Don’t scare the tortoise! Troops tiptoe around endangered species

The cardinal rule for Marines training at the Twentynine Palms Air Ground Combat Center in Southern California’s Mojave Desert is this: Don’t make the tortoise pee.

Whether troops are learning to drive tanks through the desert or practicing assaults, scaring a desert tortoise so much that it urinates is the one thing that can turn coexistence with the threatened animal from a mild nuisance into a serious disruption.

The tortoise survives on just 2 liters of water per year, aided by kidneys that can reabsorb urine from the bladder to rehydrate multiple times. That means when a tortoise urinates, it loses a significant portion of its annual water supply, increasing the likelihood it will die before the next rainfall.

The Fish and Wildlife Service allows any Marine who has read an informational packet to pick up a tortoise and move it out of harm’s way if the animal lumbers into a training area. If the tortoise relieves itself, it must be rehydrated. And only three people stationed at Twentynine Palms are authorized to help it do so.

On a base that spans more than 998 square miles, a peeing tortoise can delay a training exercise by four or five hours.

More than 400 threatened and endangered species coexist with troops on Department of Defense lands. Military bases and DOD lands are home to more threatened and endangered species per acre than those of any other government agency, including the Interior Department.

The fact is a source of both pride and resentment for members of the military who value natural resources but feel they have an undue burden of preserving species endangered by other human activity.

The majority of military installations were built in remote locations after World War II to help provide troops with a variety of realistic training environments. As human development encroached on bases, the installations were often the last bastions of untouched habitat for local endangered species.

Near Fort Benning, Ga., which was founded in 1918, the timber industry cut down the 100-year-old pine trees that endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers rely on, while fires started on artillery ranges kept the trees on base healthy by burning the understory.

“These species aren’t endangered because of the bases, it’s off the bases that are the problem,” said Robert Larimore, natural resources manager at Fort Benning. “We are the ones taking care of the ecosystem like we should. The problem with the timber industry is it takes 100 years to grow back a 100-year-old tree for the woodpecker.”

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Army’s eco-friendly quest breeds more deadly bullet

The Army set out to develop lead-free bullets to protect the environment. The finished product achieved that goal — and produced the most lethal rifle round to date.For the past five years, U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been firing eco-friendly rifle bullets with greater ability to pierce protective shields and cause more bodily harm than the lead bullets they replaced.”What started as a program to be more environmentally friendly became a significant upgrade in military small arms capability,” Col. Glenn Dean, who helped develop the green bullet, wrote in his e-book on the experience, “In Search of Lethality.”Those at the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal don’t like to describe one bullet as more lethal than another.”You don’t want to get hit by either bullet,” said small-caliber ammunition project manager Lt. Col. Todd Masternak of the Army’s first green rifle round and its lead predecessor. “If you get hit by one or you get hit by the other and you don’t receive timely medical treatment, you are just as dead.”

Instead, the development team at Picatinny says the green bullet is “more effective” than the lead version.

In layman’s terms, that means the bullet causes more damage to its targets, ultimately incapacitating them — and killing them — faster.

“You can’t kill someone more, but you can become more consistent at incapacitating them,” Masternak said.

When the Army’s green ammunition program began in the late 1990s, it was not designed to create better bullets, just ones that would not contaminate the service’s 3,000 domestic firing ranges.

But creating a lead-free replica of the M855 rifle round proved difficult. The most successful attempt by Picatinny Arsenal used a tungsten-nylon blend. The ammunition ultimately had to be discontinued when troops discovered it sometimes flew sideways into targets with minimal impact.

By 2003, the Army was no closer to a permanent substitute when the War on Terror expanded into Iraq.

That’s when the Army began hearing reports that the lead rifle bullet, which had been used for three decades, was also not always performing as it should. Sometimes it would go right through targets without stopping them; other times it would cause large muzzle flashes as it exited the M4 rifle, temporarily blinding soldiers as they fought.

It was at that point that the “green ammo” mission was turned on its head.

