by John McClaughry

Last Monday Vermont Digger  released a “special report” on how the conservative Heritage Foundation is pushing its agenda of less government to the Trump administration. .

Why, yes, that’s what think tanks do, on all sides of the political spectrum. Heritage pioneered this with its 1980 Mandate for Leadership, that influenced the Reagan administration.

Reporter Jasper Craven writes breathlessly that the Heritage budget plan threatens “air quality, education, free lunch programs in schools, road maintenance and more. Rural farmers and businesses would lose access to grants and loans, and job training programs would dry up. Taken in total, the cuts would fall the hardest on the state’s most vulnerable. As for the leaders at the Heritage Foundation, the cuts would fulfill major pillars of the organization’s core mission: Reduce the national debt and the role of government.”

What escapes Craven is that his friends on the Left have no idea whatever about how to curb the rapidly rising national debt, at least beyond confiscating as much of the wealth of the unworthy rich as possible before they move away.

The ratio of Federal debt owed to the public – now approaching $20 Trillion – to Gross Domestic Product went from 63% at Obama’s inauguration to 105% today – well past the danger benchmark for governments heading toward insolvency.

To borrow a term from the terror-stricken Left, this is completely unsustainable, as our children and grandchildren are bound to discover, probably sooner than later.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 3 comments }

by John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

Here’s a capsule history of the fitful advance of parental choice in education in Vermont.

1869: The landmark Act 9 allows towns without secondary schools to tuition pupils to public and independent schools.

1990:   The 1869 tuition law is expanded to include grades 1-6.

1997:  In debate over what becomes Act 60, the education finance law, Sen. Jeb Spaulding (D) offers an amendment for full public and non-sectarian independent school choice, with a state-specified tuition amount following the student. It passes 18-12 with the support of Senate President Peter Shumlin (D). The House rejects it in conference.

1998: For the first time ever, the national Gallup poll shows support for school choice, 51-45%. A Vermont Public Radio poll asks “Should parents be allowed to use tax dollars to send their children to religious schools?” Yes 55% , No 34%, Undecided 12%.

1999: Gov. Howard Dean (D) strongly calls for public school choice in a message to the legislature.

2000: The legislature uncomfortably enacts Act 150, a highly restrictive high school student exchange experiment so far removed from real school choice that leading choice advocates decline to support it.

2001: The Ethan Allen Institute offers the first comprehensive parental choice and provider competition plan, called “Schoolchildren First.” (Sen. Shumlin joins a hastily union-arranged news conference to denounce it.)

2002: The Republican House passes a public-school-only choice bill (72-67). The Democratic majority buries it in the Senate. In June, the US Supreme Court rules that vouchers used by Cleveland parents at faith-based schools are constitutional.

2003: New Republican Governor Jim Douglas calls for expanding public school choice.

2004: Douglas renews his call. For the first time the State Board of Education unanimously endorses the concept of universal public school choice.

2010: Commissioner Armando Vilaseca launches a persistent attack on independent schools receiving tuition voucher payments.

2012: Act 129 repeals the failed public high school regional choice act of 2000, but replaces it with a similar measure that requires no payment of tuition by the sending school district.

2015: Forced consolidation (Act 46) and controversial State Board of Education rules threaten to end choice in tuition towns.

2016: State Board of Education launches a new attack on independent schools receiving tuition vouchers. Initially thwarted by the Interagency Committee on Rules, the battle continues.

A week before his election as governor, Phil Scott (R) says that “new rules proposed by the State Board of Education would undermine the rights of towns and parents, and weaken local and regional economies.”  Scott called on the State Board of Education “to withdraw and rewrite the rules to preserve and strengthen choices for parents.”

Now we’re up to 2017. The battle over the fate of tuition town choice in new unified districts has yet to be settled (except in the new NEK Choice District, composed of ten K-12 tuition towns.) Nor has the issue of the State Board’s imposition of deliberately crippling, and potentially lethal, requirements on independent schools that accept tuition students.

