A Review of The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban TragedyThe Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very good book that takes us through the failures exhibited by all levels of government in Flint, Michigan that led to a poisoned municipal water supply. First and foremost this book is about the human impacts of the failures, which left the citizens of Flint with a poisoned water supply. How did it happen, and could it have been avoided? Anna Clark shows us the failures, which were attributable to some grievous errors by local, state, and federal government. The human costs of these errors are highlighted as well as how local government in Flint was administered, and what role the administration of local government played in the disaster that unfolded there.

Flint, like many older urban areas that relied on auto manufacturing, first lost industry, followed by a steep decline in tax revenue, and eventually population. Flint’s financial problems were exacerbated by the State of Michigan diverting “local aid” (sharing of state sales tax revenues) from Michigan localities to the state budget. It was, for Flint, the perfect economic storm. In looking at local governance the Flint water story is inexorably linked to the Michigan law that created a system of “emergency managers” for localities experiencing financial difficulties. The state law in Michigan, allowing the Governor to appoint an “emergency manager” (initially referred to as an “emergency financial manager”) took on several forms over the years, and was actually wiped off the books by Michigan voters in a referendum in 2012. (Public Act 4) The Michigan Legislature quickly enacted a replacement (Public Act 436) that brought back the ability of the Governor to replace local government with a state appointed manager, which Governor Snyder used to appoint the Flint emergency managers leading up to, and during, the crisis. The issue of the relative merits of state appointed oversight of local government is deeply entwined in this story, as the Emergency Managers that were appointed did a shockingly poor job of administration.

Anna Clark takes us through the poor decisions, initially made at the local level by emergency managers and elected officials, that brought Flint into water crisis. These poor decisions were compounded by inexplicable, and serious oversight failures by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, (MDEQ) the Michigan agency charged with oversight of local decisions in order to determine that both state and federal law and regulation are being complied with. The EPA, representing the federal government, failed in their oversight duties as well, allowing a major piece of the Federal Clean Water Act to be ignored by Flint and the MDEQ.

So what happened to put Flint into this terrible situation? Faced with what city leaders felt was price gouging from the Detroit water system, which supplied Flint (and many other localities) with clean water Flint determined to join a new water collaborative just being formed, the Karegnondi Water Authority. This decision immediately created the necessity for Flint to determine how they would secure water while this brand new authority was formed, and infrastructure built. From this basic decision error after error occurred that put Flint on the fast track to disaster. Some of those errors were later shown to be willful violations of law. The author, correctly in my view, takes on this initial decision as an error, and one that should have been examined closely by the state of Michigan. The determination to create massive additional capacity, at a huge cost, when existing capacity was more than sufficient to meet existing needs, has to be the first question asked, and the author covers it even though that decision, standing alone, was not the primary cause of the eventual disaster. From the book:

“A ready explanation for what had happened in Flint quickly took on the appearance of fact: a flawed and hasty decision motivated by careless and petty cost-cutting to meet a budget. But this was not quite the case. Flint’s move to join the new Karegnondi Water Authority—which is what precipitated its temporary switch to river water—was a long-considered plan, years in the making. It was also a strange one, since it involved building an entirely new drinking water system in a state that already had more than any other. The MDEQ was charged with monitoring all those utilities, but after years of budget cuts and instability its capacity was limited. The MDEQ had lost almost one quarter of its salaried employees—1,224 people. The drinking water office and the lab that tested water samples were both strapped, according to an exhaustive federal audit in 2010, even as they were expected to navigate a growing number of regulatory requirements. The water office lost 8.7 percent of its budget over the course of a decade, the Detroit Free Press reported, while the lab lost 43 percent of its full-time staff. Nonetheless, the MDEQ had “one of the largest, if not the largest, number of community water systems to regulate,” Snyder’s investigative task force noted. The KWA would add yet one more to the mix. And while it was touted as a solution to the exorbitant cost of water, the KWA in fact did nothing to address the core structural problems behind the problem of affordability in a shrinking city such as Flint. “In a state and in a region where we had excess water capacity, why did we think we needed more?” said Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council, one of the co-chairs of the governor’s task force. Why indeed. It’s fairly unusual nowadays for a public water system to be built from scratch. That’s especially true if the water source hasn’t run out or become toxic. But Jeff Wright, Genesee County’s drain commissioner, the leading proponent and eventual CEO of the KWA, lobbied fiercely, on the grounds of savings, independence, and stability. The arguments were persuasive: Detroit charged a premium for supplying water over a long distance, plus there were annual rate increases, and it didn’t allow Flint a seat on its board. The KWA would provide water from Lake Huron (the same source as Detroit’s system), it promised a cooperative model, and it would charge communities a fixed, flat rate. Michael Glasgow, who ran Flint’s treatment plant, saw another advantage: “I viewed the plant as a city asset that should be put to good use,” he said.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (pp. 161-162). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Not only did Michigan allow a very large expansion of water capacity but they also allowed Flint to violate some financial rules in order to be able to afford the capital expense associated with the project. Flint’s financial position was precarious, as shown by the book:

