Category Archives: Agriculture

We’ll clean up Lake Champlain with platitudes

Last week, the gubernatorial candidates discussed environmental issues at a forum organized by Vermont Conservation Voters. It can be viewed online here; unfortunately, the audio quality is poor. Here’s a link to the video with better sound quality.

I’m writing about the two Republicans, who delivered wheelbarrows full of bromides, boilerplate, and empty words. It’s safe to say that if Phil Scott or Bruce “Still A Candidate” Lisman wins the corner office, we’ll be back to the Jim Douglas age of high-falutin’ words and little or no action.

This is disappointing if unsurprising on issues like renewable energy, regulation of toxic chemicals, transportation, development, carbon emissions, and energy efficiency. But on Lake Champlain?

Hey, guys, we’re under a federal mandate. If our actions don’t satisfy the EPA, the feds are going to swoop in and force remediation. On their terms, not ours.

That realization hasn’t penetrated their skulls. Or it has, and they’re just whistling past the graveyard. Because their “plans” don’t even begin to seriously confront the situation.

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Maybe Vermont farmers aren’t so pure after all

Will Allen, writer and organic farmer, has issued a scathing report on Vermont farmers’ use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The report is based on official state data, which shows that between 2002 and 2012, herbicide use nearly doubled on Vermont farms.

Farmers used 1.54 pounds of herbicide per acre in 2002; that number increased to 3.01 pounds per acre in 2012.

That, in itself, is appalling — especially for a sector that wraps itself in the pure-Vermont blanket when it comes to political issues like, say, the pollution of Lake Champlain.

Allen’s report focuses mainly on herbicide and pesticide use, which spiked at the same time GMO corn* became nearly universal on Vermont farms. You know, the stuff that’s supposed to reduce the need for killer chemicals. (See note at end of this post.)

*A factoid for those impressed by our GMO labeling law: 96 percent of corn grown in Vermont is genetically modified. Ninety-six percent!

Gee, maybe Monsanto sold us a bill of goods?

But there’s another aspect that really struck me.

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Welp, the mouse died.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the marijuana debate entitled “They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse.”

Turned out I was overly optimistic, because the mouse didn’t make it.

No legalization. No grow-your-own. And as for the House’s idea of a study commission (thx to Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, who never would’ve gotten this into the Free Press):

“Fuck the commission,” a frustrated Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said after his effort to create a public advisory vote failed. “The commission was unnecessary.”

Agreed. Especially since the commission would have apparently been funded with money diverted from opioid treatment. Sheesh.

The only good thing about this: the House’s brilliant idea of a new saliva test for buzzed driving also failed. That’s the test with no clear scientific basis, according to a state-sponsored study.

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They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse

Rarely have I felt so ambivalent about being right.

Last Friday, in my inaugural appearance on Vermont PBS’ “Vermont This Week,” host Mark Johnson asked the panel to predict the outcome of the marijuana debate in the House — a big change, a little change, or nothing at all.

The three of us all agreed on “little,” but I put my answer in two-word form: “Study commission.”

Take it away, distinguished lawmakers…

In the end, the chamber barely agreed to create a commission to study legalization. With the legislative session expected to end this week, marijuana legalization supporters conceded they’ve run out of time to try for more.

Hip, hip, hooray. Let’s hear it for representative democracy. The study commission: the Legislature’s favorite decision-avoidance technique.

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Pot’s last stand

Monday’s the big day for marijuana legalization. The House is set to hold votes on two very different versions — so different, it’d be fair to say they are diametrically opposed. And therein lies the problem: the momentum toward legalization has splintered. Governor Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith, who both favor legalization, could pull a rabbit out of a hat — and that’s what it would take: a last-minute snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.

Ironically, one possible outcome of the legalization drive is not any loosening of the law, but instead a crackdown on buzzed driving.

Unlikely, but possible. The most probable scenario is some sort of incremental, unsatisfying move that will provide a fig leaf of political cover for those (starting with Shumlin) who invested heavily in this fight. What might that be? Perhaps a nonbinding statewide referendum. Perhaps, as WCAX’s Kyle Midura said on “Vermont This Week,” some loosening of the state’s medical marijuana law. Perhaps something that’s not even on the table at the moment. Monday could be a long day on the House floor.

There are two major obstacles. First, not enough pro-legalization movement in the House, which was always the most likely killing ground for the idea. Second, the Senate and House took such different approaches that there’s no room for compromise.

The Senate took a top-down approach, establishing a regulated market for marijuana. It specifically rejected a grow-your-own exemption, arguing that it would weaken the broader effort to control the consumption of marijuana.

The House bill that will be considered on the floor Monday is centered on grow-your-own. It would create a licensing process for people who wanted to grow small amounts for personal consumption. Precisely what the Senate didn’t want.

Rarely do I find myself saying this, but I agree with the Senate.

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Interview with the Mormon

Hey, remember David Hall? The Mormon millionaire who’s been buying property in the Tunbridge/Royalton area, with an eye toward building a planned community based on ideas from Mormon church founder Joseph Smith?

Yeah, that guy.

All it takes is one massive fraud scandal to wipe everything else off the news agenda, doesn’t it?

Well, I have some unfinished business with said Mormon, David Hall by name. On Thursday, April 7, I was guest host on “Open Mike,” WDEV Radio’s local talk show. In the first hour, I interviewed Mr. Hall about his plans. We had a lively and thoughtful discussion that shed substantial light on his plan. (The interview is archived here.)

You may recall that I wrote about his plan shortly after it became public knowledge — a nice little ready-fire-aim masterpiece entitled “The Mormons are Coming! The Mormons are Coming!”

In light of our interview, I feel compelled to give a fuller account of his plan and my views. So here we go.

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More obstructionism from anti-renewable lawmakers

The Northeast Kingdom has become a hotbed of anti-renewable sentiment. They think they’re overburdened by the renewable buildout in their neck of the woods — although they seem to be just fine with Bill Stenger’s ambitious development plans, which would include a dramatic expansion of the Jay Peak resort with the concomitant loss of open space and wildlife habitat.

The Kingdom’s nominally Democratic Senators, Bobby Starr and John Rodgers, have proposed a bill that would effectively hamstring development of solar energy projects. They have a cover story, as they always do; this isn’t about energy, it’s about farming!

… the bill would apply Act 250 standards to renewable energy developments proposed for high-quality farmland.

Starr told finance committee members that he wants to balance the need for renewable energy with the need to conserve farmland, and he said the proposal could encourage solar development on more appropriate locations, such as rooftops.

Right. Rooftops. Vermont has so many of those.

There are a few problems with this bill. In no particular order:

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