Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back-dooring the GlobalFoundries Deal

On loan from the commies at VPIRG

The Vermont Public Utilities Commission is considering GlobalFoundries’ application to break away from Green Mountain Power and form its own utility. The proposal may or may not be taken up; there’s a question about whether the PUC has statutory authority to consider the plan. That must be resolved before the PUC can fully consider the plan itself.

But it looks as though the Scott administration has a backup idea. Its officials, who occupy eight seats on the 23-member Vermont Climate Council, are trying to slip the basic tenets of GF’s proposal into the Climate Action Plan being developed by the Council.

As a reminder, GF wants to set up its own utility and save money by buying its power on the regional wholesale market. Its proposal would exempt the bespoke utility from the Global Warming Solutions Act as well as a variety of other state laws and regulations and a gross receipts tax levied on power providers.

The busybodies at the Conservation Law Foundation, which is arguing against the GF plan, has filed a comment with the Council that describes a very permissive carve-out for “Semiconductor Manufacturing in Vermont,” a.k.a. GlobalFoundries, that administration officials are trying to insert into the Climate Plan.

According to the CLF memo, the carve-out is generous indeed to GF.

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I Don’t Think You’re Happy Enough

It was yet another Covid briefing full of same-old, same-old. Carefully chosen statistics, evidence-free optimism, whistling past the graveyard, vigorous straw-man punching, self-pity, and not a lick of policy change despite the fact that new cases and hospitalizations continue to be distressingly high. Rather than trying to find a new theme in today’s performance, here’s a collection of random notes from a dispirited observer.

The question of the day came from the Vermont Business Journal’s Tim McQuiston: “Why should we care about kids getting Covid at all?”

Lest you think I’m unfairly plucking that out of context, here’s the rest of his statement (only slightly abridged):

There’s been a lot of difficulty in child care and finding workers for child care. The parents have to stay at home. Now with cases in schools, kids might have to be quarantined and stay at home. … Why should we care about kids getting Covid at all? It’s creating a lot of disruption for them. It’s obviously disrupting the economy. Cases and their symptoms are very low, but there’s a lot of effort still going on, still a lot of disruption.

Eesh. McQuiston works for a publication that caters to business, but that’s approaching Ebenezer Scrooge territory. Gov. Phil Scott replied that we have to keep cases down among children because they might spread it to more vulnerable people.

And then Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said something that shouldn’t have been remarkable, but it was. He actually mentioned long Covid!

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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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I Think I Can See a Little Smoke Coming Out His Ears

happy place happy place happy place

Things are gettin’ a mite testy chez Phil Scott these days. His weekly Covid briefing for September 28 was an exercise in statistical diversion, gaslighting, word salad and straw man punching.

Oh, and the usual journalism FAIL. The reporters get the governor for two hours every week and they rarely take the opportunity to ask probing questions on the biggest immediate challenge we face. The reporting on Scott’s briefings is often more like stenography than journalism. The beginning of this week’s Question Time featured several consecutive questions that weren’t about Covid at all. The end of the sesh came early, after a number of reporters who’d signed up to ask questions decided that, well, actually, they didn’t have anything to ask.

It wasn’t an entirely dismal parade, but it was largely a missed opportunity to quiz the gov and his top officials on, for example, their policy stubbornness, statistical sleight-of-hand, failure to help the schools fight Covid, or the growing chorus of criticism from the medical and public health communities.

There was also, as discussed previously, an almost complete dearth of follow-up when some official evades an inquiry, fumbles an answer, or spews some serious bullshit. Which happens a lot. This is mainly an issue with the format, but it also reflects an unwillingness to abandon prepared questions in favor of follow-up, a lack of advance research, and probably attention spans too short to listen all the way through.

There was one solid journalistic exchange that got a bit too hot for the governor’s taste. It produced a lovely bouquet of evasion, misstatements, verbal stumbles and filibusters. Details after the jump.

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Yep, He’s a Coward

Welp, as soon as he was confronted, Sen. Russ Ingalls folded like a lawn chair. Ingalls was taken to task by Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint for doxxing a middle school teacher… and he immediately turtled.

According to Balint, Ingalls expressed “regret and remorse” and said he would reach out directly to the teacher to make amends “for his poor judgement.”

What a warrior.

I mean, it’s the right thing to do, but he’s abandoning any pretense of principle.

He’s also ducking the media, just like a coward. “Ingalls did not respond to multiple phone calls and messages seeking comment Tuesday,” per VTDigger.

I’m sure he’ll go on being an asshole on social media and in front of friendly audiences, but when forced to confront his own actions, he can’t take the heat.

And Now We Return You To Our Regularly Scheduled Veepies

This week, we’ve already “honored” Gov. Phil Scott with one of our not-at-all-coveted Veepie Awards (given to those guilty of stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere). But our Selection Committee hasn’t been sitting on its hands. No, it’s been out there scouring the highways and byways — ahh, who am I kidding? Potential Veepies are abundant. They practically come a-knockin’ on our door.