Instead of simply reworking ingredients to create an eco-friendly replica of the M855 bullet, the Army would use green ammo program funding to develop a more lethal bullet that didn’t include lead.

Dean, who declined to comment beyond what he wrote in his e-book, recalls a 2005 meeting about the M855’s shortcomings when the green ammunition program came up.

“The program leads and contractors were laying out the scope of that effort when an infantry representative spoke up and said, basically, ‘Look, we’re in the middle of a war. No one gives a shit about being environmentally friendly right now. Can’t you give us something better instead?'” Dean wrote.

The green M855A1 — or enhanced performance round — is the Army’s answer to that question.

Enhanced performance

Made of a copper slug and steel penetrator, the round contains lead only in its primer, the part of the cartridge case that ignites gunpowder. The primer burns off when the bullet is fired, and the projectile itself is lead-free.

The technical explanation for the improvements can be gruesome, but it can also mean the difference between life and death for U.S. soldiers on the battlefield.

When a bullet is fired from a gun, it’s supposed to shoot straight. If aimed at a hard target — like a car door or a barricade — an ideal bullet would continue a straight trajectory even upon impact in order to penetrate the barricade and hit whoever is hiding behind it.

Once it hits a “soft target” — the military’s euphemism for human flesh — an ideal bullet would begin to tumble in what’s known as a “yaw,” bouncing off and damaging as many organs as possible in order to incapacitate the enemy.

Picatinny studied the old M855 round extensively when the arsenal decided to reinvent it. It found that, when fired at close range, the bullet didn’t always have time to yaw when it hit a person, particularly a thinner one. Instead, it went straight through the person.

“In essence, all of the anecdotal evidence was correct — the M855 could be highly lethal or highly ineffective depending on circumstances which the user could not control,” Dean wrote.

The challenge in developing the new, more effective “green ammo” was to keep the bullet’s same target-penetrating power while making sure its trajectory would destabilize upon hitting flesh.

Distributed to troops in 2010, the M855A1 is better at both tasks.

The green bullet can penetrate a 3/8-inch-thick steel barrier at twice the distance the old lead round can, according to Picatinny. It can also penetrate concrete masonry from up to 100 meters away, something the lead bullet could not do at any range.

The more than 1.5 million green bullets fired in testing consistently hit soft targets — using gelatin as a stand-in for flesh — without creating through-and-through wounds and also penetrated Kevlar body armor fabric from more than 1,000 meters away.

“In other words, the A1 will stop the enemy quicker so he cannot fire back,” Masternak said.

The upshot

Exactly who redesigned the green bullet is in dispute. In 2011, the Department of Defense was sued by Liberty Ammunition, claiming the enhanced performance round was developed using technology patented by the Florida-based company.

U.S. Federal Court of Claims Judge Charles Lettow ruled in favor of Liberty this winter, writing that the government had infringed on a patent Liberty applied for in 2005 and received in 2010. He ordered the government to pay a $15.6 million lump payment as well as a 1.4-cent royalty on every bullet purchased until the Liberty patent expires in 2027.

The Army and Department of Justice declined to comment. In its appeal, the government argues that though Liberty met with the Army and gave it sample bullets, those samples were never tested and differed significantly from the bullet the Army says it ultimately developed with a different contractor.

Within the military, not everyone has been as enthusiastic about the M855A1 as the Army. While the Air Force and National Guard also use the bullet, the Marine Corps continues to field the old leaded M855 while developing its own lead-free alternative.

That’s mainly due to concerns about whether the new bullets do more damage than lead bullets to rifles, said Col. Michael Manning, who manages infantry weapons systems for the Marine Corps. Initial testing in 2009 found that the M855A1’s steel penetrator was “chewing up” some magazines, expediting the usual wear and tear expected in military equipment.

The Army said its tests did find that the green bullet causes a rifle to “wear differently” and that the hardened penetrator can create marks on a rifle muzzle. But the Army said that issue does not affect the M855A1’s performance. Since developing the enhanced performance round, the Army has also developed an “enhanced performance magazine” to eliminate those issues.

