Category Archives: climate change

Governor Nice Guy Extends His All-Time Veto Record

What will it take to make us stop calling Phil Scott a Nice GuyTM?

Even as the House failed, by one vote each*, to override two of Scott’s vetoes, he came out and promised yet another. This time, the victim is S.234, a bill making changes in Act 250 designed to encourage housing construction.

*Special place in political hell for Rep. Thomas Bock, a Democrat who voted for the clean heat standard bill and switched his vote on the override at the last minute without informing leadership.

For those keeping track, and I sure as hell am, that will be his 31st veto. He’s threatening another on the budget bill, and he’s vetoed plenty of budgets in the past.

Scott continues to put more and more distance between himself and the rest of the Vermont gubernatorial field like Chase Elliott in a Soap Box Derby. The past record-holder, Howard Dean, racked up a “mere” 21 vetoes. Of course, he was governor for almost twelve full years and Scott is only partway through his sixth.

Jim Douglas vetoed 19 bills, but he served four full terms to Scott’s three and a half.

There is no competition. Phil Scott is the Veto King.

Two questions:

First, what exactly makes him a Nice Guy? The disarming smile? It sure isn’t policy.

Second, how can any Democrat vote for Scott and claim to support their party’s agenda? Scott has prevented the Legislature from taking stronger action not only with those 31-and-counting vetoes, but with the ever-present threat of even more. He’ll do it. You know he will.

Two answers:

First, he isn’t a nice guy, but he plays one on TV.

Second, they can’t.

GlobalFoundries Gonna Try Again For That Thing They Say They Don’t Need

Hey, remember when the state Public Utility Commission ruled against GlobalFoundries’ request to become its own electricity provider? Well, the PUC gave the company until March 11 to come back with a new filing.

For those keeping score at home, that’s tomorrow.

And yes indeed, I’ve been told that GlobalFoundries will file for reconsideration by the PUC despite the fact that it had insisted it would go ahead with its plan without PUC approval.

In its February ruling, the PUC said it had the authority to grant GF its independent status, but not to give GF an exemption from Vermont’s renewable energy standards. After the ruling, GF said it would go ahead without that exemption because meeting the RES targets would be no problem.

I guess the overlords of Essex have had a change of heart. Which isn’t too much of a surprise, since they’ve done that before.

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Can We Get Some Transportation Imagination Up In Here?

This, friends and neighbors, is a typical streetscape in Amsterdam. Note the balanced, complete integration of auto, pedestrian, bicycle and public transit.

Meanwhile, here in America, the best we can do is staple bikeways and walkways onto existing streets and roads in ways that put non-motorists in danger and force our buses to fight their way through traffic. And I fear that our coming investments in infrastructure and greenhouse gas reduction will do little to change this dysfunctional reality.

Funny thing. The Netherlands is a far better place to drive than any American city. In fact, it’s been rated the best country in the world to drive in. It’s faster for motorists in spite of the relatively narrow roadways, and it’s a damn sight safer.

And before you can say “Oh, well, the Dutch have always been weird,” their towns and cities used to be car-centric until fairly recently. And they were loud and crowded and difficult to get around in, just like their American counterparts. But the Dutch made a concerted effort to define “transportation” as it should be defined: “getting the most people from one place to another as quickly as possible.” And that doesn’t mean more and wider roads, because more and wider roads actually slow things down.

Vermont’s Climate Action Plan includes a lot of pretty noises about equity, creativity, and alternative modes of transportation. Sounds nice, but Gov. Phil Scott’s plan focuses almost entirely on electric vehicle subsidies and infrastructure. That would mitigate our climate footprint, but it would do nothing to make our transportation system better, safer or more equitable. Right now we have a flood of federal Covid cash to invest; if we adopt Scott’s plan, we will squander this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Nice Little Regulatory System You’ve Got Here, It’d Be a Shame if Anything Happened To It

Hey, it’s time for an update on the latest bit of corporate extortion from our buddies at GlobalFoundries, the biggest private sector employer in Chittenden County. Throughout its tenure — and before it, through much of IBM’s residency at the Essex Junction facility — the companies have used their heft to get various benefits from the state government, each time hinting to pull up stakes and leave for more corporate-friendly climes if it didn’t get its way.

