We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

Painting by Marc Adornato. See note below.

When, in a previous post, I called on Seven Days to fill its vacant “Fair Game” position with a skilled reporter/observer from outside Vermont, I got a response via Twitter that essentially said that #vtpoli is too “insular” for an outsider to penetrate. (Can’t find the tweet now; apologies to the tweeter.) My response to that would be “Exactly!” Vermont’s politics are far too insular. That’s precisely why we need someone from elsewhere who hasn’t internalized all that insularity and/or has too many friends in the bubble. Someone with the perspective that allows them to see that the emperor has no clothes.

We’ve got a really good example of that insularity going on right now. Last week, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that wasn’t at all surprising, but that defied common sense. The three-member panel rejected a proposed solar farm in Manchester on esthetic grounds.

This, despite the fact that we’ve got to go all-out in our efforts to mitigate climate change, and that Vermont is doing nowhere near its share on the renewable front. Also despite these facts:

  • All the relevant local and regional bodies approved the project.
  • No one, aside from a handful of NIMBY neighbors, objected to it.
  • The developer went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize esthetic impact.
  • The PUC’s own “aesthetics consultant” said the array “would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.”

So it was a stupid decision that strikes a significant blow at renewable development in Vermont. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

The subject of this sermon is the almost complete silence from those who ought to be outraged by this ruling: the Vermont Democratic Party and The Usual Suspects in the environmental community. Where was the tsunami of protest?

The answer is, we’re way too polite and insular.

You constantly hear liberal politicians giving lip service to fighting climate change. Occasionally they enact useful legislation like the Global Warming Solutions Act — although its real impact will depend on our ability to craft a strong climate change plan AND carry it out. Otherwise the GWSA will be yet another legislative Ozymandias, rotting away on a featureless landscape of lone and level sands.

But did anybody squawk about the PUC slipping the knife into the ribs of renewable policy? I can’t say I’ve heard any. With the notable exception of Bill McKibben, who wrote a stinging rebuke of the decision. Of course, he’s not part of the “insular” Vermont political structure.

Otherwise, I haven’t heard a peep out of the Vermont Democratic Party or its leadership, who really ought to be building a case against Gov. Phil Scott. This is a potentially fruitful wedge issue for an electorate with strong concern about climate issues. Here’s where you might be able to separate some of those liberals who believe Scott is a Nice Guy and a moderate. Well, as long as he’s governor, our regulatory approach will remain unfriendly to renewable energy.

Nor have I seen anything from the Vermont Natural Resources Council or Vermont Conservation Voters. VPIRG did tweet out a link to McKibben’s essay, which was mighty white of them. Otherwise, crickets. (I may have missed a statement or two, for which I’d apologize. But I will say that any such statement wasn’t very loud or noticeable.)

Why? Well, they all have to exist in the same bubble. The person you offend today might be a potential ally tomorrow. Besides, We’re Just Too Nice.

Speaking of insularity, one of the three PUC members is Margaret Cheney, wife of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. Is anybody asking hard questions about her complicity with the Scott administration’s slow walk on renewables? Nope. I mean, Welch is way too popular. And powerful.

Vermont’s environmental organizations, God love ’em, are part of the system. They lobby for good legislation, they sometimes put out press releases or hold press conferences. But are they going to openly ask hard questions of legislative leadership? Or, say, ask hard questions about Cheney? Nope. No way.

I’m sure if you directly asked any of the august personages on this list — leading Democrats, environmental advocates — they’d bemoan the PUC decision. But are they willing to openly kick the shit? Throw a few rhetorical Molotovs?

Nope. Because #vtpoli is far too polite for that. And much as they are concerned about climate change, they are more concerned about keeping their places in the system. Judge by their actions, or lack thereof.

Note on the Illustration. This is one of a series of paintings by Canadian artist Marc Adornato entitled “Ruined Landscapes.” He describes his process: “I ‘hijack’ vintage, mass-produced, Bob Ross-style landscape paintings found in thrift stores and antique shops, and I paint in hazmat cleanup crews and man-made environmental disasters.”

These paintings were shown in an exhibition last year at the Diefenbunker, Canada’s museum of the cold war. The museum is located in an emergency underground habitat built as an emergency location for the government by John Diefenbaker, conservative prime minister in the 1950s. I came across this stuff today via a Google image search, and now I really want to visit the place. And I wish I could go back in time and see Adornato’s exhibit. You can, however, see lots of his politically instigative work at his website, linked above.