“The KWA got what it needed to move forward. But how was the distressed city going to pay for its part? Flint was so broke that when it was offered loans in 2012 to improve its water infrastructure, it had to turn them down, even though half the debt would be forgiven. “When your pockets are empty, further debt is irresponsible,” said the emergency manager at the time. And in January 2013, an MDEQ report had detailed necessary repairs at Flint’s treatment plant but noted that the repairs could not “proceed due to the city’s current bond debt.” The efforts to sign Flint on to the new water authority were especially surprising, given that the state treasury, which approved the contract, was also responsible for the city’s financial well-being through the emergency management program—a system that’s supposed to make tough decisions, such as reducing debts and redundancies.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (p. 163). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

After the State approved the formation of the new authority (a $300 million capital cost) the issue of Flint’s financial participation in the venture, in light of the financial problems of the City, was front and center. How would Flint float additional debt when they were at “debt capacity?” From the book:

“So the state arranged a work-around: Flint’s share of the money for the construction of the KWA was given a special pass so that it did not count against the debt limit. The work-around was through something called an administrative consent order, or ACO. This is a tool that the state uses to force local governments to fix an urgent environmental problem, even if they must issue bonds that exceed their debt limit to do so. Even among state workers, the ACO raised eyebrows. In December 2013, an MDEQ employee received a call from an attorney “seeking what I’d characterize as a ‘sweetheart’ ACO intended to ease the city’s ability to access bond funding for their possible new water intake from Lake Huron,” as she described it in an email.42 The attorney and “Treasury officials have already been communicating with Steve [Busch of the MDEQ] about an Order of some sort in light of Flint’s financial situation.” KWA’s bond attorneys exerted pressure on the negotiations. In an email delivered to Earley and future EM Jerry Ambrose about a month before Flint’s 2014 water switch, one attorney said that “we cannot continue with the transaction without the ACO.” If the delay continued, “the KWA will have expended its initial resources and be forced to stop construction and the project will be delayed for at least one construction cycle.” Ambrose asked the Treasury for help, and an employee was instructed to “get a call into the Director,” presumably of the MDEQ, “to push this through.” The ACO was finalized two days later. It was written in a way to account for minor work on wastewater lagoons at the Flint treatment plant’s lime sludge facility—so to appear to address an urgent environmental problem—but it also covered the entirety of the KWA bond debt. To make sure that it would be legally intact, Stephen Busch and Flint’s environmental attorney conferred on the wording: “Steve, I checked with the City’s bond counsel, here is the Language that we MUST include in the consent order so that the City can move forward on this.”So the tool that was meant to fix an environmental emergency in this case included language that required Flint to “undertake the KWA public improvement project.” In this way, the KWA could count on a broke city to pay for almost a third of its construction. And it did this through the Treasury, which was the steward of Flint’s financial health. But the KWA actually added to Flint’s debt, and it bent state law to do so. Rather than borrowing to invest in schools or public safety, Flint ended up paying for a pipeline that literally paralleled one that already existed.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (pp. 163-164). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

This approval, given with state oversight, laid the foundation for the disaster that was to follow. It tends not to be the focus of the Flint water story but it caught my eye for obvious reasons. The serious criticisms of both the State of Michigan and of the actions of the emergency managers starts here, and is richly deserved. How anyone could approve lifting a debt cap in Flint for a project like this is simply not understandable, and defies basic tenets of municipal finance.

