Nuclear renaissance: a vanishing era

In early 2008, the late Sen. George Voinovich (R, OH), then the ranking minority member and formerly chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, predicted rapid progress for a new generation of nuclear energy. Writing in the professional journal Nuclear News, he hailed “a license application to build a new nuclear power plant…for the first time in over 30 years.”

Voinovich wrote that federal regulators expected “18 more applications within the next two years for a total of more than 30 new reactors.” Now, over nine years later, there have been just two applications for new U.S. nuclear power-plants–one in Georgia and one in South Carolina, each with two reactors. One of the new projects has recently been shuttered. It is not clear whether it will ever be revived. The other project is effectively on death watch.

Promises: The key promises for a “nuclear renaissance” were to combine so-called “passive safety” with standard designs and single-step permitting–the major features of “third generation” nuclear reactors claimed to yield improved reliability and much lower costs. By the late 1990s, enthusiasts were enjoying great sport, projecting ever lower costs based on speculation about economies of scale.

In order to exhibit the lowest possible amounts, promoters touted so-called “overnight” costs–omitting interest, infrastructure, land and site preparation. “Overnight” estimates ranged as low as about $1 a watt, although some plants from the 1980s had cost around $4 a watt even before factoring inflation. Starting in the mid-1990s, many early promoters were academics. None had much practical work experience designing, building, operating or maintaining a nuclear power-plant.

Glory days of a “nuclear renaissance” prevailed around 1997 through 2007, when promises attracted growing attention and realities had yet to emerge. Afterward both everyday and episodic factors intervened. The rubber was to meet the road when equipment builders proposed prices and potential utility customers had to decide whether or not they could afford the tabs.

While the Clinton and the Walker Bush administrations rarely encouraged nuclear power, the Obama administration, guided by former Secretaries of Energy Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz, adopted advances in nuclear power as a major feature of climate action programs. The Obama administration authorized subsidies through federal loan guarantees–promising safe operation, almost unlimited energy and hardly any greenhouse-gas emissions.

V.C. Summer Nuclear, Unit 2, Proposed

SummerNuclearUnit2
Source: South Carolina General Assembly

Progress and warnings: Westinghouse, now a division of Toshiba in Japan, became prime contractor for both new U.S. nuclear power-plants, using a proprietary design called AP-1000. It offers the advantages claimed by promoters of the “nuclear renaissance.” In addition, Westinghouse divided power-plants into “modules” that could be built off-site and assembled as needed. By building factories to produce the modules, Westinghouse maintained it would improve economies of scale.

Westinghouse bid on the new power-plants mostly at fixed prices rather than on a “cost plus” basis, as had been common during the nuclear heyday of the 1960s and 1970s. That approach tended to place the company at risk from an unproven new design. News services began to report warnings several years ago. In early 2012, Ray Henry wrote for Associated Press, “On top of construction costs running much higher than expected, the price of natural gas has plummeted, making it tough for nuclear plants to compete.”

Collapse: “One doesn’t hear much about the nuclear renaissance these days,” wrote Paul Barrett for Bloomberg News in the fall of 2015. About a decade after its days in the sun, the enterprise now looks headed toward burial. Utilities have backed away from even considering new facilities they see as likely to remain unsound. Would-be visions of a grand future proved long on fervor but short on results. The once eager promoters have gone silent.

The first shoe dropped when Westinghouse declared bankruptcy in early 2017. No other company was prepared to pick up the pieces from a proprietary design. Four months later, utilities that had contracted for the South Carolina plant issued a stop-work order, soon putting about 6,000 workers into layoffs. The South Carolina politicians who had allowed utilities to start charging customers before the plant was operating went into shock, pointing fingers and trying to evade blame.

Problems with the new power plants were known inside companies building the plants. An audit of the South Carolina plant had been completed by Bechtel, one of the world’s largest construction companies, a year and a half before South Carolina utilities pulled the plug. Supposedly cost-saving modular designs had actually been major problems. Many interfaces between modules did not work as designed, leading to costly, on-site rework. A nuclear industry largely idle for over 20 years had lost a large, former corps of skilled workers. Training new workers took far more time and effort than planned.

The new plant being built in Georgia has not yet been cancelled. Unlike the South Carolina plant, its owners accepted federal loan guarantees and have a financial cushion. However, efforts in Georgia are likely to be plagued by the same problems as those in South Carolina. They are probably also less than 25 percent complete, despite already costing more than the entire original construction budget.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 18, 2017


South Carolina governor releases report on VC Summer flaws, World Nuclear News (London), September 6, 2017

Sammy Fretwell and Avery G. Wilks, Long-secret report details significant problems at failed nuclear-reactor project, Columbia (SC) State, September 4, 2017

Andrew Brown, Secretive report on South Carolina nuclear reactor construction never given to state utility regulators, Charleston (SC) Post and Courier, August 31, 2017

Seanna Adcox, Associated Press, Billions lost in nuclear power projects, with more bills due, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 5, 2017

Steven Mufson, South Carolina utilities halt work on new nuclear reactors, Washington Post, July 31, 2017

Diane Cardwell and Jonathan Noble, Westinghouse files for bankruptcy, in blow to nuclear power, New York Times, March 29, 2017

Dick Miller, et al., Project assessment report on V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station Units 2 and 3, Bechtel Corp., February 5, 2016 (as supplied by the South Carolina governor’s office and posted by Charleston Post and Courier, 16 MB)

Paul Barrett, What killed America’s climate-saving nuclear renaissance?, Bloomberg News, October 27, 2015

Ray Henry, Associated Press, Some leaders souring on nuclear power costs, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 4, 2012

Matthew L. Wald, Approval of reactor design clears path for new plants, New York Times, December 23, 2011

David Biello, Designs for newest U.S. nuclear plants aim to balance safety and costs, Scientific American, March 23, 2011

Paul L. Joskow and John E. Parsons, The economic future of nuclear power, Daedalus (Cambridge, MA), 2009

Paul Brown, Voodoo economics and the doomed nuclear renaissance, Friends of the Earth (UK), 2008

George V. Voinovich, Making the nuclear renaissance a reality, Nuclear News 51(3):13-16, 2008

John Deutsch, Ernest J. Moniz, et al., The Future of Nuclear Power: An Interdisciplinary Study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003 (30 MB)

Craig Bolon, China’s influence on nuclear power, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Suicides among veterans: searching for factors

Suicide among U.S. military veterans became a rising concern during the era of the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War, begun in 2001 and 2003 by the Walker Bush administration. Sens. Daniel Akaka (D, HI), Patty Murray (D, WA) and Tom Harkin (D, IA) called attention to the crisis in 2008, claiming the Department of Veterans Affairs was trying to ignore a growing problem.

Sen. Harkin had filed a bill the previous year asking the department to document suicides among veterans and take steps to prevent them. About eight years passed before the issue gained traction. Democrats in Congress continued to seek action, while Republicans who supported the Iraq War resisted. As a last blast before retiring, in late 2014 former Sen. Tom Coburn (R, OK)–an anti-abortion, “gun rights” reactionary–blocked the major bill then in Congress, using a procedural foil.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (PL 114-2) was soon refiled, passed and signed into law by former Pres. Obama. It stimulated research at the Department of Veterans Affairs and improved access to help at federal facilities. It also opened the door to new efforts aimed at understanding the effects of war stresses on military personnel.

Searching for factors: Reacting to early criticism, the Department of Veterans Affairs had published a 2012 report on veteran suicides, but it was pockmarked with missing information and did not measure impacts and trends clearly. Renewed research led to a more comprehensive report released in August, 2016, and to publication of data organized by states in September, 2017.

The newly published data have attracted interest: the first organized and detailed information available from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The 2016 report focused on veterans enrolled in programs operated by the department. However, in a chart–without numerical data–it also showed that the ratio of veteran to civilian suicides remains high and rose steadily between 2003 and 2008, as critics in Congress had charged. [Figure 14, page 25]

Ratios of veteran to civilian suicides by years

VeteranCivilianSuicideRatio2001-2014
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

On average, in 2001 military veterans were about 15 percent less likely than civilians to commit suicide. By 2009, they were about 20 percent more likely to commit suicide. Throughout, the veterans who enrolled in federal services (shown as “VHA Veteran”) have been more likely to commit suicide than the veterans who were not enrolled. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq associated with increases in veteran suicides. Uses of federal services also associated with increases in veteran suicides.

