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.