Monday, August 1, 2016

Shumlin Calls Out Dunne on Wind Statement

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 5:33 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in March - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in March
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Monday drew the ire of departing Gov. Peter Shumlin, who essentially called him a liar over a statement on siting controversial wind projects.

Dunne argued that his support for allowing towns to vote down industrial wind projects is no different than Shumlin’s position. Not so, Shumlin countered.

“Anyone who says they are in line with my position on renewables, and who then comes out for a veto on renewables, is not telling the truth,” Shumlin said in a statement Monday.

Dunne issued a statement Friday that he said constituted a clarification of his views on siting industrial wind turbines in Vermont. “Large-scale ridgeline wind projects should only take place with the approval of the towns where the projects are located,” he said.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Dunne’s New Wind Stance Draws Criticism — and Surprising Praise

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 6:32 PM

  • file photo
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Friday put out a new wind-turbine siting policy statement that drew a bevy of criticism from renewable energy advocates — and praise from one of his competitors. 

“If a town says no to a large industrial wind project I would use all the power of the governor’s office to ensure that is the end of the project,” Dunne said in his statement. “I will ensure that no means no.”

Supporters of wind energy strongly oppose putting decisions about projects in the hands of voters in one town and have vehemently fought legislation to give towns power to veto projects.

The Public Service Board process is designed to consider the overall public good of the state over that of a select group of people, argued Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “I’m pretty disappointed,” he said of Dunne’s position.

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Hinesburg Selectboard, Vermont Gas Reach Agreement on Pipeline

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 12:14 PM

  • Alicia Freese
Vermont Gas Systems and the Hinesburg Selectboard have come to an agreement on the company’s plans to construct a pipeline through the town-owned Geprags Community Park. A group of residents continue to oppose it, however.

The Public Service Board, which has yet to approve the company’s request to use eminent domain to take the Geprags parcel, will review the request next Thursday. In a widely criticized move, the PSB has decided to close that hearing to the public because protesters have repeatedly interrupted previous proceedings. 

The 41-mile natural gas pipeline, which will run from Colchester to Middlebury, has spawned ongoing protests and encountered many setbacks, including major cost overruns.

The selectboard withdrew an earlier agreement with Vermont Gas after a public outcry. Under the new agreement, approved in a 3-2 vote Thursday evening, the board negotiated additional concessions from the company. Among them: Vermont Gas will use horizontal drilling to minimize the impact on the park’s wetland area, and it will pay the town $250,000 for easement rights. (Under the previous agreement, it would have paid $75,000.)

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Vermont Public Service Board Closes Pipeline Hearing to the Public

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 12:27 PM

Construction last month on the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in St. George - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Construction last month on the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in St. George
***Updated at 10:10 a.m. Friday to reflect the board's decision to allow media to attend.

A hearing next month on Vermont Gas Systems' pipeline project will be closed to the public, the state Public Service Board has decided — a move that observers say is unprecedented.

As first reported by Vermont Public Radio, the board last week said that the August 4 technical hearing will be open only to the parties involved. Access to the hearing, at a state building in Barre, will be controlled by police.

The Public Service Board subsequently decided to allow members of the media to attend the hearing in person, board deputy clerk Holly Anderson said on Friday, though the number may be limited by space constraints.

The board ruled that the move to exclude the public was necessary because protesters have disrupted other pipeline hearings.

"Many members of the public rose from their seats in the hearing room and raised their voices loudly in song, refusing to heed appeals from the hearing officers to lower their voices so as not to interfere with the proceedings," the board said in its ruling, describing one protest.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Analysis: How the House GOP Failed to Derail Shumlin's Renewable Siting Fix

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 6:46 PM

Rep. Don Turner (R-Milton) listens to colleagues at a caucus meeting Thursday evening in Montpelier. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Rep. Don Turner (R-Milton) listens to colleagues at a caucus meeting Thursday evening in Montpelier.
As afternoon turned into evening Thursday, 35 members of Vermont's House Republican caucus gathered around a conference table a block from the Statehouse to plot their next move.

They had spent much of the day trying in vain to override Gov. Peter Shumlin's veto of a renewable energy siting bill. They had stood together to block consideration of a substitute measure, which proponents promised merely corrected technical problems in the vetoed bill. But now the minority party had reached an impasse: While they had the votes to delay the substitute measure's passage, they didn't have the votes to stop it.

House Republicans caucus Thursday evening in Montpelier. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • House Republicans caucus Thursday evening in Montpelier.
"What's the end game here?" asked Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington), a moderate Republican who often bucks his party's leadership.

Perched at the head of the conference table, House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) suddenly seemed at a loss for words. The end game, he said, was to override the governor's veto — a result, he acknowledged, that would never come to pass.

