Friday, August 30, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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Paul Heintz is on vacation, so this week's scores have been tallied by Seven Days digital media manager Tyler Machado. (CONFIDENTIAL TO HEINTZ: You picked a hell of a week to take off, dude!)

So who won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics?

Stoners, Catamounts and Lake Monsters, oh my!

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, Aug. 30: 

WINNERS:

Almost Everyone — Entergy's announcement that it will shut down Vermont Yankee in 2014 was good news for everyone — except, of course, the folks who work there. Entergy saves some loot. Vermont ratepayers won't notice the difference since local utilities weren't buying its power anyway. Environmentalists will close the book on decades of activism. And nearly every political entity in Vermont (and elsewhere!) scored an easy layup — even if cheap natural gas was the final death blow for the state's sole nuclear power plant.

Pot smokers — Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department won't challenge state laws legalizing marijuana. That should ease the minds of Vermont's marijuana reform opponents, including House Speaker Shap SmithRunner-up winner: Sen. Patrick Leahy, who may have forced Holder's hand on the issue.

More winners, and losers, after the jump...

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Middlebury College Won't Be Divesting From Fossil Fuels

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 1:46 PM

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For the last several years, climate change activist Bill McKibben has been traveling the country encouraging colleges to stop investing their endowments in the fossil-fuel sector. But it looks like that message is a tough sell at Middlebury College, where McKibben is a scholar-in-residence. 

Yesterday, Midd released a statement explaining why it won't be withdrawing its investments from the fossil-fuel industry any time soon. In it, president Ronald D. Liebowitz explains that the school's administration and Board of Trustees took "a hard look" at pursuing a no-fossil-fuels investment strategy and decided against it. 

In his letter, Liebowitz touts Middlebury's existing environmental initiatives, which include the first-in-the-nation environmental studies program of which McKibben is a part. But Liebowitz also explains that Midd's nearly $1 billion endowment covers about 18 percent of the school's operating expenses. He describes the “fiduciary responsibility” of the school’s Board of Trustees to manage that fund with the bottom line in mind.

“If it is to continue to fund operations at comparable or increasing levels in the years ahead, the endowment must grow through new gifts and, especially, through the returns it earns on its investments,” he writes.

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"Bloom Season" Is Upon Us

Posted By on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 10:24 AM

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Fall is right around the corner. But until the leaves turn red and gold, people around Lake Champlain must contend with changing colors of a different sort: For the last two weeks, pea-green blooms of algae have been popping up in Missisquoi, St. Albans and Malletts bays.

“Mid-August through September is, unfortunately, what we in the business call ‘bloom season,’” says James Ehlers, executive director of the nonprofit Lake Champlain International.

Scientists have determined that early summer rain brings nutrients like phosphorus into the lake, and long stretches of sunlight facilitate photosynthesis, resulting in the pea-green film, Ehlers explains. 

“It’s not unlike April showers bring May flowers,” he says.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This Week's Issue: Natural Gas, Intervale Angst and a Look at Lisman

Posted By on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 6:39 PM

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After you're done with the big cover story about the future of Burlington's urban farmers, dig into this week's news and politics stories:

Get this issue now in print, at the links above or via our iOS app.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BREAKING: Nuclear Expert Says It'll Take At Least 20 Years — and More Money — to Clean Up Vermont Yankee

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 12:04 PM


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In the end, it wasn't the attorney general's federal lawsuit, the Vermont Legislature, the Public Service Board or any of those pesky enviros nitpicking about underground tritium leaks and collapsed cooling towers that shut down Vermont Yankee.

It was the invisible hand of the marketplace.

On Tuesday, New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation announced plans to close the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon by the end of 2014. Praising Vermont Yankee's talented, committed and dedicated workforce, Entergy chairman and CEO Leo Denault called it "an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us."

Denault touched on some of the economic forces that compelled Entergy's decision, including a "transformational shift" in the natural gas market that has driven down electricity-generation costs, high maintainence costs on the 41-year-old trouble-prone plant and "wholesale market design flaws" that have kept energy prices "artificially low" throughout New England.

So what happens next? Presumably, the plant spends the next decade or more decommissioning the plant and cleaning up the radiation. According to Entergy's press release, the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust has a balance of $582 million, in excess of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's minimum financial assurance of $566 million for terminating the plant's license.

But one nuclear-engineer-turned-industry-watchdog isn't comforted by that figure. Burlington-based Arnie Gundersen was the first to raise a hue and cry in 2007 about projected shortfalls in the VY decommissioning fund.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

New UVM Fines Aim to Deter Marijuana and Alcohol Abuse

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 6:35 PM

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University of Vermont students caught on campus with drugs and alcohol this year are paying a price. With advice from a national group of schools, Vermont’s largest university is implementing new fines for students caught doing drugs, and upping the fines for those with too much booze on hand. And since UVM is a dry-halls campus, they apply even for students 21 and older.

