Category Archives: climate change

Another Brick in the Climate Change Wall

Late Monday, the Scott administration initiated the process for filling a pending vacancy on the Public Utility Commission. The PUC is a three-member body with broad authority over electricity, natural gas, cable TV and telecommunications in Vermont. During the Phil Scott years, it has consistently applied the brakes on development of renewable energy.

This, despite the fact that it has had two Democratic appointees, one of them being Margaret Cheney, wife of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. I don’t know why the two Dems have played along with the renewables slowdown, which has included strict noise rules for large-scale wind installations and a steady ratcheting down of the net-metering rate (the amount utilities are required to pay for power generated by solar installations).

And recently, VTDigger reported that the PUC had rejected a study that showed major savings from solar power in the Northeast. Yeah, they’re not exactly green-friendly.

And now, one of the two Democrats is exiting the commission. Sarah Hoffman Hofmann was appointed to a six-year term by then-governor Peter Shumlin in 2015, and her term expires this year. On Monday, the administration issued a press release seeking applicants for the position. It did not explain the circumstances of the vacancy, so we don’t know whether (a) Hoffman Hofmann is stepping down or (b) Scott wants to replace her.

The upshot is that Scott appointees will soon hold a 2-1 majority on the PUC, including chair Tony Roisman. Cheney and Hoffman Hofmann haven’t exactly been friendly to green power, but a Scott appointee will inevitably support the governor’s anti-renewable agenda.

And no matter how long Scott is governor, his appointees will dominate the commission for at least four more years. It’s one of the small costs of Scott’s re-election, and another reason why Democrats who voted for Scott can’t really claim to support climate action. Because as I wrote in October, the governor gives plenty of lip service to the issue, but opposes any meaningful policy changes. His choice for Hofmann’s replacement will be expected to toe the administration’s line.

Note: Updated 12/29 to correct misspelling of Commissioner Hofmann’s name.

Look What I Found in the Ol’ Mailbox

I must infer that the Ethan Allen Institute is hurting for money. How else to explain the fact that an EAI fundraising plea ended up in my mailbox? And yes, it was addressed to me personally, not to “Occupant.”

The hardy-har-har political “cartoon” above was part of the solicitation. It poses the ludicrous proposition that the Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion, Antifa and the 1619 Project all spring from the poisoned well of Marxism.

Uh-huh.

BLM and Extinction Rebellion are nonviolent protest movements. “Antifa” is basically a right-wing boogeyman; it’s decidedly not an organization, let alone one capable of overthrowing the global political order. And for God’s sake, the 1619 Project was conducted by the New York Times. Which is, need I remind you, a for-profit corporation.

No Marxists there, except in the fevered imagination of EAI President Rob Roper, who signed this thing.

So let’s take a look at the rest of the thing. The letter begins with a dire warning:

The nation and Vermont are at a tipping point. We have to decide if we are going to maintain the Constitutional freedoms set in place by our founders — the ideas and principles that made us the greatest country in the world — or abandon them for a path toward socialism, speech codes, and McCarthyite blacklisting of citizens who expreess anything other trhan obedience to a single-party agenda.

Referring to the Democratic Party, presumably. Which is hogwash. The party, nationally and in Vermont, is a broad coalition that can barely agree on a common agenda, let alone threaten the overthrow of the American way of life. Nothing the Democrats espouse would pave the way for socialism. Nothing would impose speech codes or a “McCarthyite blacklist.”

Which, need I remind you, was a Republican invention.

I realize you have to grab the reader’s attention with fiery rhetoric, but this is deliberate pandering to the Trump/tea party/Proud Boys wing of the conservative movement.

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The Climate Inaction Administration

There are many reasons why a liberal voter might decide to support Gov. Phil Scott for re-election. You might be impressed with his handling of the coronavirus. You might appreciate him as a counterbalance to an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. You might prefer a calm, careful executive to a new-ideas chief more likely to blunder.

But there’s one thing you can’t do. If you believe that climate change is the issue of our times, you have no business voting for the incumbent.

Let me put that another way. If you vote for Phil Scott, you are not serious about climate change.

There might be a certain level of unwarranted satisfaction these days, given the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act over Scott’s veto. Some might talk themselves into believing that we can make significant progress on the climate crisis no matter who’s the governor, as long as the Dems/Progs hold substantial majorities in the House and Senate.

