements said adjustments to it’s ongoing TVMP immediately, not sometime after 2012.

LORAX has just released an analysis of the 2011 PSC guidelines which outlines “missing” regulations, loopholes, and other areas of procedural concern which should be addressed immediately by the PSC or by the state legislature in order to ensure a better balance of environmental, health and property value concerns with that of provision of safe, reliable electric power. Several of these outlined issues are already being brought to the forefront by the current actions of Con Edison (described above). The LORAX analysis can be found at: http://loraxwg.blogspot.com/2011/06/gef-analysis-of-psc-case-10-e-0155.html.

  
If you are a resident, landowner or municipal official who is experiencing similar difficulties or have concerns with ongoing transmission line vegetation management, you can submit complaints to the PSC (via phone, fax, website, mail or email): http://www.dps.state.ny.us/complaints.html

For more information and background documentation, visit http://loraxwg.blogspot.com

###

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GEF Analysis of PSC Case 10-E-0155 Guidelines

The GEF LORAX Working Group has completed an initial review of the recent guidelines issued by the NYSPSC in Case 10-E-0155. The following concerns are raised - some of which may be resolved procedurally, but others of which may require updated or clarified guidelines, or perhaps legislative action:


General Comments
Guidelines do not address the full set of 9 Commission questions originally posed in Case 10-E-0155 last year. (Example, little discussion of “best practices” is provided.)

Guidelines are often vague and too much is left open for interpretation by individual utilities.

Integration with previous Order (04-E-0822) is weak at best. (Previous order is appended to new order. Is it clear how and where 10-E-0155 supersedes the previous 2005 order in all areas of potential interpretive conflict?) <-- Further study required to document apparent conflicts.


Notification
All utilities in NYS should be included in notification requirements.

Need to spell out more clearly what actions allow short term (30 day) and what actions need long term (up to 180 day) notification.

Utilities should be required to provide 90 day 'public notice' to municipalities when they plan to do VM work. This notice could then be read at board meetings, posted on municipal web sites, etc. Allows time for public meetings.

Missing requirement to ensure demarcation of ROW (easement, trees to be removed, danger trees) in advance of on-site meetings with landowners.

Better, more timely notification to abutting landowners is required for herbicide application cycles. Special exemptions from herbicide IVM required for agricultural lands, esp. those intended for "organic" production.


Mitigation
Needs more detail and criteria regarding replanting and other forms of mitigation. Must eliminate any utility "opt out" loop holes.

Lack of any science-based analysis (eg: bio survey) of ROW as a basis for determining areas of exclusion (buffers, habitat) and required mitigation.

Lack of discussion of tree valuation and ecosystem services (again as a basis for mitigation).

Lack of surety (performance) bonds for mitigation practices.

Rate payers, adjacent property owners and municipalities should not be expected to cover the costs for mitigation and repair. Other means of covering the costs need to be found (i.e. percentage of utility’s annual net profit).

Minimizing the need for mitigation (ie: minimizing negative impacts at the time of work) should be the focus - not extracting even higher rates from ratepayers.

No explicit requirement for arbitration in the case of landowner disagreement with proposed work.


High Density ROWs
All utilities in NYS should be included in development of special case ROW management programs for sensitive areas (e.g.: park lands and preserves), not only "high density" populated areas.

Need clear guidelines for TVMP alternatives concerning agricultural lands (to safeguard human health and the farmers’ ability to fully utilize their land), as well as for other "special use" areas (e.g.; parks and recreation areas), as well.


Previous Damages (2004-2010)
No mention of restitution and mitigation for those homeowners who suffered adverse impacts. Many areas still need repair. ("For most of us, the bulk of our equity is in our homes. Some of us have been rendered properties that can never be sold again because of what Con Edison did on their adjacent property.")


TVM Techniques
No specific recommendations on new VM practices such as "on demand" response (via LIDAR and GIS system mapping).

No discussion of urgency in managing invasive plants and animal populations (white tail deer).

No discussion of the need to monitor work sites for proper DEC stormwater and erosion controls. (Or in the case of DEP Aqueduct lands, the need to ensure water course and water body buffers are maintained and not compromised.)

Need to define alternative methods of IVM and need to ensure conformance to new guidelines supporting reduced vegetation removal in order to phase out reliance on the excessive use of herbicides.

Unfortunately, current level of DPS staffing does not allow for robust monitoring by PSC of any utility's work. This defaults to "self-monitoring" and "self-reporting" - which has not worked in the past.


Complaint Resolution & Arbitration
PSC complaint & arbitration has left a lot to be desired over the last few years. Most testimonial from both the public and municipal officials in Case 10-E-0155 hearings clearly indicated they they were not satisfied in the process. There needs to be improved accountability and responsiveness regarding complaint arbitration procedures.

There needs to be an "on the spot" dispute resolution process. Otherwise, extended delay is handling complaint may be "after the fact" and the damage will have been done. Related: what if utility strays from its stated plan? There should be a "stop work" order until such complications can be investigated and resolved.

Utility fines for non-compliance with TVMPs or these guidelines should be clearly indicated and implemented in a timely manner.


