Category Archives: climate change

Apocalypse Here

Good evening, Vermont.

On the fourth day of our unprecedented heat wave, tragedy struck the Northeast Kingdom town of Lyndon. One of the many wildfires ravaging Vermontswept through the town, destroying virtually everything in its path and causing an unknown number of deaths and injuries. Search and rescue operations are on hold until the fire can be contained.

Today’s high temperature in Lyndon was 113 degrees. It was the fourth consecutive day of temperatures over 110 in a town where the normal July high is less than 80 degrees. Firefighters had to be pulled from the field because of the oppressive heat and the drought that struck Vermont in the spring.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lyndon,” said Gov. Phil Scott, promising to do “everything I can” to bring help to that town and so many others. Wildfires are burning throughout the Kingdom, as well as the Green Mountain National Forest, the Champlain Valley, the Mad River Valley, and along the Connecti — let’s just say that there are fires all over the state. Areas not directly threatened by fire are dealing with extreme heat and heavy smoke; health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has urged Vermonters to stay indoors due to the poor air quality.

Continue reading

Bureaucracy Appreciation Minute: The Climate Council

Bureaucracy is often a target for criticism in these parts, but occasionally a situation calls for a plodding old tortoise instead of a flashy young hare. Take Wednesday morning, when the House Transportation Committee got an update on the Vermont Climate Council. The hearing provided a window on the huge amount of detailed work being done by the Council’s 23 members, as a body and in five subcommittees. (Its report to the committee can be accessed here.)

The Council was established by the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, which became law when the Legislature overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s veto. Its goal is to adopt a Climate Action Plan by December 1, 2021. That’s little more than six months from now, which is a fast pace for such a body.

The details are, for the most part, boring. But they’re important. One example: As our vehicle fleet goes more and more to electric power, we’re going to need a network of public charging stations. But exactly how much needs to be done? Council members reported today that we need about five times as many as we have now by the year 2025. Determining the extent of the need is the starting point for action. It tells us what priority the charging infrastructure should have in our massive list of climate-fighting tasks, and how much work must be done.

By December, the Climate Council will have assembled all these details into a single tapestry of climate action. And then the real work will start.

Continue reading

The Veepies, Again: Too Fast, Too Furious

For those just joining us, The Veepies are my occasional awards for stupidity in the public sphere. We’re still setting a brisk pace in that regard. So, here we go…

The We Gave You a Crappy Half-Apology Because We Had To, But We Really Didn’t Mean It Award goes to the Bennington Selectboard. Last month, the town reached a settlement with former state representative Kiah Morris over the police department’s actions, or inactions, regarding threats against Morris. This came after the state Human Rights Commission issued a preliminary finding that the Bennington PD had discriminated against Morris and her husband James Lawton. As part of the deal, Bennington had to issue a formal apology. And it was kind of half-assed, blame-the-victim stuff: “It is clear that Kiah, James and their family felt unsafe and unprotected by the town of Bennington.”

See, it’s not that the town did anything wrong; it’s just that Morris and her family felt unsafe. Put the onus on the victim. But wait, there’s more!

Whatever little value there was in that “apology” was completely undercut by the town’s attorney Michael Leddy, who insisted that there are “no reasonable grounds to believe” that the town was guilty of discrimination, and by Selectboard chair Jeanne Jenkins, who told VTDigger last week doesn’t believe the police department discriminated against Morris.

All they will acknowledge is that Morris “felt unsafe.” Well, Morris and her family have since relocated to Chittenden County, so problem solved, I guess?

After the jump: Empty climate rhetoric, Medicaid money for school cops, and propping up a dying industry.

Continue reading

Large Scale Wind Is Dead in Vermont. Is Solar Following the Same Path?

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

The Public Utility Commission is scheduled to hear a case on Friday that could tighten the screws on large-scale solar energy in Vermont, a process that’s sneakily been underway for a while. And to judge by the record to date, its decision seems unlikely to be solar-friendly.

