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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Judge Sides With Sanders Aide in Gas Price-Fixing Suit

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 8:19 PM

Skip Vallee in his home - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Skip Vallee in his home
A federal judge ruled this week that a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) does not have to comply with a subpoena issued as part of a class-action lawsuit against Vermont gasoline retailers accused of price-fixing.

A defendant in the suit, R.L. Vallee, sought last November to compel the aide, Daniel McLean, to turn over a wide range of legislative, legal and political documents involving Sanders' Senate office. R.L. Vallee, which operates the Maplefields chain of gas stations, later alleged in a court filing that the documents were necessary to show that the senator had ginned up the lawsuit to exact retribution against the company's CEO, Rodolphe "Skip" Vallee, a longtime political nemesis of Sanders'.

In a 22-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III sided with McLean and quashed R.L. Vallee's subpoena.

A lawyer for McLean, who was represented by the Office of Senate Legal Counsel, argued at an April hearing that he was shielded from the subpoena by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which generally protects the federal government from being sued. McLean's attorney also argued that the speech and debate clause of the U.S. Constitution protect most congressional documents from disclosure, and he said that the subpoena would impose an undue burden on Sanders' office.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Middlebury College to Divest $55 Million From Fossil Fuel Companies

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 6:03 PM

  • Courtesy of Divest Middlebury
Years of student pressure is prompting Middlebury College to phase out most investments in fossil-fuel companies, the school announced Tuesday.

The board of trustees for the private liberal arts college unanimously voted to divest January 26 as part of a sweeping sustainability plan dubbed Energy2028, according to a Tuesday press release.

Trustees had previously rejected students' divestment demands. The college's resistance was notable because scholar-in-residence Bill McKibben is a leading proponent of the international movement, as is the organization he and a group of Midd students founded in 2008,

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Vallee Accuses Sanders of Seeking Legal Retribution 'To Make a Point'

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 12:24 AM

Skip Vallee inside the Colchester Maplefields store - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Skip Vallee inside the Colchester Maplefields store
In a federal court filing Thursday, a St. Albans fuel company accused Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of using his government office to exact legal retribution against it for political purposes.

The company, R.L. Vallee, alleged that Sanders and his Vermont spokesman, Daniel McLean, sought to gin up a state prosecution and a class-action lawsuit after the company's CEO, Rodolphe "Skip" Vallee, produced a television advertisement attacking Sanders and his family.

A week after Vallee released the ad in September 2014, according to documents and testimony obtained by the company's lawyers, Sanders and McLean met with two members of the Vermont Attorney General's Office to discuss the senator's suspicion that the company engaged in anticompetitive practices. According to handwritten notes taken at the meeting by Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kriger, either Sanders or McLean suggested that the AG should "Bring [a] case just to make a point."

McLean emailed Kriger several times in the coming weeks to ask whether Attorney General Bill Sorrell would take action. In the end, he did not.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Oil Baron Seeks Sanders Aide's Testimony in Price-Fixing Suit

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 3:20 PM

Skip Vallee in his home - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Skip Vallee in his home
The Vermont gasoline company at the center of a three-year-old price-fixing lawsuit is seeking to depose a spokesperson for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and obtain documents from the senator's office.

The company, R.L. Vallee, subpoenaed Sanders aide Daniel McLean last month and demanded a wide range of internal communications — some pertaining to the lawsuit and others to political matters.

In a response last Thursday in U.S. District Court, the senator's office argued that federal employees such as McLean could not be subpoenaed in their official capacities and that the company's request was an overbroad "fishing expedition."

The competing motions reignite a long-simmering feud between Sanders and R.L. Vallee's CEO, Rodolphe "Skip" Vallee, a former U.S. ambassador and Vermont Republican Party official. The senator and his staff have accused Vallee of "ripping off consumers" and being a "junior varsity version of the Koch brothers." Vallee, in turn, has run television advertisements accusing Sanders' wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, of wrongdoing and publicly contemplated running against the senator.

Indeed, among the documents Vallee's company is seeking, according to the subpoena, are those pertaining to "the possible 2012 or 2018 United States Senate candidacy" of Vallee or former Republican governor Jim Douglas — including communications with O'Meara Sanders.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Vermont Officials Stifle Release of Documents by Former Employee

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2018 at 2:18 PM

Public Service Commissioner June Tierney - FILE: JOHN WALTERS
  • File: John Walters
  • Public Service Commissioner June Tierney
Officials at the Department of Public Service are trying to prevent the public release of documents by a former employee who says he has proof that Commissioner June Tierney is directing staff to favor Green Mountain Power over Vermonters' interests.

And for now, it's working.