State factors: The most recently released data, grouped by states where veterans who committed suicide were living, make it possible to look for other factors. The states reporting the lowest rates of veteran suicides during 2001 through 2014 were Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut–about 22 to 26 suicides per year per 100,000 veterans. The states reporting the highest rates were Montana, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming–about 69 to 55 per year, around 2-1/2 times as much as the states reporting the lowest rates.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released state data at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon. The few reporters from mainstream media who were paying attention noticed high suicide rates in Mountain West states. Some speculated that rural isolation might be a factor. None compared suicide rates quantitatively with the characteristics of states.

Characteristics of states are unlikely to be strong factors in veteran suicide rates, because they cannot identify impacts on the lives of individual veterans. For example, higher state spending on mental health services might be associated with a lower suicide rate, but it could have impact only if the services were actually being used by veterans. In fact, an analysis showed no statistically significant relation.

Since motor vehicle accidents may involve reckless and destructive behaviors, their impact was examined. Motor vehicle fatality rates have been collected and reported by federal agencies since the 1920s. So far, that has turned out to be the strongest state factor found associated with veteran suicides.

Veteran suicide versus motor vehicle fatality rates

VeteranSuicideVsMotorVehicleDeathRates
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Two other state factors produced statistically significant associations: percents of households reported as containing loaded guns and percents of state populations living in rural areas. Data on loaded guns were collected in a 2002 survey reported in a medical journal. Data on rural populations came from the 2010 federal census.

Correlations (R) with veteran suicide rates

MV death rates….0.50

Loaded guns…….0.43

Percent rural…..0.40

Sources: as described in text

The state factors are not statistically independent. Together they account for less than 40 percent of the state-to-state variance in veteran suicide rates. Although they can provide some insight, effective ways to prevent veteran suicides will likely develop from considering individual circumstances.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 19, 2017


Suicide rates of U.S. military veterans, 2001 through 2014, per 100,000 per year, Brookline Beacon, September 19, 2017

Thomas E. Ricks, Veterans Administration throws suicide stats out the back door on Friday at 5 pm, Foreign Policy, September 18, 2017

Hope Yen, Associated Press, Suicide among veterans highest in western U.S. and rural areas, ABC News, September 16, 2017

Suicide among veterans, state data sheets, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, September 15, 2017

Suicide among veterans and other Americans 2001-2014, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, August 3, 2016

Lauren M. Denneson et al., Suicide risk documented during veterans’ last Veterans Affairs health care contacts prior to suicide, Military Behavioral Health 5(1):1-119, 2016

Dave Philipps, Senate approves research into combat effects on mental health, New York Times, November 12, 2015

Kimberly Leonard, Obama signs suicide prevention bill to aid veterans, U.S. News, February 12, 2015

Richard A. Oppel, Jr., Preventing suicides among veterans is at center of bill passed by Senate, New York Times, February 4, 2015

Rep. Timothy Walz, Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, H.R. 203 of the 114th Congress, PL 114-2, U.S. House of Representatives, filed January 7, 2015

Motor vehicle fatality rates per 100,000 persons per year for calendar 2014, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015

Leo Shame, III, GOP senator blocks vets’ suicide prevention bill, USA Today, December 16, 2014

Janet Kemp and Robert Bossarte, Suicide data report, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2012

State urban and rural population percentages, 2010 Census of Population, U.S. Bureau of the Census

Associated Press, VA official accused of covering up suicide rates, NBC News, April 24, 2008

Sen. Tom Harkin, Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, S. 479 of the 110th Congress, U.S. Senate, filed February 1, 2007

Catherine A. Okoro et al., Prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Pediatrics 116(3):370-376, 2005

Star Wars revisited: shooting fish in a barrel

Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has been underway in the United States over 20 years, managed since 2002 by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The objective has been to disable long-range ballistic missiles at high altitudes, by striking them with interceptor missiles. The program sprang out of “Star Wars”–the Strategic Defense Initiative begun in 1983 during the first Reagan administration.

Efforts were inhibited by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 between the U.S. and the former USSR, and only research occurred at first. During the first Walker Bush administration, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty and began full-scale development and deployment–then called the National Missile Defense program, later renamed GMD. Following a longstanding pattern of problems with military programs–”buy before fly”–about 30 GMD interceptors were deployed to the field years ago, long before any successful test.

Test fatigue: At a cost of around $40 billion, the GMD program conducted 40 test flights between June, 1997, and August, 2017, with about half involving some type of missile interception (listed in the GMD Wikipedia article). About half the flights are officially marked as “success.” However, the most recent one during May, 2017, was the first to disable a long-range missile.

To alert readers, the 2017 test was unconvincing. The target missile’s range of travel was just barely enough to make it a long-range missile: less than two-thirds the range between North Korea and Los Angeles, which is the longest potential range achieved so far by North Korea. Much more discouraging: the target’s path was aimed directly toward the interceptor missile, making interception far easier than a wide-angle path.

All but a few of the GMD interceptors–ones used in testing–have been deployed to Alaska, where they have midcourse access to flight paths between North Korea and places in the continental United States. However, using that access would require interceptions at angles of up to 90 degrees. No test so far has explored the practical need for wide-angle interception at very high speed and altitude.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 4, 2017


Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor, Pentagon missile defense program scores direct hit, Associated Press, May 31, 2017

Robert Burns, Leery of North Korea, U.S. plans first test of ICBM intercept, Associated Press, May 27, 2017

Laura Grego, The upcoming GMD missile defense test, Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), May 25, 2017

Cristina Chaplain, et al., Missile defense: some progress, U.S. Government Accountability Office, May, 2017

Ken Dilanian, U.S. may not be able to shoot down North Korean missiles, say experts, NBC News, April 19, 2017

Andrew Glass, President Reagan calls for launching Star Wars in 1983, Politico, March 23, 2017

David Willman, Flaw in the homeland missile defense system, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2017

Ground-based Midcourse Defense program overview, U.S. Missile Defense Agency, 2016

Thomas Karako, Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, DC), 2015

Shipping channels: Navy collides with commerce

Recent collisions in the western Pacific between ships of the U.S. Navy and commercial ships highlight a continuing hazard for U.S. military: unsound practices when navigating ocean shipping corridors. During the first eight months of 2017, two DDG guided-missile destroyers from the Seventh Fleet and one of its CG guided-missile cruisers collided with commercial ships.

Both DDG destroyers were badly damaged, and 17 Navy sailors aboard them died. The much larger commercial ships with which they collided suffered no injuries to crew and were able to continue operations at sea. Commercial shippers tend to employ locally experienced captains or pilots to navigate congested shipping corridors.

The U.S. employs Navy personnel mainly trained to navigate open ocean. It is at a disadvantage around busy shipping corridors. To compensate, rules require multiple personnel on duty for navigation and require ship captains on duty during known hazards. On the day of the second major collision in 2017, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson ordered an emergency “stand down” and a comprehensive review of operating safety for the entire Seventh Fleet.

Information available to the public during the third week in August shows differing circumstances for the two major collisions. The later one, between the USS McCain and the Alnic MC commercial oil tanker, occurred within a narrow, internationally recognized shipping channel at the east end of the Singapore Strait. The earlier one, between the USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal container ship, occurred in coastal waters of Japan, regulated as open seas.

USS Fitzgerald collision: The USS Fitzgerald collision occurred about 10 miles southeast of Shimoda, Japan. Located near the mouth of Sagami Bay, that sea zone is crossed by around 400 large merchant ships a day, according to the Coast Guard of Japan. Like USS Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal, many of them are headed toward or away from the port of Yokohama, just south of Tokyo.

The zone does not have regulated shipping channels, yet the Tokyo Islands of the Izu chain–Oshima, Toshima, Nijima and Kozushima–form a corridor narrowing to about 15 miles in width when approaching Sagami Bay from the south. That is narrower than most of the famously hazardous Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Sumatra.

The USS Fitzgerald was sailing generally southwest, close to the center of the corridor between the Izu Peninsula and the Tokyo Islands, when it was speared on the starboard side by the ACX Crystal container ship, sailing generally northeast through the corridor. A more cautious course for the USS Fitzgerald could have taken it a few miles closer to Shimoda and the Izu Peninsula, among most of the ship traffic heading generally southwest, although possibly at a slower speed.

Crediting the MarineTraffic service, the New York Times published a tracking video showing the path of the ACX Crystal around the time of collision with the USS Fitzgerald. That was assembled from transmissions via shipboard Automatic Identification System transponders, received through the MarineTraffic network. The Times tracking video does not show the other ships in the area. The Times stated there were no transmissions available from the USS Fitzgerald.

The Times video showed the ACX Crystal making a sudden change in direction and halting, then going on but soon returning to the site of the sudden change, then continuing toward Yokohama. Spearing the starboard side of the USS Fitzgerald suggests that Fitzgerald failed to yield according to international conventions of maritime navigation. The U.S. Navy refused comment until it finishes an investigation.

USS McCain collision: The USS McCain collision occurred about 9 miles east of Tanjung Penyusup–at the southeast extreme of the Malaysia mainland–shortly after entering the shipping channel for the Singapore Strait. Some news reports confused the Singapore Strait with the adjacent, much longer Malacca Strait. According to the local association of ship pilots, the Singapore Strait is traversed by about 150 large merchant ships a day.

Both the USS McCain and the Alnic MC were headed generally southwest, toward Singapore. The strait, which narrows to less then four miles, has an internationally recognized shipping channel that is monitored by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It is the chief ocean bottleneck for shipping between east Asia and India, the Persian Gulf, east Africa, the Middle East and Europe, via the Suez Canal.

The course of the USS McCain, at the time it was speared on the port side by the Alnic MC oil tanker, remains unclear. Both ships should have been headed in nearly the same direction, generally southwest, after entering the east end of the shipping channel.

Crediting the MarineTraffic service, the London Daily Mail published a tracking video showing the path of the Alnic MC around the time of collision with the USS McCain. That was assembled from transmissions via shipboard Automatic Identification System transponders, received through the MarineTraffic network. The Daily Mail tracking video shows many other commercial ships in the area, but it does not show any military ships, including the USS McCain and a Malaysian Navy ship some news reports said was nearby.

At 00:48 into the video (21:19:40 GMT), several ships are sailing southwest at about 9 to 12 knots on the north side of the channel. Others are sailing in the opposite direction on the south side. In a cluster of three, Team Oslo leads Alnic MC, followed by Guang Zhou Wang, just entering the east end of the shipping channel. Alnic MC posts a speed of about 9-1/2 knots.

At 00:51 into the video (21:24:50 GMT), Alnic MC has suddenly veered south and lowered its speed. It is inside the shipping channel, toward the center and about a mile past the entrance. It comes almost to a halt and continues to turn. Guang Zhou Wang and other ships pass. After turning a total of about 225 degrees, Alnic MC moves northward, crossing and leaving the shipping channel.

Alnic MC then completes a full turn of 360 degrees and proceeds southwest–outside the shipping channel on the north side. BBC and other news media reported that the collision took place at 21:24 GMT, coinciding with Alnic MC veering southward. For Alnic MC to spear USS McCain on its port side, the Navy ship looks to have maneuvered in some rogue manner within the shipping channel, not in the usual southwest flow toward Singapore at 9 to 12 knots. Again, the U.S. Navy refused comment until it finishes an investigation.

Troubled organization: The Seventh Fleet appears to have been a troubled organization for years. As of August, 2017, 28 of its officers had been charged with official corruption in the “Fat Leonard” contracting scandal. Nineteen admitted accepting bribes and favors in return for supplying advance notice of fleet movements and ignoring issues with contracts. Dozens more investigations are said to be underway.

The Seventh Fleet has been reported with more severe morale problems than the other Navy fleets, some say because of shorter breaks between deployments at sea. However, it is the only “forward deployed” fleet, with its home base in a foreign country. Seventh Fleet staff face years-long tours of duty with their immediate families imbedded in a foreign culture whose language and customs are difficult to learn. Staffing shortages have been reported in some high-demand specialties, including sonar operators.

In 2016 the commander of Yokosuka Naval Base, the home of the Seventh Fleet in Japan, was dismissed for failing to maintain standards. Two days after the major collision with a commercial ship in August, 2017, the commander of the Seventh Fleet was dismissed. New prosecutions for corruption and sharp questions about navigation errors in the recent collisions may make recovery of confidence slow and difficult.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 23, 2017


Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press, Navy dismisses Seventh Fleet commander after warship accidents, ABC News, August 23, 2017

Katy Daigle, Associated Press, Four accidents, two deadly, raise questions about Navy operations, Washington Post, August 22, 2017

USS John S. McCain may have suffered steering failure, Maritime Executive (Fort Lauderdale, FL), August 22, 2017

Maya Salam, Previous collisions involving U.S. Navy vessels, New York Times, August 21, 2017

Anna Fifield and Dan Lamothe, Chief of Naval Operations orders fleetwide investigation following latest collision at sea, Washington Post, August 21, 2017

Lolita C. Baldor, Annabelle Liang and Stephen Wright, Associated Press, U.S. Navy chief orders probe into Pacific fleet and a pause in operations after recent spate of collisions, London Daily Mail, August 21, 2017

Tracking video: collision off Singapore, London Daily Mail crediting MarineTraffic, August 21, 2017

Jaspreet Kaur, Assistant chief of staff of Seventh Fleet of U,S, Navy pleads guilty in ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery case, San Diego Military News, August 18, 2017

Tyler Hlavac, Navy officials look at giving Seventh Fleet a higher manning priority, Stars and Stripes, July 26, 2017

Scott Shane, Maritime mystery: why a U.S. destroyer failed to dodge a cargo ship, New York Times, June 23, 2017

Ford Fessenden and Derek Watkins, The path of the container ship that struck a U.S. Navy destroyer, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Elizabeth Shim, U.S. guided-missile cruiser collides with South Korean boat, United Press, May 9, 2017

Maritime traffic in southeast Asia, MarineTraffic (London), 2017

Automatic Identification System, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2017

Craig Whitlock, The man who seduced the Seventh Fleet, Washington Post, May 27, 2016

Hope Hodge Seck, Commander of largest U.S. Navy base in Asia fired after investigation, Military News, April 20, 2016

Navigation Safety Guidance for Tokyo Area, Coast Guard of Japan, 2014 (in English)

London high-rise fire: tragedy of the commoners

A catastrophic fire June 14, 2017, at Grenfell Tower, a London high-rise public housing building–killing at least 80 occupants–has developed into a tragedy of the commoners. It is not being visited on British elites. In its aftermath, officials of the current, Tory government spared no effort–to offload blame. Suspicions pointed at building materials that quickly spread flames up the outside of the building.

Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to claim that materials used in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower had been banned under the British building code. He was promptly refuted by reporter David D. Kirkpatrick, writing in the New York Times.

The officials patched together a national emergency action, ordering managers of public housing that had used similar building materials to submit samples for so-called “fire safety” testing–but not managers of private housing. Without waiting for results or advice, the Camden council, in north London, ordered evacuations of five high-rise public housing buildings that had been renovated using such materials.

A testing mystery: Building contractors and materials manufacturers had stated that their practices met standards of the British building code, which include standards for fire resistance. A few days after the catastrophe, however, Tory officials said some samples of materials they received had failed “fire safety” testing–tending to offload blame. At ten days after the catastrophe, the officials disclosed that all 60 samples from public housing tested to date had failed. How could that be?

Nothing from mainstream British news sites explored the obvious conflict. One story in the Guardian said recent tests “lack transparency,” but it stopped there. Absent gross fraud, the “fire safety” tests hastily arranged by officials of the Tory government somehow had to differ from tests claimed to have been performed by manufacturers and builders under the British building code.

The current building code allows two approaches. Individual materials can be tested for “fire spread,” using British Standard BS 476 procedures and regulations. Otherwise, a large sample of an assembled “cladding system” can be tested using British Standard BS 8414 procedures and classified under British Research Establishment BRE 135 regulations.

Manufacturers usually test for “fire spread” using BS 476, or a European equivalent, and builders usually seek materials so tested. The alternative via BS 8414 and BRE 135, or European equivalents, is much more costly to test. Moreover, that approach would limit application to a specific “cladding system” design and to its choices for multiple materials and fastenings.

Potentially flammable materials used on the exterior of Grenfell Tower were Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. Both those materials burned in the catastrophe, but most news reports ignored the rigid polyisocyanurate foam insulation and focused only on the rainshield. It consists of a solid polyethylene core and two thin aluminum outer layers.

If Reynobond PE rainshield gets hot–only around 300 F–highly flammable polyethylene in the core will melt. Liquid might leak from an edge and ignite, or an entire metal layer might release, exposing polyethylene to fire. However, BS 476 test procedures do not create such conditions. They subject a patch in the middle of a rainshield panel to a small flame for a minute. The outer metal layer does not burn, and the brief heating does not melt the whole core and release the metal, so such a panel of rainshield material passes that test.

