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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Vermont Climate Panel Has Three Months to Land Three Ideas

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 9:20 AM

Bill Laberge, Michele Boomhower and Liz Gamache, members of the Vermont Climate Action Commission - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Bill Laberge, Michele Boomhower and Liz Gamache, members of the Vermont Climate Action Commission
A new state panel has just three months to come up with three recommendations for how Vermont can respond to climate change.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Peter Walke, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, told the 21-member Vermont Climate Action Commission at its inaugural meeting Tuesday. “By December, we’re voting on three recommendations.”

The work is imperative and the timeline is tight, Walke's cochair told the group. After making its initial recommendations, the group needs to come up with a long-term plan by next July.

“I think we’re at a transformative moment in history,” said Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Rural Development Council. “Solving climate change is the most fundamental challenge of our time.”

Gov. Phil Scott created the commission in July. Before the first meeting, the commission had veered into controversy.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Walters: Environmentalists Object to Scott Climate Panel Choice

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 6:15 PM

Annette Smith in her home office - ADAM VANDERMINDEN
  • Adam Vanderminden
  • Annette Smith in her home office
Gov. Phil Scott's Climate Action Commission hasn't even held its first meeting, but it's already taken a step that may alienate a broad swath of Vermont's environmental community

The commission's cochair, Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke, sent an email Wednesday seeking members for the commission's Technical Advisory Group. He wrote that two people would serve as the group's cochairs: Kevin Jones, professor at Vermont Law School, and Annette Smith, founder of Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a vociferous critic of large-scale wind turbines.

While Jones' appointment has drawn little controversy, Smith's has caused at least three prospective TAG members to decline to serve — and prompted a statement of concern from the commission's sole representative of the environmental community.

Vermont Natural Resources Council energy and climate program director Johanna Miller, a member of the commission, said that naming the two as cochairs "calls into question the independence, transparency and, ultimately, the integrity of the commission." She called the move "disappointing and disturbing" and called on the administration to revisit "this preemptive decision at the first commission meeting."

That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 15.

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Senator Challenges Appointments to Vermont Act 250 Panel

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Sen. Dustin Degree - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Dustin Degree
Three senators who were appointed to review Vermont’s land-use law lack the political diversity that lawmakers required, according to Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree (R-Franklin).

Lawmakers this year established the six-member commission to consider the future of Act 250, the 47-year-old law that governs development.

The House speaker and the Senate Committee on Committees were each directed to appoint three members. Legislation specified that in both cases, the appointees were not to be all from the same party.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

UVM to Sell 44 Acres of Prime, Undeveloped Land in South Burlington

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 5:09 PM

A view of the Martin Tract - UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT
  • University of Vermont
  • A view of the Martin Tract
The University of Vermont wants to sell off 44 acres of prime real estate it owns in South Burlington — to earn some revenue and to enable housing to be built on the property.

Developers have until August 18 to respond to a request for proposals that UVM issued June 20. The land is south of Interstate 189, near the intersection of Spear and Swift streets.

The solicitation seeks a buyer "with the intention of developing housing that will be made available to the community."

The undeveloped parcels are about about 1.5 miles from the campus, near the East Woods natural area.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Walters: Scott Unveils Yet Another Climate Panel

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 10:45 AM

Gov. Phil Scott with members of his Climate Action Commission - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott with members of his Climate Action Commission
For the third time in twelve years, a Vermont governor has created a committee to address climate change.

In 2005 it was Jim Douglas. In 2011, Peter Shumlin gave it a shot. And now in 2017, Gov. Phil Scott has unveiled his very own Climate Action Commission. Every six years, like clockwork.

Scott even joked about the repeat performance. “I wanted to carry on the tradition,” he said at a Thursday press conference. The assembled dignitaries chuckled. He then proceeded to explain, with full seriousness, why Yet Another Panel was a good idea.

“I think it’s important to reestablish those commissions and look at what the objectives were of those commissions,” he said. “I think what we’re looking for is, they went a long ways, and we’re looking to move on from there forward.”

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Walters: Scott Launches Award Program for Responsible Farming

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 5:55 PM

Lorenzo Whitcomb, owner of the North Williston Cattle Co., and Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Lorenzo Whitcomb, owner of the North Williston Cattle Co., and Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott visited the North Williston Cattle Company Thursday to unveil a voluntary program aimed at encouraging environmental responsibility among Vermont farmers.

It was, to some, an ironic choice: The farm uses sludge and biosolids from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to fertilize some of its crops — a controversial practice in the environmental community. In fact, a bill under consideration in the Vermont legislature would ban the practice.

