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February 2010

February 25, 2010

Put Green Mountain Film Fest on Your Calendars

Secret-kells The schedule for this year's Green Mountain Film Festival is up.

This is the 13th GMFF, and it's big, with 10 days of screenings in Montpelier, from Friday, March 19, to Sunday, March 28. After that, from April 9 to 11, film lovers in St. Johnsbury will get a taste, thanks to a collaboration between Focus on Film (which puts on the GMFF) and Catamount Arts.

I count 68 separate films and events on the GMFF site, so you may want to go take a look. But here are some highlights:

Continue reading "Put Green Mountain Film Fest on Your Calendars" »

VIDEO: Why Sen. Phil Scott Voted to Relicense Vermont Yankee

DSC05444 As Vermont state senators debated whether to re-license the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, young pages buzzed around the chamber delivering pink slips of paper to senators.

Many of the notes were last-second messages from constituents, phoning the Capitol to urge their senators to vote 'yes' or 'no' on the most anticipated and important vote of the 2010 session.

State Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington) collected a thick stack of "While You Were Out" slips with constituent messages like "Unsafe," "Vote Against Re-licensing" and "Urging You to Close Vermont Yankee."

In the end, however, Scott (pictured) followed his conscience and voted in favor of extending the troubled nuke plant's operating license for an additional 20 years past its 2012 expiration date. He called the vote a "blatant political maneuver" by Democrats who control the state Senate.

He was one of only four senators to vote in favor of Vermont Yankee. Re-licensing went down on a 26-4 vote.

"I'm sure it's unpopular and it might be political suicide, but I just didn't feel we were ready to make a vote today, based on what we know and don't know," Scott said after the vote.

Scott, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010, offered one of several amendments during debate aimed at delaying the vote on re-licensing. He wanted to send the question back to the Senate Economic Development Committee for more consideration about the impact closing the plant would have on jobs and the local economy. The amendment was voted down overwhelmingly. Even the economic development committee's chairman, Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) voted against his committee spending more time on the subject.

Scott said there was "a lot of pressure" from constituents and others sending him emails and calling by phone, urging him to vote against the plant. "I was concerned about the process from the beginning, that it was rushed to the floor," Scott said.

"I'd like to  know more about the tritium leak," Scott said, referring to the radioactive, potentially cancer-causing isotope leaking into Vermont Yankee's monitoring wells. "That may answer everything.  And maybe that's why it was rushed, because if we get the answer, the underground piping at Vermont Yankee is so poor that maybe it's going to warrant shutting down Vermont Yankee immediately. And I just don't know. But I think we'll  know sooner rather than later."

When the roll call came, Scott voted "no with comment." After the vote was tallied, he rose to explain his vote. He was the only senator to do so. Video below:

Vermont Senate Delivers a Blow to Vermont Yankee

IMG_0788 By a decisive 26-4 margin, the Vermont Senate today voted to deny Vermont Yankee a chance to receiving a 20-year license extension to continue operating the 620 megawatt nuclear power plant beyond 2012.

At least for now.

The vote came after nearly three-and-a-half hours of debate — and three failed attempts to derail the bill — before a Senate chamber packed largely with VY opponents, some of whom had trekked north from Brattleboro to witness the vote.

The Vermont legislature is the only elected body that has been given the authority to give an up or down vote on the future of nuclear power plant. Not surprisingly, all eyes were on Montpelier yesterday.

News outlets from The New York Times to Mother Jones were tracking the news. In fact, the Times' Matthew Wald was on the scene in the Senate chamber.

The Senate's action comes one week after Pres. Barack Obama announced billions in federal loan guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. The vote is seen as a rebuke of that effort.

Not so, said Sen. President Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). "This was not a debate about new nukes versus old nukes, this was a vote about old nukes," he said.

Continue reading "Vermont Senate Delivers a Blow to Vermont Yankee" »

February 23, 2010

Nuclear Showdown in the State Senate

VermontYankeeNPP Don’t expect a giant mushroom cloud to appear over the golden dome in Montpelier tomorrow when the state senate debates a measure allowing for the relicensure of Vermont Yankee beyond its scheduled closing date of 2012.

