Tag Archives: Tony Klein

A few numbers that surprised me

While prepping for my weekly guest spot on Brattleboro’s WKVT Radio (available in podcast form here), I spent some time looking over the Vermont election returns from last Tuesday. And i found some things that surprised me. (All taken from the Secretary of State’s unofficial results.)

For starters, here are three numbers.

166,807

139,252

178,572

The first two are the vote totals for Phil Scott and Sue Minter respectively.

The third? The number of votes in Vermont for Hillary Clinton.

Does that surprise you? It surprised me. Clinton outpolled Phil Scott by nearly 12,000 votes. Sue Minter fell disastrously short of Clinton’s total.

If Minter had simply been able to ride Clinton’s coattails, she would have won the governorship.

(And if Democrats had been smarter when they had legislative majorities and the governorship, they would have established a straight-ticket option on the ballot. Just sayin’.)

Continue reading

Two bites of the apple

The Progressive Party doesn’t have much of a ticket this year. Many of its candidates are running as Democrats because they stand a better chance of winning. Smart tactics in the short term, and something of a worry for Dems. They’re seeing previously “safe” seats peeled off by the Progs, potentially weakening their legislative caucuses.

This year, we have a new twist on that technique: Progressives running as Democrats, losing the primary, and then refiling as Progs for the same contest.

There are four such candidates (that I know of), all running for the House, and all in “safe” Democratic districts. The Two-Biters:

— Jill Charbonneau, Addison-1

— Steve May, Chittenden-1

— Marci Young, Lamoille-Washington

— Carl Etnier, Washington-5

This is of direct interest to me, because I live in one of those districts.

Each person must make up their own mind. Me personally, I’m disinclined to vote for a Two-Biter.

Continue reading

The primary campaign is suddenly in overdrive

The evidence is unmistakable. Campaign press releases flooding the inbox. Candidates speaking wherever they can find two constituents to rub together. Campaign buses and caravans clogging the highways*. Candidate interviews all over the electronic media. Debates and forums seemingly every night.

* The candidates could substantially reduce their carbon footprint if they’d only carpool to joint appearances. I can see it now: Phil Scott is, of course, the driver. Bruce Lisman is offering fuel-saving tips and checking GasBuddy for the best place to fill up. Matt Dunne is babbling about driverless technology and electric cars. Sue Minter is pointing out how smooth the roads are. Peter Galbraith is in the back, complaining loudly, and nobody’s paying much attention.

… And Brooke Paige is lagging on the roadside, riding a scooter and shouting “Wait for me!”

Yes, the campaign is in high gear. It happened sometime between the end of the legislative session and last week: all at once, we went from “there’s plenty of time” to “Oh my God, it’s almost here!”

Time’s a-wastin’. It’s been about six weeks since the Legislature adjourned — the traditional kickoff of campaign season. And it’s only about six more weeks until Primary Day, August 9.

Which is the earliest primary date in, well, probably forever. Until 2010, our primary was traditionally held after Labor Day. This year, it moved from late August to early in the month, roughly two weeks earlier. The reason was to allow more time for recounts and disputes, and still get ballots out in time for absentees (notably overseas military personnel) to make their votes count.

The effect has been profound, especially in a year of such intense competition. We thought the early primary might have an effect on turnout — and it will. But its intensification of the primary season is more of a surprise.

Continue reading

Shap Sweeps House Honchos

House Speaker Shap Smith has put out an impressive, if not exactly unexpected, list of endorsements in his bid for lieutenant governor. They include the House Majority Leader, the Assistant Majority Leader, plus the chairs of twelve House committees. He already had the backing of a thirteenth chair — himself, head of House Rules.

The only two Shapstainers are Agriculture Committee chair Carolyn Partridge and Republican Transportation chair Patrick Brennan.

Two of the Shapbackers, Tony Klein and Bill Botzow, had previously endorsed Rep. Kesha Ram, but that was before Smith entered the race.