The Marine Corps is re-evaluating the green round, and Manning made it clear that his concerns about the Army’s green ammunition had nothing to do with its ability to hit and incapacitate a target.

“There is no question that the M855A1 does perform better than the M855,” which the Marines still use, he said. “We vehemently agree with the Army that the M855A1 is better.”

For its part, the Army has continued its quest to get the lead out. Since fielding the original green bullet, Picatinny Arsenal has developed many more types of lead-free rounds, including those used by snipers and in medium-sized machine guns.

In November 2014, the Army issued two more types of green bullets to troops. As with the M855A1, tests show each new bullet outperforming its lead predecessor.

“What we’ve done is remove the lead from production, removed the lead from the training ranges, while providing the Army with a more capable, more consistent ammunition round,” Masternak said. “The fact is that we can meet our mission needs while removing the hazardous materials the Army was built on.”

Offshore Wind: After building it, one city wonders if they will come

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The ocean has been good to New Bedford.

This coastal Massachusetts city was once one of the richest in the world thanks to a booming whaling industry, serving as a home base for mariners searching for fortunes in whale oil.

That was in the 1850s, when in his novel “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville described the city with its “opulent” homes and gardens as “the dearest place to live in all New England.”

It’s not like that anymore.

The city of 100,000 has been in decline ever since whaling’s demise. Manufacturing initially replaced whaling as the top industry, but those jobs have since been outsourced, leaving behind a dozen abandoned mills sitting on useless, contaminated land. Now New Bedford’s economy is led by its commercial fishing fleet, which is more often than not in port thanks to federal quotas. Today, the former homes of whaling captains sit dilapidated, divvied up as multifamily rentals.

New Bedford is in need of a renaissance. To bring it, officials are looking to the sea once again in an attempt to reinvent the city as a hub of the offshore wind industry.

It’s a risky strategy.

With no active offshore wind farms in the United States, the industry is in its infancy. And Cape Wind, which is set to be the city’s first offshore wind customer, has been dealt blow after blow this month with the loss of two power purchase agreements and a suspension from participating in New England’s wholesale energy markets. The prospect of other projects getting steel in water anytime soon also seems more unlikely this year with the expiration of federal renewable energy tax credits.

But Massachusetts has spent $113 million on a new port facility in New Bedford built specifically to cater to offshore wind farms, bolstering widespread community support for the strategy. The city’s location near two federal areas off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island slated for wind development also buoys residents’ hopes.

Says Mayor Jon Mitchell: “The arrival of the offshore wind industry in America, and especially the Northeast, is inevitable. And when it comes, New Bedford will be ready.”

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Companies show limited appetite for Mass. lease sale

Bidders were interested in only half the offshore wind development leases being auctioned by the Interior Department today.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put up for auction four lease areas near Massachusetts totaling 742,000 acres and with the potential to support 4 gigawatts of commercial wind generation.

But just two companies bid on two of the areas, with RES America Developments Inc. provisionally winning the lease on a 187,523-acre area for $281,285 and OffshoreMW LLC winning the lease on a 166,886-acre area for $166,886.

Speaking on a conference call announcing the auction results, BOEM Director Abby Ross Hopper said the two areas developers bid on were located closer to shore than the other areas up for auction.

Hopper rejected the idea that the low bids in today’s auction were in reaction to recent troubles the Nantucket Sound Cape Wind project has had related to its power purchase agreements, instead attributing the auction results to the acreage’s depth.

The agency does not yet know what it will do with the lease areas that did not receive bids but will consult with Massachusetts.

“I am very encouraged by the fact that two experienced wind developers decided to bid and won leases,” Hopper said.

Twelve companies were eligible to compete in the auction, including Deepwater Wind LLC, which has already leased another area off Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and U.S. Wind Inc., which won the auction of two lease areas near Ocean City, Md., in August 2014 (E&ENews PM, Aug. 19, 2014).

Hopper said BOEM set the initial asking price for the Massachusetts area lower than other auctions.

“We know developing an offshore wind facility here would be more expensive,” she said.