The new program is called the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program. Farms enrolling in the program will be subject to soil testing and other measurements. If they pass the tests, they will be certified as using best-management practices to minimize their environmental impact.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Weinberger, Scott Announce Coalition to Fight Climate Change

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 7:50 PM

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger accounces a climate change coaltiion Tuesday with Gov. Phil Scott. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger accounces a climate change coaltiion Tuesday with Gov. Phil Scott.
A new coalition will set Vermont on a path to meet statewide — and worldwide — goals for cutting carbon emissions, officials said Tuesday.

Standing outside the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on the Burlington waterfront, Queen City Mayor Miro Weinberger said the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition will hold a summit this fall in which municipal governments, the state, businesses, colleges and organizations will pledge to reach specific goals to reduce carbon emissions — and will outline plans to do so.

Weinberger characterized the statewide plan as a way to counteract the “historic mistake of the Trump administration” in withdrawing earlier this month from the worldwide Paris climate change accord.

“I envision Burlington coming to the summit and reporting out where we plan to be in 2025,” the mayor, a Democrat, said. Ideas likely will include expanding on the city’s current efforts to require energy efficiencies for downtown business construction and its transition to electric buses, he said.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Senate Votes to Keep Farmers' Waterway Cleanup Plans Private

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 1:25 PM

Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain - FILE
  • File
  • Blue-green algae in Lake Champlain
Thursday morning, the Vermont Senate took environmentalists by surprise, voting to shield a key component of the state’s waterway cleanup plan from public scrutiny.

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced an amendment on the floor to the “miscellaneous agriculture bill” that would exempt farms’ nutrient management plans from the state Public Records Act. It passed easily, without debate.

Those state-mandated plans detail what each farm is doing to curb pollution of the state’s waterways. Vermont is spending millions to help agricultural operations comply with the law.

“What this provision does is it essentially blinds the public from how those dollars are going to be implemented on farm fields,” said Rebekah Weber, “lakekeeper” for the Conservation Law Foundation. “I don’t understand the need for secrecy around that, especially when we’re asking the public to help foot the bill.”

CLF previously sued the state for failing to enforce federal clean water requirements — and won. It’s not enough, Weber suggested, to trust the Agency of Agriculture to inspect farmers’ plans. “The state hasn’t done a great job on enforcement,” she said.

Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex/Orleans) is the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He argued that the public would still be able to see plans — so long as a farm’s name was redacted. According to Weber, that would limit CLF’s efforts to hold farms accountable.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Protesters Rally at the Statehouse Over Climate Issues

Posted By on Sat, Apr 29, 2017 at 6:46 PM

Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaking to the crowd at the climate rally - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) speaking to the crowd at the climate rally
Thousands of protesters converged at the Vermont Statehouse for a spirited rally held Saturday in solidarity with the climate march in Washington, D.C.

Protesters filled the Statehouse lawn to hear speakers from groups around the state rail against the environmental policies of President Donald Trump. Protesters displayed their positions in signs such as "Climate change is real," "There is no Planet B," and "Frack you Pruitt," a reference to Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt.

"Donald Trump, take a look at Montpelier," cried Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) when he took the podium. Clean energy sectors such as solar create jobs, Welch said, saying that Trump's policies are not only wrong, but are "plain stupid."

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Conservation Groups Buy Exit 4 Land Once Slated for Development

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 2:26 PM

Brian Shupe of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Tim Storrow of the Castanea Foundation - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Brian Shupe of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Tim Storrow of the Castanea Foundation
Randolph developer Jesse "Sam" Sammis spent well more than half a decade seeking the permits for a large-scale development and rest stop around Interstate 89's Exit 4. But that land now is going to be preserved.

At a press conference near the Randolph interchange Tuesday, conservation groups announced that the Castanea Foundation will buy most of the 172-acre parcel. The Montpelier nonprofit will pay $1.2 million for 149 acres, and plans to resell it to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, which supplies milk to Vermont Creamery.* The remaining 22.5 acres will be sold to the Preservation Trust of Vermont, if the organization can raise the agreed upon sum — $1 million — by June 15.

The agreement comes after a lengthy battle between the Greenwich, Conn., developer and local environmentalists. Sammis had been proceeding with the permitting to construct a massive multiuse development at the interchange. Plans included a welcome center, a rest stop, a 180-room hotel and conference center, as well as 274 homes, a fitness center, and light industrial space.

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