Natural Resources

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Potential dam purchase gets bipartisan support

The Wilder dam on the Connecticut River is among the 13 hydroelectric facilities put on the market by TransCanada. (Len Emery)

MONTPELIER — State officials are mobilizing to explore the potential purchase of hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers, but plenty of obstacles remain in the way to complete a purchase the state passed on just over a decade ago. TransCanada put the 13 dams on the market on March 17 as part of an effort to acquire Columbia Pipeline Group, a Texas-based firm that operates a natural gas pipeline between New York and the Gulf of Mexico, for $13 billion. The sale process involves a total of 4,600 megawatts of power in TransCanada’s northeast power portfolio, including the hydroelectric plants on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers that total 560 megawatts, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Link. The move has prompted a bipartisan group of state officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith, both Democrats, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, to express interest in purchasing the dams through a state-owned power authority. A similar effort under former Gov. Jim Douglas was made in 2005, but TransCanada outbid the state with its $505 million offer. Continue Reading →

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Snelling resigns from Senate to head Natural Resources Board

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MONTPELIER — Chittenden County Republican Sen. Diane Snelling is resigning from the body to become chairwoman of the Natural Resources Board, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Tuesday morning. Snelling, who has served in the Senate since being appointed in 2002 to replace a seat vacated by her mother, will replace Jon Groveman on the board. “I am proud to appoint Senator Snelling to this position,” Shumlin said. “Her deep policy knowledge of Act 250 as well as her well-deserved reputation for being thoughtful and non-partisan make her an ideal candidate for this position.”

Snelling’s work in the Senate has involved work on clean water initiatives and shore land protection. She has served on the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Continue Reading →

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State’s PFOA response praised as officials focus on long-term solutions

Gov. Peter Shumlin looks over a map of North Bennington while being briefed on the status of contaminated water wells by Dept. of Environmental Conservation commissioner Alyssa Schuren, center, and Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, at the Stae House earlier this week. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren was preparing to testify in front of a Senate Committee on the morning of Feb. 25 when news of drinking water contamination in North Bennington was delivered, kicking off an all-out effort by her department and the governor’s office to address an alarming situation. “I was just about to go down and testify in Senate Natural Resources and Energy … and we had 10 minutes until we were going to catch the bus. The division director … comes running in, he opens the door, he’s red-faced, he sits down and he says, ‘We have the test results back from Bennington,’” Schuren said in an interview at DEC’s main office. “I immediately feel myself just sit up straighter, because you could tell by his face that this was not going to be good news.”

The news was not good. Continue Reading →

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Experts debate carbon tax in Vermont

Panelists debate the merits of a carbon tax before a large audience at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier on Thursday night. From left are John McClaughry, Rob Roper, Paul Burns and Jon Erickson. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — Can 600,000 Vermonters slow the effects of climate change? That was the essential question posed Thursday night before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 during a debate on the merits of imposing a tax on carbon emissions. During the upcoming legislative session that begins in January, lawmakers are expected to discuss a pair of carbon tax proposals offered by Rep. Christopher Pearson, P-Burlington, and Rep. David Deen, D-Putney. Thursday’s discussion was set against the backdrop of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where, next week, Gov. Peter Shumlin will discuss Vermont’s efforts to curb carbon emissions and encourage the creation of renewable energy. Speaking in favor of a carbon tax were Paul Burns, of the Vermont Public Interest Research Interest Group, and Jon Erickson, an economist and a fellow with the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute. Continue Reading →

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Welch responds to attack ad

BARRE — Congressman Peter Welch responding is to a television ad attacking him for his stance on ethanol in gasoline. This weekend, local television stations in Vermont aired an ad from ethanol-advocacy group known as Fuels America, which attacks Welch for being signatory to a letter to Environmental Protection Agency questioning whether the percentage of ethanol in gasoline should be increased. The ad criticizes Welch for “circulating a plan written by oil industry lobbyists” and concludes by asking viewers to “remind Peter Welch to stand up for Vermont values, not oil companies and climate deniers.”

“I understand why they’re doing it,” Welch said of the ad. “The mandate is a moneymaker for the corn ethanol industry.”

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates an ever-increasing volume of ethanol to enter the nation’s motor vehicle fuel supply. At the time, the Energy Information Administration projected demand for gasoline would continue to rise through 2022. Continue Reading →

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Dubie emerges with wind concerns

Brian Dubie (VPR photo)

MONTPELIER — Former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who was a strong proponent of wind power during his government service, is now speaking out on behalf of residents who are concerned about the noise generated by turbines in Sheffield and at proposed sites in the future. Dubie, who served from 2003 to 2011 and lost a close gubernatorial election to Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2010, still supports wind power as an alternative energy source for Vermont. The commercial airline pilot said he’s not looking to re-enter Vermont’s political scene. But he is choosing to speak out now on behalf of his neighbors in Franklin County that could soon be impacted by turbine noise. Additionally, there is a proposed wind project in Swanton — just under a mile from Dubie’s home — that would generate up to 20 megawatts of power from as many as seven wind turbines that are 500 feet tall. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin administration sees more staff changes

MONTPELIER — Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears is is leaving the Shumlin administration to rejoin the faculty of Vermont Law School. Mears, who joined the administration in 2011, helped spearhead Gov. Peter Shumlin’s effort to pass clean water legislation during the last legislative session. He will return to VLS as the director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, the position he previously held at the school. Deputy Commissioner Alyssa Schuren will take over the department’s top spot on August 10. Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deborah Markowitz said Mears is leaving the state and the department “better than he found them.”

“From the Lake Champlain clean-up plan, to cleaning up polluted industrial sites so that they could again serve as community assets, David’s leadership has helped Vermont advance our shared environmental mission,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Capitol Beat 5-11-15

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Barre-Montpelier Times Argus Editor Steve Pappas and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss the sexual assault case against Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, the last week of the session and Bernie Sanders. http://www.vermontpressbureau.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Capitol-Beat-5-11-15.mp3 Continue Reading →

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Senate supports climate-change resolution

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a resolution that acknowledges both climate change and impact caused by fossil fuel use. By a vote of 23 to 5, Senate lawmakers Tuesday approved a resolution that “recognizes that climate change is a real and present danger to health and well-being of all Vermonters,” and “that human activities make a substantive contribution to climate change.”

The resolution was introduced by Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who serves on the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The Committee approved the resolution by a vote of 4-0-1. “It recognizes that the warming in the climate system is unequivocal and the human influence on the climate system is clear and substantive,” Campion said. “It acknowledges the state of Vermont recognizes climate change is a real and present danger to the health and well-being of all Vermonters.”

Vermont has a goal of reducing its carbon foot print by 50 percent — compared with 1990 levels — by the year 2028, and reduce carbon output by 75 percent by 2050. Continue Reading →

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