Updated TVMPs
Recommendation #4 needs particular attention due to the push back by the TOs against the publishing of their VM plans for security and proprietary concerns. Some NYS TOs publish TVMPs un-redacted (such as O&R), while others (Con Ed) make it difficult to even get hold of their heavily redacted TVMP without a FOIL.

There needs to be some sort of public comment / oversight on the new TVMPs. (LORAX would be willing to provide review and feedback of these so as to ensure landowner and municipal concerns were addressed.)

Currently approved (in process) TVMP cycles should not continue without review and conformance to new guidelines. The utilities should not be allowed to simply "finish the cycle" before addressing concerns such as modified wz/bz, high density ROWS, and preservation of buffers.


New Technologies
Need a NYSPSC or Federal directive and pilot project funding support for utilities to embrace new technologies which help to prevent widespread blackouts (e.g.; Smart Grid).


Federal Guidelines
PSC needs to work with NERC/FERC to try to renormalize fines dealing with vegetation encroachment so as to reduce pressure to simply "clear cut".


--

A pdf of this analysis can be downloaded here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Published Order for Case 10-E-0155

Here is the pdf of the Case order released late last week by the PSC.

While the guidelines, commentary and discussion are more detailed that that of the original Press Release, it must be noted that in many areas, these new guidelines fall short of what LORAX had hoped to achieve. The most apparent lack is that of public oversight / review / comments on new TVMPs and related procedures for high density ROWs, etc. Another area of lack relates to detailed environmental, bio-habitat and ecosystem services analysis. It is unclear how enhanced guidelines for ROW management and the now-required mitigation planning can be created without these science-based tools forming a baseline.

Finally, there is an extended discussion about a modified "tiered" vegetation management approach - essentially adopted in the DPS staff commentary on the guideline which states that preferred vegetation should be left in the ROWs, rather than simply undertaking clear cutting. In this discussion by DPS staff, the LORAX provided diagram outlining "tiered management" is dismissed as being too rigid and not reflecting the need for adoption of a variable approach based upon site specific ROW conditions due to tower type, terrain and wire placement. This is unnecessary obfuscation on the part of DPS staff - it as clear from LORAX materials that the diagram was an example of the possibility of using this technique without hazard, not a rigid "one-size-fits-all" mandate on heights and distances. In any case, the final outcome should be better vegetation management decisions based upon actual site conditions. Which is good.

Other good guideline updates include the requirement (of Con Ed and O&R) for proper and clear advanced notification, enhanced training of contractor work crews, as well as the requirement to provide contact information for VM complaints and questions - provided on notifications, on web sites and by in-field contractors when asked.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Video Archive of PCS Hearing on 10-E-0155

Although the PSC Press Release release (posted below last week) provides only a schematic overview of the 8 recommendations provided by DPS staff to the PSC and thence unanimously adopted, the Q&A discussion which occurred during the hearing is quite illuminating.

Here is the link to the webcast archive:

http://nydps.onlinevideoservice.com/Archive/Event_051911.aspx

The pertinent section to view is between 79:00 and 101:00 minutes on the video.

What is most interesting is the language (the discourse) being used by both the DPS staff and the Commissioners in terms of the feedback from residents and communities along the ROWs. Although a few areas of the presentation do not clearly discuss the various nuances and still provide much of the "older" narrative (such as the implied requirements of FERC/NERC FAC-003-1), the general staff and Commission tone is very supportive of the public concern.

In the staff's Powerpoint on the proposed guidelines, a summary of issues that came up during public hearings is presented - this section is a nice bullet-list of public concerns as documented by LORAX and other commentators. Then, the actual proposed guidelines are summarized.

In both discussions, the concerns of homeowners, municipalities and environmentalists are taken as valid and important, along with the over-arching need for a "mid-course" revision of the 2005 guidelines to provide a better environmental balance, the need for clearer directions to the utilities (concerning notification and thoughtful more limited vegetation removal in lieu of clear-cutting), and the underlying need for better contractor training and supervision.

All of this is a good change in tone coming from both the DPS staff and the Commission itself.

Now let's see how the actual order is written - what details are included at what level of specificity. Unfortunately, there was no discussion of possible public review of said guidelines and of updated TVMPs.

But overall, from the discussion documented in the Commission webcast, we should all celebrate the impact we have had on this issue! Thanks to LORAX members, municipal officials, local residents, RiverKeeper, Sierra Club and others in our combined efforts to make a change.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

LORAX Comments on Today's PSC CASE 10-E-0155 Ruling

LORAX is supportive of the goals outlined in the new transmission vegetation management regulations. However, as a public interest environmental lobbying group, we have some specific concerns with the guidelines as announced in today's Press Release. (Note: as the actual text of the Order has not yet been released, we have not seen the commentary by DPS Staff nor the discussion by the Commission itself. This commentary may provide additional insight into the intentions and context of each guideline.)

In general, the guidelines enhance notification requirements, provide for a TVMP complaint escalation process, create a distinction between rural ROWs and urban/suburban ROWs, call for more limited vegetation removals (modifying the original Case 04-E-0822 orders requiring clear-cutting of the entire ROW "to the floor"), and require utilities to describe when and what sort of replant mitigation they will provide along impacted ROWs.

