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Friday, March 3, 2017

Leahy: Trump Will Take 'Machete' to Environmental Programs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 6:10 PM

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday
President Donald Trump is "gonna take a machete to essential investments in our communities," declared U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) during an event Friday in Burlington.

Trump has yet to unveil his budget blueprint — that is scheduled for March 16 — but he could cut $54 billion across federal agencies, including a quarter of the Environmental Protection Agency's funding and 20 percent of its staff.

Vermont's senior senator stood Friday with more than a dozen of the state's environmental leaders at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on the Burlington waterfront and detailed just how devastating such cuts could be for the Green Mountain State.

"The Trump administration's plan for the EPA would eliminate funding for Lake Champlain," Leahy told the crowd.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Richmond Residents to Vote on Funding for Proposed Town Forest

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 2:43 PM

View of Camel's Hump from the land proposed for Richmond town forest - COURTESY PHOTO BY OLIVIA WOLF
  • Courtesy photo by Olivia Wolf
  • View of Camel's Hump from the land proposed for Richmond town forest
It has a round church and a ski area, and now Richmond could have a new amenity — a town forest.

Voters will be asked on Town Meeting Day if they want to spend $125,000 to help purchase 428 acres of the former Andrews Farm for a town forest.

The land, located about a mile east of Richmond village, could be used for recreation, birding, nature education, hunting and other activities.

The total cost of the land and conservation is $597,000. Grants and private donations would make up the difference between the full sum and the proposed $125,000 allocation from the Richmond Conservation Reserve Fund.

Voting on the question will take place by secret ballot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 7 at Camels Hump Middle School.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Panel Recommends $31 Million in Taxes, Fees for Clean Water Efforts

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 9:14 PM

The town beach in St. Albans in summer 2016 - FILE
  • File
  • The town beach in St. Albans in summer 2016
Vermonters and visitors alike would pay more in taxes and fees to help raise $31 million each year to reduce pollution in the state’s waterways, a Vermont House panel proposed Tuesday.

Money from 10 funding sources — including a $10 increase for the annual fee on motor vehicle registrations, a sales tax on marina slip rentals, and 1 percent increases in rooms, meals and alcohol taxes — would achieve that multimillion dollar figure, the Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee calculated.

The taxes would start in 2019 while the state figures out how to levy a “per-parcel fee” to be implemented in 2021. Such a fee would require property owners of all sizes, as well as tax-exempt organizations, to pay varying amounts annually.

Under the committee’s recommendation, that fee would become the long-term funding source as the state works to meet federally mandated goals to reduce phosphorus in Vermont’s rivers, streams and lakes. In the meantime, the state would rely on existing bonding capacity for the pollution reduction efforts.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Walters: Scott’s Customer-First Environmental Stewardship

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 2:50 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott
There are signs of a shift in environmental policy under Gov. Phil Scott — a new focus on customer service, in which “customers” are defined as business interests. And while the Republican governor has promised to protect Vermont’s environment, these signs have to be worrying to many.

Two cases in point: an “inelegant” press release from the new chief of the Agency of Natural Resources and a nice reward for an arguably undeserving developer.

First, ANR Secretary Julie Moore is launching a “statewide listening tour” that started Thursday with a stop in St. Johnsbury and continues through March 2.

The purpose of the tour? To gather input from the agency’s “customers.”

And who, pray tell, are its customers? According to the release, they are “business owners, planners, real estate agents and others with regular business before the Agency.”

Hmmm. So the ANR’s “customer base” consists of business and development interests? Not, say, individuals, communities, advocates — or, you know, the environment itself?

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Smoking Ban: Burlington Clamps Down on Lighting Up in Parks

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 11:57 PM

Burlington City Hall
  • Burlington City Hall
The Burlington City Council extinguished a long-smoldering debate Monday, unanimously approving an ordinance to ban smoking in city parks — with exceptions.

