Tag Archives: Chris Bray

… and now the hard work begins.

The next governor of Vermont will find a big turd in his or her punchbowl next January. The loaf was delivered this week, courtesy of the EPA: detailed new limits on phosphorus pollution in twelve discrete areas of Lake Champlain.

This is one of the most impactful political stories of the year, but it got scant coverage in our political media; only VTDigger and VPR produced articles, and both lacked a comprehensive assessment of the new rules’ impact. The EPA is now in charge of a cleanup that Vermont has ignored for decades, and is only now addressing because it was forced to by the federal courts.

Yes, good old green old Vermont has been smothering its crown jewel in nutrient runoff for decades. The problem has been ignored by all previous governors; Peter Shumlin has taken a few initial steps, but nothing that will come close to meeting the EPA’s targets.

The piddly $5 million real estate transfer tax the Legislature enacted in 2015 to great fanfare is a drop in the algae-befouled bucket. The cleanup cost will be in the hundreds of millions, and we will also have to impose tough new limits on discharges from farms, developments, roads, and municipal wastewater treatment systems.

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Toward a more Progressive Senate

I welcome Chris Pearson’s entry into the race for State Senate from Chittenden County. The Progressive state rep is the Progs’ sharpest policy voice in the House, and he should be a formidable candidate for Senate.

For those just joining us, the Chittenden County district elects six Senators, and it’s usually a free ride for incumbents. This time, two of the six seats will be voluntarily vacated; David Zuckerman is running for Lite-Gov, and Helen Riehle (appointed to fill out Diane Snelling’s term) is not running for a full term.

The openings are sure to attract a strong Democratic field, while Republicans are desperately searching for someone who might retain Snelling’s position. Searching in vain, methinks.

But the race on the left will be lively. It’ll be interesting to see how Pearson will fare in fundraising — I suspect he’ll do quite well. He’ll certainly have better name recognition than the Democratic non-incumbents.

And should he win, there is the potential for a real shift in Senatorial power.

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The State Senate, where leadership goes to die

Yesterday, the State Senate took up S.230, the energy siting bill.

And promptly dropped it on the floor, kicked it around, and stomped it into mush, in a particularly unedifying display of sausage-making. A four-and-a-half hour debate included a blizzard of amendments — some adopted and some never even considered — and produced a result that satisfied no one on either side of the debate. Including many of the Senators who actually voted to pass the much-amended bill, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz Terri Hallenbeck:

By 7 p.m., when the final vote came, the majority of the senators appeared to be voting for the bill just to put an end to the day’s events.

Democracy in action, folks.

I wasn’t there, but from media accounts, this has the greasy fingerprints of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell all over it. His tenure has been marked by frequent breakdowns in process, and headstrong senators taking advantage of the situation. This was classic Campbell: helpless to steer a complicated course through the reefs of strongly-held viewpoints and the shallows of senatorial ego.

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RESET takes a step forward

House Bill 40, also known as the RESET bill, made it through the Senate Natural Resources Committee friday. Unscathed, for the most part.

RESET, for those just joining us, is the overhaul of Vermont’s renewable energy policy. It has already been adopted by the House. It’s got a lot of good stuff in it. For the most part, it’s been making good progress in a low-key way; with so many other Big Things on this year’s agenda, RESET has attracted little attention. Which I suspect is exactly how its supporters want it.

It has drawn some fire from the anti-renewables crowd, who want to change the siting-approval process in ways that would make it much harder to build renewables. From their point of view, that’s a good thing. My top priority is climate change, so I think it’d be a bad thing. Mostly.

The one and only anti-renewables member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee is John Rodgers, putative Democrat from the Northeast Kingdom. Generally, the Senator is very pro-business and development (he’s a cheerleader for the Bill Stenger EB-5 project), but he’s a staunch opponent of ridgeline wind who’s branching out into anti-solar as well.

Rodgers was the wild card in SNRE’s consideration of H.40. He was clearly in the minority, but he’s a persistent cuss, and he brought some amendments with him to Friday morning’s hearing.
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Low-carbon sausage making

A resolution to put the Vermont Legislature on record as acknowledging the scientific fact of climate change stalled out this morning, amidst a thick procedural fog. All parties retreated to home base, in hopes of tweaking the language and moving the bill

"The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It's four elephants, and turtles all the way down!"

“The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It’s a flat earth carried by four elephants, and then turtles all the way down!”

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard testimony from four experts plus John McClaughry. The latter cast plenty of aspersions and did his best to sprinkle a pinch of doubt into the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and that We Humans are contributing to it.

He did say at least one true thing: “I’m not a climate scientist.”

Aside from that, he slammed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a political body mired in scandal; mocked climate modeling as a simple matter of picking a convenient endpoint, referred to “the extreme storm business” as a tool of profit-hungry corporations*, implied that resolution sponsor Brian Campion was a tool of VPIRG, and characterized climate change claims as “exaggerated beyond the bounds of ethical practice.”

*Since when does John McClaughry not believe in profit???

Gee, John, don’t hold back. It’s bad for your blood pressure.