All of this is good news when seen from a high level perspective. However, in most instances, the rules do not provide specific criterial or detailed requirements and are thus open to a possibly wide-ranging interpretation by each utility. Yes, the DPS staff must review and approve these updated TVMP documents, but nowhere is there a requirement for any public review of proposed changes to said TVMPs. Given the public outcry and concern about the appearance of DPS staff / utility cronyism, why shouldn't a public review phase be mandated?

The first new regulation concerning notification, in particular, is more expansive that originally proposed:


Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. and Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. shall provide individual written notification to all easement encumbered and abutting landowners, local municipal elected officials, and affected state agencies, of cyclic ROW vegetation management work, not more than 180 days nor less than 30 days prior to the commencement of such work.


This requires notification not only of properties with ROW easements within them, but of all properties adjacent to ROWs. Good news. There are two weaknesses, herein, however. First, the notification window can be as short as 30 days - ok for individual landowners, but tougher for municipalities to hold public meetings. Secondly, this notification requirement applies specifically only to Con Ed and O&R, rather than to all state transmission utilities.

In regulation #3, special TVMPs for highly population areas are required:


Con Edison and Orange and Rockland shall develop, for staff review and acceptance, a section in their Long Range Right of Way Management Plans (Plan) specifically addressing how they will conduct their ROW management work on high density ROW areas.


Again, the issue here is that no prescriptive detail is provided as to what sort of changes should be made in dealing with high density population areas. Nor is there a specific criteria defining "high density" - which has previously been an issue in O&R territory.

In terms of mitigation, the new rules call out for public documentation about replanting:


All companies shall develop sections in their Commission approved ROW Management Plans, for staff review and acceptance, to address the circumstances and criteria pursuant to which replanting is warranted.


Once again, however, there are no detailed "base" requirements about when and how mitigation is to be performed. Could a utility simply take Con Ed's position that "We don't replant, period." Would this not fulfill the letter of requirement #6 (quoted above)?

So, over all the ruling is a mix blessing. It offers a lot of possibility for relief, but just how much there will be is based upon an ongoing (an not public) process. LORAX believes that there should be more robust (detailed) requirements as well as public oversight based upon the last 7 years of utility rampage along the ROWs in conjunction with the DPS/PCS's avoidance & justification of said actions.

PSC Issues Ruling on CASE 10-E-0155

STATE OF NEW YORK
Public Service Commission 
Garry A. Brown, Chairman
Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223 Further Details: James Denn james_denn@dps.state.ny.us | 518.474.7080 http://www.dps.state.ny.us http://twitter.com/NYSDPS

11041/10-E-0155

COMMISSION IMPROVES VEGETATION MANAGEMENT RULES 
— Utilities Required to Improve Public Notification When Maintaining Power Lines —

Albany, NY—5/19/11— The New York State Public Service Commission (Commission) today adopted eight recommendations to improve and clarify utility practices regarding high voltage transmission right-of-way vegetation management practices.

“Maintaining the highest degree of electric system reliability for the benefit of New York’s customers is among the most important of our responsibilities,” said Commission Chairman Garry Brown. “However, there is a real need to ensure that the public is kept fully informed regarding changes to be made to vegetation surrounding high-voltage power lines in the community. These comprehensive new rules will help significantly improve the notification process and will help avoid problems that have occurred in the past.”

The Commission’s earlier policy regarding right-of-way (ROW) management established requirements for utilities’ ROW maintenance programs and ensured adequate record keeping and reporting by the utilities. In addition, the federal Energy Policy Act called for the development and implementation of additional mandatory and enforceable reliability standards for utility ROW maintenance.

The Commission noted that reliability problems are commonly manifested when contact occurs between a tree and a transmission line during, for example, a storm which causes a fault in the transmission circuit which may cause widespread electric system outages. Because of this,effective management of transmission rights-of-way is an essential component of system reliability.

However, in recent months, members of the public and elected officials have expressed concern with respect to the ROW vegetation management practices used by utilities to implement the above described regulatory scheme along their transmission rights-of-way.
These concerns have largely focused on the trimming and removal of trees and other vegetation by utilities in their transmission rights-of-way. Those objecting to the utilities’ practices cite the unwanted aesthetic impacts associated with the utilities’ ROW work, as well as noise, erosion and decreased property value as potential results. Expressions of concern have taken many forms including individual complaints to this department, letters from public officials, municipal resolutions and proposed state legislation.

As part of the public review process, more than 200 written comments were received from interested parties and six public statement hearings were conducted throughout the state at which people who would rather comment orally were able to do so. Staff reviewed the written comments and those made at the public statement hearings, and developed for the Commission’s consideration eight recommendations to improve ROW management practices in the State. Staff also sought public comment on the first seven of its recommendations.

Upon review of the comments, the Commission accepted eight recommendations:

1. Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. and Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. shall provide individual written notification to all easement encumbered and abutting landowners, local municipal elected officials, and affected state agencies, of cyclic ROW vegetation management work, not more than 180 days nor less than 30 days prior to the commencement of such work.