This time there’s a double threat. GF is seeking to set up its own private utility so it can buy power on the regional market free of various state regulations, including renewable energy and greenhouse gas standards. It’s seeking Public Utility Commission approval for the move — and threatening to go ahead with or without PUC approval.

GF makes a, shall we say, interesting argument. In essence, it argues that it doesn’t need PUC approval, but it’s applying to the PUC anyway in order to preserve Vermont’s regulatory framework. Yup, the company says it’s acting to preserve a regulatory system by seeking to essentially opt out of the system. That’s a funny way to support a system, no?

But a question has arisen over whether or not the PUC can even consider the case. The Conservation Law Foundation and AllEarth Renewables say the PUC has no jurisdiction over the request because state law doesn’t make any provision for anything like private utilities.

Last month, the parties submitted legal arguments and counter-arguments for the Commission to ponder. Wednesday 12/8 is the deadline for any additional filings on the issue; after that, presumably the PUC will schedule a hearing. All documents, public comments, schedules, etc., can be accessed on this page in the PUC website.

So where do the parties stand? I’ll give you a simplified (and hopefully reasonably accurate) version after the jump.

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The Biggest Climate Obstacle in Vermont

If there was any doubt that Gov. Phil Scott would be the single biggest obstacle in the way of meaningful climate action, it was erased in the Vermont Climate Council’s 19-4 vote to adopt its 273-page “initial plan” for meeting Vermont’s climate goals. The four “no” votes came from members of Scott’s cabinet.

And that’s all you need to know.

It’s no surprise, really. The governor lobbied against the Global Warming Solutions Act, vetoed it, and watched as the Legislature overrode his veto. He argued that the Act opened the door to costly litigation and said it was an unconstitutional infringement on executive powers.

(It must be noted that Scott was so confident of his constitutional grounds that he never took the case to court. It was the prudent course; outside of the Fifth Floor, no one seemed to buy the argument — including the Legislature’s legal team and Attorney General TJ Donovan.)

The four-page statement by the Cabinet dissenters (reachable via link embedded in VTDigger’s story) is a real piece of work. While claiming to support vigorous climate action, they produced a buffet of objections worthy of Golden Corral and just as appetizing. The statement makes it clear that the Scott administration will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into climate action, and you can expect gubernatorial vetoes if the Legislature adopts measures he doesn’t like.

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Thanks, Phil: R.I.P. TCI

This shouldn’t cost much to fix

We’re screwed, aren’t we?

In a year when the effects of climate change have become undeniable (the latest example being the extreme flooding in British Columbia), a New England multistate compact to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation has officially collapsed.

And I’d like to pause here and thank Gov. Phil Scott for his part in killing the once-promising Transportation and Climate Initiative.

TCI, proposed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, is dead. Baker pulled the plug yesterday because no other New England state had committed to the compact, which rendered it null and void. The last straw was the withdrawal of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who said TCI was “a pretty tough rock to push when gas prices are so high.”

Yeah, we’re screwed. If gas prices in the low to mid $3.00 range are enough to kill a significant emission reduction initiative, we’re never going to slow the onrush of climate change. Even when our rational minds know full well that paying more thank three bucks a gallon is pocket change compared to the costs of global warming — such as repairing the highway washout pictured above, which is one of dozens now facing British Columbia.

Our governor didn’t pound the final nail in TCI’s coffin, but he did more than his share to make sure it never came to life. Remember that the next time you see images from Vermont like the B.C. washout seen above.

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So Much Horse Hockey in Such a Small Paddock

Honestly, I wouldn’t expect our area Chambers of Commerce to do anything but support GlobalFoundries in its bid to operate its own utility, thus sidestepping the Global Warming Solutions Act and other state rules and regulations. The Chambers are on the side of business, after all, and any threat to GF’s presence in Essex Junction is a threat to the region’s economy as a whole — including the Chambers’ constituencies. But this toxic little opinion piece from the Vermont and Lake Champlain Chambers plus the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation is an exercise in desperation and deception.

