Tag Archives: climate change

Phil Scott’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Pity our poor Lieutenant Governor. He had to sit directly behind Governor Shumlin during the State of the State address, and try to figure out what he should do with his face. Most of the time, he looked pouty and miserable. And then tonight, he’d scheduled a major speech of his own to react to Shumlin’s address — only to be bigfooted by Donald Trump.

I’m sure he’ll still draw a crowd of the Republican faithful, but he’s not gonna get much media attention. It’ll be lots of Trump and a goodly helping of Shumlin, with Scott hoping for a few crumbs off the table.

Phil Scott Trying Not To Be Seen during Shumlin's climate remarks. Screengrab from WCAX-TV.

Phil Scott Trying Not To Be Seen during Shumlin’s climate remarks. Screengrab from WCAX-TV.

To be fair, he was put in a difficult position today. He couldn’t afford to appear enthusiastic for fear of alienating the Republican base; but he didn’t want to seem like an ingrate either. The result looked more like dyspepsia than a firm stance. He rarely looked directly at the Governor; his eyes wandered around the room; he looked down at the floor for long stretches of time. (Especially when Shumlin talked about climate change, when he seemed to be willing himself invisible.)

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VPIRG still serious about carbon tax

Interesting hire by VPIRG. They’ve signed on businessman and veteran Democrat Tom Hughes as Campaign Manager of Energy Independent Vermont. EIV, for those just tuning in, is a coalition of businesses, nonprofits, academics, and advocates with the goal of addressing climate change and as VPIRG puts it, “grow[ing] the economy by putting a price on carbon pollution.”

Also known as the carbon tax. Well, not exactly, but more on that later.

The hiring of Hughes is a little unusual, in that advocacy organizations like VPIRG usually fill their staffs with energetic and (ahem) cheap young people. Hughes has been around for a while. “Our partners and our financial resources allowed us to bring in a really seasoned person,” said VPIRG chief Paul Burns.

Hughes was a top Democratic activist in the late 90s and early Aughts. He served a shift as VDP Executive Director and held the same post for Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, he was a staffer in five presidential campaigns, and managed Doug Racine’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

He’s spent the past several years in the business world, as a division president of Country Home Products and co-founder of a renewable energy firm. Burns cites the combination of political and business experience as key in the EIV campaign. “Tom has a stellar reputation,” he said. “He’s not a partisan hack. He’s distinguished himself as someone who can run campaigns and be effective in the business world.”

Speaking of the carbon tax, despite the scare-mongering of Vermont Republicans and the timid response from leading Democrats, EIV will actively promote a carbon tax in the 2016 legislative session. Not that they expect to prevail: “I won’t predict that a bill will pass the Legislature and land on the Governor’s desk in 2016,” said Burns. “But we’re making progress each day toward our goal.”

Still, “2016 is a really important year to move the conversation forward. The challenges are really great for passing [the carbon tax], but there’s an awful lot of progress we can make and a lot of conversations we need to have.”

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So you say we can’t do it…

Well, this is timely.

No sooner do I write a post about Vermont’s leading climate change deniers, than here comes a real success story from an unlikely place:

In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs, according to the country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez.

In fact, he says that now that renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

Until recently, Uruguay was as fossil fuel dependent as the next country. But it developed a sane, balanced, not at all extremist policy that has reaped incredible benefits in a short amount of time: “…renewables account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix (including transport fuel) compared with a global average share of 12%.”

And they’re meeting more than 90% of their electricity demand “without the back-up of coal or nuclear power plants.”

How did they do it? The sensible way.

There are no technological miracles involved, nuclear power is entirely absent from the mix, and no new hydroelectric power has been added for more than two decades. Instead, he says, the key to success is rather dull but encouragingly replicable: clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector.

I strongly recommend reading the whole article. It’ll put a smile on your face and a little bit of hope in your heart.

Of course, it’ll also make you wonder why in hell we can’t do it here.

Climate incoherence, stage right

Very sorry to have missed Thursday’s carbon tax debate, featuring the Good Guys (Paul Burns of VPIRG and UVM’s Jon Erickson) against the Death Star Duo, Rob Roper and John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Oh yes, fair and balanced shall I be.

