Category Archives: Environment

Weenie Exceptionalism

Ah, Vermont. Hewn of granite and marble. Majestic mountains, vast forests. A stout and hearty people, hardworking and honest. A land of enduring values.

Or…

An incredibly fragile place that could be knocked out of kilter by the gentlest breeze. A state whose very future might be imperiled by the slightest misstep, no matter where or when.

Myself, I live in the first state. A lot of us seem to have taken up permanent residence in the nightmarish second, at least to judge by their Chicken Little rhetoric.

I see it from all parts of the political spectrum. Conservatives and liberals, business types, environmental activists, townies, country folk, etc., etc.

Let’s take Rutland, a city that’s had its share of hard knocks. The manufacturing boom times, the long steady decline, the scourge of drug addiction. It’s lived through all that, and retained a sense of identity and pride.

But add 100 Syrian refugees, and the whole place will go kerblooey. So say the fearmongers and nativists at Rutland First, anyway. City Treasurer Wendy Wilton claims she’d be fine with 25 Syrians — but 100 is simply too many. Others say the Syrians would be doomed to unemployment or underemployment because there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

Oh ye Rutlanders of little faith.
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False equivalencies on renewable energy

VTDigger’s commentary page recently featured a call to Kumbaya by Brian Tokar, UVM lecturer and board member of 350Vermont. His argument is that our debate over renewable energy has been toxified by extreme positions taken by both sides:

On one hand, groups like VPIRG and Renewable Energy Vermont have staked out a position that any possible limitations on large-scale projects represent an existential threat to our appropriately ambitious renewable energy goals. On the other side are those who view all utility-scaled developments as an assault on our precious lands and wildlife habitats, among other concerns.

His characterization of pro-renewable advocates is 100% pure bullshit. Nobody from VPIRG or REV or Iberdrola or The Secret Blittersdorf Cabal is opposed to “any possible limitations” on renewable siting. In fact, they just spent a laborious 2016 legislative session working with all interested parties on a revised siting bill that allows for local input.

It was the other side that refuses to come to the table, insists on nothing less than full veto power for local governments, and depicts anyone who disagrees with them as corrupt toadies of rich, powerful, foreign interests.

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When is a law not a law? The sponsor responds

A couple days ago I wrote about the saga of Act 86, which requires constant monitoring of Lake Champlain for blue-green algae blooms, but actually accomplishes nothing in the real world.

Well, I’ve talked with one of those responsible for the law, and here’s what I learned.

First, Act 86 was not a stand-alone pice of legislation, which you wouldn’t know from reading VPR’s report on it.

“The bill itself has two parts,” explains Rep. Diane Lanpher (D-Vergennes). “The first addresses CSO’s [combined sewer overflows], and the second, cyanobacteria [blue-green algae].”

Lanpher was chief sponsor of H.674, the CSO bill; Rep. Kathleen Keenan (D-St. Albans) was chief sponsor of Act 86, the algae piece. Both measures addressed public notification of water quality problems, so they decided to combine the measures into a single bill.

While Act 86 has had little practical effect, H.674 has been highly impactful, turning an unforgiving spotlight on troublesome municipal wastewater systems.

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Phil-Lip-Flop

At the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign last night, Phil Scott pulled a Dunne.

That is, he significantly changed a policy stance while passing it off as no big deal.

The subject was climate change. On many occasions, Scott has acknowledged climate change is real but declined to admit that human activity is responsible. Here he is, at a late-July forum on the Vermont economy in a time of climate change.

Yes, I do believe that climate change is real and it could be for many different reasons. …There are many who think it’s caused by human behavior. There are some who believe it’s due to climate change, uh, changing on a worldwide basis.

Maybe it’s because he’s gotten some pushback for taking a stance to the right of Bruce Lisman and Jim Douglas, who both acknowledge human impact. Maybe he’s repositioning himself for the general election. But he changed his tune substantially at last night’s forum.

Sue Minter asked him why he was out of step with 97 percent of the scientific community in refusing to acknowledge human impact. He began his answer by saying “You’re getting confused.” He then clearly stated that “climate change is real and man-made,” and then added “I was acknowledging that there are many who don’t believe that.”

His approach is to evade areas of controversy and “focus on areas we can agree on.”

So, he believes that climate change is human-caused — but he doesn’t want to challenge those who don’t?

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When is a law not a law?

A philosophical question triggered by a specific actuality: a new law intended to inform the public about toxic algae blooms is pretty much a sham.

VPR’s Taylor Dobbs explains how it’s supposed to work:

The new law is know as Act 86, and it requires the Vermont Department of Health to start public outreach within one hour of finding out about a bloom of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.

Great idea, right?

Here’s the problem: there’s no mechanism to conduct real-time tracking of algae blooms. The Legislature passed a shiny new PR-friendly law — “Look, we’re doing something to ensure your safety!” — but did nothing about turning its good intention into reality. The monitoring effort is entirely in the hands of volunteers, and there’s a huge amount of ground to cover.

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The Energy Rebellion is a fizzle

In the runup to Tuesday’s primary, I suggested that Peter Galbraith’s candidacy could backfire on his allies in the anti-renewable camp. I thought he was likely to finish a poor third, and that could damage the antis’ claim to represent a sizable and growing force in Vermont politics.

Turns out, they may be loud but they’re not terribly numerous. Galbraith did worse than I thought, finishing with a mere nine percent of the Democratic primary vote.

It remains to be seen if Galbraith’s poor showing diminishes the pull of groups like Vermonters for a Clean Environment and Energize Vermont; but it sure can’t help them.

I can almost hear them arguing that their numbers were split among Galbraith and Republicans Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman. But even if Scott wins the governorship, Democrats will hold the legislative power, and they should be unimpressed by the small number of anti-wind voters in Democratic ranks.

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Everybody hates Matt

Looking forward to Matt Dunne’s memoir of his bid for governor, working title “My House Is On Fire and All I’ve Got Is Gasoline.”

It’s been a remarkable, perhaps unprecedented, four days in Vermont politics: the self-immolation of a well-regarded candidate for governor.

And it just keeps getting worse. Today, prominent environmental groups threw their support behind Sue Minter. And then Dunne compounded the damage by trying to re-explain his new position on renewable energy siting — and in the process, he provoked backlash from the very people he tried to bring on board last Friday, the opponents of ridgeline wind.

Add it all up. Governor Shumlin and most Democratic lawmakers are mad at Dunne because he threw shade on Act 174, the compromise siting bill they carefully shepherded into law this year.

The environmental community is mad at Dunne for shifting ground on renewables in a way clearly intended to empower its opponents.

And now those opponents are mad at Dunne. The Queen Bee of oppositionalism, Annette Smith, sees Dunne as a fake and a poseur. Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, last seen complimenting Dunne in the latter’s ill-fated Friday press release, now says:

Snap!

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