Tag Archives: Paul Burns

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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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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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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Old dog, old trick

Unsurprisingly, VTGOP chair David Sunderland has rejected VPIRG head Paul Burns’ invitation to a public debate on the idea of a carbon tax. I’m sure that Burns would press him, not only on that issue, but on where Sunderland stands on climate change. After all, his only public statement on climate change was a denialist claim that there’s “science on both sides.”

No, Dave. There’s the scientific community on one side, and a handful of tame “experts” on the fossil fuel industry payroll plus a few cranks operating outside of their core competency. Recent revelations about ExxonMobil make this even more clear: nearly four decades ago, the oil giant’s own scientists concluded that climate change was real and caused by human activity.

Well, instead of debating a very knowledgeable person who heads an organization which supports a carbon tax, Sunderland has seized the opportunity to renew a pointless call for a debate with Dottie Deans, his Democratic counterpart. His wafer-thin rationale: the carbon tax is “sponsored by over two dozen Democrat legislators,” hence it must be a Democratic — pardon, “Democrat” — idea, hence Ms. Deans is responsible for defending it.

Yeah, well, nuts. Unless the carbon tax is in the Democrats’ platform, Deans is not answerable for it.

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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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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.

The Burlington Free Press ignores an obvious contradiction, gives Mark Whitworth a free pass

Oh boy, another Monday morning, we’ve had a bare-bones staff all weekend and we’ve gotta have a local story to fill that big front-page hole.

I know! Let’s profile a sage Vermonter type and run a big photo of him in a stereotypical Vermont setting!

And there you have it, on page A1 of today’s Freeploid: Mark Whitworth staring manfully at the camera, with a big pile of firewood behind him.

Whitworth, for those just joining us, is the recently installed head of Energize Vermont, the benign-sounding advocacy group promoting the anti-wind cause. Whitworth took over from that carpetbaggin’ astroturfer, Luke Snelling, who’s gone to San Francisco to seek his fortune by greenwashing corporations with environmental image problems. Which is what he used to do out of the Massachusetts office of his ad agency. Hence “carpetbaggin'” — he may be a scion of a Vermont family, but he wasn’t living here when he fronted for Energize Vermont.

Anyway, on to Whitworth who, as the headline informs us, wants Vermont to “SLOW DOWN, ASK QUESTIONS” when it comes to our energy future. Seems we’re in a “rush” to implement renewable energy. Yeah, stupid, isn’t it? Just because global warming is a goddamn crisis doesn’t mean we should “rush” to build our homegrown renewable infrastructure.

The story treats his views with respect, which is not out of bounds for a softball profile of a public figure. But this one line caught my eye, not to mention my ire:

“I’m not pro- or con-wind,” he said.

Cough. Snort. Chuckle. BWAHAHAHAHAHA.

All righty then, Freeploid, riddle me this. This article is on page A6*. On the next page, A7, directly across from this article, is an over-the-top rant of an opinion piece by Whitworth that accuses Vermont’s environmental community of being corporate stooges, and repeats the tired arguments of the anti-wind crowd.

*In order to see the layout, you’ll have to access a print copy of the Monday edition or have subscriber access to the Freeploid’s online e-newspaper. The digital version includes the same content, but it’s scattered around the website. 

He’s “not pro- or con-wind,” eh? And reporter Joel Banner Baird didn’t challenge him on his obviously false and self-serving claim? And the editors didn’t think the article and opinion piece made for an uncomfortable juxtaposition?

He starts his opinion piece by comparing Vermont’s renewable strategy to President Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War. He paints the build-out of renewables a for-profit hustle by what he calls the “Big Green Alliance of Green Mountain Power, policians, and ‘environmentalists.”

Because Mark Whitworth and his allies are pure as the driven snow, and all others have been Assimilated by the Evil Utility Borg. Got that, Paul Burns? Brian Shupe? Jake Brown? Sandy Levine? Chris Kilian? You’re all corrupt. Unless you change your tune and agree with Mark Whitworth.

He accuses GMP and its co-conspirators of seeking to “put 500-foot-tall turbines and massive solar fields wherever we want — on sensitive ridgelines, in wetlands and on prime agricultural soils,” and “string transmission lines all over the place.”

Yeah, no. Nobody’s proposing anything like that. As I’ve written before, and as anyone who checks the public record can see, there are only a handful of places in Vermont where wind is economically viable. And I don’t think any utility, no matter how profit-hungry, would try to site energy projects on sensitive lands. Seeking profit involves knowing when and where to build, and sensible utilities know they have to be careful and appropriate with their decisions. If they aren’t, they’ll waste a lot of time and money on projects that will never be built.

Also, if you want “transmission lines all over the place,” look no farther than Energize Vermont’s own green-energy plan, which relies heavily on Hydro Quebec power from the far north. That’ll require a big fat buildout of high-tension power lines right across the Northeast Kingdom that Whitworth professes to love so much.

Whitworth is a True Believer. He sees himself and his allies as the defenders of Vermont’s sacred honor, and anyone who disagrees is a turncoat and a corporate lackey. He is entitled to his opinion, and I respect his commitment. But he shouldn’t get a free pass from Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.