Category Archives: Environment

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

I Realize We Can’t Be First All the Time, But Can We Please Be First a Little More Often?

Ah, Vermont, home of Bernie, cradle of progressivism, always in the vanguard of positive change.

Or so we like to believe.

In reality, more often than not we lag behind other jurisdictions. And I’ve got not one, not two, but three examples to share.

First, we are now officially behind the Biden administration on the right to repair — which allows consumers to act as if they own the stuff they buy. Second and third, the state of Maine has enacted two bills that put Vermont in the shade. Maine has imposed a virtual ban on the use of PFAS chemicals (so-called “forever chemicals”), the compounds that have created a huge mess in the Bennington area. Also, Maine has passed “extended product responsibility” legislation that makes manufacturers responsible for the ultimate fate of their product packaging.

So why are we behind in these areas? Well, all three touch on corporate interests. Our lawmakers tend to wither and fade when exposed to testimony from the business community. Besides, these are exactly the kinds of bills that Gov. Scott frequently vetoes over vague concerns about competitiveness or costs.

Continue reading

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

When It Comes to the Environment, Who Better Than a Gas Man?

Is it just coincidence that Gov. Phil Scott appointed a former natural gas mogul to a state environmental board at a time when global warming is wreaking havoc on large swaths of the planet? Or is he indulging in uncharacteristic irony?

Scott announced Monday that Don Rendall, former CEO of Vermont Gas, will become interim chair of the Vermont Natural Resources Board. I have to admit I had no idea what the NRB was, so I visited its website. And there I found quite a bit of food for thought.

The Board, for those as clueless as I, oversees and enforces Act 250, Vermont’s land-use law that seeks to minimize the environmental impact of development. As the only full-time state employee on the board, the chair tends to dominate the process. As the Board’s website makes clear, “The [Act 250] Enforcement Program is directed by the Chair of the NRB.”

Rendall retired last fall after five years as Vermont Gas CEO. During his tenure, the company launched its Addison County pipeline project which was the subject of protests and lawsuits and, as VTDigger put it, still faces “multiple ongoing Public Utility Commission investigations.” Previously, Rendall had been an executive at Green Mountain Power. No hint of environmental expertise in his C.V.

Vermont Gas has touted natural gas as a low-cost, environmentally-friendly fossil fuel. The climate activist group 350Vermont, which created the above illustration, would call that “greenwashing.”

So why is the man who pushed the pipeline the right choice for this job?

Continue reading