Annie Stevens, vice provost for student affairs at UVM, says the new fines are intended to serve as a deterrent, not to make a mint for the university — though they’re likely to do both.

According to Stevens, UVM signed onto the National College Health Improvement Program two years ago. Founded in 2011 by then-president of Dartmouth College Jim Kim, the program includes 32 member schools collaborating to reduce high-risk drinking. UVM's decision to implement its new fines, says Stevens, was based on that program.

So, what are the fines? $250 for possessing a “common source” of alcohol — that’s 12 servings or more; $150 for empties found during routine Health and Safety inspections of dorm rooms; $150 for a student's first drug offense; and $250 for the second drug offense. The common source fine went up this year from $150, and all the other fines are new this year, Stevens says.

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Grand Isle Voters Say No to Chloramine in Water and Yes to a Costlier Alternative

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 5:22 PM

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Vermonters who oppose the use of chloramine, a chemical disinfectant added to public water supplies to reduce potentially cancer-causing agents, scored a rare victory last week in Grand Isle County. On Aug. 20, residents of the Grand Isle Consolidated Water District voted 94 to 24 in favor of an $809,000 bond to construct a costlier but ultimately more effective and less controversial water-filtration system.

In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required public water systems throughout the country to comply with stricter standards on the presence of so-called disinfection byproducts, which can be harmful to human health. Disinfection byproducts have been linked to certain cancers as well as reproductive and developmental disorders. The EPA has recommended that public water systems switch to chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, as the "best available technology" for controlling those disinfection byproducts.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Dean's Democracy for America Lays Off Six

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 6:14 PM

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Two days after former governor Howard Dean traveled to Iowa to speak at a labor conference, the Burlington-based political group he founded laid off six staffers.

The group, Democracy for America, is run by Dean's brother, Jim. 

In a statement released to Seven Days, spokesman Neil Sroka cited the arrival of a new executive director as the reason for the layoffs. The news was first reported by the Huffington Post.

According to a source close to DFA, one of the six staffers cut from the organization was based in Burlington.

“We view this as a key moment in the fight for a more progressive country. This decision will help us grow our organization and expand our reach,” Sroka said in the statement. “We look forward to announcing new hires and campaigns in the weeks ahead as we double down on our efforts.”

Dean pictured at left with Attorney General Bill Sorrell. 

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Which Harry Potter Characters Do Vermont's Muggle Senators Look Like?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 2:11 PM

BuzzFeed, American journalism's leading purveyor of cats and clickbait, has a new listicle finding the Harry Potter character doppelgangers in Congress, and both of Vermont's senators make appearances. It's also full of animated GIFs, so it's basically a Daily Prophet issue.

Anyway, about half of these comparisons are really, really stretching it (that Hagrid? come on), including Sen. Patrick Leahy. But that's probably fortunate, as Leahy has perhaps the least flattering of all the comparisons: Lord Voldemort from Sorcerer's Stone, when (SPOILER ALERT for the five people who haven't read or seen Potter at this point) Voldemort was just a weird face on the back of some other guy's head. And the resemblance is not exactly striking.

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Sorry, Buzzfeed! Better leave this kind of thing to Andy Bromage, Seven Days photo-blog editor emeritus famous for classic Off Message posts like "Who Wore It Best?" and "Totally Looks Like."

Sen. Bernie Sanders makes an appearance, too, but we won't spoil that one for you. You'll have to click through to see that one. Hint: not Dumbledore!

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The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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Who won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics? 

Pork, towels, scammers, former govs, vets and one lucky reporter.

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, August 23:

Winners:

Pork Tornados — Sen. Leahy rolled through Northfield and White River Junction Thursday and left a trail of federal largess in his wake. 

Vets, state workers and the state budget — All three dodged a bullet this week when the feds inspected the Vermont Veterans' Home and gave it a passing grade, sparing it a loss in Medicare and Medicaid funding. Runner-up winner: Sen. Bernie Sanders, who used his perch as Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman to press the feds on funding.

Rosetta Stone — Gov. Peter Shumlin's gonna have to brush up on his Mandarin before traveling to China next month to sell visas for cash — ahem, I mean, seek overseas investment for job-creating projects in Vermont.

Ted Brady — After 13 years on Sen. Patrick Leahy's staff, the loyal staffer's in line for a plum federal patronage post: director of the USDA's Vermont and New Hampshire rural development office. 

Solar City — Rutland will be brighter than Vegas by the time Green Mountain Power's done with it

John Dillon — The Vermont Public Radio reporter went canoeing on Mirror Lake and passed it off as work. We'd never try that!

 

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