Flint compounded the initial financial error by determining to leave the Detroit system while waiting for the new authority to be able to deliver water. Flint, the owner of an antiquated water treatment plant, decided to retrofit that plant, and use it to deliver water to residents from the Flint river. That decision started Flint into the water abyss, and was made despite warnings that the Flint plant was not ready to produce quality water, and that the Flint River, as a water source, was problematic.

“But construction on the KWA hadn’t even begun yet. The new system wouldn’t be able to deliver water for at least a couple more years. Until it was ready, the other Genesee County communities that were moving to the new system simply paid the DWSD for continuous water service. Flint, however, made the unusual decision to enlist a different source of water during this transition period. The city turned to its emergency supply: the Flint River. To treat the river water, the old Dort Highway plant needed a series of upgrades. Many of these improvements would be required anyway, since the plant would soon have to treat raw water from the KWA.But getting the facility up to speed was difficult, and while cost estimates varied widely, only a fraction of the early figures proposed by the engineering consultants was spent on the project. The month of the water switch, Michael Glasgow, Flint’s utilities administrator, didn’t believe the plant was ready. He emailed three people at the MDEQ, the state environmental agency, with a warning. “I have people above me making plans” to distribute the water as soon as possible, Glasgow wrote, but “I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon. If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction. I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready. I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (pp. 17-18). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

“Stephen Busch, a light-haired district supervisor from the MDEQ’s drinking water office, was at the ceremony too. A year earlier, when the city was wrestling with its long-term water options, he had expressed worry about what would happen if Flint treated its own river for drinking water—bacterial problems, exposure to dangerous chemicals, additional regulatory requirements. In other words, the state’s environmental agency had thought that the city should avoid the Flint River. And now Flint was using the river anyway. For all his earlier concern, though, Busch seemed tranquil at the treatment plant that April morning. Regarding the drinking water, he said, “Individuals shouldn’t notice any difference.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (pp. 18-19). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Once Flint threw the switch on the retrofitted water plant and began to draw water from the Flint River the errors just continued, and those errors were made at the local, state, and federal levels. Those errors led to water contaminated by lead, and other serious contaminants. Resident concern, and then resident outrage, was met with apathy, and multiple assurances that there was nothing wrong with the water. From the book:

“Explanations for the brown-tinged water were vague and contradictory. When asked about the discoloration by the dogged Ron Fonger of the Flint Journal, the city spokesperson said he wasn’t sure. A couple of weeks later, Mike Prysby of the MDEQ told a reporter in Detroit that the color was the result of workers’ “unauthorized drafting of water from fire hydrants in these areas for street sweeping activities.” That, plus frequent main breaks, stirred up sediment and rust in the pipes, which caused the discoloration. The unauthorized hydrant use, he said, “will be discontinued.” So some officials said that open hydrants would help solve the discoloration problem: they cleared the water by moving it through the system faster. Others said that open hydrants were contributing to the problem: the surge of water caused iron to flake off the mains. The city’s annual water quality report opted for an all-encompassing explanation: the rusty color was due to the “change in source water, water main breaks, and routine maintenance” that caused the cast iron pipes to deteriorate faster than usual. Among the steps taken to fix the problem would be more flushing—open hydrants—and budgeting for the repair of a twenty-four-foot water main in an unspecified “area of concern.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (pp. 39-40). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The City simply put out bad information, and when they were forced to test they tried to create conditions that would help them to show results that were at odds with reality.