2. Con Edison and Orange and Rockland shall provide in their notification details of the type of vegetation management work to be performed, the physical boundaries of the work, the methods and extent of the proposed work, provisions for cleanup and ROW restoration and the expected dates of commencement and completion.

3. Con Edison and Orange and Rockland shall develop, for staff review and acceptance, a section in their Long Range Right of Way Management Plans (Plan) specifically addressing how they will conduct their ROW management work on high density ROW areas.

4. All companies shall submit, for staff review and acceptance, updates to their websites and any printed materials, detailing the rationales and practices governing their ROW management programs.

5. All companies shall establish a direct line of communication between the public and the companies’ vegetation management personnel for questions regarding ROW vegetation management work. Information advising of the opportunity for such communication and how such communication can be accessed shall be made available on the companies’ websites, on all required notifications, and provided by field personnel and contractors upon request.

6. All companies shall develop sections in their Commission approved ROW Management Plans, for staff review and acceptance, to address the circumstances and criteria pursuant to which replanting is warranted.

7. All companies shall develop, if one does not exist or enhance if one does, a section in their plans detailing when and where various types of vegetation will be allowed to remain on a ROW. The section shall incorporate, to the extent possible, a vegetation management approach that recognizes that removal of desirable species is neither required nor preferred. Commensurate training and oversight of field personnel shall also be addressed.

8. The Commission Order containing ROW management requirements issued in Case 04-E-0822 will be appended to this Order.
Staff believes its recommendations appropriately reflect the concerns that have been expressed, are cost-effective and sensitive to environmental, aesthetic and community values, and protect the continued provision of safe and reliable electric service and recommends their adoption.

The Commission’s decision today, when issued, may be obtained by going to the Commission Documents section of the Commission’s Web site at www.dps.state.ny.us and entering Case Number 10-E-0155 in the input box labeled "Search for Case/Matter Number". Many libraries offer free Internet access. Commission orders may also be obtained from the Commission’s Files Office, 14th floor, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223 (518-474-2500).

Friday, May 6, 2011

FERC Actions regarding Transmission Vegetation Management

A letter of inquiry sent today to the FERC re: Transmission Vegetation Management:

Dear Commissioners;

I am writing this as part of the GEF LORAX Working Group's ongoing follow-up to the Transmission Reliability Conference of last October 26, 2010 organized by Mr. Hegerle and staff.

As of this time, it appears that FERC staff have concluded that FERC does not have specific congressional regulatory authority to prescriptively define vegetation management practices beyond the statement of reliability-related clearance measures in FAC-003-1 (and as modified in FAC-003-2 r5 which is pending final approval).

This still leaves open and unresolved serious issues brought to the fore by landowners and Congressional representatives concerning clear-cutting along the ROW with the associated negative environmental, health and property value impacts. WIth the impact of global warming including stronger storms and extreme temperatures, the need to ensure electrical system reliability is even more apparent than ever. However, there is an growing nationwide awareness that methodological changes must be found by which to reduce the impacts of transmission line vegetation management practices (TVMPs) such as the current wide-spread reliance on clear cutting across the ROW; to find solutions that maintain visual and noise buffers, create less impact on property values, ensure air quality, reduce extensive flooding and erosion, slow the spread of invasive plants and animals, and engage in ecosystem/habitat restoration to help ensure species preservation (such as our song bird, amphibian, and butterfly populations).

What actions has FERC taken to date as a result of the Technical Conference?

The FERC web site has recently been updated to "better educate" the public (landowners) that the federal government (FERC) can not regulate TVMPs at the level of granularity which would allow exclusion of clear-cutting practices. Rather, the web site and associated FAQ clearly points out that the state PUCs / PSCs are responsible for management and oversight of utility's TVMPs. This information in now prominent on the FERC web site and on the downloadable TVM FAQ. But is this sufficient?

The goal here seems to be to deflect public outcry from FERC back to the state level. However, the pervasive motivation ("excuse") of NERC fine avoidance given for extreme clear-cutting by the Transmission Operators (TOs) has not been adequately addressed by FERC/NERC yet. Historical NERC fine data for the last couple of years shows a very small percentage of tree contact or R1/R2 incursion violations in the overall mix of fines. So something does not add up!

The Commission is reportedly planning to reach out to state regulators and TOs to let them know that clear-cutting is not a preferred or required method of TVM to meet Federal standards. What this outreach will consist of and how vigorous this attempt at industry "reeducation" might be is not clear yet. But time is of the essence as ROW clear-cutting continues nationwide.

Landowners and concerned groups such as LORAX need to better understand the position that FERC will be taking in this matter. If stronger guidelines are not possible based upon current congressional authorization, if NERC fine structures can not be made less onerous for simple safety zone incursions, if the industry and state regulators will not listen to the urgent need to balance their TVM methodologies so as to better reflect public (ratepayer) demands, then a robust grass roots effort to address this issue at both the Federal (additional Congressional legislation) and state levels (public utility commission guidelines) is our only recourse as concerned citizens. This would be a long and tenuous process.

