Category Archives: Environment

The LG Race Is a Good Test of Endorsement Power

Of all the contested Democratic primaries up for grabs on Tuesday, one race has effectively split the Democratic base in two more or less equal parts. Well, equal in import if not in numbers.

All of the liberal and progressive interest groups — labor, environmental, political — have all lined up behind former lieutenant governor David Zuckerman. They include VPIRG Votes, Vermont Conservation Voters, Sierra Club Vermont chapter, Sunrise Montpelier, Vermont State Employees Association, Vermont State Labor Council, AFSCME Local 93, American Federation of Teachers, Sheet Metal Workers Local 93, Rights & Democracy, Renew U.S., and Our Revolution.

At least two unions have not endorsed: Vermont NEA and the Vermont Troopers Association.

As for former Rep. Kitty Toll, the “Endorsements’ page on her website includes no organizations of any kind. She has an impressive list of individuals on her side, but none of the groups that normally support Democrats.

This is not true of any other primary race I know of. The groups are split between candidates.

What are those organizational endorsements worth? That’s the question, isn’t it?

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Where Manly Men Hold Sway — UPDATED and Even More Manly

Typical meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Board (Artist’s Rendering)

Here’s another thing that won’t change until Phil Scott isn’t governor anymore: The state Fish & Wildlife Board is chock-full of hunters, almost all of them men.

Scott recently appointed three new people to the 14-member board (one member from each county). All three were hunters. All three were men. The makeup of the board: 11 men, three women.

Correction: It’s 12 men and two women. Maybe.

The F&W Board webpage listing the members has a typo. “Nicholas Burnham” is spelled “Nichola Burnham.” I jumped to the conclusion that “Nichola” was female.

Also, I’ve been told that Board member Nancy Mathews has resigned. I haven’t been able to verify that. If true, the makeup of the board is 12 men, ONE woman and a vacancy.

Generally speaking, Scott has done a very good job of appointing women to top positions in his administration. But apparently that notion of equity doesn’t apply to deer camp.

The Board’s gender imbalance is concerning; surely there are more than three qualified women in Vermont. But more concerning from a policy viewpoint is the administration’s clear preference for loading the Board with hunters. As if they are the only ones whose opinions matter.

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Scott Plays Lobbyist Footsie Over Medical Monitoring Bill — UPDATED With Another Grisly Detail

The Legislature is once again trying to move forward with a bill to mandate lifetime medical monitoring coverage to Vermonters who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals such as the PFAS family of hazardous greeblies. Lawmakers passed such a bill in 2018 and 2019, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott both times for his usual weak-ass reasons.

Well, now we know exactly how closely the administration was coordinating its stance with big corporate interests. Short version: Hand in glove. Or footsie under the table, if you prefer.

This revelation doesn’t come from Vermont’s sadly diminished political press, but from The Hill in faraway Washington, D.C. On January 26, The Hill posted the second in a four-part series on efforts to defeat such legislation in multiple states. The opening paragraph lays out the thesis:

State-level efforts to help victims of “forever chemical” exposure get compensation have met resistance from both governments and industry — and this pushback has been particularly effective in Republican-led states.

Like for instance, Vermont, which is the focus of the 1/26 story. It draws on public records requests that uncovered how “an official in the governor’s office coordinated with a lobbyist in ‘watering down'” the bill.

The official was Ethan Latour, then assistant spokesflack for Scott and now Deputy Finance Commissioner (because flackery is such good preparation for a high-level fiscal management post). The most telling moment: Latour sent an email to Warren Coleman of MMR, the top black-hat lobby shop in Montpelier, in which he shared a draft of a policy memo to the governor. Yep, Latour was making sure his memo danced to Coleman’s tune.

But that’s not the most telling part! In the email, Latour made reference to “his/our proposal,” meaning a weakened version of the bill which was a joint effort between the administration and Coleman’s corporate paymasters.

One more snuggly little detail: Before Latour joined the Scott administration, he worked for…. wait for it… MMR.

Update. Latour doesn’t work for the state anymore. He’s on the Secretary of State’s Lobbyist registry as a lobbyist employed by… wait for it… MMR. Isn’t that special!

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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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Will the Witness For Synthetic Turf Please Take the Stand?

Last month I brought you news of Michael Shively, professional “expert” on sex trafficking and staunch foe of decriminalizing sex work. He took the mic at Burlington and Montpelier City Council meetings, delivered his spiel, and got quite a bit of coverage in the media. More than he deserved. His credentials went unquestioned in press coverage. In truth, he represents an organization that sprung out of the religious right and has fought not only sex trafficking but also pornography, sex toys and birth control.

Well, now we’ve got another professional expert whose credentials should not be accepted at face value. Meet Laura Green, PhD., who has represented the synthetic turf industry and developers of synthetic turf athletic fields on numerous occasions. Her take is that synthetic turf is not at all harmful. It’s just a bunch of inert ingredients, nothing to see here, please move along.