“The city turned in a total of seventy-one. As usual, collectors had been instructed to pre-flush the water. They also sidestepped the EPA guideline to focus on high-risk locations—that is, homes that are likely to be serviced by lead lines, where contamination would be expected to be more severe. Flint couldn’t easily find those homes even if it wanted to, since the records on the location of lead pipes were kept on decaying maps and spotty index cards. But after Rosenthal sent his warning, nearly one quarter of the final tests were done at a stretch of road where a major part of the water main had been replaced some years earlier. When mains are updated, lead pipes, if they are there, are often removed, too. In Flint, these samples recorded very little lead. Finally, the rules require that homes tested in the first batch in 2014 be retested in the second round to make it easier to spot changes in the water quality. Yet only thirteen homes were retested—and all of these had scored low lead levels the first time around.51 Despite all that, Flint still exceeded the federal limit on lead, according to a report dated July 28. Even by the state’s own numbers, Wurfel’s claims on Michigan Radio didn’t hold up. The water wasn’t safe after all. The state would have to work with the city on a major notification campaign, advising residents on how to protect themselves. But then the MDEQ did a curious thing. It supervised a revision of the results, with two of the seventy-one samples—both with extremely high lead—dropped from the calculation. One of them came from LeeAnne Walters’s home. Scrapping those tests brought the city’s lead level down to 11 ppb. That’s high, but within acceptable limits. When these revised results were made official, Michael Glasgow, Flint’s utilities administrator, added a handwritten note, “Two samples were removed from list for not meeting sample criteria.” LeeAnne Walters had been giving these public reports her close attention, and she noticed that her sample was excised. She wanted to know why. The MDEQ explained that she had a filter, which altered the water’s quality and invalidated the sample. (In fact, Walters had been told to remove the filter before the test, and she had done so.) The second sample was disqualified because it didn’t come from a single-family residence. Being stringent about the Lead and Copper Rule only when it lowered the lead count, while exploiting loopholes at every other turn, made the water seem perfectly compliant with the law.”

Clark, Anna. The Poisoned City (pp. 119-120). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The bad faith shown by the above excerpt is outrageous, and these types of activities have led to multiple indictments. The State MDEQ was complicit, with that agency failing on multiple fronts. The above mentioned Lead and Copper Rule, part of the Federal Clean Water Act, is enforced in Michigan by the MDEQ, with oversight from the EPA. The initial move to the Flint River through the Flint water treatment facility made no provisions for anti-corrosion treatment of the water. That failure was a major reason for the calamity, as the Flint River water corroded aged lead pipes and leached lead into Flint’s water. The lack of corrosion control became a political football, but the EPA has recently issued an Inspector General report on that topic (and other regulatory failures of the EPA Region 5 office) that has shed some real light on that topic.

Ultimately this story had enormous human costs, bringing lead and other contaminants to the residents of Flint, harming adults, and having especially damaging impacts on children. Anna Clark has done a terrific job of bringing this story forward. There are so many important issues dealt with in this book, and the author covers them all admirably. I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

The indictment of two Flint Emergency Managers is covered by the national media.

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Seabrook Water and Sewer Rate Study

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen have accepted the final report of the consultant hired to analyze, and recommend changes to, the water and sewer rates in Seabrook. That report is attached below.

Water and sewer rates in Seabrook have not been raised since 2012, with the result being, in 2017, an operational deficit in those two departments of over $2 million. What that translates to is a taxpayer “subsidy” to water and sewer ratepayers, in 2017, of over 8% of the total municipal budget. That number, as large as it is, does not account for water and sewer capital spending, only the budgeted operational expenses. Year to year studies of those departments has shown that the subsidy continues to grow, with stagnant revenues and increasing expenses. The water and sewer financial reports, issued to the Board of Selectmen annually, show this number consuming an ever larger portion of the municipal budget, squeezing other spending out, and restricting the ability of the Town to make necessary investments in water and sewer capital. (The 2017 reports for each department are attached)

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen have examined the attached consultants report and opted to close this operational deficit in water and sewer in FY2019. The new water and sewer rates, starting in January 2019, are attached below. As part of this study the Board also directed that the “service rates” for each department be studied, and they have created a new service fee schedule for each department, attached below.