As LORAX has pointed out to our own state regulatory body (NYS Public Service Commission) in PSC Case 10-E-0155, a major issue that is often avoided in this discussion concerns network reliability, capacity, equipment age, operator training, software reliability and inter-operator communications. As seen in the Joint US/Canada Report on the 2003 East Coast blackout, all of these factors conspired to make the grid system much less robust and unstable such that a couple of random tree contacts in Ohio could become significant factors in the cascade of human and machine failures leading to the breakdown of overall electric grid system integration and massive blackout.

Thus, the underlying issues are far greater than the current focus on TVMPs. Unfortunately, the issue of system reliability is a much larger problem requiring designing / upgrading the overall grid (newer more modern equipment, greater capacity in lines which run over existing ROWs, digital monitoring, simulation and "Smart Grid" technologies, and enhanced scenerio-based operator training). Again, a long term process.

Related to our call for use of new technology and systems, LORAX has also pointed out that current clear-cutting practices are actually a costly "solution" for a problem that could be best handled through the use of LIDAR, regular scans of transmission corridors, GIS-based computer modeling, and a "just in time" approach to spot vegetation management. ("Best" here means a less costly methodology which would also significantly reduce or eliminate the various negative impacts of current practices.) Such methodologies could be implemented in a relatively short period of time by each utility and TVMPs could be quickly updated and approved based upon such changes. Thus, LORAX believes that the option of this approach should be more widely disseminated by FERC through the utility industry and state regulatory framework.

We hope to continue our dialog with FERC so as to help ensure that these issues will be addressed to the satisfaction of all.

regards,

Mark Gilliland
GEF LORAX Working Group, chair

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

LORAX Reply Comments on Draft Guidelines

Read the LORAX Reply Comments (.pdf) submitted to the PSC on 2/22/11 in reference to the draft guidelines for Case 10-E-0155 (proposed by DPS staff on 12/31/10). These comments address previous filings by various state transmission utilities in response to the proposed guidelines. They also provide a summary critique of what LORAX believes to be a lack of sufficient scope and depth in the draft guidelines. (See also previously posted LORAX Comments on guidelines - final version issued 2/2/11 - below).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

LORAX Comments on PSC's Draft Guidelines for Case 10-E-0155

THe following materials are being made available as part of LORAX Working Group outreach to local municipal officials and other interested parties:

1) Submission Comments (final) from LORAX on proposed guidelines. (Download .pdf)

2) Outline of LORAX comments and concerns (regarding proposed guidelines). (Download .pdf)

3) Generic Municipal letter of support for LORAX comment filing. (Download .doc)

For more details on the Draft Recommendations, see this link.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Recommendations to FERC on FAC-003 Transmission Line Reliability Regulation

On Dec 27, 2010, Mark Hegerle of FERC wrote in an email:

The Commission’s chairman, Jon Wellinghoff, is very concerned about this issue [Transmission Line Vegetation Management practices resulting in the clear-cutting ROWs]. The October 26 technical conference was the first step in raising awareness of the issue, and we are currently considering how to proceed next. As you know, the Commission does not have the authority to mandate any particular form of vegetation management over another – that authority rests with the state and local authorities. Nevertheless, poor vegetation management practices are harmful to landowners, as you point out, and may not be the best method to protect reliability.

Staff is considering how best to advise the Chairman on what steps the Commission could or should take to address this issue. I hope to have a better response to your concern in the next few weeks.

Mark

Mark Hegerle
Director, Division of Compliance
Office of Electric Reliability
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


To which LORAX replied:

[The GEF LORAX Working Group wants] to comment upon the statement (in your email) that "the Commission does not have the authority to mandate any particular form of vegetation management over another – that authority rests with the state and local authorities."

We heard at the conference that the TVMP of each utility is reviewed and approved both at the state level and at the federal level (NERC). None of the TVMPs that I have reviewed call out clear-cutting as a preferred (or even applicable) approach to Row management. Nor does FAC-003-1 require or mention it. Thus there is a disconnect between approved methods and actual in-field methods applied by various utilities. Without on-going in-field review (monitoring by regulators at both state and federal levels), the main way TVMP performance evaluation has occurred has been by the cries and complaints of landowners who have experienced (or are threatened with) clear cutting implementations.

We have heard expert testimony at the conference from Dave Morrell of the NYSPSC that he believes the clear-cutting choice has been made by utilities not as on the basis of cost savings, but rather as a means to avoid FERC compliance fines. The discussion of changing FERC/NERC fine structures so as to clearly handle the difference in risk profiles of a Clearance 1 vs. a Clearance 2 infraction is key to stopping the recourse to clear-cut. Having a tree grow into an arbitrary Clearance 1 zone (which is based upon the utilities' own TVMP cycle definition) is clearly different than growing into the flash-over zone or having an actual line touch! (The spark-over Clearance 2 is science-based with IEEE provided tables giving required distances, unlike the arbitrary Clearance 1 value which is never provided in any formal specification.)