As for the experts, Dr. Gillian Galford of UVM’s Gund Institute reported that 97% of the scientific literature agrees that “climate change is happening and is due to human actions.” She walked through several charts that showed the facts of climate change from the global level (everywhere on the planet EXCEPT the northeastern U.S. had an unusually warm winter) to the local (Joe’s Pond ice-outs are happening later and later).

Perhaps the most interesting testimony came from Jody Prescott, retired U.S. Army Colonel and adjunct prof at UVM. He called climate change a “threat trend” of significant concern to the military for its potential impact on global stability, and said that if we fail to address climate change, it “reduces our chances for military success.”

Which might not float your boat, but it’s a valuable perspective to hear.

The other witnesses were environmental activist and UVM freshman Gina Fiorile, and the puppet master himself, Paul Burns of VPIRG.

After the hearing, the committee spent about 45 minutes tossing the resolution around like a rag doll. Most of the objections came from Sworn Enemy Of Wind Power John Rodgers and wind skeptic Diane Snelling.

Frankly, my sense is that both of them don’t want to vote “yes” on the bill, but don’t want to vote “no” either.

Snelling offered a vaguely-couched but insistent objection to a clause acknowledging that Vermont has fallen short of its carbon reduction goals. Which, of course, it has.

Well, to be precise, our carbon production increased during the Nineties and early Aughts and then declined. We’re now roughly where we were in 1990. Which is nice, but our statutory goal was a 25% reduction. Oh well, another statute ignored.

Rodgers can’t see beyond his concern with the siting process. He won’t support a resolution encouraging more action toward carbon reduction if it might mean additional ridgeline wind in his pristine Northeast Kingdom. (I haven’t heard him object to Bill Stenger’s massive brace of EB-5 projects, but there you go.)

Rodgers wants energy projects to be subject to Act 250 — and more. He wants them sited “as near the end-users as can be.” Gee, I wonder how he feels about the massive energy imports we make from Hydro Quebec, currently our primary source of “renewable” energy — and about the likelihood that more transmission lines will be built if we don’t develop our own renewable sources.

Anyway, I’m not arguing that John Rodgers makes sense. I’m just reporting that he won’t support a nonbinding resolution unless it includes language about siting reform and a reliance on “Vermont-scale projects” or something like that.

What struck me is that very few sensible Vermonters are willing to overtly deny climate change. Almost everyone (except John McClaughry) will acknowledge that it’s a problem we need to address — but then they throw obstacles in the way. We don’t want to increase costs, we don’t want to imperil any unspoiled spaces or view sheds. We can’t do anything that’s not in the vaguely-defined Vermont Way. We’re too small to make a difference. In the end, it boils down to this: they see other things as bigger priorities than climate change. Which means they’re not serious about climate change.

Back to the resolution. Committee chair Chris Bray finally decided to table it with the intention of refining the language in time for a committee vote tomorrow (Thursday).

Afterward, Campion expressed surprise that his resolution sparked so much opposition. “I thought it was a slam dunk, and it wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t know how much I’m willing to bend, to be honest with you. I’m okay with a few tweaks, but if it were to change the intent, forget it.” He’d rather have a 3-2 or 4-1 vote on something like his original resolution than a unanimous vote for a watered-down version.

But if we have to fight this hard for a simple nonbinding resolution, how in hell are we ever going to effectively address the onrushing threat of climate change? Or, as Campion put it:

What’s been interesting [about serving on Natural Resources] is how much I’ve learned that we as Vermonters are not doing.  We pat ourselves on the back, beause we do some amazing things. But when you look at not meeting our carbon reduction goals, you look at Lake Champlain and other bodies of water, we still have a lot to do. We have a lot to accomplish, and we’ve got to be very serious and focused on it. 

Senate Natural Resources: Addition by subtraction, at the very least

On Friday afternoon, the white smoke went up the chimney of the State Senate’s College of Cardinals — the three-man (yup, still no women in the club) Committee on Committees* who dole out the committee assignments.

*John Campbell, Phil Scott, Dick Mazza. 

The most closely-watched decision was over the chairmanship of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Former chair (ahhhhhh) Bob Hartwell chose not to run for re-election last year; his chosen successor is Addison Democrat Chris Bray.

Hartwell famously cast doubt on the science of climate change last spring in an interview with Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

“To suggest that mankind is causing the whole climate to shift, that’s a big reach,” he added. “I don’t think anybody’s ever proved that.”

When Heintz pointed out that, in fact, it had been proven by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Hartwell cast doubt on the IPCC’s credibility, accusing it of making “some pretty extreme statements” and claiming the scientific community is divided on the question, which is complete balderdash.

Compare that hot mess to Bray’s position, as reported by VTDigger’s John Herrick:

“Climate change is the largest challenge we face, not just as legislators but as a species,” he said. “There are some pretty discouraging predictions out there about what will happen, but we can’t afford the be paralyzed by that uncertainty.”

That’s better.