The Board of Selectmen, as well as the Budget Committee, have directed management to recommend measures that will reduce pressure on the tax burden in Seabrook, and this is a major step in that direction. Every dollar raised in local revenues is one less dollar that needs to be raised through the property tax. This new rate schedule will raise an additional $2 million in local revenues in 2019, eliminating the subsidy from Seabrook’s taxpayers to the ratepayers, reducing that burden on the property tax.

Seabrook 2018 Rate Study Report_Final Amended2

Rate Sheet

Water New Service Charges

Sewer Service Charges

Water Report 2017 Draft

Sewer Report 2017 Draft

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Seabrook Hampton Dredge Funding Announced

On Friday December 7, 2018 Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Senator Maggie Hassan came to the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative in Seabrook to announce that federal funding had been secured for the dredging of Seabrook/Hampton Harbor. This project will be undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who had received preliminary funding and have been in the engineering phase of the project. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen were on hand, as well as Seabrook Harbor Master Mike Pike, Police Chief Brett Walker, Fire Chief William Edwards, Emergency Manager Joseph Titone, as well as Ed O’Donnell and Coral Siligato from the Army Corps. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen (Chair Ella Brown, Vice Chair Aboul Khan, and Board Clerk Theresa Kyle) have made support of this project a top priority, setting a Town policy of full support for the funding, as well as instructing management to work closely with the Army Corps on the logistics of the project. The Army Corps have been a tremendous partner on this project, moving as quickly as they can to get the work started. This project is vital to the commercial fishing industry on the seacoast, as well as other commercial boating and charter operations. Thank you to Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan for all of their hard work on the funding. Their involvement and hard work have brought this funding forward, and we are deeply appreciative for their efforts.

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Ann Robinson, Seabrook Librarian, Announces Her Retirement

Ann Robinson, the Seabrook Librarian, has announced her retirement after 11 years of service to Seabrook. Ann was a terrific steward of the Seabrook Library, bringing strong leadership and improvements for the Library across the board. The Seabrook Library Trustees held a reception for Ann on December 5, and this video is from that reception. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen were on hand to wish Ann well. Best wishes, and much gratitude, to Ann for a job well done.

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Union of Concerned Scientists New Nuclear Power Study

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has issued a new report that examines the ramifications of the economic decline, in the United States, of the nuclear power industry.The UCS has never been a nuclear power cheerleader and that position has not changed. This new report focuses on the the severe problems that much of the domestic nuclear power industry faces, and how those problems could impact efforts to reduce carbon emissions across the U.S. in the years to come. I have attached the report, including an executive summary, and a spreadsheet showing an estimation of the economic health of every nuclear plant in the United States. What are the key takeaways, from my perspective?

1. The current output of nuclear reactors constitutes 20% of total U.S. electricity generation, and 53% of the nation’s low carbon output.

While nuclear power provided 53 percent of America’s low-carbon electricity in 2017, renewable energy is the fastest-growing source, increasing from 30 percent of the total in 2007 to 47 percent in 2017. Most of this growth in low-carbon electricity has come from wind and solar power. Although natural gas was the nation’s leading source of new electric-generating capacity over the past five years, wind and solar combined for a total of 56 percent of all new capacity (AWEA 2018). Electricity savings from state and utility energy-efficiency programs have also grown over the past decade, reducing total US electricity use by an estimated 6 percent in 2016 (Weston et al. 2017).

2. With the steep decline in the price of natural gas the economics have taken a turn for the worse for the nuclear power industry . There are other issues impacting this dynamic, including the relative state of the individual plants, and the capital required to bring some of the nation’s nuclear plants back to profitability, or up to the safety standards required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. From the report, answering the question on why the economics of nuclear power have changed so much.

The declining price of wholesale power, due primarily to declining natural gas prices, has been the main driver of early nuclear retirements over the past decade (EIA 2018a; Jenkins 2018; Haratyk 2017; Shea and Hartman 2017). Other factors have played a more modest role, including flat or declining demand for electricity, the rapid deployment and falling costs of renewable energy, increased operating costs and costly repairs for some nuclear plants, and plant ownership and market structure.