"We're in a circular pattern," Turner conceded.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lawmakers Pass Renewable Energy Siting Bill, Ending Deadlock

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 10:40 PM

House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) speaks in the Statehouse hallway to commercial wind project opponents Monique and Steve Thurston. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) speaks in the Statehouse hallway to commercial wind project opponents Monique and Steve Thurston.
It took 11 long, tedious hours, but Vermont lawmakers finally agreed Thursday night on a new renewable energy siting bill designed to win the support of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who vetoed an earlier version.

Legislators had spent most of the day in a stalemate between those who wanted to alter the vetoed bill and those who wanted to override the governor’s veto. Most of the debate focused on procedure rather than the substance of the issues.

By 8:40 p.m., both chambers voted to pass the revised bill — in a 27-2 vote in the Senate and by a voice vote in the House. Shumlin quickly sent word that he would sign the new version.

The Senate also voted 20-8 to sustain the governor’s veto of the original bill, a move that left the House without the chance to override the veto. 

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Shumlin Vetoes Renewable Energy Siting Bill

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 1:48 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin arrives for his State of the State address in January. - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin arrives for his State of the State address in January.
Updated June 6, 2016 at 7 p.m. 

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday vetoed a renewable energy siting bill — a decision that will bring lawmakers back to Montpelier on Thursday.

What might happen then? That’s not quite clear.

While some lawmakers are pushing to override the governor’s veto, others — including House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) — want to pass a new bill, pledging that will take just a day.

The bill, S.230, was designed to give local communities more say in the siting of solar and wind projects. The bill led to a long and difficult tug-of-war between those who want more renewable energy in Vermont and those who’ve found wind and solar projects to be obtrusive neighbors. It was finalized in the last hours of the legislative session.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sorrell Suffers Supreme Court Loss in Controversial Pollution Case

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 6:35 PM

Attorney General Bill Sorrell - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Attorney General Bill Sorrell
In a unanimous opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled last week that the state had missed its chance to sue a slew of oil refiners over generalized claims of groundwater contamination. 

The ruling was a significant setback for Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who two years ago accused ExxonMobil and 28 other companies of knowingly polluting state waters with the gasoline additive MTBE. A similar lawsuit filed a decade earlier in New Hampshire won that state a $236 million jury verdict from ExxonMobil and a $90 million settlement from two dozen other companies.

In the Vermont case, the oil companies argued that the state had known about the perils of MTBE since at least 2005, when the legislature banned the chemical, and therefore had exceeded a six-year statute of limitations. A trial court judge agreed and dismissed the blanket claim in January 2015. The state appealed, but in Friday’s decision the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal. 

Sorrell’s suit drew significant scrutiny last year due to the unusual manner in which it came to be filed. By the attorney general’s own admission, representatives of the Texas law firm Baron & Budd handed him an envelope filled with $10,000 worth of checks directed to his reelection campaign at a December 2013 fundraiser. They subsequently asked him to sue the oil refiners over MTBE contamination and offered their services to the state.

Within months, Sorrell’s office assented. It hired Baron & Budd and three other firms as outside counsel, guaranteeing them 25 percent of any verdict or settlement — potentially tens of millions of dollars. Another of the outside firms, the Law Office of L. Michael Messina, brokered the deal between Sorrell and Baron & Budd, according to the New York Times, and also contributed to the attorney general’s reelection campaign.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Lawmakers Brace for Possible Veto of Energy Bill

Posted By on Mon, May 30, 2016 at 6:44 PM

People seeking more energy project siting regulations turned out in force during the legislative session. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • People seeking more energy project siting regulations turned out in force during the legislative session.
Lawmakers are bracing for the possibility that Gov. Peter Shumlin will veto an energy project siting bill that was a source of contention right up through the final hours of the legislative session earlier this month.

Shumlin wouldn’t say Monday whether he will veto S. 230, a bill that is supposed to give local communities more say in the siting of wind and solar energy projects. But he said his staff is poring over the legislation’s details.

“We’re still trying to figure out what it does,” Shumlin said Monday morning as he prepared to march in the Vergennes Memorial Day parade. “You know, I love the bill. I love the part that gives the public more say in decisions. I think we’re trying to figure out what was cobbled together in the halls actually does.”

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Energy Siting Bill Passes, But Doesn’t Guarantee Peace

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 10:44 PM

Reps. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), Mike Hebert (R-Vernon) and Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton) speak about an energy siting bill Friday at the Statehouse. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Reps. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), Mike Hebert (R-Vernon) and Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton) speak about an energy siting bill Friday at the Statehouse.
After four long months of angst-filled debate over a renewable energy siting bill, a group of wind-energy critics sat late Friday afternoon in the Statehouse cafeteria munching on not-very-fresh-looking turkey sandwiches.

“We’re not happy,” said Penny Dubie, a Fairfield resident who has been hotly fighting the siting of wind projects since a seven-turbine Swanton project was proposed near her house.

Legislators had just reached a final agreement on the bill and it didn’t go as far as the critics would have liked.

“I’m between a rock and a hard place,” said Rep. Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton), who favored portions of the bill designed to give towns more say in locating energy projects but was disappointed that new sound standards wouldn’t apply to the proposed Swanton project.

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