But a new bill sponsored by Reps. Vicki Strong Mike Hebert and thirty co-sponsors offers a modest step forward. (H. 450).

Their bill would amend Act 129 of 2012 to expand public school choice options to all students in grades K-12. It would “require the student’s school district of residence to permit the student…to transfer to any other public school in the State that provides an academic course, sports program, officially sponsored extracurricular activity, or service that is offered at the other public school but not at the public school of the student’s district of residence, and by requiring the other public school to accept the student (unless there is no physical capacity to accept the student).  The school district of residence would pay [an unspecified amount of] tuition to the receiving school district.”

This isn’t the full-bore parental choice that many have sought for so many years, but it pushes the door a little further open for kids to depart their local public school to an educational environment better suited to their needs, interests, and abilities.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).

{ 0 comments }

By Guy Page

The advantage to Vermonters of the sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar can be summed up this way: sooner rather than later.

As early as 2021, NorthStar, would begin a decade’s worth of decommissioning. By comparison, the original decommissioning plan as prescribed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would begin no sooner than about 20 years from now, and more likely around 2072.

This advanced schedule means that sooner rather than later, NorthStar’s plan can stimulate broad-based employment and prosperity for retail, food and lodging, housing, and healthcare sectors, as well as government spending on schools, roads, public safety and other vital services in Windham County and throughout the state. Total estimated economic impact: $781 million [Brattle Group study, 12/15/2016].

During regular operations, Vermont Yankee employed over 600 professionals in good-paying jobs. For a five-year period, NorthStar decommissioning will add approximately 1,000 jobs (onsite jobs and secondary spending combined) per year to the local and state economies.

Notably, the funding for decommissioning won’t come from local or state taxpayers, but from the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Trust Fund, with more than $550 million in asset value. Properly managed with the oversight of the NRC as it has been to date, it will fund the entire decommissioning project, and the funds will begin to be unlocked much sooner with NorthStar.

Decommissioning is NorthStar’s core competency as an ongoing business. It has helped decommission more than 300 related projects, including four nuclear power plants in New England. NorthStar has also conducted NRC-approved decommissionings from start to finish for several nuclear reactors at universities and other institutions.

Before it can begin the work, NorthStar must pass the scrutiny of both the Vermont Public Service Board and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The PSB has already opened a docket on the case, and has invited public input through the submission of comments online or through public testimony at two anticipated public meetings this year.

The NorthStar sale also would mean that sooner rather than later, low-level radioactive waste will be safely shipped out-of-state. NorthStar‘s plan to move this material out of state pre-processing – known in the industry as “rip and ship” – will get low-level waste out of Vermont promptly. This removal by no later than 2030 compared to up to 60 years is most welcome. Also, NorthStar proposes to build an eight MW solar farm onsite as soon as 2026, according to the Brattle Group study.

The NorthStar sale would also mean that Vernon, the rest of Windham County, and the State of Vermont can benefit from the presence of a new employer on the Vermont Yankee site. This employer – possibly an energy producer or computer data center, for example– will mean, high-quality employment, with the resulting private and public sector economic benefits.

Perhaps even more important for Windham County and Vermont, a strong, good-paying employer can help create an attractive atmosphere to attract more jobs. Economic development experts say the big problem with Vermont is that not enough high-demand managers, engineers, and IT professionals want to live here – at least, not outside of Chittenden County.

Our cultural, educational, medical and other “quality of life” resources pale in comparison to many other states. This reality may hurt our Green Mountain pride, but many people prefer the lifestyle in places such as Chapel Hill or Austin.

A large, blue-chip employer is a quality-of-life cornucopia: from it will come better schools, more arts, and more attractive neighborhoods. If we want Windham County and Vermont to draw highly-skilled young Vermonters or transplants, we must cultivate employers who will provide economic opportunity for us, our children, and our grandchildren.