I’m sure the DSD walked away believing they’d won, because they are dyed-in-the-wool true believers whose outlook is hermetically sealed against the intrusion of actual evidence. Also, lest we forget, they’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state conservative donors with ties to the Koch brothers.

The really striking thing about their presentation was the difference between Messrs. McClaughry and Roper. McClaughry is an out-and-out denier. Roper acknowledges climate change but says there’s nothing we can do about it, so we shouldn’t even try.

Yeesh.

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He shoots — and misses! Again!

In basketball, there’s a derogatory term often applied to very good players: “Volume shooter.” It refers to a skilled offensive player who hogs the ball and shoots a lot. If most of ‘em go in, it’s good. But when he’s missing, he keeps on shooting, often to the detriment of his team.

The NBA’s current king of volume shooting is the formerly great Kobe Bryant, limping through his final season with stat lines like 7 for 26 (12/1 loss to Philadelphia), 4 for 20 (11/29 loss to Indiana) and 6 for 22 (11/22 loss to Portland). Enough bricks to build a full-scale replica of the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

The #1 volume shooter in Vermont politics is David Sunderland, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. He’ll fire off a press release whenever he sees the faintest opening to score a political point. Like the 2015 Kobe, he shoots a lot but seldom scores. Unlike the real Kobe, he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career in the rear-view.

Sunderland’s latest desperation heave is a thoroughly nasty (even by his standards) attack on Governor Shumlin for having the audacity to attend the Global Climate Summit in Paris. He begins by totting up the imagined sins and shortfalls of the Shumlin administration, and then gets to the red meat:

While we can appreciate why you would want to leave your many problems behind for a few days, that’s not leadership. And it’s certainly not the job you were narrowly re-elected to do.

It is not necessary for you to attend this meeting. It would be far more economical — and far more environmentally responsible — to send your thoughts in writing or attend by video conference. You’ve frequently touted the state’s telecommunication advances — you should be taking advantage of them now.

The whole thing reads like that. Never does Sunderland pass up an opportunity for snark.

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Climate change follies

You’ve got to hand it to David Sunderland, chair of the VTGOP. When he gets hold of a notion, he just doesn’t let go. No matter how stupid the notion may be.

Today’s exhibit: Not content with a series of inflammatory press releases against the carbon tax, which is not on the Legislature’s agenda, nor will it be anytime soon, Sunderland has launched a new website aimed specifically at the carbon tax. Which is not on the agenda, nor will it be anytime soon.

But brave Dave won’t let the facts get in his way on this, any more than the scientific consensus on climate change has penetrated his brain. The website depicts a doomsday scenario for Vermont, and the Demcrats as the evil villains plotting the state’s demise.

Well, as Hillary Clinton told one of the House Benghazi Committee bozos, “I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your narrative. I can only tell you what the facts were.”

Turning the page… more developments on the Climate Change Debate saga.

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Republican growls, Democrats scatter

So this week, VTGOP chair David Sunderland has been aggressively attacking the Democrats over a proposed carbon tax. Which, as Terri Hallenbeck pointed out, isn’t actually on the table for legislative action.

Right off the bat, word one, Sunderland’s lying. But he goes on to tell a bigger lie: that the carbon tax would be a massive burden, especially on working and middle class Vermonters.

What he’s conveniently ignoring is the fact that the carbon tax idea includes counterbalancing tax cuts, targeted at working Vermonters.

But Sunderland isn’t telling you that. He’s yammering about an “assault on working Vermonters, struggling young people and senior citizens,” “dangerous, pulitive, regressive,” “punishing… disgusting,” and “disconnect with reality.”

Actually, Sunderland is the one disconnected with the reality of the idea. But he sees a point of attack, and he’s not going to give up on it just because he has to lie constantly.

I shouldn’t be surprised, since Sunderland has publicly denied the settled science of climate change.

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Ethan Allen Institute: Follow the Money

Back on March 25, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee held a public hearing on S.R.7, the “climate change resolution.” The only witness who stood in opposition was Vermont’s favorite crank, John McClaughry, founder and former President (now Vice President) of the Ethan Allen Institute.

You're being watched, Mr. McClaughry.

You’re being watched, Mr. McClaughry.

During his testimony, he said S.R.7 was part of a campaign by national climate advocacy groups “to put the skeptics on the defensive” and serve as a fundraising tool. By passing this resolution, he said, the Legislature would act as a “pawn” of those national groups.

