Daily Archives: December 9, 2015

Feeling a little jet-lagged, Governor?

Okay, look. Personally, I don’t have a big problem with the Vermont Gas pipeline. It would mean Vermont is consuming more natural gas — but we already consume quite a bit, so it’s not like we’d be losing our fracking virginity. (Much of our natural gas consumption is in the form of electricity generated in out-of-state gas-fired plants and purchased on the spot market.)

You ask me, I’d say don’t build it. But Vermont faces far greater environmental challenges, and I’m not sure why the Vermont Gas pipeline became the poster child for activists. If they wanted to have a positive impact on climate change, they’d be better off advocating for renewable energy and lower dependence on out-of-state sources including natural gas, nuclear, and ecologically destructive “industrial” hydropower from Quebec.

That said, Governor Shumlin pulled a substantial boner upon being repeatedly interrupted by anti-pipeline activists at the Paris climate summit.

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Senate closes ranks around Good Ol’ Norm

Like the frog in the hot water, I guess you can get used to anything if it happens slowly enough.

This week’s “Fair Game” column from Seven Days’ Paul Heintz is a substantial piece of work. He managed to contact almost every state senator and get them on the record regarding their disgraced/disgraceful colleague, Norm McAllister. Highly recommended reading, although it might make you shoot coffee out your nose.

And surprise, surprise: over the last several months, the air has gone out of the “Get Rid of Norm” balloon. Indeed, the person who seems to have suffered the most from this affair is Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, who’s been leading the charge to expel McAllister. Many of his fellows blame him for being too aggressive, and Heintz reports that the issue has fractured the Republican Senate caucus.

Which just reinforces my view of the State Senate: it’s a clubby, tradition-bound institution whose members have an excessively high regard for themselves and not nearly enough concern for, oh, serving the people and stuff like that.

According to Heintz, the conversation has moved away from expulsion and toward the possibility of suspending McAllister pending the outcome of his criminal trial. Which, c’mon, is a weaksauce idea intended to diffuse the pressure and provide a pretext for barring McAllister from the Statehouse. Because when push comes to shove, the thing they’re most worried about is the media circus of McAllister showing up for work, and reporters badgering Senators with uncomfortable questions. Here’s a good one:

“Senator Mullin, you shared a house with Senator McAllister. You saw him take his teenaged “assistant” to bed every night. She has said that McAllister raped her ‘every time I went down there… just about.’ You’re an intelligent man; how could you possibly be unaware of what was happening under your own roof?”

(Mullin, by the way, was one of the few Senators who failed to response to Seven Days’ inquiry. Brave man.)

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VPIRG still serious about carbon tax

Interesting hire by VPIRG. They’ve signed on businessman and veteran Democrat Tom Hughes as Campaign Manager of Energy Independent Vermont. EIV, for those just tuning in, is a coalition of businesses, nonprofits, academics, and advocates with the goal of addressing climate change and as VPIRG puts it, “grow[ing] the economy by putting a price on carbon pollution.”

Also known as the carbon tax. Well, not exactly, but more on that later.

The hiring of Hughes is a little unusual, in that advocacy organizations like VPIRG usually fill their staffs with energetic and (ahem) cheap young people. Hughes has been around for a while. “Our partners and our financial resources allowed us to bring in a really seasoned person,” said VPIRG chief Paul Burns.

Hughes was a top Democratic activist in the late 90s and early Aughts. He served a shift as VDP Executive Director and held the same post for Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, he was a staffer in five presidential campaigns, and managed Doug Racine’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

He’s spent the past several years in the business world, as a division president of Country Home Products and co-founder of a renewable energy firm. Burns cites the combination of political and business experience as key in the EIV campaign. “Tom has a stellar reputation,” he said. “He’s not a partisan hack. He’s distinguished himself as someone who can run campaigns and be effective in the business world.”

Speaking of the carbon tax, despite the scare-mongering of Vermont Republicans and the timid response from leading Democrats, EIV will actively promote a carbon tax in the 2016 legislative session. Not that they expect to prevail: “I won’t predict that a bill will pass the Legislature and land on the Governor’s desk in 2016,” said Burns. “But we’re making progress each day toward our goal.”

Still, “2016 is a really important year to move the conversation forward. The challenges are really great for passing [the carbon tax], but there’s an awful lot of progress we can make and a lot of conversations we need to have.”

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