Green does have solid credentials in the field of toxicology, but she has been a paid expert on only one side of the synthetic turf issue. Many experts and environmentalists do not agree with her view. Truth is, the necessary research on the safety of turf has yet to be done. It’s an open question.

Green recently paid a digital visit to Vermont, specifically the board of Mount Anthony Union High School down Bennington way. The board has proposed covering a dilapidated field with synthetic turf. Green spoke at a special meeting about the plan on October 25. Her expertise was taken pretty much at face value by trustees and the local press. (The Bennington Banner both-sidesed the hearing, which is always the shortest route to fake objectivity.)

Before proceeding any further, I should note that the plan has been derailed, at least for now. On November 3 district voters rejected the proposal, most likely over its cost. School officials are deciding what to do next; the field needs attention one way or another. Synthetic turf remains an option.

Back to the witness for Big Turf.

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While My Guitar Gently Veeps

It’s been a while. For most of September, we’ve had some high-level stupid (the governor’s scattershot search for consistent pandemic messaging) but a relative lack of the kind of mid- and low-level stupid in the public arena that is the bread and butter of The Veepies. But now, we’re back!

First, the Policy? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Policy Award goes to the Vermont Principals’ Association, last seen hiding its head in the sand over the racist slurs targeting the Winooski High School boys’ soccer team. In response to the appalling incidents during a game with Enosburg High, Winooski district Superintendent Sean McMannon called on the VPA, which oversees high school athletics, to adopt stronger measures against the use of racial slurs.

The VPA’s response so far? Well, they’re staying out of it until the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union does its own investigation. Otherwise, well, all they’re doing is considering a season-long ban for a Winooski athlete for allegedly head-butting an opponent. VPA president Jay Nichols says the organization might conduct an investigation after FNSU’s is complete. Franklin, by the way, is investigating the slurs AND alleged violence by Winooski players, so we’re both-sidesing this thing.

Great. But the topper, for me, is that McMannon called on the VPA to develop procedures for reporting and investigating racial abuse. Which indicates that the VPA doesn’t have any such procedure now. Which is, well, stupid.

After the jump: Stupid trooper tricks, a Raider obsession, and a bit of myopic journalismism.

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We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

Painting by Marc Adornato. See note below.

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.

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The Best Indictment of the PSD/PUC Renewable Process Is Its Own Documentation

From the PSD Hearing Officer’s report on the Richville Road project

I’ve heard from several enewable energy developers that the Public Service Department and Public Utility Commission make it extremely difficult to site new energy projects in Vermont. The best evidence for this is a document from within the PSD itself. It shows a process that seems designed to stymie renewable energy development. Since climate change is no longer deniable, this is entirely backward and counterproductive.

The document is a Hearing Officer’s recommendation regarding a proposed 500 kW solar array that would be built by MHG Solar on Richville Road in Manchester Town. (There’s a good story about it in the Bennington Banner.) The Officer goes through page after page of project compliance with PUC standards… and then decides it shouldn’t be built, based solely on some remarkably flimsy esthetic considerations. This, despite the fact that an independent aesthetics consultant hired by the PSD found that the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.

The MHG proposal is a textbook example of how to site and design a solar installation. The plan is well thought-out and takes into account every possible objection, and yet the Officer is recommending denial.

The PUC has yet to make its decision. In fact, the commission has scheduled a site visit for this Friday. It may be the developer’s last opportunity to overcome the Hearing Officer’s report.

The Officer’s entire 40-page report (downloadable from the PSD’s website) reveals an apparent bias against renewable energy. If this is typical of the PSD/PUC work product, it’s clear that a thorough reform needs to take place.

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The Public Utility Commission Needs an Overhaul

The Vermont Public Utility Commission is truly a curious beastie. If it didn’t exist and you were creating a regulatory body afresh, there is no way on God’s green earth that you’d follow the deeply flawed model of our Earth-1 PUC.

Or should I say “Bizarro Earth”?

The PUC is what they call a “quasi-judicial body.” What this means in practice is that it hides behind a judicial cloak when it’s convenient, and ignores judicial conventions when it’s not.

For those just tuning in, the PUC is a three-member panel whose members serve six-year terms. Candidates are nominated by the governor, vetted by a judicial nominating board and approved by the Senate. By state standards, they are handsomely compensated; PUC Chair Tony Roisman pulls down a tidy $160,763 per year, and the other two members get $107,182 apiece.

The commission is a hugely powerful body that, in the words of its homepage, “regulates the siting of electric and natural gas infrastructure and supervises the rates, quality of service, and overall financial management of Vermont’s public utilities: electric, gas, energy efficiency, telecommunications, cable television (terms of service only, not rates), water, and large wastewater companies.”

That’s, um, quite a lot.

But if you want any insight into its decision-making process, you’re shit out of luck. The commission conceals itself behind its cloak of quasi-judiciality. Its deliberations are conducted behind closed doors. Commissioners refuse to discuss their work because, ahem, they’re quasi-judges.

This makes their jobs easier, but it is decidedly not in the public interest.

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