Mystery resolved: At some time on Monday, July 3, according to automatic logging by other sites, British Research Establishment (BRE) staff, who had been performing emergency “fire safety” testing for Tory government officials, added notes to one of their Web pages describing what they were doing. BRE staff admitted they had used rogue “screening tests” to measure “gross heat of combustion” of materials, not a standard test–such as International Standards Organization ISO 1716–and not a test for “fire spread” or for “combustibility.”

According to the BRE statement, “procedures set out in the [ISO] standard [for heat of combustion] have not been followed.” BRE staff did not test for “combustibility” either, as Tory officials have repeatedly claimed–that is, whether a material will catch fire, under some specified condition. Instead, BRE staff have been scraping out core fragments from samples of rainshield material and then measuring how much heat will be produced when the fragments are forced to burn in an artificial environment of pure oxygen.

Now it is clear why tests according to the British building code might pass but tests recently reported by Tory officials might fail. They are different tests. Rogue tests being carried out by the BRE staff do not measure whether materials will catch fire under controlled conditions. Instead they measure how much heat is produced when core fragments scraped from the materials are forced to burn.

The rogue tests, of course, have not been systematically validated against actual risks of building fires. Such a process would involve extended experiments, analysis, documentation and review. If compared, for example, against longstanding, carefully developed BS 8414 procedures and BRE 135 regulations, rogue tests might either overestimate or underestimate fire hazards from practical situations.

Other options: Little noticed by the public, some building materials apparently similar to those used at Grenfell Tower have passed the rogue test ordered by Tory government officials and conducted by BRE staff. The headline for an article on the BBC News site did not help, saying, “Three hospitals fail fire safety.” The text, however, claimed that “cladding at 11 sites passed the checks, while the other 19 sites which flagged up potential fire safety issues have been told they do not need to take further action.”

The Tory government still has not ordered testing of private housing or commercial buildings, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt started a national emergency action to test hospital buildings. When reported by BBC News, 30 had passed the rogue test or been exempted, and only three had failed. Apparently British hospital renovations were more cautious in some ways than those performed by public housing authorities.

Three main grades of metal-clad rainshield materials have been marketed in Europe for about 25 years. They are often designated “PE” (polyethylene core), “FR” (fire-retardant core) and “A2″ (limited combustibility core)–the last one a classification from the European Normative EN 13501 fire-resistance standard.

The Alucobond company of Switzerland introduced an “A2″ product in the early 1990s. Like most other such products, its core is nonflammable mineral wool plus a few percent by weight of polymer binder. At very high temperatures the polymer will char, but flames will not spread far. This type of product is more expensive and more difficult to install than other composite rainshield products. The distribution of results obtained by BRE staff suggest that “A2″ products may pass their rogue test, while “PE” and “FR” products may fail.

Lessons learned and unlearned: Some building renovation managers apparently took more cautious approaches than others. However, the Tory government’s attempt to shift blame for the Grenfell Tower catastrophe onto project designers and managers and onto materials manufacturers amounts to a scam.

The core of the problem has been grossly inadequate building code regulations–allowing an irresponsible alternative to carefully developed fire resistance standards. That is compounded by lack of fire suppression measures, particularly requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

The British government had ample, local warning about the potential for a catastrophe. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, similar in many respects, killed three women and three children. Nothing of much significance was ever done to prevent another such disaster.

The current, Tory government nominated Sir Ken Knight, who compiled a report on the Lakanal fire, to head a panel that is to examine “safety actions” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Sir Ken Knight had advised against regulations requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

Former Tory housing minister Gavin Barwell told the House of Commons in October, 2016, that the British Building Regulations for fire safety would be reviewed in response to the Lakanal House disaster, but he did nothing. His punishment, after being defeated for re-election, has been to serve as chief of staff to the prime minister, Theresa May.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 6, 2017


Three hospitals fail fire safety checks, BBC News (UK), July 4, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire: ACM cladding testing, British Research Establishment (BRE), July 3, 2017

Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Man overseeing Grenfell disaster previously advised against fitting sprinklers, London Metro, June 28, 2017

Robert Booth, Tower cladding tests after Grenfell fire lack transparency, say experts, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 26, 2017

Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, All samples from high-rise towers in UK fail fire safety tests, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2017

Caroline Mortimer, Grenfell response: number of tower blocks failing fire tests rises to 60, London Independent, June 25, 2017

Shehab Khan, ‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, London Independent, June 24, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, Danny Hakim and James Glanz, Why Grenfell Tower burned: regulators put cost before safety, New York Times, June 24, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, London council evacuates residents amid fire safety concerns, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 23, 2017

Lucy Pasha-Robinson, Tens of thousands of people could be living in lethal tower blocks, tests reveal, London Independent, June 22, 2017

Jack Simpson, Fire experts slam ‘outdated’ Building Regulations following Grenfell, Construction News (UK), June 21, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Robert Booth, Ian Sample, David Pegg and Holly Watt, Experts warned government against cladding material used on Grenfell, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 14, 2017

ISO 1716:2010, Determination of the gross heat of combustion, International Standards Organization (Geneva, Switzerland), 2017

Resistance to fire: EN 13501, the European standard, Odenwald Faserplattenwerk (Amorbach, Germany), 2017

EN 13501-1: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

BS 476-7: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

Prashant Thakkar, 1992 market introduction of Alucobond A2, Glazing Shopee (Vadodara, India), 2017

Sara Colwell, Illustrated guide to British fire safety testing and standards, British Research Establishment (BRE), 2014

Fire safety: Approved Document B, The Building Regulations 2010, [British] National Archives (effective April, 2007, as amended through 2013)

Craig Bolon, High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2017

High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe

Around 1 am local time Wednesday morning, June 14, a kitchen fire began in a London high-rise public housing building. It was reported promptly to 999, London emergency services. The Grenfell Tower structure in west London–built mainly with precast concrete, steel and glass–should easily have resisted a kitchen fire long enough for the London Fire Brigade to arrive and extinguish it, but instead the fire spread.

Fire escaped through a window on a lower floor of the building, ignited newly installed, flammable materials on the exterior and quickly spread upwards. By the time the London Fire Brigade arrived, only a few minutes after the emergency call, the fire had already climbed well up the building of 24 floors, and it was also spreading sideways.

London high-rise fire, June 14, 2017, about 2 am

GrenfellTowerFireLondon20170614
Source: London emergency services

Desperate efforts: The London Fire Brigade was able to extinguish the kitchen fire, but its efforts against the massive fire on the outside of the high-rise building proved futile. By the time water flowed from aerial pumpers, the fire had spread onto two or more sides of Grenfell Tower and had reached the upper floors. As shown in photos, water streams rose only about halfway up one side of the building and a third of the way up a second. Apparently the London Fire Brigade could not access other sides when it mattered most.

The intense fire warped or melted new, thin aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire inside. The building never had sprinklers. Contents of nearly all dwellings above the eighth floor and some below eventually ignited, further spreading fire from window to window. Interior fires became mostly air-limited and very smoky. Photos show interior fires burning at least 12 hours, until there were no more dwelling contents left to burn.

Inside Grenfell Tower, survivors say chaos reigned. In some areas, fire alarms did not sound or could not be heard. Emergency lighting was dim. Residents had been warned to stay inside dwellings in case of fire, but many ran through smoky corridors and down the single, narrow stairway, colliding with firefighters rushing upward. Most Grenfell Tower residents survived, but many who followed instructions became trapped.

While the lowest floors of Grenfell Tower suffered water damage, photos show at least three-quarters of the building incinerated. Five days after the fire began, London police stated that at least 79 people had perished. News reports speculated that final numbers could be much higher. Parts of the structure had been found unstable, so that dogs had been sent in to search for remains.

Causes of the catastrophe: The Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 did not compare to property damage from the Great London Fire of 1666, but the death toll may have been higher. The British prime minister has ordered a public inquiry directed by a judge. While that is likely to take at least months, contributing factors are already known.

It was clear from the outset that materials installed in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower spread fire outside the building. High-rise structures were traditionally built with fireproof materials: typically concrete, steel, brick and glass. The renovation clad the building in a thick layer of insulation and a thin layer of rainshield. Both the added layers contained flammable materials, and both apparently burned.

