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December 2012

December 28, 2012

Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

LowellThe previous year was a big one in Vermont's unfolding energy debate — from wind to solar, fracking to divestment. Seven Days went back to some of the big players in the energy debate — opponents and proponents, citizen activists, onlookers and developers — for their thoughts on a busy, sometimes tumultuous year. What did 2012 mean for energy development in Vermont and what might 2013 bring? (Don't miss yesterday's post with comments from some of industrial wind power's biggest critics.) 

Bill McKibben, writer and climate activist

"Vermont punched above its weight in 2012. Becoming the only state in the union to ban fracking was a big deal — it gave great heart to others in places where the fight is still raging. I think Vermont has also made it increasingly clear that there will be no tar sands pipeline through the state — some combination of Peter Shumlin's words and the truly powerful organizing by lots of folks should, I think, be enough to put a real crimp in the plans of the tar sands tycoons.

"2013 will have all kinds of fights, I'm sure, but the one that intrigues me most is about divestment. What Middlebury does will be closely watched, including, I hope, by other colleges around the state. (Wouldn't be surprised if Green Mountain or Sterling tried to steal their thunder!). And UVM will be a wonderful stage on which to debate the issues at the heart of the biggest crisis humans have ever faced."

Continue reading "Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)" »

December 27, 2012

Shumlin Says He Backs Federal Effort to Combat Gun Violence

DSC04317In his first public comments since a mass shooting in Connecticut two weeks ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday he'll support federal legislation being drafted by a presidential task force on gun violence.

"There can't be a human being in America who has seen the events of what happened in Connecticut and not recognize that we have to do everything in our power to bring some sanity to the availability of weapons of war to people who are unstable and crazy. Period," Shumlin said in an interview with Seven Days.

But Vermont's gun-toting governor cautioned that, "State-by-state solutions don't work," and said he wouldn't support efforts in the Vermont legislature to tackle gun violence at the state level.

"If they worked, we would've solved the problem already. We know that if one state has strict restrictions, you can go purchase an assault weapon at another state or gun show," he said. "So I fully support President Obama's and Joe Biden's urgency to come up with a 50-state solution that will work."

Shumlin, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, declined to say what approach he thought the federal government should take, but said it should be "multi-faceted" and include enhanced services for those with mental illness.

Continue reading "Shumlin Says He Backs Federal Effort to Combat Gun Violence" »

Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)


What a year 2012 was for energy development in Vermont: Controversy swirled around projects both large and (relatively) small. Opposition to the construction of a 21-turbine project on the Lowell Mountains drove some protestors to civil disobedience, and prompted a few arrests. Watching the turbines rise on the Northeast Kingdom ridgeline prompted dismay in somepride in others — and no shortage of opinions and headlines all around.  

For this two-part post, Seven Days went back to some of the big players in the energy debate — opponents and proponents, citizen activists and wind developers — for their perspectives on a busy, sometimes tumultuous year. What did 2012 mean for energy development in Vermont — and what might 2013 bring?

Today we hear from the more outspoken critics of recent energy developments. We'll be back tomorrow with more voices. 

Lukas Snelling, director of Energize Vermont

"This was the year that a lot of Vermonters started to recognize where their electricity came from, and became active in making decisions about where they’d like to see their future energy come from. That goes well beyond the wind issue. In a lot of ways, 2012 was the first year when the renewable energy movement hit the road running. ...The ability to have a meaningful conversation hasn’t yet caught up to the number of people who are actively engaging — but I think it will. The more the merrier."

Continue reading "Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)" »

December 22, 2012

Morning Read: Sanders, Shumlin Make The Nation's "Most Valuable Progressive" List

MorningreadIt's not quite Time Magazine's person-of-the-year, but two Vermont pols made the cut this week in The Nation's "Most Valuable Progressive Honor Roll."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a longtime darling of the lefty political rag, won the magazine's top honor, "Most Valuable Progressive." Citing Ol' Bernardo's fights against cutting entitlement programs and the Postal Service, Washington correspondent John Nichols writes:

"Sanders has broken the boundaries of conventional politics. By refusing to bend to the compromises and spin of Washington, he has made himself the conscience of the fiscal cliff fight."