We also heard mention of advanced techniques such as LIDAR scanning of transmission corridors so that complete 3D mapping of vegetation can occur, allowing computerized analysis and detection of "problem areas". With such technology allowing the early and easy detection of infractions into Clearance 1 zones, the actual Clearance 1 distance established by a utility could be modified to be more "lenient". There would be a highly targeted TVM response to any such specifically detected incursions (not a broad-brush clearing of the entire ROW). This would also most likely result in significant annual TVM cost savings for the utilities.

Lack of environmental analysis and remediation is a major weak link in the current regulations. At both the state and federal levels, TVMP is considered to be a "maintenance" operation and thus is excused from any environmental quality review processes (unlike new line construction). However, actual in-field reports demonstrate that there are widespread and serious environmental, health, and property value impacts for landowners - both along and nearby the ROW - resulting from current TVMP practices. The basic FAC-003 regulations should emphasize environmental stewardship in conjunction with reliability: the "model TVMP" as outlined therein must include a requirement for planned and effective remediation for all TVM actions.

Finally, as discussed at the conference, the utilities' reliance on IVM - Integrated Vegetation Management - (as outlined in ANSI A300 Section 7) needs to be seriously questioned. The scientific findings relied upon by the IVM spec (based upon years-old studies in limited regions of the US) appears to be at odds with current studies reported by researchers in Pennsylvania and New York: in controlled studies of forest and woodland clear-cutting, natural regeneration of native species no longer occurs due to excessive deer herbivory. Deer populations are explosively rising in the Northeast and the expansion of deer-friendly feeding territory caused by clear cutting the ROWs will directly result in greater expansion of populations. Only non-native invasives will repopulate the ROW lands, unlike the IVM model of a naturally generated native ecosystem espoused by the utilities. Unfortunately, reliance on IVM methods including repeated manual herbicide applications will not provide a viable foundation for desired ecosystem recovery. Active mitigation / restoration will be required. (Again, this will require oversight monitoring...)

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To summarize, changes to FERC/NERC fine structure and fine infraction types (esp. regarding Clearance 1) could be undertaken directly under existing regulation without requiring further legislative action. Such changes - and the reasons for them - should be clearly communicated to all state PSCs/PUCs as well as to the utilities themselves, along with a request to review and modify their current practices in light of these changes.

This needs to be coupled with enhanced federal In-field monitoring / inspections - as proven by events/complaints over the last couple of years, FERC/NERC cannot rely solely upon state public utility commissions to perform this oversight. The core issue is whether or not approved TVMPs are being followed "to the letter" of FAC-003-1 or are greater (more excessive) VM actions being undertaken unnecessarily? If so, these should be stopped with the threat of significant (new) FERC/NERC fines for non-compliance to regulations.

General TVM guidelines (similar to the technical advisory guidelines developed to accompany FAC-003-2 draft) should immediately be issued covering the recommended use of LIDAR techniques in TVM, as well as expanding the emphasis on use of the modified WZ/BZ (wire zone/ border zone) management approach which allows vegetative buffers to coexist along ROW edges and outer margins (allowed vegetation height based upon distance from centerlines of the transmission towers in conjunction with terrain, topography, species and climate/bio-zone.) In addition, the problems of relying upon IVM as defined by ANSI A300 Section 7 should be emphasized. A scientifically sound, updated approach to ecosystem restoration after TVM operations needs to be made part of any TVMP approval/review - and should be part of the FAC-003-2 draft.

FERC must also emphasize the need the need for effective and agreed-upon (with landowner) environmental remediation, planned at the outset and required to be part of any TVMP. Again, this is striking a balance between reliability and environmental concerns that should not require legislative action, but simply a re-emphasis within FAC-003 regulations and enforced via the TVMP review process.

These final points imply another significant change which FERC could undertake immediately: the regulatory specification process (as embodied by the current FAC-003-2 draft update) should be broadened to include the landowner's perspective within the creation/review/approval process. Allowing landowner input and feedback could only strengthen the resulting specifications.

Thank-you for including me in this discussion. I and my LORAX fellows (copied hereon) are available for further discussion, analysis and review.

Regards,

Mark Gilliland
GEF LORAX Working Group, chairperson


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Download a PDF of our formal follow-up submission to the FERC.

As you will read, there are a handful of issues which relate to the NYS PSC's current review of its Transmission Vegetation Management guidelines (Case 10-E-0155) - and which will require the PSC to work "upwards" (to the FERC / NERC levels) to help resolve. Without such clarification and resolution at the federal level, TVMP regulatory issues may not be resolved at the state or local utility level.

Two major issues to watch out for:

1) The fine structures in place for FACA-003 compliance are interpreted by utilities to require elimination of all vegetation in the ROW (both wire zone & border zone) so as to avoid clearance zone incursion penalties. However, this "incursion zone" (Clearance 1) is not strictly defined in FAC-003 (unlike Clearance 2 spark-over safety zone values) and thus is left up to the discretion of each utility. The result in NYS and elsewhere at a national level has been extensive clear-cutting along the ROWs.