Check out Seven Days' recent news package examining the Vermont Yankee debate.

It's likely that the senate will vote down the measure, but not before taking up a motion to send the bill back to committees for further review of the economic impact of shutting down the plant in 2012.

In short, though the senate will probably vote against relicensure, I don't suspect this issue will go away anytime soon.

Besides, it's not as if the plant has to shut down tomorrow. In fact, its operators plan to replace roughly 120 fuel assemblies in April. Each assembly lasts as long as four-and-a-half years. Despite the senate vote, which could call into question VY's future, the refueling will go ahead as scheduled.

"The refueling outage will not be affected by the legislative vote," said VY spokesman Larry Smith. "Refuel outage will not be affected by the tritium leak if we do not find it and stop it before that. The plan is to find it and fix it before the outage."

By its own admission, Entergy's drop-dead date for a decision on relicensure isn’t until April 2011. That’s an eternity in politics, and Entergy knows this is not a short-term fight. Vermonters' trust will take months to regain.

It's also a possibility that a negative decision could end up in court.

A WCAX poll last week proves how far Entergy has to go: Nearly half of 400 Vermonters polled say VY should be closed in 2010, with another quarter not sure and only a quarter in favor of giving it another 20 years to operate.

Even if no other measure is taken up in this legislature, another vote could occur in 2011. That’s when a new legislature will be seated, along with a new governor and lieutenant governor.

Hmm ... think this will be a campaign issue?

Continue reading "Nuclear Showdown in the State Senate" »

Alice Eats: Thai House

359 Lake Road, St. Albans 524-0999

017 Yes, there's a Thai restaurant in St. Albans. It's called Thai House. It's been there for almost three years. I was surprised, too. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I can get to the lovely dinner I enjoyed there Sunday night.

The chef-owner, Athai Oikweha, used to cook at Tiny Thai. The similarities are apparent in some dishes, but it's the divergences that define his somewhat more refined style. The bright-yellow satay is clearly  a marinade very close to those at countless Thai eateries. What separates this one is the addition of a bowl of tangy cucumber sauce alongside the creamy peanut dip. Another appetizer, cucumber salad, features strips of the veggie sliced noodle-thin, then drenched in lime and just enough fish sauce to add a slightly musky, smoky foil to the citrus.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Thai House" »

February 22, 2010

Save the Seals — Boycott Maple Syrup

Ad-track-levitra2 There's nothing I love more than celebrities lending their names to wackadoodle things. OK, I do love some things more than that. Like mashed potatoes and slip-on shoes. But when famous folks sign on to a cause or a product, the results can be painful. And hilarious. Like Kathy Lee Gifford shilling for K-Mart, Mike Ditka pitching Levitra or Chuck Norris door-knocking for Mike Huckabee.

Now, with the Olympics in full swing, our nation's best athletes have their turn at trading in their integrity for some greenbacks. Snowboarding's wet dream Gretchen Bleiler is hawking Visa credit cards, soul-patchy Apolo Ohno's face is plastered on the side of an Alaska Air Boeing 737, and just about every American Olympian has traded his or her soul for McDonald's, which is trying to fool people into believing that elite athletes gobble up Chicken McNuggets and Filets-O-Fish every night at their training tables.

22135_1353807046061_1257961954_1021951_1678940_n One of the more unusual endorsements popping up during the Winter Games comes from one of our own. Golden girl Hannah Teter, who nabbed a silver medal in the women's halfpipe and already has a Ben & Jerry's signature flavor, has come out against seal clubbing. According to animal rights rabble rousers PETA, those nasty Canucks are killing baby seals by the score for their pelts. And Teets, who recently posed for Sports Illustrated in her underoos, ain't into it. So she's telling the Canads to suck it. Even though they gave her some sweet sterling hardware.