So, our first regularly scheduled Veepie is the What? A politician is fundraising? Oh, my heart! Award. It goes, not to an individual or group, but to a concept. This week, VTDigger published one of those “Oh well, we gotta do this” stories about the July 1 campaign finance reports. The only nugget of news was Lt. Gov. Molly Gray raising $50,000 so far this year. And there was a distinct undercurrent of disapproval.

This is partly because Gray stood out among her fellow statewide officeholders. But it also feeds into the widely-held view of Gray as a political opportunist who hasn’t paid her dues. Well, folks, I have to tell you I have no problem with Gray raising money in an off year. Those other officeholders are established in their positions. Gov. Phil Scott does as little fundraising as he can. The Democratic statewides are politically bulletproof.

Gray isn’t firmly established, and she had a surplus of only $20,000 from her 2020 campaign. She can use a bigger war chest. And sure, it feeds into the perception that Gray is a climber with her eyes set on higher office. I see nothing wrong with that, either. A politician being ambitious? Get the smelling salts!

After the jump: An extremely belated make-good, an outbreak of NIMBYism, and a media misstep.

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Love That Dirty Water

The Ol’ Toxic Swimmin’ Hole, Pike Copper Mine

A little good environmental news, courtesy of the Valley News by way of VTDigger: The long, expensive, difficult cleanup of the Elizabeth Mine Superfund site may be finished by the end of this year.

Huzzahs all around. Great news for our environment and for the town of Strafford, which has borne the brunt of the cleanup effort.

But the story also mentions two other Superfund sites in eastern Vermont: the Pike Hill Copper Mine in Corinth and the Ely Copper Mine in Vershire. Which made me wonder, how many Superfund sites does Vermont have, anyway?

The answer, according to the EPA’s website, is 14. (Not counting the Saint-Gobain site that’s wreaked havoc with Bennington-area water supplies. The actual site is in New York.)

Next question: How does our total compare with other states?

The answer: in absolute numbers, pretty good. On a per capita basis, not so much.

I ran the numbers for other New England states and threw in my home state of Michigan, a former industrial powerhouse that might be expected to have a lot of Superfund sites. Sad to say, Vermont’s the worst of the lot.

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I Drive Around the Streets an Inch Away From Veeping: Yet More Veepie Awards

(Headline is a paraphrase of Charles Bukowski, everybody’s favorite wholesome all-American writer)

Got a full slate once again, including how the feds’ ignorance of Vermont’s governmental structure is screwing up Covid relief, a couple of lazy media tropes on display, an ex-cop dumping on his hometown, and… wait for it… the first-ever Own Veepie. Let’s get to work, or whatever this is.

Let’s start at the U.S. Treasury, which earns the We’re Not Bending Our Rules for You; You’ll Have to Do the Bending Award thanks to its ignorance of Vermont’s structure of governance. Unfortunately, this has thrown a great deal of uncertainty into federal Covid relief for cities and towns. The federal aid is meant for state, county and municipal governments, which is fine in a state with robust county governments. In Vermont, the counties do very little and have minimal budgets.

Even so, the feds have insisted that our share of the loot be distributed on their standard formula. This means that cities and towns will get substantially less than previously thought — like, roughly two-thirds less. This was first reported late last week by the Times Argus, based on communications to the Barre and Montpelier city councils. Several days later, VTDigger posted a much more complete accounting. The Legislature will decide how to redirect the “county Covid funds,” and could do so however they wish. That’s a worrying prospect, but Digger says that state leaders agree that the money should go to cities and towns. That’s good, but why do we need to clean up the Treasury’s mistake?

One more thing: According to Digger, the Treasury granted exceptions for other states with weak county governments (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts) but not Vermont. Why not? Are we too small to warrant the Treasury’s attention?

Still to come: Inadequate reporting times two, a temper tantrum from a former top cop, and the Veepies come back to bite me.

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Keep the Cameras On

The House and Senate have been discussing how and when to return to normal operations in the Statehouse. Media coverage has focused on ensuring that reporters have access to any meetings under the Golden Dome. And that’s important.

But there’s one thing that’s more important to far more people, and I haven’t heard beans about it lately.

After their return to the Statehouse, the Legislature should continue livestreaming all hearings and floor sessions, and archiving them all on YouTube.

This would be a bit of a logistical challenge; the committee rooms are cramped, and it’s tough to get a good angle that encompasses all parties. Decent audio quality is also an issue. But here’s the thing: There’s talk of setting up auxiliary rooms in the Statehouse where people could watch a hearing without being in the committee room. That would ease the habitual (and unhealthy) overcrowding at hearings, and provide access to those who feel a little iffy about breathing the same air as a couple dozen others in the teeth of cold and flu season.

Well, if they’re going to send video to auxiliary rooms, there is no reason on Earth why they can’t put the same feed on YouTube. No excuses.

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