Early news reports mentioned several different materials used in renovating Grenfell Tower, including highly flammable polystyrene and polyurethane. Discovery of specifications narrowed the list to Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. The Celotex product is rigid polyisocyanurate foam, fire resistant but not fireproof. The Reynobond PE product has a solid polyethylene core, easily melted and readily flammable.

For a short time, Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer since July, 2016, muddied waters with a claim that Grenfell Tower renovation materials were banned under British building codes. If so, that might shift liability away from the UK government and toward renovation contractors. Writing in the New York Times, reporter David D. Kirkpatrick soon showed Hammond misinformed or lying.

In recent years, flammable materials have been allowed on the exteriors of high-rise buildings in several places, including France, Britain, Dubai, Singapore, South Korea and Victoria, Australia. That has resulted in a series of so-called “cladding fires” on the outsides of high-rise buildings. Until the Grenfell Tower catastrophe, the most widely publicized of those fires occurred in Dubai.

The worst of at least five recent high-rise cladding fires in Dubai heavily damaged the Address hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2015, the Sulafa tower on July 20, 2016, and the ironically named Torch Tower on April 2, 2017. The disasters resulted in several injuries but no deaths. In response, Dubai reportedly tightened building requirements, with some previously installed building materials needing to be replaced.

Avoiding another catastrophe: A cladding fire in Melbourne, Australia on November 25, 2014, showed how multiple fire-safety measures can avoid catastrophes. Lacrosse Docklands is a 23-story apartment building similar to Grenfell Tower. The exterior had been clad with similar flammable materials. A cigarette left in a plastic dish on a balcony ignited the dish and the wood table under it, starting a fire.

The burning wood table ignited an adjacent area of rainshield material, starting the cladding fire. The rainshield on this building was known by the trade name Alucobest. Like the Reynobond PE product, the standard Alucobest product has a readily flammable solid polyethylene core. As with the Grenfell Tower fire, the Lacrosse Docklands fire warped and melted aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire to enter dwellings.

That is where similarities end and differences begin. Unlike Grenfell Tower, the insulation behind the rainshield at Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne was non-combustible, not merely fire resistant: glass wool instead of polyisocyanurate foam. That probably slowed the speed of fire spreading, and it fed less fuel to the fire. The design of Lacrosse Docklands features bays of dwellings separated by protruding fins. The fire in Melbourne rose rapidly up one bay but did not jump to adjacent bays.

Unlike Grenfell Tower in London, Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne had sprinklers–likely the most important difference. They worked as intended and kept fire from spreading inside dwellings, even though fire had been able to enter through damaged and open windows. The intensity of the fire did not increase through igniting dwelling contents, and fire did not spread inside the Melbourne building.

Unlike the London Fire Brigade performance, water flows from aerial pumpers in Melbourne reached to the top of the Lacrosse Docklands building and extinguished the cladding fire. There was substantial property damage in Melbourne, but there were no deaths or major injuries. Multiple safety measures combined to prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2017


A visual guide to what happened at Grenfell Tower, BBC News, June 20, 2017

Danica Kirka and Frank Griffiths, Associated Press, 79 now believed to have died in London high-rise fire, ABC News, June 19, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Justin Pritchrd, Associated Press, Insulating skin on high-rises has fueled fires before London, ABC News, June 18, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Anger erupts over possible flaws at burned London tower, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 16, 2017

Aaron Morby, Twenty London high-rises with Grenfell cladding system, Construction Enquirer (UK), June 16, 2017

Tom Bergin, Maker of panels at London tower cautioned on high-rise fire risk, Reuters (UK), June 16, 2017

Hayley Dixon, Sarah Knapton, Steven Swinford, Leon Watson and Danny Boyle, Grief gives way to anger as Grenfell Tower residents demand answers over string of failures, London Telegraph, June 15, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Hannah Lucinda Smith, The Grenfell Tower blaze was a disaster waiting to happen, The Spectator (UK), June 15, 2017

Benedict Brook and Rose Brennan, Melbourne skyscraper fire, caused by cladding, may have been a warning for London, News Corp Australia, June 15, 2017

Calla Wahlquist, Cladding in London high-rise fire also blamed for 2014 Melbourne blaze, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Henry Bodkin, Fire safety expert had warned government advisors ‘entirely avoidable’ deaths would occur at structures like Grenfell Tower, London Telegraph, June 14, 2017

Jon Gambrell, Fire hits Dubai high-rise complex near world’s tallest tower, Associated Press, April 2, 2017

Unattributed, AFP, Dubai toughens fire rules after tower blazes, Business Times, January 22, 2017

Unattributed, Dubai fire: blaze engulfs more than 30 floors of Sulafa Tower, BBC News, July 20, 2016

Lacrosse Docklands fire: post-incident analysis report, Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board, Victoria, Australia, April 27, 2015 (5 MB)

Andrew Moseman, Huge fire engulfs Dubai skyscraper full of apartments, Popular Mechanics, February 20, 2015

Renewables: inherit the wind

Some are furious at the cockroach President for blowing off the Paris climate treaty, but many expected that, since it had been one of the few stable goals of his lurching campaign. There is little the cockroach can actually do. Under the treaty’s terms, it remains in effect until at least the fall of 2020, and thus it is sure to become a strong factor in the next campaign. If the cockroach tries to run again, he looks likely to lose.

Some political corruption from pandering by the cockroach President will be thwarted by economics. In many places, coal power is no longer cost-competitive, and in some places wind power does not need new subsidies to thrive. The five leading wind-power states–Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota–all voted for the cockroach, but they are not aligned with his hostile views on renewable energy. Many people in those states now earn their livings from it, while few there are sustained by the coal-power industry.

Growth of renewables: The growth of renewables in the U.S. energy supply is a trend decades long. It began with hydroelectric power heavily funded by the federal government during the 1930s. The next surge was wood-fired power from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Despite later being labeled “carbon neutral,” that has fallen out of favor. Toxic emissions are difficult and costly to control. Outputs have been gradually dropping over the past 30 years.

Renewables in the U.S. energy supply

UsRenewableEnergy
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

There are now four major U.S. renewable energy sources: hydro, biofuel, wood and wind–in declining current amounts. As of 2016, each one contributed about 2.0 to 2.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Sources still gaining are biofuel–taking off around 2002–and wind–climbing around 2007. Led by ethanol, biofuel is mostly used for transportation. The other renewable sources are mostly or entirely used to generate electricity.

Two other substantial renewable sources are solar power and waste burning, both around 0.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Solar began to climb around 2013 and is still in early stages of growth. Waste burning has seen little growth since the 1980s. It spreads toxic pollutants–worse than wood. Renewable sources now provide over a tenth of U.S. total energy use: for 2016 about 10.2 out of 97.4 quadrillion Btu.

Although prevailing customs do not count nuclear power among the renewables, it emits hardly any greenhouse gases. For 2016, the U.S. reported 8.4 quadrillion Btu. It is in decline, with older plants closing and new plants rarely opening. When combined with renewable sources, the United States is now getting about 19 percent of total energy consumption from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases.

Sustainable progress: The dominant influences on renewable energy are now state regulations and local initiatives, not federal programs. They will provide sustainable progress despite the cockroach President, although federal programs could improve outcomes. The most important among the state regulations are renewable energy portfolios for electricity, now enforced in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Renewable energy portfolios by states

RenewablePortfolioStates
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Laggard states are in the Deep South and the Mountain West, plus the coal-mining states Kentucky and West Virginia. Standards vary widely. Those in Hawaii and Connecticut are among the most demanding, requiring 30 and 27 percent renewable energy in 2020. Stronger states limit qualifying sources to new wind, solar and geothermal plants. Other states accept hydropower, nuclear power and waste burning. Pennsylvania accepts burning so-called “waste coal.” Ohio accepts burning so-called “clean coal.”

Governors of several states recently announced they had formed a new organization called U.S. Climate Alliance, intended to promote and organize renewable energy standards. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative–organized in 2003 by New England states, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, and more recently joined by Maryland and Virginia–has provided a durable model for effective state coordination.

