Tag Archives: Lake Champlain

The Chittenden Trap

One of the top items on the Vermont Democratic Party’s to-do list is a makeover of its relationship with the Progressive Party. Nothing drastic, just some overdue maintenance. The core issue: how to deal with Progs running as Dems — and, in some cases, running as Dems and then re-entering the fray as Progs after losing a Democratic primary.

But I would argue that another issue might be more urgent: the party’s increasingly Chittenden-centric orientation.

Writing this post was in the works before today’s news that Rep. Mitzi Johnson has edged out Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas to be the next Speaker of the House. Now, it seems even more pertinent. The leaders of both houses will come from Chittenden County’s sphere of influence: Johnson from South Hero (basically a bedroom community for Burlington), Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe from Chittenden County. And the three members of the Senate’s Committee on Committees all being from Chittenden.

When I say “Chittenden County,” I define it broadly; from the southern half of the Champlain Islands down to Shelburne at least, and southwestward to Richmond if not Waterbury.

Chittenden County itself accounts for one-fourth of Vermont’s population. Its Senate delegation is twice as large as the next biggest county — and in fact, based purely on population, it ought to have one more Senator. (And will certainly get at least one more after the 2020 Census.)

Beyond the mere numbers, Chittenden is home turf for the Democratic Party’s urban-ish, tech-oriented core. And its donor base.

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When is a law not a law? The sponsor responds

A couple days ago I wrote about the saga of Act 86, which requires constant monitoring of Lake Champlain for blue-green algae blooms, but actually accomplishes nothing in the real world.

Well, I’ve talked with one of those responsible for the law, and here’s what I learned.

First, Act 86 was not a stand-alone pice of legislation, which you wouldn’t know from reading VPR’s report on it.

“The bill itself has two parts,” explains Rep. Diane Lanpher (D-Vergennes). “The first addresses CSO’s [combined sewer overflows], and the second, cyanobacteria [blue-green algae].”

Lanpher was chief sponsor of H.674, the CSO bill; Rep. Kathleen Keenan (D-St. Albans) was chief sponsor of Act 86, the algae piece. Both measures addressed public notification of water quality problems, so they decided to combine the measures into a single bill.

While Act 86 has had little practical effect, H.674 has been highly impactful, turning an unforgiving spotlight on troublesome municipal wastewater systems.

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When is a law not a law?

A philosophical question triggered by a specific actuality: a new law intended to inform the public about toxic algae blooms is pretty much a sham.

VPR’s Taylor Dobbs explains how it’s supposed to work:

The new law is know as Act 86, and it requires the Vermont Department of Health to start public outreach within one hour of finding out about a bloom of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.

Great idea, right?

Here’s the problem: there’s no mechanism to conduct real-time tracking of algae blooms. The Legislature passed a shiny new PR-friendly law — “Look, we’re doing something to ensure your safety!” — but did nothing about turning its good intention into reality. The monitoring effort is entirely in the hands of volunteers, and there’s a huge amount of ground to cover.

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He spins right round (like a record)

Matt Dunne has forgotten the cardinal rule of what to do if you find yourself in a hole: Stop Digging.

The series of events he triggered with his spinaroonie on renewable energy siting continue to echo through Vermont’s gubernatorial race. It’s clearly the single most significant passage of this interminable campaign, which is why I keep writing about it. And I am frankly shocked at the lack of media coverage it’s received. (Except for Seven Days, which jumped on it immediately and has followed it ever since.) Digger? VPR? Free Press? Vermont Press Bureau? Bueller?

I withdraw the preceding comment. VPB’s Neal Goswami wrote it up Monday afternoon. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson filed a story that appeared Tuesday morning.

Today brought two more events, neither of which will do Dunne any good — and one that will further damage his standing (or what remains of it) with ‘mainstream Democrats.

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We’ll clean up Lake Champlain with platitudes

Last week, the gubernatorial candidates discussed environmental issues at a forum organized by Vermont Conservation Voters. It can be viewed online here; unfortunately, the audio quality is poor. Here’s a link to the video with better sound quality.

I’m writing about the two Republicans, who delivered wheelbarrows full of bromides, boilerplate, and empty words. It’s safe to say that if Phil Scott or Bruce “Still A Candidate” Lisman wins the corner office, we’ll be back to the Jim Douglas age of high-falutin’ words and little or no action.

This is disappointing if unsurprising on issues like renewable energy, regulation of toxic chemicals, transportation, development, carbon emissions, and energy efficiency. But on Lake Champlain?

Hey, guys, we’re under a federal mandate. If our actions don’t satisfy the EPA, the feds are going to swoop in and force remediation. On their terms, not ours.

That realization hasn’t penetrated their skulls. Or it has, and they’re just whistling past the graveyard. Because their “plans” don’t even begin to seriously confront the situation.

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Maybe Vermont farmers aren’t so pure after all

Will Allen, writer and organic farmer, has issued a scathing report on Vermont farmers’ use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The report is based on official state data, which shows that between 2002 and 2012, herbicide use nearly doubled on Vermont farms.

Farmers used 1.54 pounds of herbicide per acre in 2002; that number increased to 3.01 pounds per acre in 2012.

That, in itself, is appalling — especially for a sector that wraps itself in the pure-Vermont blanket when it comes to political issues like, say, the pollution of Lake Champlain.

Allen’s report focuses mainly on herbicide and pesticide use, which spiked at the same time GMO corn* became nearly universal on Vermont farms. You know, the stuff that’s supposed to reduce the need for killer chemicals. (See note at end of this post.)

*A factoid for those impressed by our GMO labeling law: 96 percent of corn grown in Vermont is genetically modified. Ninety-six percent!

Gee, maybe Monsanto sold us a bill of goods?

But there’s another aspect that really struck me.

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… 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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