Continue reading

Siting bill: a good deal that nobody will like

It was a heck of a last act by Tony Klein, retiring chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. This week, he shepherded an energy siting bill through the House and on to a conference committee. His reward: the bill’s drawing fire from both sides. It even sparked astoundingly different takes from VTDigger (emphasizing the dissatisfaction of opponents) and Seven Days (reporting a “surprising change in direction” by the House).

The key provision in the bill would give “substantial deference” in siting decisions to local governments — if they have adopted a state-approved energy plan. It’s not enough for supporters of local control.

“You get substantial deference … if you do what they want you to do,” said Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington. “That’s not substantial deference in my definition of the word. It doesn’t seem like substantial deference or any greater decision-making power for localities to me.”

On the other hand, some renewable-energy proponents worry that the bill would make it harder for Vermont to reach its energy goals. Anthony Iarrapino, a lawyer who represents renewable developers, told Seven Days “We’re not going to get to the targets with solar in parking lots and a single wind turbine in backyards.”

Continue reading

Last one out of House leadership, turn out the lights

Welp. Earlier this week, House Democratic caucus stalwart Tim Jerman announced he wouldn’t run for re-election. Today, Tony Klein, longtime chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, did the same. And since he’s actually my State Rep and I made some comments about Jerman, I’d better do the same for Klein.

Clearly, the Dr. Evil Lookalike Contest will be a wide-open affair in next year’s caucus. Otherwise, the House is losing a staunch advocate for renewable energy. Which, in some people’s eyes, really does make him Dr. Evil. For me, he’s a champion who has worked hard, and mostly quietly, to keep Vermont progressing toward a renewable future.

He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck that he actually made the decision early this year, but waited until the session was further along before going public. The timing will allow potential candidates to make plans before the late-May filing deadline.

He will have one more Sisyphean task to complete: trying to clean up the hash of an energy siting bill passed by the Senate last week. I bet he’s looking forward to a close examination of that turd. (On that note, he told VTDigger that he hopes to “remain involved in the energy field and the solid waste field.” Yeah, he’s been shoveling the manure for quite a few years now.)

But he’s used to it, and he faces legislative challenges with a smile and the occasional sarcastic remark.

Continue reading

Nickels from heaven

In these hyper-tight budget times, would it surprise you to know that there’s a couple million bucks just sitting there, waiting for the State of Vermont to pick it up?

This isn’t just one-time money either; it’s an ongoing, steady source of revenue. And yet the Legislature hasn’t made a single move to grab it.

“What is it?” you might be asking.

It’s the unclaimed nickels from deposit bottles that never get redeemed. Right now, that money goes back to the bottling industry — an estimated $2 million per year.

Free gift for the bottlers? The PYT’s from VPIRG certainly think so. They’ve been lobbying, without success, to revise the Bottle Bill and get that money into public coffers.

Ten states have Bottle Bills. In four, the state gets all the unclaimed money. In three, the state gets the lion’s share but a slice goes to retailers, bottlers, or distributors. Only in Iowa, Oregon and Vermont do private companies get all the money. And since yjomhd seem to work in those seven other states, I think it’s safe to assume that the companies don’t need the extra revenue to collect and process the containers.

In fact, they get more money than they need from another source: selling the containers on the recycling market. A lot more money. But we’ll get to that that later.

Okay, so why isn’t the Legislature falling over itself to get those nickels? Two reasons; one immediate, one more far-reaching.

Continue reading

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.

The need for SPEED

Vermont’s SPEED program is in the news again. And, as is usually the case, much of the coverage misses the point. As does all of the criticism.

SPEED, for those just joining us, is short for Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development. It was enacted by the legislature in 2005; its aim was to encourage development of renewable energy, which at the time was in an embryonic stage and suffered from competitive disadvantages.