She also said previous wind development auctions had been held near states that had created power purchase and renewable energy credit programs in advance of the auctions.

“That impacts that value a company places on it,” she said.

Indeed, the three previous offshore wind auctions saw winning bids in the millions of dollars. The August auction of two leases near Maryland, which has a renewable energy credit program, raked in $8.7 million.



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Dirty ground starts to sprout clean energy

Ten years after remediation was complete at the E.I. DuPont Superfund site in Newport, Del., the area had few options for reuse.

An 18-inch layer of soil capped a landfill where the toxic byproducts of pigment manufacturing had been dumped for decades. A barrier planted between the landfill and a nearby stream prevented the chemicals from migrating. The contamination no longer posed a threat to the environment or workers at nearby factories. But the land wasn’t being used.

The cap was protective only so long as nothing penetrated it, making building anything on the site virtually impossible.

“Redevelopment was a big issue for this site because you cannot dig,” said Dina Toto, remediation director for DuPont. “It was just sitting there.”

But in 2011, Tangent Energy Solutions approached DuPont with a novel idea to turn the barren land productive: solar panels.

Today, the 0.5-megawatt solar array at DuPont Newport has been online for almost a year, generating more than 1,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.

Building clean energy on contaminated ground is a growing trend for Superfund sites, brownfields and landfills, thanks in part to an initiative launched by U.S. EPA in 2008.

The RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative encourages renewable energy development on contaminated sites by providing technical assistance to developers and educating them about available liability protection.

Renewable energy is being produced at more than 128 contaminated sites across the country with a cumulative installed capacity of 773 megawatts, according to EPA. Solar photovoltaic arrays have been installed on 110 sites, with wind turbines located at 21 others. Geothermal, hydropower and biomass projects have been developed on other contaminated areas. In some instances, the renewables are used to power ongoing remediation efforts.

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Big setback for Cape Wind as utilities terminate power deals

The Cape Wind project suffered a major blow yesterday when two utilities opted to terminate agreements to purchase power from the planned offshore wind farm.

Northeast Utilities and National Grid had agreed to purchase more than 75 percent of the power produced by Cape Wind’s planned 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Today, the utilities attributed their decision to terminate the contract to Cape Wind’s failure to meet a Dec. 31 financing deadline for the $2.5 billion project.

“National Grid is disappointed that Cape Wind has been unable to meet its commitments under the contract, resulting in [the] termination of the power purchase agreement,” National Grid spokesman Jake Navarro said in a statement.

Northeast Utilities spokesman Michael Durand wrote in an email that, under the terms of the contract, Cape Wind could have posted financial security in order to extend the deadline for financing but decided not to.

“Therefore the contract is now terminated,” he wrote.

Cape Wind has previously characterized its power purchase agreements as key to securing financing, and the utilities’ decision raises questions about whether the developer will be able to close financing without the contractors.

But Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said the developer does not “regard the decision to terminate the contract as valid,” citing a contract provision that would allow delays in reaching project milestones caused by “unusual, unexpected and significant events.”

Those events should include the “unprecedented and relentless litigation the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound” has filed to block the project, Cape Wind President Jim Gordon wrote in a letter to the utilities Dec. 31 urging them not to terminate their contracts.

The alliance, which opposes the project for economic and aesthetic reasons, has filed more than 20 administrative and judicial challenges to Cape Wind.

“This exceptional level of litigation against Cape Wind for the purpose of delay is extraordinary, unusual, unexpected and significant,” Gordon wrote. “It has been completely beyond Cape Wind’s control and could not have been prevented or avoided.”

Gordon said he expected the project to overcome the latest challenge and secure financing in 2015.

Alliance President and CEO Audra Parker heralded the utilities’ decision, saying it “speaks to the poor economics of the project.”

Northeast Utilities had agreed to purchase 27.5 percent of Cape Wind’s production, and National Grid had agreed to purchase 50 percent. The average residential electricity customer would have paid an extra $1.50 per month under the contract.