Okay, well, since he brought up the idea of a national campaign and national organizations influencing Vermont politics, resolution sponsor Sen. Brian Campion asked him about the Ethan Allen Inistitute’s ties to the Koch brothers and their national network. McClaughry acknowledged a $50,000 grant from the Cato Institute “six years ago,” and he noted Cato’s ties to the Kochs. But otherwise?

I have never been aware that we got any money from the Koch Brothers or the Koch Foundation or Koch Industries, anything like that. And I’ve never had communication from any of those people urging me to, or urging our organization to fight against the climate change advocates. Never.

He went on to deny receiving funds from the State Policy Network, an umbrella organization with strong ties to the Kochs. SPN provides guidance and funding to free-market “think tanks” in each of the 50 states.

There’s a small problem and a big problem with McClaughry’s professions of independence.

The small problem: According to IRS filings, SPN gave EAI $24,930 in 2013.

I’ve been told, second-hand, that McClaughry later wrote to Campion apologizing for his misstatement. If I find out more about that, I’ll let you know.

That kinda-sorta takes care of the small problem. But it fails to address the big problem, which is:

Between 1998 and 2013, EAI received at least $572,260 from out-of-state donors with ties to the Koch brothers’ sprawling network of right-wing foundations. This network is designed to limit public disclosure and provide tax breaks for “charitable donations” that promote the political interests of wealthy conservatives. The network is also designed to give donors plausible deniability by laundering their donations while still giving them control over how their money is used.

Over the past ten years, EAI’s annual revenues have fluctuated between $132,000 and $201,000. So $572,280 is a whole lot of money by EAI standards.

My figures come from Conservative Transparency, a database that ” tracks the flow of money among conservative donors, advocacy groups, political committees, and candidates.”

It’s likely that EAI has received even more money from national conservative organizations, but legal disclosure standards are woefully weak. From the Conservative Transparency website:

Although most nonprofit organizations are required by law to report their outgoing grants to the Internal Revenue Service, they do not have to disclose the sources of their funding. As a result, the transactions in Conservative Transparency are based on information reported by the donors and exclude “dark money” raised by the recipients from unknown donors that are not in the database. The totals in each recipient’s “financial record” are based on a review of the recipient’s publicly available tax documents filed with the IRS.

CT lists 36 donations to EAI from out-of-state conservative groups between 1998 and 2013 (the most recent year for which filings are available), totaling $572,280. A lot of that money came, indirectly, from the Kochs, their organizations, and their fellow members of this broad conservative network.

These donations came from a handful of national foundations, all with strong alliances to the Kochs and their nonprofit empire. This network is designed to provide an appearance of independence, but there’s no doubt that the Ethan Allen Institute is in the Kochs’ orbit.

Here’s a list of EAI benefactors, with dollar figures from Conservative Transparency and descriptions from Sourcewatch.org.

Donors Capital Fund: $298,500. DCF and a related entity, DonorsTrust, “create separate accounts for individual donors, and the donors then recommend disbursements from the accounts to different non-profits. They cloak the identity of the original mystery donors because the funds are then distributed in the name of DT or DCF.

“The Koch brothers and other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues appear to be cloaking an untold amount of their donations to conservative political outlets through DT and DCF.” One of Charles Koch’s big funds has given “only to Donors Capital Fund since 2005.”

The modus operandi of DCF provides plausible deniability to EAI and other recipients; they can assert with a straight face that they don’t get money from the Kochs. But they do benefit from the largesse of a money-laundering operation created by, and generously funded by, the Kochs.

The Roe Foundation: $95,000. Private foundation started by the late Thomas Roe, former chairman of the State Policy Network, a key cog in the Koch machine. (See below.) His foundation “continues to provide financial support to free-market policy groups across the country.”

The Jaquelin Hume Foundation. $63,000. The Foundation “‘supports free-market solutions to education reform’ and funds many conservative and libertarian organizations.” It has strong ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network.

The Cato Institute: $50,000. A “libertarian think tank founded by Charles Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.” Over the years, “the Koch family has donated more than $30 million to the organization.”

The State Policy Network. $24,930. SPN “has franchised, funded, and fostered… a web of right-wing ‘think tanks’ in every state across the country. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state ‘think tank’ members.” SPN had its origins in the 1980s, but dramatically stepped up its activities in 1998.

