Tag Archives: John Rodgers

State hires fox to guard henhouse

Your Tax Dollars At Work: the state of Vermont is offering $50,000 to a prominent anti-wind advocate to study the noise effects of wind turbines.

Great.

VPR had the details in a curiously understated article whose title, “State Funding for Research Into Turbine Noise Sets Stage for Vermont’s Next Wind Debate,” utterly fails to communicate the substance of the piece.

Which is this: in the late stages of this year’s legislative session, somebody slipped a $50,000 appropriation into the budget. The money goes to Lyndon State physics professor Ben Luce to buy sound-monitoring gear that he’ll use to study turbine-generated noise.

Fine so far. But Luce is a notorious critic of wind energy, having called ridgeline wind “a tragedy of inconceivable dimensions.” He sits on the board of Energize Vermont, a leading anti-wind organization.

And you say he’s going to be objective.

Riiiiiiiight.

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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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More obstructionism from anti-renewable lawmakers

The Northeast Kingdom has become a hotbed of anti-renewable sentiment. They think they’re overburdened by the renewable buildout in their neck of the woods — although they seem to be just fine with Bill Stenger’s ambitious development plans, which would include a dramatic expansion of the Jay Peak resort with the concomitant loss of open space and wildlife habitat.

The Kingdom’s nominally Democratic Senators, Bobby Starr and John Rodgers, have proposed a bill that would effectively hamstring development of solar energy projects. They have a cover story, as they always do; this isn’t about energy, it’s about farming!

… the bill would apply Act 250 standards to renewable energy developments proposed for high-quality farmland.

Starr told finance committee members that he wants to balance the need for renewable energy with the need to conserve farmland, and he said the proposal could encourage solar development on more appropriate locations, such as rooftops.

Right. Rooftops. Vermont has so many of those.

There are a few problems with this bill. In no particular order:

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“Who Asked For This?” Part Umpty-Billion-And-One

Ever since it became clear that Lt. Gov. Phil Scott would seek the governorship, jut about every member of the State Senate has floated the notion of a run for the Lite-Govship. Now, a solid four weeks too early for April Fools, comes the tattered chapeau of John Rodgers, successor to Peter Galbraith as the Senate’s top renewables scold.

The news comes to us courtesy of the Vermont Press Bureau’s Josh O’Gorman Neal Goswami, and his story is laced with nuggets of unintentional comedy.

First, although Rodgers wants it known that he is available, he leaves open multiple lines of retreat: “considering it”, “still on the fence”, “sort of been interested for some time.”

There’s a bumpersticker if ever I saw one. “JOHN RODGERS for Lieutenant Governor: ‘Sort Of Interested'”

His caution is in line with the established pattern of senatorial Lite-Gov dalliances. One after another, they’ve put their names out there to resounding silence from The People, and then thought better of taking on a campaign that might involve, y’know, actual work and stuff.

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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.