3. If the nationwide trends continue and additional nuclear plants cease operations their output will be replaced primarily by natural gas and coal output, leading to a rise in carbon emissions, which would be a major setback for U.S. energy policy goals, and for clean air standards.

Closing the at- risk plants early could result in a cumulative 4 to 6 percent increase in US power sector carbon emissions by 2035 (0.7 to 1.25 billion metric tons) from burning more natural gas and coal. This pathway would make it more difficult for the United States to achieve deep cuts in carbon emissions.

4. The plants most at risk are single reactor merchant plants.
Forbes Magazine, in an August 2018 article called “small is expensive” listed the higher cost of producing energy in a single reactor plant.

Single-unit “orphans” cost a full one-third more per megawatt-hour ( $45/MWh) than multi-unit plants ($33/MWh) according to a 2016 Bloomberg New Energy Finance study. That amount can be the difference between profitable or unprofitable in today’s low-price market.

While the UCS advocates nuclear power as an important part of the low carbon energy portfolio in the United States the report does not advocate for unconditional support economically, and recognizes that for some nuclear stations the economic and safety lifts (to remain open) may be too much. This report categorically rejected the attempt by the Trump Administration to assist nuclear and coal generation by claims that losses in those two areas would negatively impact grid “reliability and resilience.” Lets look at some of the key findings from the report:

More than one-third of existing plants, representing 22 percent of total US nuclear capacity, are unprofitable or scheduled to close….. The annual average cost of bringing unprofitable plants to the breakeven point is $814 million, for a total of more than $4 billion over five years.

The UCS gives, in the report, a look at their own estimates of every plant in the United States in terms of economic viability. There are some plants already scheduled to close, and the report lists those plants. We also get a look at the different approaches taken by some states that have offered economic incentives to nuclear plants, as well as how some have dealt with closings without the use of economic incentives. (California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are looked at)

So the UCS looked at some scenarios, and gives us some obvious, and not so obvious, results from those different scenarios. Nuclear costs go down? The economic viability of nuclear power goes up. Same with higher natural gas prices, which would lessen the economic pressure on nuclear power.

The amount of unprofitable nuclear capacity could increase from 16.3 GW under our reference case assumptions to 42.7 GW
(42 percent of total US nuclear capacity) with higher nuclear costs and 28.7 GW with lower natural gas prices over the next five years. In contrast, the amount of unprofitable capacity could decline to 10.6 GW with lower nuclear costs, 7 GW with higher natural gas prices, and 1.4 GW with a national CO2 price of $25 per ton in 2020, rising 5 percent per year.

The UCS advocate measures that would reduce U.S. carbon output, but also, in looking at cost/benefit analysis of their proposed policies, takes into account the heavy health costs involved in the emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), primarily from coal fired generation. The report advocates for:

1. Carbon Pricing.

A robust, economy-wide cap or price on carbon would be an effective, market-based approach to addressing a key market failure and leveling the playing field for all low-carbon technologies. It would send a clear market signal rewarding cuts in heat-trapping CO2 emissions and driving innovation and private investments in low-carbon technologies including existing nuclear generation.

2. Low Carbon Electricity Standard. (LCES)

A well-designed LCES could help prevent the early closure of existing nuclear plants while allowing renewable energy technologies, new nuclear plants, and fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage to compete for a growing share of low-carbon generation. Existing nuclear plants should be included in a separate tier with other existing low-carbon energy sources, such as large hydropower facilities, to avoid market issues due to limited competition between a relatively small number of large plants and owners. The other tier would be reserved for developing new low-carbon generation to encourage competition across many technologies, projects, and companies to deliver the most low-carbon electricity at the lowest cost, with an ongoing incentive to drive down costs.