“This is very bad for Cape Wind but great news for ratepayers across Massachusetts,” Parker said.

Outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has championed the Cape Wind project since taking office in 2007. His administration has even funded the construction of a $100 million new port facility in New Bedford, Mass., to cater to the needs of the offshore wind industry. In September, Cape Wind signed a lease to use the facility beginning in 2015.

Patrick spokeswoman Jesse Mermell said today that the news about Cape Wind has not put a damper on the governor’s enthusiasm for the industry.

“The future of offshore wind in the commonwealth remains bright,” she said.


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Cape Wind won’t secure financing this year, delaying construction

Offshore wind developer Cape Wind will not secure all financing for its Nantucket Sound wind farm by the end of 2014 as previously planned, it said today.

Instead, the project is hoping to do so by the end of the first quarter 2015, project spokesman Mark Rodgers wrote in an email.

He would not comment further on the financial status of the planned first-in-the-nation offshore wind farm, simply saying, “We are moving forward.”

Cape Wind had expected to begin construction of its 130-turbine, 468-megawatt project in January 2015. While Rodgers confirmed Cape Wind will begin building the project next year, he said a precise construction schedule will not be announced until after financing closes.

The latest cost estimate for the project, made by the state of Massachusetts in 2010, was $2.6 billion.

In July, the offshore wind developer said it had secured $1.45 billion in financing, including a $150 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

That loan guarantee was almost scrapped by House Republicans in July when they approved an energy and water appropriations bill. The loan was saved under the $1 trillion spending bill signed by President Obama this week, which did not jeopardize the loan but instead requires DOE to provide quarterly reports through fiscal 2016 about litigation risks associated with the loan (Greenwire, Dec. 10).

Other investments made public so far include $600 million from the Export Bank of Denmark; $200 million in mezzanine debt from PensionDanmark; and $400 million in commercial debt from a combination of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Natixis and Rabobank.

The project has already secured 15-year-long power purchase agreements with National Grid PLC and NSTAR.

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Data-driven regulation a big hit with U.S. scallop industry

News that regulators were closing two prime fishing areas to scalloping this fall was welcomed by former scallop fisherman Jim Kendall.

Kendall, who now runs a New Bedford, Mass.-based seafood consulting firm, had been hoping for the restriction.

“We’re saving our resource like a bank account to draw from later,” he explained.

Kendall is not alone. While those who fish other species can be quick to lament federal regulation as a form of overreach preventing them from making a living, scallopers credit the National Marine Fisheries Service with helping the industry stage a comeback.

Increased reliance on data and detailed surveying of scallop fishing grounds have transformed the scallop management system over the past 15 years and helped create the Northeast’s most sustainable and profitable industry.

“We are in a lucky place with scallops right now,” said Emily Gilbert, an analyst for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “The fishery is doing well, it’s managed well, and fishermen agree with our operations.”

Scallop habitat covers an expansive area of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean — from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras, N.C. Fishermen catch the mollusks with dredges that look like large purses made of 4-inch-wide rings that drag along the seabed, trapping the scallops of legal size.

Each year, NMFS conducts broad “stock assessments” of all fisheries to determine whether they are sustainable. When it comes to scallops, the service goes further. It conducts two types of surveys on the entire resource, dividing the habitat into zones of differing depths and using a video camera or a modified dredge to count the scallops. In both cases, scientists extrapolate the total number of scallops and the weight of their meat from more than 2,000 data sets.

Federal regulators and academic partners conduct the surveys on both research vessels and fishing boats. The result is a regulatory system that knows how many shellfish are out there, where they are and what size they are, as well as an industry that trusts decisions made from the data.

“It’s a unique relationship with the industry because they have buy-in,” said Dave Rudders, a researcher for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, which conducts some of the surveys. “Cooperative research helps to bridge that gap and can form a common perspective to manage the fishery.”

Fishing consultant Kendall agreed.

“We have been willing to accept downturns when the surveys show less scallops to be harvested because we know what they are basing the data on,” he said.