2) The current circulated draft of FAC-001-2 (and update to the existing federal reliability regulation under development by NERC) defines an explicit vegetation height restriction in the border zone. This 25' height restriction would force removal of many view buffers (for example) while simultaneously disallowing any modernized approach to vegetation management (such as the "tiered" wire zone-border zone methodology).


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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Draft PSC Recommendations for Changes in TVMP

The NYS Department of Public Service staff has made a series of recommendations for changes in utility vegetation management programs after reviewing all of the written input and public hearing data.

Many of the recommended changes are specific to O&R and Con Edison (due to the excess of problems and issue reported in our region compared to state-wide), while others apply to all NYS PSC-controlled transmission utilities: Read the PDF document here.

The PSC is inviting comments on these recommendations, before they hold formal hearings to discuss these recommendations and make their decision on Case 10-E-0155. Comments are due by Feb 2 (details are within the PSC notice).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

FERC Technical Conference Review

From an industry newsletter Energy Dimensions comes this article - posted online Dec 14,2010 - worthwhile read as it is balanced and does not simply blow-off landowner issues...


FERC Technical Conference Reviews FAC-003-1 in Response to Landowner Complaints of Excessive and Abusive Vegetation Management Practices

The purpose of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Technical Conference on Transmission Vegetation Management Practices held Tuesday, October 26 to review current vegetation management programs and practices under Reliability Standard FAC-003-1 - Transmission Vegetation Management Program (TVMP) resulted from concerns raised by certain landowners and other affected parties about changes in vegetation management practices implemented by utilities following adoption of FAC-003-1 on June 18, 2007.

Two of these groups were represented at the conference, The Indiana Tree Alliance emerged from a local individual property owner’s perspective angered by damage to trees on their property; and, the LORAX working group, a non-profit from New York City’s northern suburbs formed in 2009 after public outcries due to TVMP clear-cutting operations in their region. LORAX helped local municipal governments respond to the outcry with a TVMP Moratorium resolution demanding that the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) cease all vegetation management activities while a public review of the current guidelines was undertaken. The goal was to eliminate what local politicians referred to as a “scorched earth” policy in ROW management.


Read entire article here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greenburgh-Based Eco Activists Go to Washington to Speak for the Trees

From 11/9/10 Rivertown Patch.com:

Greenburgh-based environmentalists participate in FERC roundtable to argue against clear-cutting practices.
By Lizzie Hedrick

The Greenburgh Environmental Forum's LORAX Working Group chairperson Mark Gilliland appeared before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington DC late last month to discuss the impact of federal regulations on state and regional electric utility companies' implementation of vegetation management plans surrounding active power lines.

"I am very pleased that LORAX had this opportunity to present landowner and environmental concerns at the FERC technical roundtable," said Gilliland, an Irvington resident. "It is imperative that community concerns about property value loss, environmental damage and health impacts of these TVMPs are discussed in the context of both State and Federal regulations and policies."

In reaction to utility companies'—predominantly Consolidated Edison's—practices of clear-cutting trees along power transmission lines in Westchester and the Hudson Valley, a group of concerned residents and officials have banded together to push for stronger regulations preventing deforestation they believe is unnecessary and detrimental to our natural environment.

Facing FERC in the nation's capitol, LORAX representatives argued that the current vegetation management programs followed by Transmission Operators—or companies responsible for transmitting energy within a given region—in New York have lead to "severe economic, aesthetic and environmental damage along the transmission rights-of-way due to excessive removal and clear-cutting of all trees and vegetation, lack of adequate storm-water and erosion controls, over-reliance on herbicides, as well as insufficient or inadequate follow-up mitigation."

They said this "scorched earth" approach has been extensively documented by LORAX, the Sierra Club and various municipalities in the region, as well as by both the Rockland and Westchester County Legislatures.

Appearing on the panel of the roundtable were representatives of the utility industry, state and federal regulatory agencies, utility arborists and landowner groups.

As expressed by Mark Hegerle, director of FERC's division of compliance for the Office of Electrical Reliability, the goal of the meeting was to uncover why utilities and state regulators claim "FERC made us do it" in response to public outcries about recent wide-spread tree removals. The discussion covered a wide range of topics including: Review of federal reliability standards, state approval and oversight of utility vegetation management plans, mandatory non-compliance fines, mitigation of environmental impacts and best practices for vegetation management in the rights of way.

"Viable solutions need to be found to prevent further damage—solutions ranging from revision of approved 'best practices' and reduction of non-compliance fines, to requiring detailed environmental reviews and responsible mitigation along the rights of way," Gilliland said.

Currently, utility companies are fined not only for allowing vegetation to exist within a certain spark zone of active power lines, but also for allowing plants to grow into a wider intermediate area further from the line. "We believe government agencies should reduce the penalty structure so that the utility companies don't feel the need to take such drastic measures," Gilliland said.

Though grateful for the opportunity to present his extensive research, Gilliland added that, in reality, changing the regulations will be difficult.

"Vegetation management plans for each utility company must be approved at both the state and federal levels," Gilliland said. "The second issue is oversight: Once the plans are approved, who is regulating their practices?"

According to Gilliland, nobody is.