Here is a winning scenario for Vermont—the sale of VY to Northstar and a speedy transition to start decommissioning the site. Let’s embrace the opportunity to advance the timeline for the plant’s decommissioning. It will provide much greater benefits much sooner, and that’s a good thing for Vermont.

- Guy Page is the Communications Director of the Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition of businesses, trade and industry groups, not-for-profit organizations, labor unions and individuals committed to clean, safe, affordable and reliable power policy in Vermont. Entergy-Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.

{ 0 comments }

By Rob RoperRob Roper

Vermont has been actively expanding taxpayer funded universal Pre-K since 2007 (Act 62). The claims back then and the claims today haven’t changed. Advocates promise that in the long run, these programs will prove great for kids and taxpayers! But ten years later, as we’re looking at an even more dramatic and expensive expansion of these programs, we have to ask if what we’ve done so far has lived up to the hype.

At a recent meeting of the House Education Committee, chairman David Sharpe (D-Bristol) noted that there has been, among other issues, an increase in number of disruptive students in the classroom. This prompted him to inquire, “I applaud your [Pre-K advocates] efforts,” said Sharpe, “but are we creating these agencies to replace parents because we’ve created a culture where mom and dad get up every day and go do work and aren’t a part of their kids’ lives? Did we create this problem by creating a culture where children are without parents for so much of their life?”

Yes!

It’s easy to buy into the pro-pre-k hype. It sounds so wonderful. The Blue Ribbon Commission for Affordable Child Care is the latest to parrot the promise that “Every dollar spent on high-quality early care and learning programs yields a return on investment that ranges from $4 – $9.” Who wouldn’t want that? But this is, in the vernacular of the day, fake news.

The Blue Ribbon study making this claim (as well as everybody else) cites in a footnote the Center on the Developing Child (2009), which in turn cites three original studies: The High Scope/Perry Preschool Project, the Abecedarian Project, and the Nurse Family Partnership.

But here’s the catch: These studies have absolutely zero relationship to the programs being proposed in Vermont, nor did they serve populations even remotely similar to those that Vermont’s programs serve. To state or imply that Vermont pre-k programs would yield similar results is flat out dishonest.

For example, the Perry Preschool Project only involved 123 (just 58 of whom received services, 65 were in the control group) African American kids from economically disadvantaged households, at “high risk for school failure,” with IQs between 70 and 85. It is dishonest to imply that mainstream Vermont kids in a less intensive, universal program like the one we have in Vermont would respond in the same way.

Similarly, the Abecedarian study was limited to 111 kids, 57 of whom received services. Again, these were all kids identified as being “high risk” based on family income, etc. and the program was birth to five, 6-8 hours a day five days a week with a child teacher ratio of 1:3 to 1:6 – nothing remotely resembling the universal, 10 hour a week program for 3-4 year olds we have in Vermont!

The Nurse Family Partnership isn’t even an early childhood education program, it’s home healthcare program.

As the High Scope website specifically cautions: “The findings of the High/Scope Perry Preschool study and similar studies would apply ONLY [emphasis added] to children served by these programs who are reasonably similar to children living in poverty or otherwise at risk of school failure. (Pg.13) Therefore, when our politicians, advocates and educators use these studies to justify investment universal early education programs for a majority of mainstream kids – and when our media reports these claims without challenge – they are all, at best, misleading the public.

Meanwhile, relevant studies of programs of similar size and scope to those Vermont is implementing do not show meaningful benefit to kids, and one even indicates possible harm.

Vanderbilt University recently evaluated Tennessee’s Pre-K program (3000+ subjects) and found that students who attended the state’s pre-k program did worse by third grade than students who had been denied access to the program via lottery.

Similarly, the Head Start Impact Study (5000 subjects) done by the U.S. Agency for Health & Human Services finds, “the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of first grade.”

