Tag Archives: Efficiency Vermont

State Senate trying to Norquist ethics reform

Vermont’s Most Sclerotic Deliberative Body has been taking its time with a proposal to set up a state Ethics Commission. Much more time than they took with legalizing marijuana, and probably longer than they’ll take with the frickin’ budget.

Why the slow play? Well, the Senate’s point person on ethics reform makes it abundantly clear.

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, said, “Because the press keeps saying that we’re the only state without an ethics commission and clearly we have something to hide … I don’t really believe that.”

Credit to the Associated Press’ Dave Gram for capturing that entry into the Quote of the Year competition.

Jeezum Crow. The Senator in charge of ethics reform doesn’t believe ethics reform is necessary. She blames the media for fomenting “a lack of faith in government officials.”

Methinks the good Senator has been in Montpelier too long. She’s been so deep in the system for so long, she’s lost all perspective.

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Greshin cleared; ethical lines remain vague and permissive

Well, the House Ethics Panel quickly disposed of my complaint against Rep. Adam Greshin. I can’t say I’m surprised that he was given a clean bill of ethical health, but I am disappointed.

Reminder: Greshin proposed, and actively lobbied for, an amendment to H.40 that would eliminate a planned increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont, which gets its money from a fee on utility bills. As co-owner of the energy-gobbling Sugarbush ski resort, Greshin stood to profit significantly if his amendment passed.

In my previous post, I covered the questionable process. The panel did its business behind closed doors, which seems an odd move for an ethics panel.

Now it’s time to consider the panel’s decision and reasoning, which leave a lot of room for dubious behavior.

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Another closed door in the People’s House

Constant readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) will recall that earlier this month, I wrote a letter to the House Ethics Panel asking for a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s actions regarding H.40, the RESET bill. For less constant readers, my complaint centered on this: Greshin authored an amendment to H.40 stripping away an increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont. (EV had already gotten Public Service Board approval; until this year, legislative review was a mere formality.) He also aggressively lobbied the House and Senate for his amendment.

EV gets its money through a surcharge on utility bills. As co-owner of the Sugarbush Resort, a voracious consumer of electricity ($2 million/year), Greshin stood to gain considerably if his amendment passed.

Well, the Ethics Panel has responded. And as expected, it was a whitewash. Greshin, so they say, did nothing wrong.

I’ll get to the substance of its decision in my next post. First, though, I need to address the process.

Between sending my letter and receiving the Panel’s reply, I didn’t hear anything about it. During the roughly one week between receiving my letter and drafting its ruling, the Panel conducted a review with help from Legislative Counsel. It also met with the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and with Greshin himself. (Correction: The panel met with counsel to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but not with the Committee itself.)

None of those meetings were noticed publicly. I was not informed. I was not given the opportunity to be a party to the proceedings.

It seems that the House Ethics Panel has a closed-door policy.

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I wrote a letter

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to Rep. David Deen, chair of the House Ethics Panel. I requested a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s activities surrounding H.40, the RESET renewable energy bill. Greshin had proposed an amendment to freeze funding for Efficiency Vermont, and has vigorously campaigned for its adoption in both the House and Senate.

Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort. As I previously noted in this space:

The ski industry is a voracious consumer of electricity.

Efficiency Vermont is funded by ratepayers, with rates approved by the Public Service Board.

Do I need to connect those dots?

If the Greshin amendment is adopted, his ski resort stands to save a pretty penny on its utility bills. It’s already passed the House; it’s now pending before the Senate.

Potential conflicts abound in a citizen Legislature, and there’s a sizable gray area. The single act of voting for a bill, in my mind, is not in itself grounds for a conflict investigation.

But Greshin’s case is a whole different kettle of fish for two reasons.

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Greshin redux: it gets worse

Earlier this week, State Rep. Adam Greshin spearheaded an effort to cut a planned funding increase for Efficiency Vermont. I noted the rather obvious conflict of interest: Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort, and higher EV funding would have meant higher utility rates.