Worldwide energy use trends

WorldEnergySources
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Despite struggles, the United States continues to maintain a strong record in energy sourcing. As compared with 19 percent of U.S. total energy from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases, for 1990 through 2012–the latest comprehensive data–worldwide performance remained stuck at 15 to 16 percent. Progress with renewables has been swamped by growth in coal burning by countries of southeast Asia, led by China.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2017


Matt Viser, Kerry says Trump’s decision was ‘a day of craven ignorance’, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

Jeremy Bloom, Trump will pull U.S. out of Paris Agreement–in 4 years, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), June 2, 2017

David Abel, Massachusetts joins other states to fulfill U.S. pledges on carbon, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

John Flesher, Associated Press, States and cities pledge action on climate without Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason, Trump says U.S. to withdraw from Paris climate accord, Reuters (UK), June 1, 2017

Associated Press (Berlin), As Europe talks tough on climate, data show emissions rose, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Emma Gilchrist, Trump won’t stop the renewable energy revolution, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), March 31, 2017

Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Administration, May, 2017 (20 MB)

State renewable portfolio standards and goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017

Program Design, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, 2017

David Abel, Suit faults Massachusetts record in cutting emissions, Boston Globe, January 3, 2016

International energy outlook, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016

Renewable portfolio standards, U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015

Matthew L. Wald, Power plants try burning wood with coal to cut carbon emissions, November 3, 2013

Craig Bolon, Surfing a vortex: energy and climate, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2017

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Greenhouse gases: passing the buck, Brookline Beacon, January 11, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Renewable energy: New England experience, Brookline Beacon, August 15, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Power-plant toxics: no longer a political trinket

By appointing Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cockroach President signaled another warp in the long struggle against emissions from U.S. power-plants. During his former service, Pruitt garnered large political contributions from managers in poultry industries, who wanted to scuttle rules for waste disposal at chicken farms. Pandering to their causes against public interests, Pruitt became Chief Chicken Shit of the Southwest.

If the cockroach were to fall to a heart attack tomorrow, the environment could become even more threatened. Vice President Pence was a promoter of Pruitt. Writing in the Huffington Post, John Halstead described Pence as an environmental racist. While Indiana governor, Pence responded quickly to lead found in the water supply for Greentown, a community that is 97 percent white. He ignored problems in East Chicago, where a majority-black neighborhood suffers from the worst soil concentration of lead ever reported in the U.S.

Industrial waste: At an auto-industry event on March 15, 2017, the cockroach promised, “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate…industry-killing regulations.” The context was fuel efficiency. The cockroach promoted lower efficiency: that is, more fuel waste, more emissions and a retreat from U.S. energy independence. Some applause came from locals but not from the Detroit Free Press, whose business reporter said the push would undermine “innovation we need to see more of in the Michigan economy.”

On March 28, the cockroach President staged a fantasy act with coal miners in the Oval Office, signing Executive Order 19, an unhinged and antisocial maneuver. It directs that federal “agencies immediately review…regulations that potentially burden…use of domestically produced energy…[where] ‘burden’ means significant costs [for]…utilization…of energy resources.” Climate issues got nearly all the media attention then, but regulations on toxic power-plant emissions also loomed as likely targets.

Pruitt was Oklahoma’s supervising counsel for White Stallion Energy v. EPA, the DC Appeals Court case on toxic power-plant emissions that led to Michigan v. EPA, decided in 2015 by the Supreme Court. That proved to be the last attack on the public interest from clever, antisocial former Justice Scalia, who had managed to bend the ear of Justice Kennedy. Against precedent, Scalia’s opinion said the EPA had to consider costs when regulating toxic power-plant emissions.

According to Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, “Pruitt, [then] attorney general of Oklahoma…sued the EPA at least 14 times [in only six years], often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil-fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations.” Fortunately for the environment, he was rarely as successful as he was in Michigan v. EPA, and fortunately that case will have little direct impact.

Contrasts: Residents of the Boston area for more than 50 years will likely remember days when smoke darkened the sky. Before the 1960s there were few air quality rules. Power-plants, factories, offices and homes belched smoke from coal, oil and wastes. “Efficient” cars meant ones getting more than about 12 miles to the gallon. Cities, towns, institutions and businesses burned trash in open incinerators.

Smoke-blackened Washington Street, Boston, 1915

SmokeBlackenedWashingtonStreet1915
Source: Boston Public Library Archives

In November, 2013, a survey of large U.S. cities found that “Boston tops the list as the city with the cleanest air and boasts the lowest Air Quality Index score possible. Boston’s accessible public transportation system…the Air Pollution Control Commission…[and] annual precipitation…are good indicators that Bostonians are breathing easy.” Quite a change from the grimy Boston environment between about 50 and 150 years earlier.

Progress and mischief: Before 1970, most efforts to reduce air pollution were state initiatives. The federal 1970 Clean Air Act amendments [Public Law 88-206] became a watershed, aiming at uniform requirements that states would refine and enforce rather than initiate. The 1970 law authorized national “air quality” standards and regional “performance” standards for pollution emitters.

Coal has long been the most harmful fuel. In recent years, activists became concerned that it produces the most carbon dioxide. However, there are longstanding concerns over emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic and particles of toxic metals from burning coal. The U.S. EPA moved extremely slowly to regulate sulfur dioxide, finally spurred by 1990 Clear Air Act amendments [Public Law 91-604] requiring actions to combat acid rain. Until the Obama era, the agency failed to restrict other toxic components of coal smoke.

The Walker Bush administration tried to gut regulation of power-plant emissions through its proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule. The music stopped when the DC Appeals Court denounced those two shabby attempts in its decision for New Jersey v. EPA. [517 F.3d 574, 2008] A dramatic sequence of seven federal court rulings overturned much of the environmental mischief oozing from the Walker Bush administration.

*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2005) vacated the New Source Review Rule.
*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2006) vacated the Equipment Replacement Provision Rule.
*** Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) vacated the refusal to regulate carbon dioxide.
*** Environmental Defense, v. Duke Energy (2007) affirmed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Rule.
*** New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
*** North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
*** Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated 2006 Clean Air Act emission limits.

Obama-era progress: The Obama administrations issued two major air-quality regulations: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in 2011 and the Clean Power Plan in 2015. When reporting about lawsuits attacking them, news media sometimes failed to distinguish the two regulations clearly. MATS is directed toward the toxic pollutants that have been longstanding concerns of the U.S. EPA. The Clean Power Plan is a climate initiative, intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

The cockroach President was able to suspend the Clean Power Plan, but the great majority of fossil-fueled power is now produced by plants that comply with MATS. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that as of April, 2016, nearly all coal-fired plants had installed equipment. According to Paul Ciampoli, writing in Power Plant Daily, plants representing about 2 GW out of about 276 GW total–less than a percent of industry capacity–were still operating on MATS waivers. The cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

Good news for the U.S. is that economics blocked obscene politics. When power-plant emissions are filtered enough to bring down ordinary chemical pollution, costs of coal-fired power rise too high for new plants and are shuttering many old ones. Brayton Point in Somerset, MA–once among the filthiest in New England–was outfitted with pollution controls. Recently it has operated less than a quarter of the time, and it is scheduled to close permanently in May, 2017–no longer competitive.

Power from natural gas-fired plants, not government policy, has been the main agent evicting coal-fired power. In plains areas of the Middle West and in giant river valleys of the Pacific Northwest, wind turbines also provide advantages along with very low emissions. There, where winds tend to be stronger and steadier than in other places and where installation costs tend to be lower, one major form of renewable energy no longer needs new subsidies to prosper. Again, the cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2017


Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Court freezes Clean Power Plan lawsuit, signaling likely end to Obama’s signature climate policy, Washington Post, April 28, 2017

Sonal Patel, Trump’s EPA signals changes for power-plant mercury rule, Power Magazine, April 20, 2017

Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, Federal utility CEO: coal plants not reopening under Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel, Associated Press, EPA seeks to derail cleanup of coal power-plant pollution, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren, With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and no transparency, New York Times, April 15, 2017

Coral Davenport, Coal is on the way out at electric utilities, no matter what Trump says, New York Times, April 5, 2017

Emily Hammond, President Trump’s executive order on “energy independence,” Vox Media (Washington, DC), March 29, 2017

On promoting energy independence and economic growth, Executive order 19, White House, March 28, 2017

Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump takes aim at Obama’s efforts to curb global warming, Boston Globe, March 27, 2017

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump announces challenge to Obama-era fuel standards, Boston Globe, March 15, 2017

John Gallagher, Why Trump’s rollback of tailpipe emissions rules is a bad idea, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2017

John Flesher, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, Associated Press, Climate and other programs get deep cuts in EPA budget proposal, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 3, 2017

Coral Davenport, EPA workers try to block Pruitt in show of defiance, New York Times, February 16, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Scott Pruitt, EPA designee, expresses doubts on climate, defends oil industry funding, Reuters (UK), January 18, 2017