Vermont has been expanding universal preschool programs in earnest for a decade. Since then, the classes of fourth graders who have matriculated through the system having had greater access to “high quality” early education have seen their standardized test scores DROP. The data doesn’t exist (or I’m unaware of it) to determine if this is causal or coincidental, but it is certainly worth serious investigation before we pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a program that may be doing more harm than good.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe. 

{ 3 comments }

by Rob Roper 

Talk about a rocket ship blowing up on the launch pad! Yesterday the seven week political drama of the Orange 1, Frenier/Hatch election recounts came to an abrupt and embarrassing end for the Democrats and Progressives who insisted on making this a thing.

After wasting nearly half of the legislative session, creating a tremendous amount of bad blood between Republicans and Democrats, insulting Town Clerks throughout Vermont, defying the judicial branch and the Secretary of State’s office — all ostensibly to ensure the people’s confidence in the integrity of elections – the recount was canceled without a single ballot being examined. Why? Because the very people who arrogantly proclaimed we need to take charge because everybody else screwed up… screwed up.

EPIC fail.

And, pretty emblematic of what happens when Montpelier decides they’re here to help.

This was tremendously bad start for the new Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson (D-Hero), who decided the smart way to begin her tenure was with a bogus, highly partisan attempt to swipe an election from the opposition party. And, in doing so, achieved nothing but an expensive PR fiasco.

Rather than reassure Vermonters that our elections are secure, this gang that couldn’t shoot straight created the opposite impression. Are there issues with the way we count votes? We don’t know if the problems our erstwhile legislators cited really exist because they botched the exercise to find out. And if anyone had confidence in our elected officials to be fair and competent overseers of this process, well that misperception has been obliterated.

So, what needs to be fixed next? They’re from Montpelier, and they’re here to help!

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 7 comments }

by John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—As a North Korean medium range Pukguksong missile arched across the sky landing menacingly in the Sea of Japan, the intended political target of the nuclear capable rocket was the visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States. The rash gambit by the quaintly titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) failed in its intended mission; the USA and Japan reaffirmed their friendship and defense solidarity and the Trump Administration reacted with a cool and measured response to Pyongyang’s provocation.

President Donald Trump proclaimed the U.S./Japan alliance as a “cornerstone of peace in the Pacific” and later spoke of Japan as “an important and steadfast ally.” The President stressed he was committed to closer bilateral ties with one of America’s largest trading partners, during what the Wall Street Journal described as a “strikingly friendly summit.”

Such sentiments smoothed over Trump’s campaign statements regarding Japan which hinted that the close post-war ties between Tokyo and Washington were under review.

Days later, while Abe and Trump were visiting the President’s Florida “southern White House” and playing a round of golf, which in Japan is viewed as a bonding deal making gesture, the North Koreans fired off the missile. President Trump offered a brief but measured statement that “The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”

Bill Richardson, a former Bill Clinton era UN Ambassador and diplomatic trouble shooter to North Korea, told CNN that he thought President Trump’s statement “was an appropriate message, it was measured and did not overreact.” Richardson added that North Korea was testing the new Administration and that Trump’s comment “keeps options on the table.”

In an emergency closed door meeting, the UN Security Council again took up the challenge of North Korea’s missile proliferation. “The members of the Security Council strongly condemned the most recent ballistic missile launches conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The statement added that the recent tests were in direct violation of four separate Council resolutions since 2006.

The fifteen-member Council reiterated that North Korea shall “refrain from further actions, including nuclear tests, in violation of Security Council resolutions.” Pyongyang carried out its fifth nuclear test in September 2016. Communist North Korea is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century.

Significantly we have entered the period 16 February-15 April, the Loyalty Festival in which North Korea’s communists celebrate and commemorate the births of the dictatorship’s founding fathers, Kim Il-sung on 15 April and his son Kim Jong-il on 16 February.

Numerology plays a key role in the reclusive Red Oz of North Korea and surprising events often occur.

