Daily Archives: September 9, 2014

The only thing Vermont Gas has to fear is Vermont Gas itself

Our friends at Vermont Gas have been their own worst enemies when it comes to the proposed natural-gas pipeline near the state’s western border. Worse than the environmental groups opposing the pipeline. Worse than the small number of landowners resisting the project. Worse even than the Yippie-style provocateurs at Rising Tide, with their sometimes amusing, sometimes alarming tactics. 

In spite of the opposition, the pipeline would be sailing through to full approval if it wasn’t for Vermont Gas repeatedly shooting itself in the foot. The company has been overly aggressive with landowners, overly sensitive with protesters, and really clumsy when it comes to state regulators who would be happy to approve the project if only Vermont Gas could get its shit together. 

Vermont Gas is clearly the front-runner for Worst Public Relations of the Year. For a brief moment it looked like Burlington College would give VG a run for its money, but after a weekend of utter confusion around the kinda-maybe resignation of its president, BC righted the ship. At least for now. VG’s efforts have been consistently inept throughout the process. Its tone-deafk spokesman, Steve Wark, should be fired or moved to a back-office job. And whoever’s managing VG’s public relations (Jason Gibbs, I hear) seems to be committing professoinal malpractice on an unforgivable scale. 

The latest development came late last week, when the Public Service Board announced it would look into reopening the case because of VG’s 40% higher cost estimate. That revision was, obviously, a huge black mark on VG’s reliability. And it rightly calls into question the project’s feasibility, since its biggest selling point is cheaper fuel. And now, even while the PSB is pondering whether to reopen the process, VG says it’s proceeding with the eminent domain process with recalcitrant property owners. 

Whoa there, big fella. Take a breath. 

Vermont Gas’ top priority right now should be regaining the trust of the public and regulators. Seizing land and digging trenches should be secondary right now. If VG can show it’s acting in good faith, its problems will be minimized. 

The PSB and the Shumlin Administration are favorably disposed toward the project. (As are the vast majority of residents in the affected area.) Last week, Governor Shumlin asked the Public Service Department to hire an independent property appraiser to take part in any eminent domain proceedings that might occur. At first glance, he seemed to be drawing a line in the sand. But when you look more closely, he was providing Vermont Gas with a roadmap to approval. 

Shumlin said he would “leave it to the lawyers to determine this issue,” but said the constitution protects private property owners from land use “without just compensation.” 

… He said property should be used “hopefully by agreement, but if necessary, eminent domain.” 

Which is another way of saying, “Hey, Vermont Gas, stop pooping the bed and you’ll get your pipeline.” 

I’m not particularly exercised over the proposed pipeline. The furor over the notion of our state being tainted by “fracked gas” seems overblown to me. We face much direr environmental issues. But Vermonters tend to get especially upset over new stuff coming from the outside — while there’s sadly little furor over the bad things we’ve been doing all along. 

Such as the persistent fouling of Lake Champlain. And our often inadequate wastewater infrastructure. And our highest-in-the-nation rate of adult asthma, mainly a result of woodstoves. 

But my feelings are beside the point. The point is, the only entity that can defeat the Vermont Gas pipeline is Vermont Gas.

Stupid Twitter tricks

The Man Who Couldn’t Beat Scott Milne, libertarian Dan Feliciano, self-proclaimed “social media sensation,” has been festooning many of his recent Tweets with the hashtag “#Felicianomentum.” Like so: 

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 10.49.55 PM

Sigh. This is what happens when a bean-counter tries to get jiggy.

What’s wrong with “Felicianomentum,” you ask? Well, three things.

First, the best Twitter hashtags are catchy, easily remembered. This is the opposite of catchy. It’s a tongue-twister.   

Second, you can’t spell “Felicianomentum” without “nomentum.” 

And third, get a good dictionary and look up the word “omentum.” 

This hashtag sounds like it came from the fervid imagination that gave Randy Brock the idea to call Governor Shumlin’s health care reform effort “Titanicare.” (Which rebounded against him when his campaign came a cropper and became known as the Titanicampaign.) The owner of that imagination is, I suspect, one Darcie Johnston, former Republican operative and now Dan Feliciano’s number one fan, God help him. 

Anyway, yeah, Felicianomentum. Good luck with that. 

Phil Scott, passive aggressive master of specificity avoidance

VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld has produced a report on the race for Lieutenant Governor, which began with the existential question, If Dean Corren falls in the forest, would anybody hear? 

…does Corren think average Vermonters know who he is?

  “I don’t know,” Corren said Monday.

Gotta commend the honesty. Corren portrays himself as an issues candidate, while incumbent Phil Scott, the only Republican in statewide office, sees himself as both a facilitator and a roadblock: 

“There are a lot things in play right now that need to be addressed,” Scott said Monday. “And we need to be at the forefront in order to help move that forward, or stop them, one of the two.”

Phil Scott. Something for everyone. And no specifics for anyone. 

The meat of Hirschfeld’s report is about the looming Debate On Debates. Corren has called for at least ten debates. Scott isn’t committing to a number, but it’s not likely to hit double digits. 

“I certainly don’t believe that we need a dozen debates, but I do want to get enough opportunity for Vermonters to re-identify with me and show the differences between myself and my opponent,” Scott said.

Way to subtly exaggerate Corren’s position, you sly old shitweasel. 

We’ll soon find out whether Phil Scott has reason to fear the exposure of an active debate schedule. He and Corren will face off for the first time Friday morning at 9 on WDEV Radio’s Mark Johnson Show*. Should be a fun time. Corren can be a bit pedantic, but he’ll have the chance to put Scott’s feet to the fire, maybe force him to articulate an actual position or two, and test Scott’s ability to maintain an inoffensive image under direct assault.

*For those outside of WDEV’s impressive range, Mark’s show is live streamed on the station website. He also posts audio of selected shows in podcast form on his own website, and is virtually certain to post the debate.