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, meanwhile, took home the mag's "Most Valuable Governor" award.

Continue reading "Morning Read: Sanders, Shumlin Make The Nation's "Most Valuable Progressive" List" »

December 21, 2012

Vermonters Form Fuel-Buying Cooperative to Leverage Lower Prices


While Sen. Bernie Sanders has been railing against the high price of gasoline in Chittenden County, a buyers' cooperative in northwestern Vermont is focused on the cost of a different kind of fuel.

The Hilltop Energy Buyers Group, a new fuel-buyers' cooperative that launched over the summer, uses the collective buying power of its members to negotiate below-market prices for home heating fuel.

Peter Katz is co-founder of Hilltop Energy Buyers Group. Since June, when Katz and his partner, Jason Marias, first began negotiations with local fuel providers, the group has signed up about 200 members, who were able to lock in a one-year fixed rate for propane at below-market prices.

"We’re definitely getting some favorable feedback," says Katz. "People are talking about us, and I know the [fuel] companies are talking about us. They now know we’re out there."

Katz explains how the buyers’ group works: Members pay a $50 annual fee to join, which allows Hilltop Energy to act as their fuel "broker" and negotiate the lowest price for members. Customers still continue dealing with the provider — which this year is Amerigas — for service and maintenance, and pay their bills directly to that company.

For now, propane is the only home heating fuel for which Hilltop has been able to secure a discounted price. Still, the savings have been impressive. For the 2012-13 season, Hilltop clients are paying $2.60 per gallon for up to 400 gallons, $2.25 per gallon for 400 to 899 gallons, and $2.10 per gallon for 900 gallons or more. Those prices are fixed until August 2013.

How do those rates stack up to current market prices?

Continue reading "Vermonters Form Fuel-Buying Cooperative to Leverage Lower Prices" »

December 20, 2012

Where Do Your Lawmakers Stand on Gun Rights?

DSC04514While reporting a column on Vermont's gun politics earlier this week, I asked Gov. Peter Shumlin's campaign manager, Alex MacLean, for a copy of the National Rifle Association questionnaire he filled out this fall while seeking the group's endorsement.

Apparently, MacLean didn't keep one.

But given Shumlin's 92 percent rating by the group, it ain't hard to figure out how the pro-gun gov filled it out.

Yesterday, we got our hands on a blank copy of the 25-question survey distributed to Vermont state lawmakers in July (it's posted below). The comprehensive questionnaire touches on everything from safety locks to the expired assault weapons ban to the so-called "gun show loophole." The phrasing of several of the questions is, shall we say, loaded.

Here's an example:

10. In 1994, Congress imposed a ten-year ban on the manufacture, for sale to private individuals, of various semi-automatic firearms it termed "assault weapons," and of ammunition magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, which primarily affected handguns designed for self-defense. Congress' subsequent study of the ban, as well as state and local law enforcement agency reports, showed that contrary to the ban's supporters' claims, the guns and magazines had never been used in more than about 1-2% of violent crime. Since the ban expired in 2004, the numbers of these firearms and magazines owned have risen to all-time highs and violent crime has fallen to a 35-year low. Would you support state legislation restricting the possession, ownership, purchase, sale, and/or transfer of semi-automatic firearms and/or limits on the capacity of magazines designed for self-defense?

So how did your lawmakers answer?

Continue reading "Where Do Your Lawmakers Stand on Gun Rights?" »

Middlebury Professor Fired from Forbes Blog for Post on Sandy Hook Shootings

Local-essig-1Laurie Essig has never shied away from controversy. In fact, there have been plenty of words used over the years to describe the professor of gender studies at Middlebury College  —"controversial," "freethinker," "threatening to the status quo" — but "shy" isn't one of them.

Thus, it wasn't surprising when Essig, who since September has been blogging for in a column called "Love, Inc." (ostensibly about romance and capitalism), wrote a post about last week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Within hours, Essig was fired and her post, titled "Speaking the Unspeakable in Newtown," was removed from Forbes' website. Evidently, her read on the mass killings in Newtown, Conn. didn't sit well with Forbes' management.