The thesis, as stated in the headline above, is that GlobalFoundries “will help combat climate change.” Huh. So exempting GF from the GWSA will help us fight climate change? Do tell.

In order to prove this unlikely theory, Cioffi et al. proceed to put their thumbs on the scale at every opportunity, spinning out unlikely scenarios full of conditional clauses while offering no evidence whatsoever that the deal will be a blow against climate change.

Let’s run through the deceptions, shall we?

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The GlobalFoundries Deal Is Bad, But Maybe Not Quite Terrible

Had a polite conversation (well, it was testy at first) with someone in the Scott administration who’s involved in the talks with GlobalFoundries over its desire to create its own utility exempt from laws and regulations that apply to all other utilities. As a reminder, the Scott administration and GF have signed a Letter of Intent en route to a formal agreement that would allow GF to have its way.

I came away from the chat with a bit more perspective, but my fundamental belief remains: This is a case of government bowing to the demands of an employer that’s too big to deny.

I’m not naming the official because our chat was off the record, and also because this post reflects my own view of the situation and not theirs.

First, a significant correction. I wrote that the Global Warming Solutions Act set a greenhouse gas emission baseline of 1990 while the LOI uses 2005, when emissions were at their peak. In fact, the GWSA also uses 2005 as its baseline for the 2025 target. 1990 applies for other, later targets.

So in the LOI, GF is agreeing to abide by the 2025 emissions target in the Global Warming Solutions Act. But three things are still true: First, GF’s current emissions are only a tick higher than the 2025 target so the company won’t have to do much at all. Second, the letter is riddled with exceptions and exemptions that would allow GF to exceed the target. Third, the LOI would allow GF to exceed its target under a variety of circumstances.

But there is one line in the LOI that leaves the door open for further state action.

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That GlobalFoundries Deal is All Kinds of Terrible

Working on the Memorandum of Understanding (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

A few days ago, I wrote about GlobalFoundries’ bid to break away from Green Mountain Power and establish its own boutique utility. Well, it’s far worse than I thought. I’ve gotten a look at the Letter of Intent between GF and the Scott administration — no scoops, it’s a public document — and maaaaan, is it bad. Like, historically, unprecedentedly bad.

I won’t say the administration is acting as GF’s procurer, but I will say it’s told Vermont to put on a sequined microskirt and show the corporation a good time.

Really, I’m kinda shocked that there’s been no media coverage of this. It’s definitely newsworthy. Utility regulation is one of those boring, complicated matters chock full of legalese that tends to scare away reporters and editors. And readers, for that matter.

But compared to the usual thickets of legal and regulatory matters, this is an easy story to tell. It’s a story of a government bowing and scraping before a big business, sacrificing principle and sound policy in the process.

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Is GlobalFoundries Too Big To Deny?

They probably call this a campus”

It may not be “an offer you can’t refuse,” but GlobalFoundries has done its best to put state government over a barrel on electricity costs. Vermont’s largest private-sector employer wants to cut ties with Green Mountain Power and form its own utility. It would buy its power on the regional wholesale market.

If it gets its way, the utility would not be subject to Vermont’s renewable energy standards or a variety of other laws and regulations. This isn’t a little thing; GF accounts for 8% of Vermont’s electricity consumption. If GF gets its way, we’d have a harder time reaching our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Unless, ha ha ha, it voluntarily complies. Ha.

The case was filed last spring before the Public Utilities Commission and got a flurry of media attention at the time. Since then, it has followed the PUC’s customarily meandering process with filing after memo after legal brief after rejoinder. But things are about to heat up. And there are any number of indications that the Scott administration is in the bag for the GF petition.

Which is no surprise, since underlying all of this is GF’s persistent, non-specific rumblings about competitiveness and costs and well, wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to your big shiny employer?

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