He said the the state and government agencies responsible for overseeing the process are understaffed and have been "in reactive mode,"—spending all their time responding to community outrage over clear-cutting, rather that stopping it from happening.

"No vegetation implementation plan specifically mentions clear-cutting," Gilliland said. "But they all do it because it is cheaper to send someone in with a chainsaw than to have an arborist actively select which trees pose a real threat to power lines. It also means they have to come back less often to maintain the rights of way, which is also potentially cheaper."

Several other LORAX members, including Marvin Baum (Rockland County), Amy Kupferberg (Orange County) and Chris Crane, a member of the Westchester County Legislature, attended the FERC roundtable and lobbied strongly for changes to vegetation management regulations and policies. LORAX Working Group founding members include: Patricia Podolak (Yorktown), Susan Porcino (Ardsley), Anne Jaffe-Holmes (Irvington), David Bedell (Sleepy Hollow), and Walter Rodriquez (Yonkers).

"I certainly hope something was accomplished by attending the roundtable and presenting the home-owner and landowner's perspective so that FERC could have a more balanced picture of what's going on," Gilliland said. "What they will do with it, I'm not sure."

Friday, October 29, 2010

PRESS RELEASE: LORAX TESTIFIES IN WASHINGTON AT FERC



PRESS RELEASE  
    
              
Contact:           Mark Gilliland                                    
                        GEF LORAX Working Group
                        c/o Greenburgh Nature Center                                   
                        99 Dromore Rd
Scarsdale, NY 10583                                                
                        (914) 714-3056                                                                     
                        lorax@markg.org                   

October 26, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LORAX TESTIFIES IN WASHINGTON AT FERC
TRANSMISSION LINE VEGETATION MANAGEMENT
TECHNICAL ROUNDTABLE


LORAX presents Landowner and environmental concerns with right-of-way clear-cutting.

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – The GEF LORAX Working Group chairperson, Mark Gilliland, appeared before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Electrical Reliability Committee on Tuesday, October 26, 2010, to discuss the impacts of Federal regulations (FAC-003-1) on state and regional electric utilities’ implementation of Transmission Vegetation Management Plans (TVMPs).

“I am very pleased that LORAX had this opportunity to present landowner and environmental concerns at the FERC technical roundtable,” said Mark Gilliland, Chairman, GEF LORAX Working Group. “It is imperative that community concerns about property value loss, environmental damage and health impacts of these TVMPs are discussed in the context of both State and Federal regulations and policies.”

As reported to the FERC panel by LORAX, the current vegetation management programs defined by the various Transmission Operators (TOs) in New York have lead to severe economic, aesthetic and environmental damage along the transmission rights-of-way (ROWs) due to excessive removal and clear-cutting of all trees and vegetation, lack of adequate stormwater and erosion controls, over-reliance on herbicides, as well as insufficient or inadequate follow-up mitigation. This “scorched earth” approach has been extensively documented by LORAX, the Sierra Club and various municipalities in the region, as well as by both the Rockland and Westchester County Legislatures.

Appearing on the panel of the roundtable were representatives of the utility industry, state and federal regulatory agencies, utility arborists and landowner groups. As stated by Mark Hegerle, FERC’s Director, Division of Compliance, Office of Electrical Reliability, the goal of the meeting was to uncover why utilities and state regulators claim “FERC made us do it” in response to public outcries about recent wide-spread tree removals. The roundtable discussion covered a wide range of topics including: review of Federal reliability standards (FAC-003-1), state approval and oversight of utility TVMPs, mandatory non-compliance fines, mitigation of environmental impacts, utility ROW easement agreements, “best practices” vegetation management of the ROW.

A complete video archive of the roundtable as well as the meeting agenda can be viewed online at:

“Viable solutions need to be found to prevent further damage – solutions ranging from revision of approved ‘best practices’ and reduction of non-compliance fines, to requiring detailed environmental reviews and responsible mitigation along the ROWs,” Gilliland noted.

Several other LORAX members, including Marvin Baum (Rockland County), Amy Kupferberg (Orange County) and Chris Crane (Westchester County Legislature), attended the FERC roundtable and lobbied strongly for needed changes to TVMP regulations and policies.

GEF LORAX Working Group founding members also include: Patricia Podolak (Yorktown), Susan Porcino (Ardsley), Anne Jaffe-Holmes (Greenburgh Environmental Center), David Bedell (Sleepy Hollow), and Walter Rodriquez (Yonkers).

For more information including LORAX submittals to recent NYSPSC proceedings on vegetation management, please visit the LORAX Working Group blog at: http://loraxwg.blogspot.com.

“Trees lost to date along the ROWs in Westchester Country provided an estimated $6 million dollars annually in clean air and stormwater benefits for our communities. To avoid similar financial and health impacts in the future, we must better balance electric reliability with the urgent need to protect our local environment,” Gilliland observed.
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Photo attached by LORAX. Caption: “Members of GEF LORAX Working Group outside of the FERC building after the Technical Roundtable, October 26, 2010. From left to right: Mark Gilliland, Amy Kupferberg, Chris Crane, Marvin Baum.”


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Download .pdf version of Press Release here.