During this period the DPRK may try yet another missile launch or nuclear test. On the eve of the festival, Kim Jong-nam the estranged half brother of current leader Kim Jong-un was mysteriously murdered in Malaysia. Though the eldest first born son of Kim Jong-il lived in exile in Chinese controlled Macau, he was often viewed to be a potential successor to the current Pyongyang leadership.

The real issue becomes whether Beijing is merely enduring the erratic rule of Kim Jong-un or wishes to reestablish China’s historic big brother protection/hegemony over the Korean peninsula.

Equally the drama is being played out to the backdrop of a complex political crisis in South Korea whose democracy was rattled by the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and a pending presidential election later this year.

Kim Jong-un has carried out bloody purges killing at least 340 senior officials in both the Party and Military. Analysts feel that Kim Jong nam’s untimely demise in Malaysia was no coincidence and likely linked to his young brother.

Purges focus on power consolidation and thwarting further embarrassing defections.

Seoul’s respected Korea Times stated editorially, “This leaves open the possibility that Pyongyang might unleash provocations at any time, and the North’s nuclear and missile threats are never a bluff.”

Naturally the bigger picture emerges how will Washington react to the brewing crisis? The Trump Administration has initiated a North Korea policy review. The Wall Street Journal added editorially, “Regardless of how or why Kim Jong-nam was killed, the U.S. and its allies need plans to handle a Pyongyang palace coup as well as a nuclear assault. ”

The Trump administration’s strategic ambiguity is wise not to announce plans. As the president said, “I’m not going to tell you what we’ll do with North Korea. They shouldn’t know.”

- John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations Germany, Korea, China.

{ 1 comment }

by Rob Roper

I recall a story of Roman history in which a power hungry prefect manufactured a food shortage in the city in order to rile farside-agw-brickup the citizens against his rival. The same strategy is at work in Vermont regarding childcare. The State and its allies in the public education “blob” are manufacturing a child care crisis in order to take control of children aged 0-5.

The Burlington Free Press reports that Vermont has lost 500 childcare over the past year due to new regulations passed in 2016. According to the article.

Vermont lost home-based child care programs about twice as fast after new regulations were announced…. The state lost 91 programs from May to November, while 40 new programs opened. The net loss of 51 programs represents as many as 500 slots for kids.

Odd policy to implement if you believe parents are facing a childcare access crisis. You’d think Montpelier would make it easier, not harder to impossible, for childcare providers to stay in business or expand. But no. This is the Roman “fake famine” strategy at work.

Parents who cannot find childcare spaces for their kids will now holler that “something needs to be done!” The state, authors of the crisis, will swoop in and “fix” the problem with copious amounts of tax dollars, sweeping mandates, and a consolidation of power. Their ultimate goal is to subsume control over all kids 0-5 into the public education system.

This will cost taxpayers a fortune – an estimated $850 million per year — eradicate several hundred small businesses in the process, and likely do great harm to our kids and culture. The time to stop this is now. (Really yesterday, but now will have to suffice.)

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 5 comments }

by Rob Roper

This is how desperate Montpelier is for money: the House Natural Resources Committee is seriously discussing a 5 cent per pound excise tax on coffee. If you’re willing come between Vermonters and our morning coffee – here in the land of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Vermont Coffee Company, and a host of other craft roasting businesses — you must be really desperate for that nickel. It’s safer to get between a mama bear and her cub!

The tax would ostensibly be used to help clean up Lake Champlain, and was justified by David Deen (D-Westminster) because,

According to Deen, wastewater treatment plants are unable to treat urine affected by coffee, because it contains caffeine, so the untreated urine eventually ends up in waterways. Deen said coffee has become “a compound of emerging concern.” (VT Digger, 2/14/17 )

I quoted that directly primarily because I have no idea what it means. But I did try to figure it out. And, as stupid as this tax is as a policy on the surface, its even dumber when you dig into it. This article from Nature, Caffeine Tracks Contamination, explains (and here are some quotes):

Caffeine is an ideal chemical indicator to distinguish domestic water flushed down sinks and toilets from agricultural effluent….