Alex Formuzis, EPA pick Pruitt stymied cleanup of scenic river fouled by factory chicken-farm waste, Environmental Working Group (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

John Halstead, Mike Pence’s environmental racism, Huffington Post (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA pick, backed industry donors over regulators, New York Times, January 14, 2017

Inside the Clean Air Act, US Legal (Jackson, MS), 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Ryan H. Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Wind technologies market report, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, August, 2016

EIA electricity generator data show power industry response to EPA mercury limits, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 7, 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consideration of cost in the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, 81 FR 24420-24452, April 25, 2016

Keith Goldberg, High court won’t halt EPA mercury rule, Law360 (New York, NY), March 3, 2016

Laura Barron-Lopez, Supreme Court stays Obama’s carbon emissions plan, Huffington Post, February 9, 2016

Elena Craft, Graham McCahan and Mandy Warner, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Environmental Defense Fund (New York, NY), 2016

Rachel Cleetus, Steve Clemmer, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Julie McNamara, Jeremy Richardson and John Rogers, The Clean Power Plan: a climate game-changer, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Michael B. Gerrard, Supreme Court ruling on mercury shows little deference to EPA, New York Law Journal 254(49), September 10, 2015

Michigan v. EPA, case no. 2014-46, U.S. Supreme Court, 576 U.S. (2015) June 29, 2015

Samuel Worth, Why EPA should have prohibited cost considerations in White Stallion, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 42(2):593-606, April 10, 2015

White Stallion Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2012-1100, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 748 F.3d 1222, April 15, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant, Boston Globe, January 27, 2014

Tracey Jones, Ten cities with the best air quality, CreditDonkey (Pasadena, CA), 2013

Nicholas Morales, New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Environmental Law Review 33(1):263-282, 2009

New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2005-1097, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 517 F.3d 574, February 8, 2008

George A. Gonzales, The Politics of Air Pollution, State University of New York Press, 2005

James J. MacKenzie. Boston’s sufferance of sulfur dioxide, Science 172(3985):792-793, 1971

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England, Energy and Environment, October 17, 2013

Craig Bolon, Tangle of air pollution regulations affecting energy, Energy and Environment, 2008

UMass Boston: hoop dreams

Ten years of Dr. Keith Motley leading UMass Boston bent toward a close last month with an announcement of his departure by the end of June. Something like that seemed likely, since it was known that his contract had not been renewed. Motley came to UMass from Northeastern, where he began on a basketball scholarship in the early 1970s. He became a protégé of Northeastern administrator John Curry, president from 1989 to 1996, and had worked at Northeastern as an admissions reviewer, athletics coach and sports recruiter.

To further a long-range ambition of becoming a college president, in 1999 Motley earned a PhD from the Boston College School of Religion and Education, whose best known graduates have become Roman Catholic bishops and administrators at Catholic-led colleges. Four years later he took a UMass Boston job as an administrator for student affairs.

During the short tenure of Dr. Michael Collins as the UMass Boston campus president–called “chancellor” there–Motley took a detour as a marketing administrator in the statewide university office. In 2007, Collins moved out to lead the medical school at the Worcester campus, and Motley got the nod to lead the Boston campus.

Poor relatives: Public colleges in New England are mostly poor relatives of the private colleges that comprised higher education in the region for three centuries: from the mid-1600s through the mid-1900s. Land-grant colleges common in the Midwest and Southwest were latecomers in New England. Of the few founded in the region, only MIT emerged as a first-tier institution; it has remained privately run.

Together with the Dartmouth campus, UMass Boston has long been a poor relative of a poor relative. The better-off members of the UMass family are the founding Amherst campus, the medical school and–more recently–the technologically driven Lowell campus. UMass Boston opened in 1965, then housed in a 12-story building fronting on Arlington Street. It looked like an office building because it was one: the 1927 Art Deco headquarters for Boston Gas. Better things were supposed to await UMass Boston at the city dump.

UMass Boston at Arlington Street, 1965

UMassBostonArlingtonStreet1965
Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

At the wishfully named Columbia Point, bordering the ocean, the UMass staff and students and the state’s taxpayers were victimized by massive graft in public construction that was commonplace during the 1950s through the 1970s. Recalling unusable floors at the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge, condemned before completion, the central garage at Columbia Point proved structurally unsound the day it opened. It and adjacent buildings–McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall, the Science Center, Healey Library and Quinn Administration–were plagued with leaks, crumbling masonry, failing ventilation and mold.

The original UMass buildings at Columbia Point shared an architect with the central Chicago prison. In 1977, state Sens. Joe DiCarlo (D, Revere) and Ron MacKenzie (R, Burlington) were convicted and jailed for extorting $40,000 in bribes from McKee, Berger and Mansueto of New York–the firm hired to oversee the UMass construction. Punishing corrupt politicians did not cure the evils visited on UMass Boston.

UMass Boston at Columbia Point, 1974

UMassBostonColumbiaPoint1974
Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

According to Laura Krantz, writing in the Boston Globe, during 43 years at Columbia Point more than $40 million has been spent on stabilizing the original UMass Boston buildings, but that has only postponed disasters. Now the garage and at least McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall and the Science Center are likely to be demolished and somehow replaced.

Marty Meehan, current president of the statewide university system, has been quoted as claiming that UMass Boston should come up with the funds for such a project–maybe a quarter billion dollars. For a campus with a total yearly budget of only $19 million for all asset depreciation, that would clearly be far beyond its capacity. Ten years ago, when the Amherst campus needed around $2 billion for building repairs–including a failing underground garage–no one suggested that the UMass Amherst budget should bear the whole cost.

Hands on the throttle: UMass Boston needed steady hands on the throttle. Built entirely as a commuter college, it serves large low-income and moderate-income populations ambitious to succeed in the world of work. Between 1965 and 2007, the former campus presidents (“chancellors”)–John Ryan, Francis Broderick, Carlo Golino, Robert Corrigan, Sherry Penney, Jo Ann Gora and Michael Collins–provided steady hands. They achieved stable management despite rapid growth.

During 1965 until 2007, UMass Boston enrollment grew from about 1,230 to 13,400 students at the starts of academic years–a compound growth rate of about 6.0 percent per year. The pace slowed with Keith Motley as the campus president (“chancellor”) of UMass Boston. During 2007 until 2017, enrollment grew from about 13,400 to 16,800 at the starts of academic years, a compound growth rate of only about 3.1 percent per year.

UMass Boston enrollments, 2008-2016

UMassBostonEnrollments2008-2016
Source: U.S. Department of Education

After continuing historic rising trends at first, during the Motley regime the in-state undergraduate enrollment flattened, and the in-state graduate enrollment fell. The breakpoint year was 2010, making it look likely that changes in goals and policies from Motley’s planning “vision” at UMass Boston were the causes–not, as some might have thought, the deep recession that began in early 2008.

Vision: Dr. Motley became the organizer of a so-called “vision” for the future of UMass Boston. As with many other such institutional schemes, concrete in 2009 preceded concepts in 2011. The concrete was the product of architects Chan Krieger Sieniewicz–then in Cambridge, MA–later merged with Naramore, Bain, Brady, Johanson of Seattle, WA, now NBBJ headquartered in Boston.

Unlike Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Northeastern, Tufts, Brandeis, and a few other institutions in the region, UMass Boston has an historic mission as an affordable teaching university, not as a research university. In 2007, when the Motley regime began, UMass Boston remained a teaching university. However, spiraling student charges for tuition and fees had been eroding the UMass Boston mission of community service.

UMass Boston student charges, 1988-2016

UMassBostonStudentCharges1988-2016
Source: U.S. Department of Education

As described in the “vision” released in 2011, concepts for the future of UMass Boston reflected Motley’s background at Northeastern more closely than they did the needs and goals of UMass Boston students and their families. Motley described his focus as the “research university that we are and continue to become.” [App. B, p. 1] To most who have followed campus development, the falsehood and pretension would be obvious.

Rubber meets road: During the planning blitz for a future UMass Boston, Dr. Motley got blunt warnings from his finance staff that costs could easily spiral out-of-control. However, Motley likes to be liked. Results show him an easy touch for campus entrepreneurs who conjure up new programs. UMass Boston currently offers more than 200 academic programs to about 17,000 students.

Many degree-granting programs at UMass Boston lack sustainable enrollments. Of about 70 undergraduate majors available for at least ten years, only half have awarded ten or more degrees per year. The faltering yet longstanding programs include chemistry, physics, music, African studies, women’s studies, French, Italian, operations management, history and public policy.