The New England Fishery Management Council uses survey data to recommend an annual fishing quota, which is set by NMFS. In general, fishermen are allowed to catch 20 to 30 percent of large scallops located in open fishing areas.

The arrangement can be extremely profitable for scallopers, even as their fishing is restricted to fewer than 60 days at sea per year. Hovering above $10 a pound, market prices for scallop meat are double what they were a decade ago.

“When the government, industry and academia work together, we all win,” says Chris Wright, who captains two scallop boats based in Massachusetts, each of which can earn more than $1 million annually.

Bad years

It hasn’t always been this way. In the 1990s, the scalloping industry was in dire straits. Fishing was at an all-time high, while the scallop population was at an all-time low.

Back then, only the dredge survey was used to monitor the scallop population. In 1994, the government closed three large areas of Georges Bank, a fishing ground off the coast of Massachusetts, to any kind of gear, forcing scallopers to concentrate their efforts on the rest of the resource, exhausting it.

“We were really up against a wall,” said New Jersey scalloper Jim Gutowski, who also serves as an industry adviser to the management council. “Back then, nobody would be able to conceptualize that the industry would ever bounce back.”

Fishermen were not convinced that the scallops were gone and were clamoring to get back into the areas closed in 1994. Scallopers based in New Bedford, Mass., decided to act, creating a Fisheries Survival Fund and hiring biologists at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, to conduct their own survey, which used submerged video cameras to look at areas where other equipment was banned.

The fishermen had been right; the once-bare beds were now swelling with scallops. NMFS reopened the areas.

“We provided a second opinion, and it benefited everyone,” said Kevin Stokesbury, who led the university team.

The incident had broad implications for the industry. Fishermen no longer trusted regulators, who they said had kept them out of healthy beds. Regulators, meanwhile, maintained that it was the closures that had allowed scallops to rebound.

The solution was the current management system. NMFS divided the fishery into management areas based on where prominent beds were located. They devised a system similar to crop rotation that would open and close beds on a rolling basis, giving dredged beds three- to five-year breaks to allow new scallops to mature before being fished again.

To support the new system, the service needed more data and incorporated video cameras into its annual survey. It also decided to conduct more detailed surveys each year of areas set to close or reopen. To fund the additional surveys, the industry agreed to set aside a portion of its catch profits — roughly $12 million to $15 million — each year.

“It’s an unusual arrangement, the way the regulatory system has evolved,” Rudders said. “We have fisheries that close areas to protect spawning and to protect fish habitat, but in terms of closing areas specifically in order to increase fishery yield, that’s really unique.”

The effort has paid off.

In 1999, the industry harvested 5.5 million pounds of scallops worth $55 million. By 2014, the numbers swelled to 41.2 million pounds of scallops harvested worth $470.3 million. To top it off, the fishery has been sustainable since 2001.

“Without a doubt, this is one of our more sustainable fisheries,” said Deirdre Boelke, a scallop fishery analyst for the New England Fisheries Management Council. “It has been a strong resource for quite some time.”

The million-dollar question

The data-driven management system has been particularly successful in catching unexpected changes in the scallop population.

While the fishery is typically made up of 8 billion individual shellfish, in 2003, the survey found 12 billion juvenile scallops in Georges Bank. In 2014, the survey found an even bigger boom of 20 billion additional juvenile scallops.

In each case, the Management Council moved to close the beds populated by the baby scallops, which at the time were smaller than a fingernail, allowing them to grow to legal size.

Stokesbury, of UMass Dartmouth, estimates that the shellfish discovered in 2003 helped boost the industry for the past seven to eight years. He expects this past summer’s discovery to support the industry during the next decade.

Without the surveying, though, regulators would have had no way of knowing the increase had occurred. Though the 10 years between the booms suggests they may be cyclical, scientists and regulators are uncertain what affects them or how to predict them.

It could be cod populations, water temperatures, currents or simply where the scallops land when they are large enough to sink to the bottom of the ocean.

“It’s the million-dollar question,” Boelke, of the council, said. “If we could predict these things, we would. Until then, we will keep surveying.”