Although sewage treatment removes up to 99.9% of it, caffeine is so abundant and chemically stable that it remains detectable.

Caffeine levels provide a rough estimate of the amounts of household wastewater being washed into a lake, says Buerge – and of accompanying impurities such as detergents and solvents. “IT’S A MIRROR [emphasis added] for these kinds of pollution,” he says.

Caffeine is increasingly being used around the world as A MARKER [emphasis added] of water contamination.

I didn’t find anything that said this caffeine was actually causing any harm (about an hour of Googling, so there may be something out there that says otherwise). But its presence – detectible because of its unique chemical properties — is rather ALERTING scientists to the places where genuinely dangerous pollution is occurring. The things that are genuinely harmful, such as pharmaceuticals, raw sewage, phosphorus from detergents, etc., are for some reason immune from taxation by Rep. Deen and his colleagues. Great thinking!

So, when you pee out our morning coffee do so proudly because you are performing a public service, helping scientists to detect real polution in our waterways. Personally, I think we should be able to write off 5 cents a cup on our taxes as compensation for this important scientific contribution to the monitoring our water quality.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 3 comments }

by John McClaughry

What to do about Medicaid is a recurring question in Washington and Montpelier. Fortunately, there’s a solution. It’s called Healthy Indiana.

Prof. Regina Herzlinger of Harvard Business School explained its success this week. Each acute care Medicaid beneficiary buys a high deductible major medical health care plan, with state funding, and then pays normal health expenses from a health savings account, called a Power Account, which is also partly state funded.

Herzlinger cities the research findings: “Comparing enrollees who used health savings accounts with those who didn’t,  showed that the former used more primary and preventive care, adhered better to their drug regimens, missed fewer appointments and showed up less frequently at the emergency room.”

“Although Indiana’s “basic” traditional Medicaid was free, those in Healthy Indiana Plan were charged 2% of their income, but did not have to make copayments. If payments weren’t made for six months, they would lose insurance. Yet the program remained popular: 70% of enrollees contributed and 86% described themselves as satisfied, according to a survey from the Lewin Group last summer. As more data are gathered, policy makers can better understand what beneficiaries want and how Medicaid dollars can be efficiently spent to meet their health needs.”

EAI has been advocating this approach here for twenty years or more – but of course, the people running Vermont then and now are so fixated on handing out free stuff that they won’t try anything different.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 2 comments }

by John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

The Vermont legislature is now well into the final chapter of a high-stakes saga that began in 2010. At its center is the phosphorus level in Lake Champlain, especially in St. Albans and Missisquoi Bays.

As a state document explains, “In excessive amounts, phosphorus and associated algal growth can impair recreational uses and aesthetic enjoyment, reduce the quality of drinking water, and alter the biological community. In some cases, algal blooms can produce toxins that harm animals and people.”

In January 2010 the Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.  It claimed that “CLF’s aesthetic, environmental, recreational, and economic interests in enjoying and using Lake Champlain are injured due to the lack of progress toward attainment and maintenance of water quality standards in numerous segments of Lake Champlain resulting in part from the numerous and serious flaws in [EPA’s] review and approval of the Champlain TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) of phosphorus.”

CLF argued that Vermont’s program for reducing phosphorus concentration in the Lake, based on 1991 data, provided “insufficient reasonable assurances” that the phosphorus TMDL standards would be met in the various parts of the Lake.

A year later the Obama EPA agreed to rescind its 2002 approval of Vermont’s water quality improvement plan, leaving Vermont to face possible sanctions on its municipal wastewater plants. That led to a plan issued in January 2013 that the State hoped would satisfy EPA and CLF by reducing phosphorus loading in Lake Champlain by 34% over twenty years.

The 2015 legislature enacted a new Clean Water Act. It expanded state regulatory authority and directed the State Treasurer to come up with some way to pay the price tag: an astonishing $2.3 billion over 20 years. After tapping an expected billion dollars in existing federal and state programs, a $62 million annual gap remains.

