Monthly Archives: December 2012

Moretown Landfill, Inc. could still expand

MORETOWN — One of only two landfills that still accepts municipal waste is slated to close.

The state released a draft decision Friday that indicated a last-ditch effort by Moretown Landfill, Inc. to drastically re-do its approach to addressing operational problems failed on every count. If the draft decision stands, a final decision would be issued March 8, immediately forcing the facility to begin a closure process.

According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the draft denial was issued because of the company’s inability to prove it had gained control over off-site odor issues. Neighboring residents reportedly complained that the odors had become increasingly worse over the last year and a half.

The decision pertains to the existing landfill but not to a proposed expansion of the facility. The state noted the proposed expansion faces the same technical issues, but said that the company could still pursue an application to open a proposed fourth “cell.”

The landfill’s general manager, Tom Badowski, indicated Friday the company hasn’t ruled that out.

“We believe we have a good application in,” Badowski said. “We have to have this conversation in-house.”

See the full story in The Times Argus and Rutland Herald in Saturday’s paper.

Moretown landfill won’t be recertified

MORETOWN — The state released a letter to the management of the Moretown landfill Friday morning, indicating it will not recertify the landfill’s operating certificate.

The draft decision affects Cell 2 and 3, not the Cell 4 expansion, but the state has noted the expansion shares similar issues.

The state intends to open a 30‐day public comment period beginning today. Comments should be
focused on whether the facility’s design and operations are sufficient to prevent nuisance odor conditions. The comment period will end on Jan. 21.

All comments should be sent electronically to Ben Gauthier at Benjamin.Gauthier@state.vt.us. The state will take 45 days to consider all public comments and issue its final decision on March 8.

Read the letter here. Check vermontpressbureau.com later today and the Saturday editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald for more details.

Leahy declines Appropriations chairmanship

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Politico.com is reporting that Patrick Leahy has declined the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In a statement issued by email, Leahy said:

“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont.”

The Politico story:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is turning down the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a surprise move in a chamber where senior senators are quick to snag the most influential positions on Capitol Hill, aides said Wednesday.

Leahy began telling colleagues Wednesday he would remain chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the panel that oversees the Justice Department, federal courts and hot-button constitutional issues — rather than take over the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings of federal discretionary spending. The Appropriations Committee spot opened up following the death of long-time Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who had served in the body since 1963.

Leahy to be sworn in as Senate pro tem at 11:30 a.m…

and you can watch the proceedings live on CSPAN2. With the death of 88-year-old Daniel Inouye yesterday, Leahy now ascends to the top of the Senate hierarchy. His appointment as pro tempore puts him third in line for presidency – right behind House Speaker John Boehner – but the title is more symbol than substance. Leahy’s real power will derive from his likely new assignment as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The post is generally the most sought after in the Senate (presidential hopefuls might prefer foreign relations)  and would give Vermont’s senior senator more sway over the way the federal budget is allocated than any other single lawmaker.

What would it mean for Vermont?

The days of federal earmarks are over, so we aren’t in line for our own Bridge to Nowhere. But Leahy would have a heavy hand in devising the formulas used to determine individual states’ shares of appropriations, which could bolster Vermont’s federal health care and transportation revenue.

That’s assuming of course that Leahy assumes the appropriations chairmanship. He reportedly loves his post on the judiciary committe, but most observers say it’s exceedingly unlikely that Leahy would turn down the chance to head the top money committee.

Check out tomorrow’s editions of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus to find out what the experts say Leahy’s new prominence means for Vermont.

 

Candidates line up to replace Carris in Senate

From Gordon Dritschilo at the Rutland Herald:

One name kept coming to the lips of Rutland County Democrats on Thursday: Eldred French of Shrewsbury.

French, who lost his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives after redistricting pitted him against fellow incumbent Dennis Devereaux of Mount Holly, was repeatedly described as being at the top of the list of candidates to replace Sen. William Carris, D-Rutland.

Carris announced Wednesday he was stepping down for health reasons. The Rutland County Democrats will hold a caucus and come up with as many as three names to forward to the governor, who will then appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Carris’s term.

County Chairwoman Kathy Hall said she expected to hold the caucus after New Year’s. She said she had heard four or five names, and one name more frequently than the others, but she would not disclose any of the names under discussion.

“I was told I have to remain unbiased and I am worried if I mention names I’ve heard, it would affect things,” Hall said.

However, a number of current and former county Democratic officeholders put French’s name forward Thursday.

For the rest of the story at the Rutland Herald, click here.

Carris to step down from State Senate seat

Sen. Bill Carris, Democrat of Rutland and the former Senate Majority leader, has announced he will leave his senate seat effective Monday.

The three-term Democratic senator from West Rutland said problems with his back and ankle prompted the decision.

“The pace is pretty frenetic up there,” he said. “People don’t know how much running around you do.”

“I’m pretty sad about it. It was a real tough decision,” he added.

Carris, who just won re-election to a fourth term last month, said he underwent corrective surgery this fall that he hoped would make it easier to walk.

But with less than a month before the start of the next legislative session, Carris said he doesn’t believe he is physically capable of doing the job.

Carris said he sent his letter of resignation to Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday and alerted the president pro tem of the senate as well as fellow Rutland County Senators Kevin Mullin and Margaret Flory.