There are two fundamental problems with this. First, while GWSA is a notable advance, it doesn’t actually do anything. It sets climate targets and establishes consequences if we fail to meet those targets, but that’s about all. GWSA was, if you will, the first and easiest step in addressing the crisis.

Second, while the governor’s words are full of concern about climate change, his actions have been minimal at best, counterproductive at worst. His administration is a formidable roadblock to climate progress, and will remain that way as long as he is in office.

I think this is why Scott objected so strenuously to a GWSA provision that leaves the state open to lawsuits if it falls short of greenhouse gas reduction goals. He knows that his policies are inadequate to meeting those targets, and that makes lawsuits almost inevitable.

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On Settling

Something I tweeted recently has stuck in my mind, and it relates directly to the choice we face in the presidential election.

I’ve been following politics since 1968, when I was 14 years old and already worried about the prospect of being drafted to serve in Vietnam, and it remains the worst political year of my life. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic nomination falling to Vice President Hubert Humphrey*, the uncontrolled police brutality outside the DNC, the reanimation of Richard Nixon’s corpse and his ultimate election to the presidency — the moment when”The Sixties” ended as a touchstone for social progress and became a lifestyle brand.

*Humphrey was a great liberal politician, but he tied himself firmly to LBJ’s Vietnam policy out of a sense of duty to the administration he served. His legacy was forever tainted by the association.

That was bad enough. But since then, almost every presidential election has been a choice between bad and not-quite-so-bad. There have been only three candidates I felt good about, and two of them had no chance whatsoever of winning. The three: George McGovern in 1972, Fritz Mondale in 1984, and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Otherwise, it’s been a matter of settling for something less than I wanted. Jimmy Carter, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry. I voted for all those guys, but didn’t feel great about doing so.

But here’s the thing. Is there any doubt at all that we’d be in a better place if we’d elected Carter instead of Reagan? Dukakis instead of Bush I? Gore or Kerry instead of Bush?

No doubt. Absolutely none.

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The Digger LG Debate: Dancing in the Dark

“Welcome to the Moonlight Lounge. Can I start you off with a beverage?”

Welp, somebody staged a late-afternoon debate in front of a wall of windows, leaving viewers literally in the dark. Maybe the same people who didn’t conduct a pre-debate coin toss and couldn’t find a coin once they realized their omission. And the same people who didn’t nail down the debate format. After he was given his final question, Republican Scott MIlne asked if there would be an opportunity for closing statements. Moderator Anne Galloway was rattled. “Oh boy, closing statements? I hadn’t planned on that,” she said.

Milne soldiered on, folding some closing-statement material into his answer.

But enough about production misfires. As for the Main Event itself, it was a crisp affair with plenty of confrontation between Milne and Democrat Molly Gray.

And Milne won the evening.

This was the first time since Gray entered politics that she looked like a first-time candidate. She was sometimes rattled, she often slipped into academic “debate” mode instead of the political version*, she forced some bits that just didn’t work. It was a bit of an ambush on MIlne’s part; his team clearly withheld their toughest stuff from the relatively low-profile Town Meeting TV forum so they could spring it on Gray at the Digger debate.

*It’s like the difference between amateur wrestling and Monday Night Raw.**

** Now you’re imagining Scott Milne in Spandex.

Smart, tough politics. It didn’t help Milne maintain his “Phil Scott 2.0” nice-guy facade, but it did put Gray back on her heels. Between the debate and Friday’s news of a massive spend for Milne by a national conservative group, she and her team are on notice that this isn’t going to be a coronation of 2020’s Shiny New Democrat (patent pending).

And they should be ready to fight back at the next debate and on the campaign trail. MIlne has plenty of vulnerabilities — in fact, he’s kind of one big walking, talking vulnerability. His team has put together a nice “Scott Milne” package, but is it a solid structure or a balloon ready to be popped?

(The latter prospect is doubtlessly why Team Milne has chosen a limited-exposure strategy, keeping him away from Gray’s statewide forums and not maintaining a schedule of appearances or events around the state. I mean, Gray is spending all her free time going everywhere; how often can Milne actually be seen in public?

I can answer that, because I’m on his email list. I get frequent fundraising pitches and press releases, but I can’t recall getting any events announcements. And there’s not even a “Meet Scott” events listing on his campaign website. From which I conclude that they’ve got him securely encased in bubble wrap, lest he slip up on his newfound message discipline.)

Now, let’s count some punches.

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Mr. Milne’s Recycling Bin

Scott Milne tried to make up for his two previous statewide campaigns, which were remarkably issue-free, by releasing a lavishly illustrated and ridiculously detailed 60-point policy agenda this week.