The assumption is that taxpayers will have to foot much or most of this bill, rather than the private landowners and businesses that are releasing the phosphorus.

Vermont agriculture produces forty percent of the phosphorus load flowing into Lake Champlain. To meet the EPA requirements, the agricultural sector would need to shrink that flow by 205 metric tons a year.

Will $2.3 billion spent over twenty years achieve this reduction? The Department of Environmental Conservation is quick to point out that much of that huge amount of money will be spent on things other than reducing phosphorus pollution from agricultural lands. That’s true, but it also illustrates how public perception of a problem as a crisis can be used to propel the environmental conservation forward. Let’s review.

CLF sues EPA to get it to require higher TDML standards to reduce phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain. The Obama EPA agrees. It puts out new, stronger requirements, including obligatory recognition of the menace of climate change (more rainfall will erode more sediments, etc.)

The Shumlin administration and its legislative allies enact sweeping new legislation to require more plans, mandates, inspections, rules, site visits, and technical assistance, all by government employees, and of course require penalties for noncompliance and a large tax increase. The state response now races far beyond the original problem – reducing phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain. Now it includes the entire enviro wish list of ecosystem restoration, stormwater management, wastewater treatment, nutrient management, erosion stabilization, buffer zones, highway maintenance, and much more.

This is not to say that those concerns are wrong headed or of little importance. Farms and businesses do need to be helped and prodded to adopt techniques like “Required Agricultural Practices” to reduce the pollution they cause (which, incidentally, originated with aggressive government encouragement fifty years ago).

But a program for “reducing phosphorus pollution in the Lake” has become an all- inclusive environmental improvement program, with a new taxpayer funding source. (Treasurer Pearce favors a per parcel “fee” on land throughout the state, because we all must go “all in” to preserve the recreational and esthetic qualities of mainly St. Albans and Missisquoi bays.)

And throughout this twenty years of  spending and regulation, we will unthinkingly accept the principal cause of that 40% of phosphorus pollution in the Lake: a dairy farm business model that relies heavily on over-fertilized croplands and purchased feed, fed to thousand-cow freestall farms of 20,000 pound producing Holsteins, to produce a commodity product that chronically (to hear many farmers tell it) fails to bring in enough to cover their cost of production, justifying a perpetual procession of subsidies to keep the model afloat?

Isn’t there some more sensible way to preserve Vermont’s independent dairy farms, without channeling all that phosphorus into watercourses? Like, for instance, cutting back on heavy feed and fertilizer in favor of more regenerative grass-based dairying? Or extracting phosphorus from the manure stream (as described in the Treasurer’s report), selling it as struvite, and making dewatered manure logs into boiler fuel? Just thinking out loud.

– John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org)

 

{ 2 comments }

About Us

The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.
Read more...

Latest News

State House Headliners

By Guy Page Republished with permission from Page Communications.  H170, legalized possession of an ounce of marijuana and two adult and five juvenile plants, was approved by the House Judiciary...

Roll Call! House Votes to Allow Confiscation of Firearms If There Are Allegations of Domestic Abuse

  . H.422 – AN ACT RELATING TO REMOVAL OF FIREARMS FROM A PERSON ARRESTED OR CITED FOR DOMESTIC ASSAULT.  . PASSED in the State House of Representatives...

The State: We Can’t Afford To Pay, But You Can!

by Rob Roper The funding mechanism for the Paid Family Leave bill (H. 196) is a 0.93% payroll tax, which would raise about $80 million. The original language...

National Institute of Health Boondoggles

by John McClaughry President Trump wants to cut $6 billion from the budget of the National Institutes of Health, and the medical community is screaming. Certainly the NIH does...

Crossover Overview: Where Key Bills Stand

By Guy Page Like baby sea turtles marching slowly across the beach by their thousands to temporary safety, a minority of the hundreds of bills introduced into the...

Video