The other notable addition by subtraction on Natural Resources is the departure of human popgun Peter “The Formerly Slummin’ Solon” Galbraith, whose main contributions were strident opposition to wind power, a short temper, and frequent grandstanding. Good riddance. He’s effectively been replaced by Brian Campion, Democrat from Bennington, who scored 100% on the Vermont Conservation Voters’ 2013-14 environmental scorecard. 

The other three Natural Resources members were reappointed: Diane Snelling, Mark MacDonald, and John Rodgers. Snelling’s one of the better Republicans on environmental issues, MacDonald is reliable if uninspiring, and Rodgers is one of the worst Dems on the environment; he and fellow Kingdom Democrat Bobby Starr earned a pathetic 38% from the VCV, the lowest scores of any Senate Dem. But without Hartwell and Galbraith, he’ll be a lone voice on the committee.

Bray scored 100% on the VCV scorecard for the last biennium (Hartwell got a dismal 50%); his elevation to the chairmanship is getting positive markers from the environmental community. Paul Burns of VPIRG:

Chris is a very thoughtful, methodical legislator. He considers issues carefully and is receptive to hearing from all sides of an issue. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have his own ideas or vision. He cares a great deal about the environment and he not only believes in climate change, he wants to do something about it.

Those on-the-record views were largely echoed by a Statehouse vet who requested anonymity.

Chris has a strong streak of environmentalism. He is committed to the issues [his committee] will be involved in. He is deliberate, and likes to hear from all sides.

He won’t be a renegade; he’ll be a team player. He won’t cause problems [for Senate leadership]. He’s generally good on the issues; the environmental community should be happy with his appointment.

The enviros’ big worry was that Rodgers might snag the chair, which, given the CoC’s stacking of the 2013-14 committee with some of the worst possible Senators, wasn’t an unreasonable fear. So they’re relieved to get Bray instead. In an ideal world, their favorite would have been Prog/Dem David Zuckerman, but that would’ve been too much to expect from this particular CoC.

Chris Bray’s dedication to environmental issues, and his even temperament, will be tested in the new session. His committee will have to tackle the issues highlighted in Gov. Shumlin’s inaugural — a new renewable energy program for Vermont utilities, and the Lake Champlain cleanup.

His own district is touched by multiple hot-button environmental issues: Champlain, the Vermont Gas pipeline, and the siting approval process for solar arrays. The latter, because the Champlain Valley’s relatively flat landscape makes it desirable for solar. He’ll be torn on the pipeline and solar, since some very vocal advocates are on one side of those issues, and the local business community is on the other. And if he supports Gov. Shumlin’s package of Champlain initiatives, he’s likely to feel some blowback from farmers and developers his district.

He may also be torn between his own environmental beliefs and whatever’s rattling around in John Campbell’s brain these days. We shall wait and see.

Jim Douglas accuses Governor Shumlin of public corruption

The most dramatic moment of Saturday’s gubernatorial debate had nothing to do with the 2014 campaign or the positions of the four candidates. Instead, it came at about the 36-minute mark, when moderator Mark Johnson asked Governor Shumlin about a passage from former Governor Jim Douglas’ memoir, “The Vermont Way.”

Here is the direct quotation from Douglas’ book, as read by Johnson:

“The Senate leader, who succeeded me in the governorship, was a strong proponent of gay marriage. Since he was nominated by a scant 200 votes in the Democratic primary, their support may well have provided the margin of victory. He later reciprocated by appointing one of the leading lobbyists of the movement to the Vermont Supreme Court.”

Am I the only one who is shocked by that?

Jim Douglas is accusing Peter Shumlin of public corruption at the highest level — of giving away a seat on our state’s highest court as part of a political deal. By doing so, he implies that the recipient of Shumlin’s putative largesse, Beth Robinson, is unqualified to be on the Court.

Jim Douglas has said repeatedly that he isn’t in the business of criticizing his successor. He sure has a funny way of showing it.

Not only did Douglas think this, not only did he say it — he committed it to writing in his own official account of his years in office. (His editor/publisher, Democratic State Senator Chris Bray, allowed it to stand. What was he thinking?)

This is despicable, and Douglas deserves full criticism for it. And it is certainly not, in the words of his self-aggrandizing title, “The Vermont Way.”

Funny thing, though: Every media outlet in the state produced stories about the Douglas memoir. As far as I know, not a single one mentioned this passage, in which Jim Douglas accuses Peter Shumlin of public corruption. A crime.

Mark Johnson was the first, and only, media person to report this.

Most of the media accounts of the Douglas memoir (aside from Paul Heintz’ hard-hitting review in Seven Days) were softball affairs. They sorta mentioned Douglas’ long-held grudges against the media, but otherwise downplayed anything that might be controversial or reflect badly on Douglas. That is a remarkable failure by our watchdogs of the Fourth Estate.

By the way, the other three candidates for Governor recognized a white-hot potato when they saw it. None expressed the tiniest bit of criticism for Shumlin or Robinson. They all, including Republican Scott Milne, backed away from the question as fast as they could. None even mentioned the name “Jim Douglas.” A wise choice.