South Street Solar is seeking commission approval for a 30-acre solar array on farmland owned by Middlebury College, which would provide almost one-third of the college’s electricity and help reach its goal of using 100% renewable energy by the year 2028. The project sparked some local opposition because Vermont, but it passed muster with the town planning commission and selectboard.

If the PUC rejects the request or puts significant obstacles in the way, it will underscore a growing problem with solar siting in Vermont: Almost every potential site, even the seemingly ideal, is unacceptable to some.

Everyone is okay with rooftop solar, but there’s simply not enough rooftop acreage to make a real contribution to our renewable energy goals. So where else can it go? We don’t want to clear forest land, we don’t want to impact wetlands or waterways, we don’t want to clutter scenic areas, we don’t want it too close to where we live, and sometimes we don’t even want it on not-at-all-scenic, unused property.

The latter problem killed a solar proposal in Bradford. You know the site if you’ve taken Exit 16 off I-91 or gone shopping at Farm-Way. It’s a large parcel on the outskirts of town within sight of the freeway. There is some commercial development (an auto parts store and a supermarket), but there’s still plenty of vacant land. The site has, I think it’s safe to say, no esthetic appeal whatsoever.

But it didn’t happen because the regional planning commission decided that the land should be reserved for potential development. This site should have been an idea spot for a solar array.

Now, back to Middlebury.

Continue reading

It’s Amazing What You Can Do With a Billion Dollars

In purely political terms, the Covid pandemic is the best thing that’s ever happened to Gov. Phil Scott. He got to be seen as a decisive leader simply by outperforming the likes of Donald Trump. Throughout the 2020 campaign, he enjoyed a twice-weekly platform on live statewide television and radio. He absolutely dominated every news cycle, and walked to victory in something bigger than a landslide.

And now, state government is swimming in federal relief cash — with more likely on the way. Trump’s CARES Act provided the equivalent of 20 percent of Vermont’s GDP. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act is pumping in even more. And if Biden gets his infrastructure bill through, Vermont will get a third massive infusion in less than two years’ time.

The CARES Act alone floated Vermont through 2020 “in aggregate,” as state economist Jeffrey Carr put it. There was pain aplenty, to be sure. But there were winners as well, and the impact was greatly softened by the federal government’s ability (and willingness) to deficit spend. The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.

On Tuesday, Scott unveiled his billion-dollar plan to use a big chunk of the federal ARPA money. It includes just about everything on everybody’s wish list, and provides a huge boost to state initiatives that Scott insisted we couldn’t afford on our own. And the money will be spent over the next four years, which will make it extremely difficult to run against Scott in the next two cycles.

So, hooray for the pandemic!

Continue reading

Herp Day!

One of the small delights of covering the Legislature is the occasional discovery of someone with an unusual profession, who’s really good at their job and really enthusiastic about it.

This time, Jim Andrews. He’s a herpetologist, and since 1994 he’s coordinated the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. I cannot tell you how delighted I am to discover that there is such a thing, and that the same guy has been in charge of it for 26 years.

Andrews was one of several experts who testified last Friday before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. (Written testimony here, video of the hearing here.) The general subject was the impact of climate change on Vermont’s fauna, which is appallingly considerable. If current trends continue, our wildlife is going to dramatically change.

I’ll get to that, but first I must go on a bit about the herps. The VRAA is essentially a volunteer enterprise, counting on Vermonters to photograph and report sightings of frogs, turtles, snakes, salamanders and suchlike. And they do, in considerable quantity. The atlas’ website has a roster of people who have turned in 100 reports or more.

There are more than 150 people on the list. That’s a lotta herps.

There are, in fact, several operations just like the herp atlas. Collectively they produce the Vermont Atlas of Life, which seeks to identify every living thing in Vermont as well as their range and habitats. The VAL has chronicled over 10,000 species, thanks almost entirely to volunteer observers. It’s ventures like the VAL that allow us to actually measure the impact of climate change on the animal world.

After the jump: the bad news.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading