Newsletter Articles

Let the PSC hear from You on the Dryden Pipeline!

You can use this text provided by Fossil Free Tompkins to send an email to the NYS Public Service Commission to reject further investments in fossil fuel infrastructure in Tompkins County.  Just copy and paste:


Subject:  Case 17-G-0432, NYSEG Compressor Pilot Project

Dear Commissioner Rhodes,

I am a NYSEG customer in Tompkins County. I support NYSEG’s proposal to install 4 pressure boosters to ensure adequate gas pressure in Lansing rather than building a new pipeline. Further, I strongly support our County Legislature’s pledge to reduce GHG emissions and fossil fuel use – goals that cannot be reached if we continue to expand natural gas use. We need to curtail our reliance on fossil fuels, not invest in new infrastructure that will become stranded assets. Instead we should meet our heating needs by investing in energy efficiency and heat pumps for space and water heating. NYSEG’s solution is cheaper for ratepayers, better for the environment, and supports the State’s Energy Plan for GHG reduction.

Name: _________________________

Address: ________________________

Citizen Power through Communergy Circles


People who care about democracy, local rights, and healthy communities have reason to be concerned about the recent election results. The rapid expansion of shale gas and oil infrastructure across the country will face even fewer obstacles.  Utilities are making a grab for retaining control of the energy system, even as it becomes more distributed. The bill for climate damage is locked in now, and growing. It’s daunting, for sure.

But people are fighting back. They are organizing, learning the ropes, and getting involved. Some are getting arrested, and some are still trying to figure out the playing field. The point is that they are present and accounted for at this moment in history. And they are not alone. They are doing this with others. And that makes all the difference.

Sustainable Tompkins has been helping to organize “communergy circles” by supporting residents willing to act as host and facilitator for a series of conversations about local and state energy and climate issues. Several are underway now, and we are looking for more folks ready to step up and get involved. The process is very open-ended and each group will be different as its members decide for themselves what part of the climate/energy system to work on.

One circle has decided to focus on getting NY to pass the community-owned renewables bill, and for Tompkins County to play a lead role in developing microgrids of locally-owned and controlled renewable energy systems.  Another is exploring how to get their neighborhood enrolled in home energy efficiency and solar energy programs.  ST provides support with briefings on what is going on locally in the energy and climate arena, and resource materials to share with circle members.

Are you ready to step up and get engaged? Is there something you want to work on, or just to think about and explore with others? If so, please get in touch with Gay Nicholson ( to explore your interest and meet with other circle leaders. This is no time to be on the sidelines.


Neighborhood Mini-grants Complete 25th Grant Round

Sustainable Tompkins has completed its 25th granting cycle for the popular Neighborhood Mini-grants Program. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of the Mini-grant Council: Miranda Phillips (on leave until 2015,) Joel Gagnon, Jamila Simon, Gay Nicholson, and our newest member, Larissa Comacho-Lillie, the Council convenes quarterly to review proposals and make awards. Cornell graduate student, Mike Catsos, our Sustainability Intern Spring 2014, is an interim member.

In September the Council awarded 4 grants: Operation Keep Out the Critters to the Dryden Community Gardens to replace their deteriorated garden gates; Cooking Up Community to Ellis Hollow Apartment residents for a fall harvest dinner to build community among the residents; White Hawk Ecovillage Marketing and Outreach to redesign and print new marketing materials to reach prospective community members who are eligible for their newly secured Community Housing grant; and to The Garden Club, Beverly J Martin Afterschool  Enrichment program that teaches children about nutrition and healthy food choices year round.

Council members join with Sustainable Tompkins board members  and staff in offering our warmest thanks to Neisha Butler who completed her six year term on the Mini-grant Council in June. Her thoughtful insight, and long term vision will be missed by all.

Neighborhood Mini-grants, ranging in size from $150-750, have funded more than 129 projects throughout the county. Grant money is provided by our sponsor, Aigen Financial and their matching gift partner Prudential, the Park Foundation and generous individuals like you. Make your gift to the Mini-grant program today! For more information see: or contact

Better by the Dozen!

Our Finger Lakes Climate Fund made two more grant awards in October to homeowners needing help with high energy bills and uncomfortable living conditions. Our eleventh grant was made to the Fenner Family in Newfield who needed lots of insulation and air sealing work done along with replacing their old oil furnace with a high efficiency propane furnace. The award of $2,247 via Tompkins Community Action will help the Fenner household make improvements that will reduce carbon emissions by 112 tons.

Our twelfth grant was also our first grant to someone living outside of Tompkins County. Kim Stanford is semi-retired from Cornell and lives in Richford in Tioga County.  She had been heating with both a coal stove and an oil furnace, which had recently been red-tagged due to a cracked heat exchanger and needed replacement.  The house also needed attic and wall insulation and drafts sealed in order to address challenging problems with large ice dams.  Snug Planet will put the award of $2,287 towards Kim’s project, keeping 114 tons of carbon out of our atmosphere.

Sustainable Tompkins has awarded $23,269 to a dozen community members, and we are eager to help more families reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and enjoy a healthier, more energy-secure future.  You can help us make our next award by offsetting your upcoming holiday travel with the Climate Fund.  It’s quick, easy, and surprisingly affordable!

The Keystone Principle

Back in SeptemClimate March Hands Upber, members of Sustainable Tompkins joined the People’s Climate March in NYC to affirm our moral responsibility for reducing carbon emissions and heading off catastrophic climate disruption. We know there is a challenging and lengthy journey to meet that commitment, but the harmful consequences of inaction inspire our resolve.  Our movement can’t be afraid of the difficult conversations and points of friction, and must access the courage of our convictions.

ST has devoted much of the past five years to helping our community reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and choose to invest in energy efficiency, demand management, and renewables. Our Finger Lakes Climate Fund helps lower-income families reduce their energy bills, while our Finger Lakes Energy Challenge helps households and businesses design their own path to true energy security. Our conferences, salons, and workshops support our community’s growing understanding of the essential need for and viability of a low-carbon energy economy.

But now our community is facing a “Keystone” moment on the climate front, and ST’s focus is on preventing a significant increase in our reliance on fossil fuel.

The Keystone XL pipeline is just one high-profile example of the widespread rush to make large, long-term capital investments in fossil fuel infrastructure that will lock in a dangerous increase in carbon emissions for several decades. It’s obvious to many that the proposed gas depot under Seneca Lake and the repowering of the Cayuga power plant are risky investments being forced upon residents and ratepayers. It is perhaps less obvious that the proposed 7-mile gas pipeline through Dryden to Lansing is a similar threat to our long-term energy security and our county’s goal of reducing emissions 80% by 2050.

ST has been helping to organize a group of about 40 local residents and clean energy experts that is investigating the implications of the Dryden pipeline proposal in comparison to less risky energy alternatives for housing development and business expansion in Lansing. The $14-million, 10-incScreen shot 2014-11-12 at 12.17.45 PMh pipeline could supply methane gas to 40-60,000 households and seems greatly oversized for a “reinforcement” project to service expansion of existing businesses near the airport.   (There are about 38,000 households in our county; many already serviced by natural gas.)

We have shared our concerns with county legislators about the need for coordination of our climate goals with economic development strategies, and about the potentially false assumptions that are driving the pipeline’s advocates to insist that it is necessary and beneficial. Part of our effort is to protect the interests of the landowners along the route from an exceptionally unfair pipeline easement and eminent domain proceedings by NYSEG (now owned by Iberdrola in Spain).  But an equally critical part of our campaign is to take an in-depth look at the short and long-term costs of powering new development with methane versus locally- and renewably-sourced biomass and electricity. We hope to be ready next month with our analysis, and will seek out conversations with local business leaders and elected officials to learn together how we can accept our climate responsibilities while also meeting the need for affordable housing and meaningful employment in Tompkins County.

The Keystone principle of avoiding new investments in fossil fuel is really just simple common sense. We know that we are already looking at damaging impacts and increasing costs from climate change and increasingly radical fossil fuel extraction methods. Alternatives are available now and make practical sense, especially if we take responsibility for how costs and benefits are distributed over time in our community.

If you are interested in helping Sustainable Tompkins with outreach to community groups on the alternatives to the Dryden pipeline, please contact to get involved.


Earth Day Ithaca–Registration Form Available

Sustainable Tompkins is pleased to work with Joey Gates to present Earth Day Ithaca 2014. This year’s event, scheduled in conjunction with Streets Alive!, will take place at Boynton Middle School parking lot on Sunday, May 4, from 1 pm -5 pm.

Please see for details and the registration form

Earth Day 2014 Reg ltr and form

Neighborhood Mini-grants For September 2013


The December deadline has past and the Neighborhood Mini-grant Council prepares to meet, we are excited to pleased to announce the five grants from our September deadline: (read more)

  • Coddington Road neighbors will use their grant to build community through a neighborhood drop-off spot for recycling batteries and plastic bags.
  • The Cancer Resource Center is using their neighborhood mini-grant to bring the new Healing Garden to fruition.
  • The Sciencenter will put their mini-grant to work building their new renewable energy exhibit.
  • The Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair’s grant will help them for increase participation through promotion.
  • And a Lansing resident will use his grant to complete his own DIY Solar Installation and then offer workshops to teach community members how they can do the same.