"I thought this was on my 'beat' since it was about 'parentalism' and also hegemonic masculinity," Essig writes in an email to Seven Days, "but I guess it made someone up top pretty angry. My editor — I don't think it was her — said my blog was being 'sunsetted' (corporate speak for fired) because I had veered off my beat."

Essig goes on to explain that "This is just another form of privileging reproductive subjects in our political discourse, not to mention a certain sort of dominant masculinity that is at the center of heteronormativity. But the real issue — obviously — is I was too left wing for Forbes."

Caroline Howard, Essig's editor at Forbes, didn't reply to an email seeking her comment. Mia Carbonell, who oversees corporate communications for Forbes Media would say only that "Forbes does not comment publicly on personnel issues."

Here is Essig's original December 17 post. (Reprinted with the author's permission.)

Continue reading "Middlebury Professor Fired from Forbes Blog for Post on Sandy Hook Shootings" »

December 19, 2012

Leahy Declines Top Appropriations Post, Will Remain Judiciary Chairman

In a surprise move, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Wednesday he's turned down a chance to head the Senate's most powerful committee.

Since the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) Monday, Beltway prognosticators (and this lowly Vermont reporter) have assumed Leahy would succeed Inouye as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which holds the nation's purse strings. Instead, Leahy announced Wednesday that he'd stay put at the top of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont," Leahy said in a written statement.

According to spokesman David Carle, "It's been a difficult decision, but the choice in the end was clear to him... He'll continue to be able to do as much or more on Appropriations as senior member while chairing the Senate's busiest committee, Judiciary."

Carle noted that, in the next Congress, the Judiciary Committee will be handling everything from potential Supreme Court vacancies to comprehensive immigration reform to the response to last Friday's school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Leahy noted via Twitter Wednesday that his decision to stay put elevates Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) as the first female chair of the Appropriations Committee. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is more senior than Mikulski, apparently opted to remain chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Interestingly, Leahy would have been succeeded as the head of the Judiciary Committee by virulently anti-gun Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) just before the committee takes up whatever legislation President Obama offers in response to the Newtown shootings. Leahy has been considerably more amenable to gun rights over the years.

Asked if Leahy's decision to eschew Appropriations means he won't be able to secure as much federal funding for Vermont as he might have, Carle said, "He's been able to do that for many, many years in a senior position on Appropriations."

Leahy was sworn in Tuesday as Senate President Pro Tempore, a ceremonial position Inouye also held.

This Week's Issue: The F-35's Biggest Booster; Year-Round Events on Burlington's Waterfront?

Local-f35-cioffiIn this week's winter reading issue of Seven Days, which will probably be the last issue ever since the end of the world is coming in a few days...

Also, one editor's note: the Seven Days office is closed through January 2 for our year-end break. We'll be putting out a double issue on December 26, with no paper on January 2. This blog will be updated less frequently than normal over the break, too. Happy holidays!

Frank Cioffi illustration by Marc Nadel

Zuckerman, Other Lawmakers to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill

David Zuckerman

Could Vermont follow the lead of Colorado and Washington and legalize marijuana?

Don't bet the stash on it. But a handful of lawmakers — including senator-elect David Zuckerman (pictured) — is drafting legislation for the upcoming session to legalize, tax and regulate the green stuff.

Pot reformers in Montpelier have been focused on a more incremental step: decriminalizing marijuana possession in Vermont. But advocates like Zuckerman see the recent votes in Washington and Colorado as giving momentum for legalization — or at least a conversation about it.

Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat representing Chittenden County, said he's asked legislative council to draft a legalization bill and was told by the legislature's lawyers that "a handful" of other lawmakers had made the same request. Rep. Susan Hatch Davis (P/D-Washington) is one of them, according to Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), leader of the House Progressive caucus. The others are unknown because the bill-drafting process is confidential.

Zuckerman doesn't expect legalization — which he prefers to call "regulation and taxation" — to pass this year. But he says it deserves to be part of the broader discussion over drug policy. Employing an agricultural metaphor, the Hinesburg farmer compares his effort to planting seeds that will bear fruit down the line.

Continue reading "Zuckerman, Other Lawmakers to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill" »

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