His Tuesday announcement got lost in what turned out to be a very big news day, including Dr. Anthony Fauci’s guest appearance at Gov. Phil Scott’s Covid-19 briefing and Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

I felt a little sorry for Milne at the time. But having taken a dip in his mile-wide-but-inch-deep policy pool, I decided it’s probably better for him that this stale batch of recycled ideas didn’t attract much notice. The package is dominated by conventional Republican tropes, failed Scott administration proposals, and plenty of filler to make the agenda seem more impressive than it is. You’d think a guy who’s reinvented himself as an edgy cryptocurrency investor would have some fresh ideas to contribute.

What’s even worse is that Milne completely fails to address some of our most critical challenges. There’s nothing about our raging opioid crisis, not a mention of racism, justice, policing or corrections, and barely a nod to climate change.

Since Milne’s document is searchable, we can quantify that. “Opiates” and “racism” are nowhere to be found. The word “climate” occurs precisely once in the 33-page document. And that’s a reference to Vermont’s economic climate.

After the jump: YOU get a tax incentive! And YOU get a tax incentive! EVERYBODY gets a tax incentive!!!

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The kids aren’t going anywhere

The legislature has been warned. At the end of the 2019 session, a small band of climate protesters occupied the balcony in the House chamber and unfurled a banner promising to return in 2020. They were largely met with disdain by legislative leaders, for their offenses against regular order.

Well, those leaders had better get ready for more. Climate activists were distinctly underwhelmed by the legislature’s meager accomplishments. Their attitude can’t have improved since then, what with top lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott all acknowledging that Vermont is going to miss its near-term climate targets by a mile. And Scott pinning his hopes on the magic bullet of technological advances to drag Vermont forward.

The problem with that approach is (a) it’s iffy and (b) it lets us keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere until The Golden Age Of New Technology appears. In the meantime we’ll be doing our part to deepen the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, climate activists have launched a series of Statehouse actions. They recently held a rally calling on MMR, the capital’s most successful black-hat lobbying firm, to drop so-called “reprehensible” corporate clients, including fossil fuel producers and other corporate giants. Last week, a few dozen climate activists camped out on the Statehouse lawn, braving lousy weather to emphasize their point: They’re not going anywhere, and they’re not at all satisfied with the “progress” made by our political leaders, who mostly address the crisis by way of lip service.

And who, truth be told, are probably gearing up for more disappointment on the climate front. Nobody’s talking about the kind of action that would get us back on track to meet our goals. Nobody with any power is seriously talking about, say, a carbon tax — which was originally a Republican idea to address climate change through market forces, but is now considered anathema by even the self-identified moderates of the Vermont GOP. Democratic leaders are likely to prioritize the stuff they fumbled this year: minimum wage, paid family leave, a full tax-and-regulate system for cannabis and a waiting period for gun purchases.

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Caution in the face of crisis

Gov. Phil Scott has taken something of a ribbing on The Twitter Machine for saying that when it comes to climate change, “I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel, I’m not looking to come out with something dramatic,”

Because heaven forfend we should respond to a crisis with “something dramatic.” I mean, if your house is on fire, do you really want the fire department waking up the neighborhood with their sirens and flashers? Do you want firefighters trampling all over your lawn?

Scott’s comment was in a truly dispiriting article by VTDigger’s Elizabeth Gribkoff about how state leaders have given up on meeting Vermont’s near-term climate goals, including a 2007 law which mandates a 50% reduction (from 1992 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2028 and a goal of weatherizing 80,000 Vermont homes by, ahem, next year. (Of course, the legislature had the foresight to impose no penalties for breaking the GHG law, so no harm, no foul, right?)

More on Our Cautious Governor in a moment. But first I’d like to point out that legislative leadership doesn’t look any better. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, The State’s Most Conservative Progressive, talked of “a pretty serious conceptual shift” that kinda-sorta makes those goals… irrelevant?

As Ashe put it, “And so we might think about things differently today than we did when those particular goals were made in terms of timing and strategies.”

Umm, okay. For her part, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson meets the challenge with a profusion of past participles: “In order to have met that goal, we needed to have been keeping closer track of it all along the way,” said Johnson.

I get it. We’re gonna bullshit our way out of the crisis.

In the meantime, I look forward to the passage of legislation officially removing our climate goals from the law. It’d be honest, if nothing else.

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