Rather than trim back that unstable mix, the Motley regime has allowed several new programs a year. Most of the newer programs have awarded few degrees. Regardless of enrollment, all programs generate costs–mostly for teaching and support staff. Costs of less popular ones are not being offset much by revenues.

Dr. Motley does not seem to care very deeply about the impact of his research university “vision” on the Boston-area students and their families. He planned pay the bills by drawing in more out-of-state and foreign students. Early in his regime, he hired an expanded staff of very high-paid administrators who predicted, around a year ago, that there would be little or no deficit at this time.

Over the past year, rubber finally met the road. Not enough of those out-of-state and foreign students came. Recent reports estimate a $30 million annual deficit. The high-paid administrators were clearly wrong, but apparently either Motley had no contrary advice, or he chose to ignore it. His background as a basketball coach and sports recruiter left him personally unprepared to cope with storms of institutional finance.

In early March, state officials announced they had hired former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills to provide oversight but not to replace Motley. Early this April, Motley turned in his papers. The buzz coming out of UMass Boston signals desperate dodges to cut spending: classes cancelled without warning, part-time faculty laid off, library subscriptions dropped, copy machines unplugged. Hoop dreams.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2017


Laura Krantz, UMass Boston community fears cuts will erode its mission, Boston Globe, May 6, 2017

Laura Krantz, UMass Boston’s biggest challenge? Its own Big Dig, Boston Globe, April 22, 2017

Joan Vennochi, UMass Boston needs a reality check, Boston Globe, April 11, 2017

Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, Stoughton’s Keith Motley to step down as UMass-Boston chancellor, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, April 6, 2017

Peter Lucas, Beacon Hill silent on UMass Boston’s fiscal fiasco, Lowell (MA) Sun, March 28, 2017

Laura Krantz, UMass Boston was warned of financial crisis years earlier, Boston Globe, March 23, 2017

Laura Krantz, Growth spree has the UMass Boston campus in a bind, Boston Globe, March 18, 2017

Facts and Figures 2016-2017, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Statistical Portrait for 2916, Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Annual Financial Report for 2016, University of Massachusetts, for Boston campus, see page 5-6

Chancellors and provosts, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 1965 to 2016

Emily Sweeney, The evolution of Columbia Point from calf pasture to UMass home, Boston Globe, March 29, 2015

Gabriel Baumgaertner, Hoop Dreams: where are the main figures now?, Manchester Guardian (UK), February 18, 2015

UMass Boston at 50, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2015

Edwin Khoo, How did MIT become a private university?, Quora, June, 2013

Tracy Jan, When good enough is simply not enough, Boston Globe, February 27, 2011

History of UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

A Blueprint for UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

Fulfilling the Promise, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

Vision statement, University of Massachusetts at Boston, dated 2010, published 2011

25-Year Campus Master Plan, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2009

Chan Krieger Sieniewicz (Cambridge, MA), Campus Master Plan, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2009

James Vaznis, UMass facing a daunting repair bill, report says Amherst needs an extra $1.8 billion, Boston Globe, May 9, 2007

Collins and Motley to assume top posts, Media office, UMass Lowell, May, 2007

Facts 2006-2007, University of Massachusetts (all campuses)

Lisa Prevost, Is UMass pricing out kids like Joe Drury?, Boston Globe, December 11, 2005

Richard A. Hogarty, Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy: Studies in Power and Leadership, University of Massachusetts Press, 2002

Michael Knight, Massachusetts told of wide corruption, New York Times, January 1, 1981

John W. Ward (Special Commission chair), Final Report to the General Court of the Special Commission concerning State and County Buildings, 1980

Associated Press, Massachusetts state senators are convicted in extortion case, New York Times, February 26, 1977

Wendell H. Woodman, Let me call you sweetheart, New England News Service (series of five articles), February 8-12, 1971

Protecting park lands: issues and conflicts

Proposals to use town-owned land in south Brookline for a new elementary school, near the intersection of Heath and Hammond Streets, have led to protests from neighbors and from Precinct 15 town meeting members. Between 1941 and 1960, the land hosted a private school: the Rivers School. Brookline bought parcels of land there for recreation and school uses in stages between 1871 and 1960–the last acquired when the Rivers School moved to Weston in 1960.

Brookline renamed the former Rivers School the Baldwin School and named adjacent land the Soule Playground. Baldwin and Soule have a total of 12.3 acres, larger than the site of any current Brookline elementary school. Baldwin space has been used for Brookline classrooms, most recently during Heath School renovation from 2011 to 2013. Buildings on the Soule portion have become the Soule Recreation Center, currently hosting early childhood education operated by the Recreation Department.

Park land controversy: Some Precinct 15 town meeting members have been trying to claim that Baldwin land, Soule land or both cannot be used for a new elementary school because they are restricted as park land under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. Such claims are false; they run counter to standards well established in Massachusetts law.

In the current Assessor’s Atlas and Property Database, Baldwin land is shown as Block 432, Lots 20-24, property classification code 934. Soule land is shown as Block 432, Lot 08-00, property classification code 931. The classification codes mean town-owned land improved with buildings that is used for municipal or for school purposes.

The classification codes shown in the assessor’s data correctly reflect the purposes for which Brookline acquired the land and for which the land is actually used. Open space that might be eligible for Article 97 protections as park or conservation land would instead have classification code 930, 932 or 936.

Article 97: For many years, Brookline’s government officials seemed to assume that any town-owned land considered to be a park or a conservation reserve was protected against diversion to other uses under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution–adopted by voters in 1972. The “Article 97″ markers in Brookline’s online Web pages currently reflect such assumptions and are often unreliable. For example, according to its terms of acquisition, Dane Park is currently eligible for school uses.

Although Article 97 describes rigorous steps needed to remove protections, it does not specify how land enters into those protections. Brookline officials got a surprise when they encountered the issues while preparing for the November 17, 2015, town meeting. Article 6 for that town meeting proposed to extend Article 97 protections to most of Larz Anderson Park.

Once Advisory Committee members understood that much of Larz Anderson Park might not be protected and could be used for a school site, they became skeptical. By more than two to one, they opposed the town meeting article. It had been filed to support an application for state park-improvement funds. Just before the town meeting was to begin, the state turned down Brookline’s application, and the matter never came to a vote.

As other Massachusetts jurisdictions wrestled with Article 97 issues, lawsuits arose, with some going all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court. The decisions set standards for situations in which Article 97 is vague. There are two particularly notable cases: Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, decided in 2005, and Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, decided in 2013.

The two cases cited indicate basic steps needed for town-owned open space, in order to guarantee Article 97 protections. It must be designated as park or conservation land by an act of the town. Usually that means a town meeting vote, although a town meeting might delegate authority–for example, in a land taking. The land status must be recorded in a deed, typically as some form of deed restriction. Under Massachusetts standards, playgrounds are recreation uses, not open space. School uses and recreation uses do not qualify for Article 97 protections.

Social justice: In contrast to the current status of Baldwin and Soule land, Brookline has several town-owned parcels whose status is unclear and may need to be investigated and asserted. As those parcels are reviewed, the run-up to the November 17, 2015, town meeting has shown that local policies will need attention. Conflicts can arise. What may seem to some like environmental or neighborhood concerns can look antisocial and greedy to others who have different priorities, such as recreation or public schools.

Consider, for example, possible new protections for some of the Baldwin and Soule land in Precinct 15. The distribution of Brookline’s public open space is grossly unequal. Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total for the whole town. In the urban areas near Coolidge Corner and Washington Square, Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can easily spare enough for a handsome school site.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2017


Property Database, Town of Brookline, MA, 2017

Soule Early Childhood Center, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2017

Property type classification codes, Massachusetts Department of Revenue, 2016

Joslin Murphy, Brookline Town Counsel, Potential ninth school sites, 2016

John M. Collins (Collins & Associates, Shrewsbury, MA), Applicability of Article 97′s legislative approval requirement to proposed solar array, Oak Bluffs Water District, Oak Bluffs (Martha’s Vineyard), MA, 2016

Baldwin and Soule land, Assessor’s Atlas, page 125, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Mission and history, Rivers School (Weston, MA), 2015

Curley v. Town of Billerica, Massachusetts Land Court, case no. 2012 Misc. 459001, 2013, see Tab F

Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Precinct map, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Dane Park, Public facilities descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA, 2010

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Transfer of land procedure, Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40, Section 15A (enacted 1951)

Craig Bolon, Town meeting: parks and schools, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015