I wrote a letter

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to Rep. David Deen, chair of the House Ethics Panel. I requested a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s activities surrounding H.40, the RESET renewable energy bill. Greshin had proposed an amendment to freeze funding for Efficiency Vermont, and has vigorously campaigned for its adoption in both the House and Senate.

Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort. As I previously noted in this space:

The ski industry is a voracious consumer of electricity.

Efficiency Vermont is funded by ratepayers, with rates approved by the Public Service Board.

Do I need to connect those dots?

If the Greshin amendment is adopted, his ski resort stands to save a pretty penny on its utility bills. It’s already passed the House; it’s now pending before the Senate.

Potential conflicts abound in a citizen Legislature, and there’s a sizable gray area. The single act of voting for a bill, in my mind, is not in itself grounds for a conflict investigation.

But Greshin’s case is a whole different kettle of fish for two reasons.

Quoting from my letter: (Full text can be found at the end of this post.)

1. The financial interest is large and very measurable. Utility costs are a big line item for ski resorts. Rep. Greshin’s interest is more substantial and more direct than in the typical situation of a working lawmaker whose profession might be affected by a given bill.

2. Rep. Greshin didn’t merely cast a vote for the amendment; he wrote it, submitted it, and waged a one-man lobbying effort on its behalf. He was an energetic advocate in committee and on the House floor, and he has continued to lobby for his amendment in the Senate. It seems clear that if not for his efforts, this amendment would not have been presented, let alone considered or approved.

I thought long and hard about making an official inquiry at the time; although I blogged about it, I did not pursue the issue. I’ve picked it up again now because Greshin has continued his lobbying in the Senate, and because of a recent press release from Sugarbush.

The numbers are in and Sugarbush Resort has seen significant reductions in energy and waste since last year. Last summer the resort invested in 351 Snow Logic, HKD, and Ratnik low-energy snowguns to help reduce energy consumption. During the season the resort purchased another 63 low-energy snowguns as well. This is in addition to the 80 low-energy snowguns purchased in 2013. These improvements helped the resort reduce snowmaking energy consumption by 15% and save close to 1400 Megawatt hours.

Guess what Sugarbush didn’t mention in its press release?

Its noble efforts were underwritten by Efficiency Vermont, through a program aimed at improving the energy efficiency of ski resorts.

How much? I can’t say for certain, because there were different incentives for different models — anywhere from $500 to $4,000 per snow gun. Sugarbush’s take could have been as low as $175,000, or as high as $1.4 million.

Whichever way you cut it, that’s a lot of lettuce. Then there’s the savings in lower energy bills, which can be conservatively estimated at nearly $100,000 per year. Sugarbush — and Greshin — made out pretty well on the deal.

Meanwhile, the ski-resort program put a big dent in Efficiency Vermont’s public image. It was seen as a giant handout to some of Vermont’s biggest businesses. It’s not unreasonable to infer that the ski incentives left Efficiency Vermont vulnerable to Greshin’s challenge.

Put it all together: Greshin benefited greatly from an Efficiency Vermont program. Now that he’s got his slice of the pie, he is aggressively moving to deny more funds for EV’s work. And thanks in part to political backlash against the very program he profited from, his amendment has gained surprising traction in a Legislature that’s generally been very EV-friendly.

I think that warrants an ethics investigation. Don’t you?
________________________________________

Postscript. As promised, here is the full text of my letter to the House Ethics Panel. I’ll let you know if I get any response.

Rep. David Deen
Chair, House Ethics Panel
Vermont State House
115 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05633

Dear Rep. Deen:

I am requesting a review by the House Ethics Panel of Rep. Adam Greshin’s activities regarding H.40, also known as the RESET bill.

Rep. Greshin authored an amendment to H.40 that would impose a freeze on the electricity fee that funds Efficiency Vermont. The Public Service Board had approved an increase in the fee, in what a PSB official said was “a rigorous process that… was open and transparent.” Greshin’s amendment would roll back the PSB-approved increase.

In private life, Rep. Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort. Ski resorts are voracious consumers of electricity; by its own estimate, Sugarbush’s power bill is $2 million a year. By freezing the Efficiency Vermont fee, Greshin’s amendment stands to save Sugarbush, and thus himself, a substantial amount of money.

There is fundamentally a gray area when it comes to conflict of interest with our citizen legislature. If strictly applied, virtually every lawmaker would have to recuse him- or herself from numerous votes. We can’t expect Rep. George Till to abstain from voting on health care issues; we can’t expect Rep. Don Turner, Milton’s fire chief, to recuse himself from voting on public safety funding.

There are two factors that take Rep. Greshin’s case to another level:

1. The financial interest is large and very measurable. Utility costs are a big line item for ski resorts. Rep. Greshin’s interest is more substantial and more direct than in the typical situation of a working lawmaker whose profession might be affected by a given bill.

2. Rep. Greshin didn’t merely vote for the amendment; he wrote it, submitted it, and waged a one-man lobbying effort on its behalf. He was an energetic advocate in committee and on the House floor, and he has continued to lobby for his amendment in the Senate. It seems clear that if not for his efforts, this amendment would not have been presented, let alone considered or approved.

Conflict of interest is a vague concept; it’s often unclear to the public and to lawmakers themselves where they should draw the line. There is reason to believe that Rep. Greshin stepped over the line. An examination of case would also provide invaluable guidance regarding where the line is drawn. I believe the public interest requires a review of this matter by the House Ethics Panel.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

John Walters

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One thought on “I wrote a letter

  1. Walter Carpenter

    Thanks much for your letter and bringing this out. I once worked for Sugarbush; they are hard on their help and turn them over quick to avoid paying too much or benefits.

    Reply

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