(It was more expensive than fossil fuels. Which, of course, benefit from tax credits and other forms of government largesse, and the harm they do to the environment is not factored into their pricing, so they are much cheaper than they ought to be.)

As I explained in a nice long 2013 thumbsucker on Green Mountain Daily:

SPEED was designed to surmount the chicken-or-egg problem with renewables: the upfront investment is relatively large, making renewables uncompetitive at the beginning. Over time, their costs drop dramatically because, well, they’re renewable: no need to keep on buying fuel. SPEED provided a market-based solution to the initial-investment problem by allowing utilities to sell long-term contracts for renewable power. Without SPEED, adoption of renewables in Vermont would have been much, much slower.

The program’s critics say the trading scheme means that our renewables are, in effect, enabling the use of dirty energy elsewhere. In particular, SPEED’s been used as a punching bag by opponents of wind and solar power.

Today, there are stories on VTDigger (pretty good) and VPR (not so good) about the Shumlin administration definitely (VTDigger) or possibly (VPR) planning to phase out SPEED in 2017.

Well, hell. That was the plan from the very beginning. SPEED was meant to goose the renewables market. And it’s worked: according to VTDigger, “The state has built wind, solar and other renewable power generation that could supply about 15 percent of the state’s electric retail sales.” That’s substantial progress.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, displays some of his vast knowledge.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, displays some of his vast knowledge.

SPEED was designed to be temporary, and was set to expire in 2017. It could have been extended, to be sure; but one of the House’s top energy people, my own state representative Tony Klein, has been saying for a long time that SPEED would sunset on time.

And on Saturday, Governor Shumlin told the House Democratic caucus that SPEED would be scuttled on schedule. VPR’s John Dillon somehow missed this; he has the administration merely considering a change to SPEED. (The VTDigger story has the administration “calling for an end” to SPEED, which is closer to the mark but not quite there.) In his story, Dillon gives extensive time to the Vermont Law School’s Kevin Jones, who’s had a bug up his butt about SPEED for a long time.

“For me, it’s at least a step in the right direction for the Public Service Department and the Shumlin administration for finally acknowledging that the SPEED program does not work in terms of providing any climate mitigation,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it has increased Vermont’s carbon footprint, by something, according to their analysis, like 70,000 tons in greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 alone.”

Jones’ interpretation is ignorant at best, disingenuous at worst. The DPS and administration are not “finally acknowledging” anything; they are letting SPEED expire on schedule.

And the purpose of SPEED was not to immediately mitigate Vermont’s carbon footprint; it was to hasten development of renewables so our longer-term footprint would decrease.

Also, SPEED may have “increased Vermont’s carbon footprint,” but only technically: the renewable credits were sold out of state, but the energy was still being produced, thus reducing the region’s carbon footprint while  — again, technically, and only in the short term — increasing our own.

Finally, a misperception from VTDigger’s article:

The state’s goal is to generate 20 percent [of electricity via renewables] by 2017, but there is no requirement in state law that this power is to be sold to Vermont customers.

This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of electric markets. In the absence of large-scale storage technology, electricity is produced, transmitted, and consumed all at the same time. The power grid is a regional creature, networked to the national grid. There is no way to tease out which energy came from where and ensure its consumption within the state of origin. Such a “requirement in state law” would be technologically laughable.

Vermont’s power — renewable, dirty, Vermont Yankee, whatever the source — goes into the grid at the same time as power from out-of-state sources; it’s shunted around the grid to where it’s needed at that moment, and consumed. It’s like taking a cup of your tap water, pouring it into a bucket of water, and then wanting to take back your own water. Can’t be done.

Which is at the heart of the anti-SPEED absurdity. The renewable energy whose development was fostered by SPEED went into that big bucket. Whether or not it was immediately credited to Vermont’s account, it exists, and it helps reduce the region’s dependence on dirty energy.

The SPEED program has had a purpose. It has served that purpose well. Now it’s time to move on. And we will.