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Officials to House members: Lava flow threatens Hawaiian roads, infrastructure

An active lava flow on Hawaii’s Big Island has overtaken one road and is encroaching on two more, setting up potential infrastructure challenges, state officials told a House subcommittee hearing yesterday.

“The change we are preparing for is a life-altering change,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

Concerns about the lava, which has already inundated a cemetery and consumed a residence, kept Oliveira on the island yesterday. He instead testified remotely via an internet feed.

The crisis comes as the U.S. Geological Survey grapples with funding challenges for its volcano monitoring program.

If the lava continues to advance in its current direction, it could consume two additional roads, isolating the rural community of Pahoa from the rest of the island, Oliveira said.

Instead of having an hour-long drive to get to the other side of the island where many residents work in the resort industry, commuters will have a two-hour drive on a dark, narrow road through a national park, he said.

Up to 10,000 residents could be impacted, depending on where the lava crosses the roads.

The current lava flow affecting Pahoa comes from the Kilauea Volcano, which has been continuously erupting for 31 years. On June 27, the flow of lava shifted direction, endangering Pahoa.

While Oliveira and his team have been relying on USGS monitoring data to help cope with the ongoing lava flow, USGS Volcano Hazards Program Coordinator Charles Mandeville said the agency does not have adequate monitoring in place at each of the nation’s 169 volcanoes.

Mandeville said USGS has been installing monitoring equipment on volcanoes since 2005, giving priority to those with the highest risk of erupting.

But with a program budget of just $23 million and installation costs estimated at $1 million to $2 million per volcano, Mandeville said it could take as many as 20 years to complete the effort.

“We are in a very austere environment,” he said.

So far, he said USGS is only 30 percent of the way toward its goal of monitoring all volcanoes according to their threat levels. For example, Cascade Volcanic Arc located in Oregon, Washington and California only has “very rudimentary” monitoring.

Hawaii’s Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito described how the industry has struggled to cope with the new direction of the lava flow, which is testing a new Hawaiian Property Insurance Association formed to make sure that residents living in USGS’ “volcano zones” would have access to insurance.

As the current lava flow approached residents, the association implemented moratoriums on the sales of new or updated policies. Hawaiian law prohibits insurers from canceling policies except in a few instances, but as the lava approached Pahoa, Ito said, residents were receiving notices that their policies would not be renewed at the end of their term. This was problematic because, due to the moratorium, homeowners were left with few other options. Ito said his division stepped in to have the nonrenewal notices rescinded.

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Winds of change: Coal advocate Rep. Haddad now ally for offshore wind

NEW BEDFORD — It was just after midnight on Aug. 1 when Wind Energy Center Director Matthew Morrissey received the text: “You’re all set.”

The short message signaled the defeat of a renewable energy bill in the House of Representatives that had threatened to dash New Bedford’s offshore wind hopes by giving utilities an incentive to sign 30-year long contracts with Canadian hydropower, potentially pushing offshore wind, and New Bedford’s economic future, out of the market.

The text was sent by offshore wind’s new and unlikely ally in the Statehouse: Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset.

That’s right; Somerset, of Brayton Point coal-fired power plant fame.

But with the plant set to go offline in 2017, taking more than 30 percent of Somerset’s tax revenue with it, Haddad has done an energy-policy 180, aligning herself with offshore wind interests in the hope that whatever economic development the industry brings to New Bedford will spread to Somerset.

That turnaround is no fluke, the result of concentrated lobbying on the part of New Bedford’s delegation. Haddad is a powerful ally to have, serving as Speaker Pro Tempore, second only to the Speaker in the House hierarchy.

It’s that role that brought her to the rostrum for the final hours of the House’s summer session when allies of the renewable energy bill, which never made it out of committee, were trying to tack it onto other pieces of legislation to sneak it through.

Haddad gaveled the amendments down, blocking the initiative from becoming law.

“We breathed a sigh of relief when we received that final text message from Rep. Haddad on the rostrum telling us ‘You are all set,'” Morrissey said.

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