The compromise measure prohibits lighting up along Burlington's beaches and in neighborhood parks, but allows for designated smoking areas in larger parks, including Oakledge, Waterfront, Battery, North Beach and Leddy. The ban also encompasses City Hall Park, which had previously proved a flashpoint among councilors.

The final product required compromise from all sides, noted Councilor Dave Hartnett, an independent who sponsored the resolution. "I don't think anyone was thrilled about giving in on this one," he said.

It marked the final touch on what Republican councilor Kurt Wright dubbed "a long and winding road."

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Vermont Treasurer: Annual $25M in Fees Needed for Water Cleanup

Posted By on Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 7:12 PM

Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain - FILE
  • File
  • Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain
Vermont should generate $25 million each year to help clean up state waterways by creating stormwater utilities that charge property owners for contributing to the pollution, state Treasurer Beth Pearce recommended in a report filed Sunday.

A per-parcel fee would help raise just over half the cash needed to get the state in compliance with agreements it has in place with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up various waterways, Pearce concluded in the much-anticipated 91-page report.

Pearce said that she envisions officials establishing regional stormwater utilities statewide. While Lake Champlain phosphorus cleanup gets much of the attention, virtually all of the state is under orders from the EPA to reduce the phosphorus load, she said.

Establishing stormwater utilities to collect funding through user fees would take two years, Pearce said in the report. Homeowners, developers, farmers and store owners would all contribute based on how much pollution they generate.

“I think it should be tied to the usage as much as possible,” Pearce said Monday.

Lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott’s administration would need to set standards for who gets charged how much by the stormwater utilities, she said.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Walters: Treasurer Previews Waterways Cleanup Plan

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 10:14 PM

State Treasurer Beth Pearce - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • State Treasurer Beth Pearce
State Treasurer Beth Pearce is still developing a plan to pay for federally mandated improvements to the quality of Vermont waterways. But on Tuesday, she provided a rough outline of the plan to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“There is a two-year window where we can put sizable money into clean water without raising taxes,” she told the panel. After that, she said, new revenue would be required. Her suggestion for a long-term funding source will be included in her full proposal. And she warned that the funding “can’t be ‘catch as catch can.’ It has to be a stable funding source for 20 years.”

Members of the committee recoiled. A 20-year unbreakable promise? Sufferin’ succotash!

In 2016, the legislature asked Pearce to prepare a funding plan to meet federal mandates under the Clean Water Act. Her plan is due by Sunday, January 15, and she predicts that her team will be working up to the last minute before releasing her report.

Pearce told the committee that the estimated cost of the project is at least $60 million per year. That includes all contributors: the state, local governments and the private sector. Pearce is aiming for $25 million a year in the first two years — without raising new revenue.

That’s quite the coincidence. It jibes nicely with Republican Governor Phil Scott’s promise not to raise any taxes or fees. If Pearce wasn’t a Democrat, one might be inclined to suspect politics at work.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline Opponents March on TD Bank in Montpelier

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 5:54 PM

Protesters urging divestment from TD Bank - RACHEL JONES
  • Rachel Jones
  • Protesters urging divestment from TD Bank
The Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday a decision that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allied opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline consider a major victory. The corps said that it would deny pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners the easement necessary for pipeline construction under the Missouri River.

Despite that, more than 200 people marched in Montpelier Monday morning to show solidarity with DAPL opponents and to demand that TD Bank "withdraw its financial support from the DAPL." Organizers said that the action was a response to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's call for national and global shows of solidarity.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Vermonters Head to North Dakota to Support Sioux Tribe

Posted By on Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 11:46 AM

Brittany Dunn - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • Brittany Dunn
When Brittany Dunn left Montpelier early Saturday morning to travel to North Dakota by chartered bus, she brought with her 125 pounds of meat in coolers, along with other food supplies. The 31-year-old volunteer coordinator from the environmental organization 350 Vermont is on her way to the Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota to express solidarity with the anti-pipeline movement.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe started the campaign in April to protest the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline by Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline will transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Ill. Nearly 200 tribes have offered support to the Standing Rock Sioux, according to National Public Radio.