Shumlin will be called upon to appoint someone to take Carris’ place following a caucus of Rutland County Democrats who will select three candidates to recommend to the governor.

Single-payer group offers ideas on how to pay for it

From the Times Argus and Rutland Herald today, a story from Pete Hirschfeld:

MONTPELIER — A group that helped build the political will for single-payer health care in Vermont has issued a report telling elected officials how to pay for it.

The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign unveiled a 17-page proposal Monday in which it identifies a combination of income and payroll taxes as the most “equitable” means of financing the new system. More a conceptual framework than a solid proposal — the report doesn’t estimate overall system costs or calculate the dollar value of the new revenue streams — the report says its blend of financing options would place the lion’s share of the financial burden on those best able to afford it.

“And that’s been one of the key principles from the beginning,” said James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, which oversees the campaign. “The Shumlin administration is doing all the work to figure out how much it’s going to cost, and we’re essentially saying this is the most equitable way to come up with the money.”

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said he was impressed with what he called a very well-written report. “It will be a helpful document as the dialogue on how to pay for single-payer takes place in the coming months and years,” Spaulding said.

As to the specific proposal, which would use a mix of corporate and personal income taxes, combined with a “progressive” payroll tax, Spaulding said, “In general they make a strong case.”

For the rest of the story, click here.

Louis Porter, formerly of this blog, takes high-profile gig in Shumlin administration

In late 2010, after a years-long hitch as chief of the Vermont Press Bureau, Louis Porter hung up his reporter’s gloves to join an environmental advocacy group. Today, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced that Porter will serve as his next secretary of civil and military affairs.

Porter of course is no stranger to the Statehouse, and the Democratic governor cited his “respectful and collaborative relationship” with lawmakers as one top reason for the hire.

The 37-year-old Adamant resident will play a key role in helping his new boss push controversial bills through the House and Senate.

As lakekeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation, Porter has been a vocal critic of the Shumlin administration’s pollution remediation efforts in Lake Champlain, as well as of the river dredging that occurred immediately after Tropical Storm Irene.

But Porter said it was a no-brainer to take a job with an administration that he believes is moving the state in a positive and exciting direction.

Porter isn’t officially on board yet, but he’ll join the Shumlin team in earnest prior to the next legislative session. He replaces Alex MacLean, who is leaving government for a job in the private sector. MacLean left the secretary job in mid-summer to manage Shumlin’s reelection campaign, then rejoined the executive branch after the election. The civil and military affairs post has long been used by governors to house top campaign aides inside the administration.

Porter said it’s too early to say what kind of role, if any, he’ll play in electoral politics. He’ll make $72,000 a year.

 

 

Does more competition in health insurance actually bring down costs?

David Sanger

David Sanger speaks at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland Tuesday.

While speaking at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre last night, the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief David Sanger raised an interesting question about our assumptions on health insurance and competition.

He referred to a study that was written up in the Times’ Economix blog, which compared the concentration of competition, measured by how much of a state’s insurance market is concentrated in the largest two insurers, to the rise in the cost of health insurance premiums in the same state over the ten years between 2000 and 2010.

The study finds that there is not a meaningful correlation between more competition and lower costs. In fact, Sanger pointed out, the reverse actually seems to be true – and this raises concerns about the direction we’re taking with Obamacare.

The concern comes from the increased competition required from health insurance exchanges – which states are required to have set up by 2014, or the federal government will set up for them.

Apparently, the more concentrated the insurance market, the more leverage the biggest insurers have to bring down costs. The more fragmented the market, the less leverage each individual insurer has. As Economix puts it:

In imperfect health care markets, competition can be counterproductive. The larger an insurer’s share of the market, the more aggressively it can negotiate prices with providers, hospitals and drug manufacturers. Smaller hospitals and provider groups, known as “price takers” by economists, either accept the big insurer’s reimbursement rates or forgo the opportunity to offer competing services. The monopsony power of a single or a few large insurers can thus lead to lower prices. For example, Glenn Melnick and Vivian Wu have shown that hospital prices in markets with the most powerful insurers are 12 percent lower than in more competitive insurance markets.

Food for thought as we steadily advance on the way to a single-payer system. For the full Economix blog post on this, please click here.

 

Appel steps down as executive director of Human Rights Commission

After more than a decade at the helm, Robert Appel is retiring as executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Appel said in a release today that he’s leaving state government to join the Hinesburg law firm Kohn Rath Danon and Appel as a partner.

He said he’ll continue to work in the areas of discrimination and criminal defense, areas he specialized in at the commission as well as at his former job overseeing Vermont public defense system.

“We will miss Robert’s steadfastness, vision, legal skills and passion,” HRC chairwoman Mary Marzec said in a release.

She said Vermont has made progress on human-right issues including school harassment, racial profiling and disability rights under Appel’s 11-year tenure.

Appel’s track record includes a victory in Vermont Supreme Court in which he secured public accommodation rights for inmates with disabilities. He also got a court order requiring the Hartford Elks Club to admit women as full members.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure with the Human Rights Commission,” said Appel, who began his career in state government in 1980 as a civil rights investigator in the attorney general’s office. “Nonetheless, after 32 years of state service, it is time for me to pursue other options.”

The HRC said it’s now seeking applications to fill the executive director position.