As with most discussions on the best way forward on energy I am quite sure that there will be vigorous debate on the relative merits of the approach advocated for in this report. I can say that the analysis presented is robust, and you do not have to be steeped in energy knowledge to understand the points made, and policies advocated. The approach is measured and is emphatically not an advocacy for unfettered financial support of the nuclear industry. I was fortunate to look at the report after the UCS put out a blog post “The Seven Things People Got Wrong With our recent ‘Nuclear Power Dilemma’ Report'”

Of course there are some matters of local concern and interest. The UCS report list Seabrook Station, a single reactor merchant plant, as a “profitable” plant by the standards used in the report. NextEra Energy, the parent company of Seabrook Station, owns other nuclear plants in the U.S. They are:

Duane Arnold Energy Center in Iowa. (Single Reactor Merchant Plant) NextEra has announced that it is closing Duane Arnold.

Point Beach in Wisconsin. (Two Reactor Merchant Plant)

St Lucie in Florida (Two Reactor Regulated Plant)

Turkey Point (Two nuclear reactor Regulated Plant)

Seabrook Station (Single Reactor Merchant Plant)

The UCS recognized the vital importance that these plants play in the local economy, through the creation of jobs, the payment of property taxes, and the multiplier impact of day to day operations. Sudden closures without mitigation can create severe economic hardships for the host community, as well as economic dislocation of people dependent on the plant for jobs, and business that benefits from geographic proximity to nuclear stations.

Nuclear power plants are an important source of local jobs and tax revenues. Plant owners can work with states and communities to develop worker and community transition plans to attract new businesses and help replace lost jobs and taxes. For example, recent California legislation includes a $350 million employee-retention fund and an $85 million community impact–mitigation fund for the closure of Diablo Canyon in 2025 (Maloney 2018a; Miller 2018). The bill includes a commitment that the closure will not increase heat-trapping emissions. Plant employees could transition to work decommissioning retired plants, which can take up to 60 years (Bryk and Morris 2017). Plant owners can also transfer employees to other facilities or positions within their companies, as Entergy is considering doing for up to 180 employees at its Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan (Parker 2016). Illinois provides $30 million for broader job- training programs. New York has a clean energy job- training program (NYSERDA 2018a) and a statute to provide temporary, transitional, tax-base relief to communities that face the retirement of power plants (NYSERDA 2018b). States can also provide incentives for new economic development.

As far as the residual value of closed nuclear energy stations goes (for the purposes of property taxation) the report does add an editorial comment that makes good sense, especially from the viewpoint of local officials.

Because the spent fuel produced during the lives of the operating reactors has no place to go, it is likely to remain on site for many, many years. This alone justifies substantial payments to host communities, which must function as de facto spent fuel storage facilities, something never contemplated when the plants were licensed.

The UCS have contributed to what should be a critically important debate on the energy future of the United States. The report is attached, and can be found at the UCS website.

On November 26 I added the recent summary report from the National Climate Assessment Four from the U.S. Global Change Research Program. NCA4_Report-in-Brief.




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The FY 2019 Seabrook Budget Message

The Seabrook FY 2019 Budget has been presented to the Board of Selectmen. We will post that budget online shortly. Below is the budget message presented to the Board yesterday.

Budget Message FY 2019

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The Seabrook 2019 Capital Improvement Plan and Supporting Documents

The Seabrook 2019 Capital Improvement Plan, with some additional information, has been filed with the Planning Board as well as with the Seabrook Board of Selectmen. I have created a CIP Plan supplemental document with a narrative that includes the Seabrook debt schedules as well as a look at the progress of the approved 2018 warrant articles. That is the top document. The actual CIP book, in traditional Seabrook format, is the second document. I have also provided a review of the six year history of capital spending in Seabrook, showing where voter approved spending has been directed, by category, and by department. The fourth document provided is the 2019 departmental requests, offered in what we are calling “cut sheet” form, allowing for another way of looking at the 2019 capital requests by department. We will further refine this document, which is simply another way of looking at our departmental requests for 2019. Thanks to Shaylia Marquis for all of her work on this document, as well as to our department heads for all of their work.

Seabrook CIP Supplemental Final

2019 CIP

Seabrook CIP Spending Six Year Review 2018 Latest

Seabrook Cut Sheets 2019

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