"We've never seen indigenous-led action of this magnitude and I want to be able to support that," Dunn told Seven Days Thursday.

Opponents of the project, who call themselves water protectors — not protesters — worry that the pipeline will leak into the Missouri River, which holds cultural, spiritual and environmental significance for the tribe. They also say the proposed route cuts through sacred burial grounds.

Dunn and her colleague Abby Mnookin had been thinking about traveling to North Dakota separately before deciding to coordinate the bus trip. It took them a week to do the planning. All 51 seats filled up.

"I'm a little surprised and excited that so many people are able to come at such a last minute," said Dunn.

Participants include students from colleges in Vermont and Massachusetts, Dunn noted. Before the trip, she encouraged everyone to read a resource package from the Standing Rock Solidarity Network, which includes camp protocols. The group will spend the week at the Oceti Sakowin Camp before returning on Sunday, November 27.

Some passengers, including Dunn, will link up with another Vermonters-led group, the NoDAPL Builders Delegation and Supply Caravan, which left Friday. Henry Harris and Erik Gillard are coordinating that group. They've raised close to $13,000 since last month to buy building supplies.

Harris told Seven Days Thursday that the caravan of trucks and cars comprise builders and volunteers from Vermont, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota. They will work throughout Thanksgiving week to help winterize and insulate existing structures with straw bales.
Supplies gathered by the NoDAPL Builders Delegation and Supply Caravan - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Supplies gathered by the NoDAPL Builders Delegation and Supply Caravan

"I hope that we can get a bunch of warm places for the people who are there, participate in direct action, make enough pressure on President [Barack] Obama that he moves to protect water before [Donald] Trump [comes into office]," said Harris.

The Plainfield builder said he has contacted native leaders in North Dakota. "They are excited for us to come down and help them," he said. "This isn't just a struggle over the climate. But this is a struggle for native survival."

Clashes between police and demonstrators have followed what activists described as peaceful protests. The movement has received backing from several groups, including Black Lives Matter, as well as politicians and prominent personalities, such as former vice president Al Gore. Celebrities have organized benefit concerts.

The Standing Rock tribe points out that the pipeline was originally supposed to pass north of the state capital, Bismarck. But that plan was rejected and the pipeline was rerouted closer to the tribe's reservation.

"This pipeline was rerouted towards our tribal nations when other citizens of North Dakota rightfully rejected it in the interests of protecting their communities and water. We seek the same consideration as those citizens," Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement last month.

Brenda Gagne, an Abenaki, said earlier this month that she plans to send supplies to the Standing Rock tribe. Gagne runs the Circle of Courage, an after-school program in Swanton that teaches children about Abenaki traditions.

Melody Brook, the vice chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, said the Elnu band of the Abenaki tribe has sent money and messages of support to Standing Rock.

"I hope everyone recognizes that they are making history," said Brook, when told about the Vermont delegations. "Standing up for what you believe in in a world that often marginalizes others and contains far too much injustice is, in essence, expressing your deepest love of the world around you and for all of its people."

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Entergy to Sell Vermont Yankee to New York Cleanup Company

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 4:53 PM

  • Courtesy of Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • The Vermont Yankee plant
Entergy announced Tuesday that it has agreed to sell the shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to New York-based NorthStar Group Services — a deal that could accelerate its decommissioning by nearly five decades.

The sale is subject to approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Service Board. The deal is expected to close by the end of 2018.

"By accelerating decommissioning, we are fulfilling a commitment we made in 2013 to decommission Vermont Yankee as soon as reasonably possible," said Bill Mohl, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, in a statement.
"Decommissioning and site restoration, drawing on NorthStar's expertise, will provide economic development for the region."

NorthStar and its partners specialize in demolition, wrecking and asbestos abatement. The group has dismantled and remediated at least 300 nuclear and nonnuclear power plants over the past 15 years.

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