Neighborhood Mini-grants are made possible with funds from Aigen Financial Services (and Prudential, their matching gift partner,) the Park Foundation and individual contributions from people like you. Please make a gift to the Mini-grant program here.

If you or a friend has an idea for a Mini-Grant project, email or call us at 607-216-1552. We’ll send along an application form and answer any questions you might have.  Applications are reviewed quarterly by the Mini-Grant Council, comprised of local citizens and members of Sustainable Tompkins board and staff. Awards range from $150 to $750. For more details, and how to apply, click here.

Collaborating for Collective Impact

Why are these three separate organizations coming together and sharing one newsletter?
This collaboration among Sustainable Tompkins, the Green Resource Hub, and the Sustainability Center is our first joint effort after several months of facilitated meetings with representatives of all three organizations.  Together we have been exploring the potential to amplify our collective impact through collaboration.

Our three organizations work to advance sustainability awareness and active engagement in our community.  Our missions are complementary and we have a long history of supporting one another.  Over the past decade, Sustainable Tompkins has supported and catalyzed the local sustainability movement, helping inform and engage the grassroots as well as policymakers. The Green Resource Hub was incorporated 7 years ago with generous support and guidance from Sustainable Tompkins, and focuses on strengthening the marketplace for business owners and entrepreneurs interested in adopting a “people-planet-profit” approach to business.   The concept of the Sustainability Center as an “interpretive center” showcasing the broad array of regional sustainability efforts was supported by both Sustainable Tompkins and the Hub.   Likewise, the Center now showcases Sustainable Tompkins’ Sustainability Map and the Hub’s Green Business Directory.

This recent convergence, however, began with a string of event and program conflicts — as so often happens among the many local non-profits.  So, we decided to tear down a few fences and work to understand each other better.  Honest facilitated conversations to soothe bruised feelings quickly morphed into “what if” scenarios. Now, our events are coordinated and the three groups are actively collaborating and exploring deeper connections including even the possibility of merging one day. Toward that end, we recently applied for and have just been granted an award from the Community Foundation of Tompkins County to further this exploration with the assistance of a non-profit merger specialist.  Stay tuned… Together, we’ll let you know what happens next!

Everyday Climate Heroes

ST_Lawn-SignIt’s a comic book cliché.  The superhero that hides his true identity (remember mild-mannered Clark Kent?), but is ever ready to right wrongs and help those at risk.  Thankfully, most communities have always had their own quiet heroes working without fanfare to heal problems and seek justice.  At Sustainable Tompkins we are witnessing the emergence of a new breed of hero – a type we are going to need many more of as the impacts of climate disruption escalate and economic disparities widen.

In recent months, we’ve had the honor of being approached by two anonymous donors who share both a deep concern about the growing threat of climate change, and compassion for those in our community struggling with high energy bills.  Our first donor set up a Sustainable Newfield Fund and provided seed money to cover a series of grants from our Finger Lakes Climate Fund to residents of the Town of Newfield.  We made our first award from this gift in October with a $3,457 grant to Second Wind to insulate six cottages they are building for homeless men.  (Full story here.) Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Solace and Support for Climate Angst

The Green BoatLast spring, many of the participants at our Climate Smart & Climate Ready conference thanked us for the session on Climate Justice and Climate Grief, which had provided their first opportunity for sharing their own reactions to climate disruption and the accompanying widespread climate denial.  Our keynote speaker Mark Hertsgaard recommended we keep an eye out for Mary Pipher’s new book The Green Boat – Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture.

The book explores the growing prevalence of climate grief (and anger) that activists are experiencing as years turn into decades without much progress in stemming what increasingly looks like catastrophic impacts within the next 50 years.  Pipher also examines the frustrating phenomenon of denial and why so many humans refuse to acknowledge what is underway and do anything to counteract or prepare for it.

Pipher’s book is a personal story of her own struggle with climate grief and her ongoing “curative” of engaged activism in fighting the Keystone XL pipeline in her home state of Nebraska.  She’s a psychotherapist and author of many books, so of course her instinct was to research, analyze, and share her findings about the “trauma to transcendence” cycle.

Late this summer we organized a book circle for about a dozen local female sustainability activists to explore the themes of The Green Boat and share our own journeys and struggles with the emotions arising from climate change.  Such a rich discussion!  After two sessions, we agreed to create an ongoing venue of support for activists on the first Sunday of the month, hosted by Jalaja Bonheim, author and founder of the Institute for Circlework.  To learn more, contact

Sustainable Tompkins would like to support members who would like to organize and host a book circle on The Green Boat.  If interested, contact