In a filing with the Public Utility Commission Friday morning, public service director of public advocacy Jim Porter wrote that the documents Brian Winn wants to release “are subject to the attorney-client and/or work product privileges,” and are therefore confidential.

Winn, the former director of finance and economics for the Department of Public Service, was fired November 9. Soon after, an anonymous letter sent to news organizations and regulators at the Public Utility Commission alleged that Winn was fired for rejecting directives from Tierney to limit his analysis of the company's rate proposal.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Vermont Public Utility Commission Slams Proposal to 'Raid' Funding

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2018 at 9:31 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Anthony Roisman
In a strongly worded letter sent to lawmakers last week, Vermont’s Public Utility Commission took the unusual step of criticizing the Department of Public Service for proposing to "raid" its reserves and take a portion of its annual funding.

The three-member commission is a quasi-judicial body that regulates energy, telecommunications, water and wastewater utilities. The department advocates for the public interest when cases come before the commission.

Both entities' budgets rely on a tax levied on utilities, but that revenue source has been declining. Earlier this year, lawmakers asked the department, in consultation with the commission, to report back with recommendations about how to address the problem.

In its November 15 report, the department proposed several short-term fixes for its own financial woes, which would come at the expense of the commission. It recommended taking $800,000 from the commission’s reserves to close its own budget gap and suggested that its share of tax revenues should permanently increase from 60 percent to 65 percent, reducing the commission’s share to 35 percent.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Vermont Gas Rates on the Rise

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2018 at 4:56 PM

Don Rendall, Vermont Gas president and CEO - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Don Rendall, Vermont Gas president and CEO
Despite falling natural gas costs, Vermont Gas is raising its rates after hashing out a deal with the state Department of Public Service, which represents customers.

The sides agreed to a settlement instead of arguing the case before the Public Utility Commission. The commission approved the terms of the deal October 25; the new rates go into effect November 1.

While natural gas costs are down about 2.4 percent, according to Vermont Gas spokesperson Beth Parent, the company's "base rate" is on the rise. That figure is controlled by state regulators and covers costs such as staff salaries, infrastructure and vehicles.

“Those [costs] are up about 3.9 percent,” Parent said.

The company's base rate is adjusted less frequently than gas rates because changes require specific approval from the Public Utility Commission. The increase this time around means the typical residential customer will pay about $1.75 more each month.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lunderville to Leave Burlington Electric, Serve as CEDO Director

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2018 at 2:28 PM

Neale Lunderville - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Neale Lunderville
Mayor Miro Weinberger has appointed Burlington Electric Department general manager Neale Lunderville to serve as interim director of the city's Community & Economic Development Office.

Lunderville will replace Noelle MacKay, who announced last month that she will step down to take a job at the Regulatory Assistance Project, a renewable energy nonprofit in Montpelier.

He'll start as acting CEDO head at the end of this week and, if the city council approves the appointment, would begin as interim director on July 16. He'd stop working for Burlington Electric at that time, according to a city press release.

Lunderville would serve until December of this year and, according to a memo from Weinberger, does not plan to apply for the permanent CEDO post. The city would conduct a national search to fill Lunderville's old job at Burlington Electric.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Scott Administration Proposes Draining Clean Energy Fund

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 10:55 AM

Gov. Phil Scott delivering his second budget address - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott delivering his second budget address
Gov. Phil Scott’s administration is proposing a budget cut that would stymie a program dedicated to developing Vermont’s renewable energy economy.

The Clean Energy Development Fund is a state-administered initiative within the Department of Public Service that offers financial incentives for homes, businesses and other institutions to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Andy Perchlik, the fund's manager, said that it has focused primarily on “advanced wood heating” in recent years. Unlike old-fashioned wood stoves and early pellet stoves, according to Perchlik, such systems have the convenience and technological sophistication of fossil fuel-powered heating systems but run on wood fuel that can be purchased locally.

The Scott administration’s proposal to remove $500,000 from the fund would effectively end that work, Perchlik said.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Walters: Green Mountain Power Promises Ratepayer Savings From Trump Tax Cut

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2018 at 5:36 PM

  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • Mary Powell
In a letter sent Wednesday to state regulators, Green Mountain Power promised to pass on the proceeds of the Trump tax cut law to its customers.

The law, which took effect this month, cuts corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent. As a subsidiary of a shareholder-owned corporation, Green Mountain Power will get the benefit of that tax cut.

Utility president and CEO Mary Powell wrote to Department of Public Service Commissioner June Tierney that company staff are still determining how much GMP will save.

"We plan to share that calculation with you and the Public Utility Commission and then return 100 percent of the tax benefit to customers," Powell wrote. "We will also include the new tax rate in future proposed rates. "

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