Since then, two further developments. First, as multiple correspondents have pointed out, ski resorts got a massive handout from Efficiency Vermont last year:

A $5-million rebate program from Efficiency Vermont helped initiate a $15-million investment in high-efficiency snow guns at resorts around the state. The resorts say that the new snowmaking guns can create a lot more snow in less time, and can deliver piles of snow earlier in the season than the old-school snowguns.

The majority of resorts’ electricity use is in air compression for snowmaking. EV’s program was a smart way to target a significant energy sinkhole. But it took a lot of flack for a “giveaway” to a big business. Did that contribute to lawmakers’ willingness to give the agency a substantial trim? I can’t say, but it’s a fair inference.

Adam Greshin’s business got a huge boost from EV, and now that he’s gotten his benefit, he wants to minimize his outlay for the program. Isn’t that convenient?

Second development. In my previous post I asked if Campaign for Vermont would go after Rep. Greshin. After all, CFV issued a formal complaint last year about then-Democratic State Rep. Mike McCarthy’s alleged conflict of interest. All McCarthy did was vote for a measure that would have benefited his employer, SunCommon; Greshin led the charge for a bill that would dramatically cut his business expenses, which seems more egregious to me.

Initially, CFV director Cyrus Patten was on my side:

Well, the morning came, and…

Sorry, but that doesn’t hold water. By its own account, Sugarbush spends about $2 million a year on energy. That’s not exactly your typical ratepayer. Methinks the grizzled heads at CFV thought better of slamming Greshin, who’s not formally connected to CFV but as a business-friendly centrist, his political agenda matches theirs. Unlike, say, Mike McCarthy.

I’m sure Patten will write this off as more CFV-bashing by me, but I smell a double standard.

Look, I realize there’s a huge gray area when it comes to conflict of interest, especially in a state with a nonprofessional legislature. Most of these people have other jobs. You can’t ask Dr. George Till to recuse himself from anything to do with health care. You can’t ask Sen. Bill Doyle, a faculty member at Johnson State College, to abstain from higher eduction funding bills. You can’t ask Don Turner, fire chief of Milton, to not vote for public safety appropriations.

But Greshin’s case is different in two regards: (1) paying utility bills is a huge expense for his resort, so there’s a greater order of magnitude involved; and (2) he didn’t just vote on a bill — he championed the cause. If not for Adam Greshin, the Efficiency Vermont funding would have sailed through the House.

I think that’s a pretty clear case, and I believe the House Ethics Committee should look into it.

An obvious conflict of interest in the House

In January of last year, the supposedly nonpartisan Campaign for Vermont raised a stink about conflict of interest in the Vermont House. Specifically, it accused then-Rep. Mike McCarthy of same.

Then-CFV spokesflack Shawn Shouldice noted that McCarthy, an employee of SunCommon, had voted for a net-metering bill in the House… a bill that stood to benefit his employer. Shouldice accused McCarthy of breaking House rules by voting on the bill.

Fast forward to today, when the House approved a massive energy bill going under the name RESET. One provision was struck from the bill; it would have boosted funding for Efficiency Vermont. The charge to strike that provision was led by Independent Rep. Adam Greshin. All of this is chronicled very nicely by VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld. Except for one small fact:

Adam Greshin, looking suspiciously Photoshoppy.

Adam Greshin, looking suspiciously Photoshoppy.

Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort. Two more facts:

The ski industry is a voracious consumer of electricity.

Efficiency Vermont is funded by ratepayers, with rates approved by the Public Service Board.

Do I need to connect those dots?

The Efficiency Vermont cut would reduce utility rates; Greshin’s business would directly benefit. Not only did he vote for the measure, as in McCarthy’s case; he spearheaded it. He pushed strongly for it as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, where his arguments carried the day.

In the interest of nonpartisanship, I ask Campaign for Vermont to raise the same kind of stink about Greshin that they did about McCarthy. Also, is to too much to ask our media to report obvious connections when a lawmaker sponsors legislation that would benefit his/her own interests?