“Fueled by robust funding from right-wing funders including the Koch brothers… SPN has grown rapidly in recent years. There were 12 original think tanks when SPN was founded. In 2013, there were 64 SPN member think tanks in all 50 states.”

Although SPN insists its members are “fiercely independent,” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer has reported that SPN head Tracie Sharp “compared the organization’s model to that of IKEA.” Like IKEA, SPN “would provide the raw materials along with the services needed to assemble the products. …’Pick what you need,’ she said, ‘and customize it for what works best for you.’

“…  Sharp ‘also acknowledged privately that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. ‘The grants are driven by donor intent’ ..  [and] often ‘the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'”

The Chase Foundation of Virginia. $24,830. “the private foundation of investor Derwood Chase.” It gave nearly $900,000 to right-wing groups in 2011 alone. Its beneficiaries have included many of SPN’s state-based organizations.

The JM Foundation. $15,000. According to its own website, it was created by Jeremiah Milbank, who “was an ardent believer in individual liberty, limited government, and free markets.” It lists its top activity as “supporting education and research that fosters market-based policy solutions, especially at state think tanks.” Like, for instance, the Ethan Allen Institute and its SPN cohorts.

That’s it. The Ethan Allen Institute may be able to deny knowingly receiving money from the Kochs, but there’s no doubt that it is significantly dependent on out-of-state “foundations” with very strong Koch ties, and with Koch dollars providing much of their lifeblood.

Last time I wrote about EAI, I mentioned a Tweet that accused me of lying about its ties to the Kochs. I expect I’ll get an apology about the time Hell freezes over.

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. 

Oh, by the way… the carbon tax? It’s dead.

(Note: I’ve updated this post to include more quotes, because the interview is now available online.)

You may have missed the news amid all the hugger-mugger over the inaugural protest, but the Legislature’s top advocate for a carbon tax has already thrown in the towel.

Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), chair of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was one of the headliners at last November’s news conference announcing a broad-based push for a carbon tax. “I’m going to push really hard on this,” he said.

Well, that was then. This is now.

There’s not gonna be [a carbon tax] this year. It’s not gonna be passed out of my committee or any other committee.

Klein said those words on January 8, Inauguration Day, in an interview on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. I caught the interview when it aired, but it got lost in the Inaugural Shuffle. Sorry about that.

After Klein’s declaration, Johnson asked him why there would be no vote.

It will not pass because, one, the Speaker told me it won’t pass. [chuckle] And two, the way it came out to the public, with a real lack on our part of preparation, there was a pretty scary reaction to it. I accept that; that was a mistake.

That’s a reference to the immediate reaction to the November presser. I’m not sure how he would change the rollout; my own view is that it seemingly came out of nowhere. There wasn’t any build, just a big announcement. At the same time, I’m not sure if any other strategy would have made a difference; too many top Democrats simply don’t like the carbon tax. Well, put it this way: they don’t want Vermont to go it alone: they want a regional or national approach.

Klein concluded:

I’m certainly not going to ask the members of my committee to vote on something that may cause a lot of discomfort, especially if it’s not going to go anywhere.

Which is wise chairmanship. I can’t argue with it. I can’t even argue all that much with Shap Smith’s reputed diktat, because this is already shaping up to be one hell of a session without considering a tax on fossil fuels during home heating season.

It’s too bad, because with oil prices currently low, it’d be a great time to enact a carbon tax. After all, the price of gas is a buck and a half cheaper than it was nine months ago; as proposed in November, the carbon tax would add 45 cents to the price of a gallon of gas. And, lest we forget, 90% of the revenue would go into broad-based tax cuts and targeted rebates for low-income Vermonters.

Klein said his attention would turn toward “aggressive funding” of weatherization and other efficiency measures. Which would be great, except we’re in a budget situation that would seem to rule out “aggressive funding” of anything. If Klein’s committee passes a significant expansion of efficiency measures, we can expect to see it expire on the surgical table of House Ways and Means.

The carbon tax proposal was a carefully-crafted plan that would have minimized the pain on Vermonters, reflected the true cost of fossil fuels in their price, and made a huge dent in Vermont’s carbon footprint. I’m not surprised to see it fall in the face of unpleasant political realities; I’m just sad to see it happen so quickly. Not with a bang, but a whimper.