5 thoughts on “We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

  1. Annette Smith

    The decision was not outrageous. The field floods. It’s a stupid place for a 500 kW array. Or any other type of development. Stop with the whining already.

      1. Annette Smith

        I think I’ve answered that question in previous posts you’ve done on this project. There are a number of reasons.

        1. The applicant comes from a family that is politically well connected and respected in Manchester. Meeting minutes indicate that a minority of board members voted against the Preferred Site Letter because of the flooding. Neighbors tell me one person voted in favor saying she didn’t know anything about the flooding. It is in meeting minutes that one decision-maker said they trusted the Hand family to do the right thing for Manchester. Keep in mind these letters are asked for by developers prior to a petition being filed, so there is not a lot of information available to town boards. Neighbors say they tried to raise the concerns about flooding but were not given much time and whatever they said fell on deaf ears. The town dropped the ball.

        2. ANR dropped the ball, too. Why? I don’t know, but all they wanted was the fence to be wider at the bottom so the wood turtles got through. Ask ANR why they didn’t raise concerns about flooding. The failure to get the issue into the record at the right time falls on ANR in this case.

        3. The PUC process is extraordinarily challenging for Vermont citizens (compared to Act 250, for instance). But it fell to them to bring relevant issues to the PUC, since the Town and ANR failed. The neighbors had two issues, the flooding and aesthetics. They did successfully intervene, but did not understand the process, and participated by filing public comment about flooding and about aesthetics. Public comment is not in the evidentiary record. At one point the hearing officer asked if they wanted to move their comments into the evidentiary record. They didn’t understand what any of that meant. And they live in an area that was specifically built for people who work in Manchester to be able to live in town, so many of them are keeping the town running with full time jobs. The point person for the neighbors had technical issues and was unable to participate in the evidentiary hearing.

        The DPS attorney assigned to the case is supposed to assist citizens with basic process but he never responded to numerous attempts to talk to him. DPS has become totally lame (there’s a story there if anyone cared to pay attention) in PUC proceedings, doing minimal work compared to what they should be doing. It’s truly embarrassing to watch. I can’t imagine what the PUC thinks these days of the lame DPS participation in their proceedings. There are a few exceptions, but not in these siting cases.

        Here are the comments neighbors filed in the case, none of which were in the record on which the PUC could decide: Richard Cody filed a public comment on 6/25/20 stating “it will definitely have flood problems.” Cynthia Bush filed a public comment on 6/26/20 stating “the potential for increased flood damage to neighborhood (debris flows to the proposed site reducing risk of river clogging). Anne Lemke filed a public comment on 6/26/20 stating, “This has got to create additional water problems on a very small flood-plain area status but also the actual “floods” we have experienced on Richville right in that area and in our neighborhood, as well.” Natalie Philpot filed a public comment on 1/8/21 stating, “the placement of these panels will not work – we live on a flood plane for starters.” She also said, “This area has seen much flooding in recent years and this just seems like a dangerous endeavor.” Christine Nevada Michael filed a public comment on 1/8/21 stating, “…an area that recently suffered serious flood damage…”

        The neighbors did ask the PUC to consider the flooding, but the developer’s highly-paid attorney objected, because the evidentiary record was already closed. The developer submited an engineer’s version of where the field flooding occurs that was inaccurate. The neighbors continued to submit videos and photos of the flooding in their comments to the PUC on the Proposal for Decision. One flood occurred right before the PUC site visit, and the remains of the sediment deposited on the site where the screening trees were supposed to be planted were evident.

        The PUC made a well reasoned decision based on the law, which accurately applied the Quechee Analysis that has been used in Act 250 for decades. The aesthetic grounds were not at all dubious. Have you been to the site? Have you done your due diligence or are you just believing what other people tell you?

        In their ruling the PUC said that if they weren’t deciding the case on aesthetics (which is a legitimate and responsible decision in this case) they would have asked the applicant and ANR for more information on the flooding. In this case it was not the PUC’s fault the flooding was not considered, they followed the process and the law. The process sucks, for many reasons, and is a hostile environment for neighbors while applicants pay their skilled attorneys to object to everything neighbors attempt to bring into the case.

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