Continue reading "Save the Seals — Boycott Maple Syrup" »

From UVM Baseball to VT Yankee: The Doyle Town Meeting Survey

Doyle It's an annual ritual: A Town Meeting Day survey of voters conducted by State Sen. William Doyle (R-Washington) on some of the hot topics facing the state and the nation.

This year, topping Doyle's 42nd annual survey is the question: "Should Vermont Yankee's license be renewed in 2012?"

Doyle and his fellow senators will vote this Wednesday on whether to let the Public Service Board issue VY a license to extend operations beyond its scheduled closing date of 2012.

Along with the survey, voters in 14 towns will weigh in on VY's future. Last year, 36 Vermont towns passed nonbinding resolutions to shut down VY in 2012 and ensure Entergy fully funds the plant’s decommissioning.

Doyle's survey also asks Vermonters how they feel about the cost of their health insurance, the cost of schools and whether they support bans on texting while driving, as well as using cell phones while driving. He also asks if Vermonters think Pres. Barack Obama is doing a good job.

An interesting question that popped up this year is "Should baseball and women's softball be reinstituted at the University of Vermont."

Continue reading "From UVM Baseball to VT Yankee: The Doyle Town Meeting Survey" »

Leahy to Hold Hearing on Bush-era 'Torture' Memos

LeahyHolderPic The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Friday to delve into the recent report issued by the Department of Justice regarding the so-called "torture memos" authored by the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel.

The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility found that former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo engaged in professional misconduct by failing to provide "thorough, objective, and candid" legal advice in creating memoranda regarding the "enhanced interrogation" of detained terrorist suspects, while his boss Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee acted in "reckless disregard" for failing to provide "thorough, objective, and candid legal advice."

OPR said it wanted to refer its findings to state bar disciplinary authorities where Yoo and Bybee are licensed. However, a top DOJ official rejected those findings, after reviewing responses to the report by Yoo and Bybee. Yoo is currently teaching law, while Bybee is now a federal judge.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced the hearing on Friday, claiming the report should force Bybee to resign his lifetime judicial appointment.

Continue reading "Leahy to Hold Hearing on Bush-era 'Torture' Memos" »

Even More Bad News for Vermont's Bat Population

It appears that white-nose syndrome (WNS), which has already decimated Vermont's bat population and has killed off tens of thousands of bats in New England, is only getting worse — as if bats didn't have it bad enough already, what with centuries of being demonized for their purported link to vampires and other blood-sucking spooks. 

Scientific American reported this week that Vermont has lost at least 95 percent of its bat population since WNS was first identified three years ago, and the deadly fungus continues to spread to other bat population. Last week, Tennessee became the 10th state to show signs of the infection. And that's bad news not only to the nocturnal flyers, but to anyone who relies on a balanced ecosystem, such as farmers and those of us who go outside on summer evenings and don't want to be eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Now, here's a thought: What if the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department grabbed ahold of the cape tails of America's current lust for all things vampiric — HBO's True Blood, Twilight, Ann Rice novels, etc. — to spread the word about this deadly disease? While there's still no effective tool for fighting WNS, there are some things the public can do to help out, especially since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now believes that WNS is spread by humans, including limiting access to their roosting sites. Check their website for more info.

February 19, 2010

Benefit Concert Saturday in Honor of Guen Gifford

Guen Last fall, I wrote a blog post about Burlington lawyer and activist Guen Gifford (pictured) who was killed in a paragliding accident on November 1. Guen, who was only 37, was a passionate activist, as many who knew her remarked at her memorial service. From 2001-2007, she was on the board of the Peace & Justice Center, and she served for a time as board chair.

The PJC is struggling financially right now — Seven Days reported on their trials last month ("Peace and Justice Center Fights to Survive" 1/20/10). On Saturday, February 20, singer/songwriter Catie Curtis is appearing at a benefit concert for the PJC at Higher Ground. The benefit is being held in Guen's honor.

Tickets are $20 in advance, and $23 on the day of show (tomorrow). You can purchase them at PJC, or by clicking here. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m.

If you want to celebrate a fearless and dynamic local activist who died way too young, this is a good way to do it.

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