June 19, 2020

by John McClaughry

The New England Ratepayers Association has petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to assert exclusive jurisdiction over the net metering subsidy program in Vermont and forty other states..

A supportive brief filed by the Heartland Institute explains that net metering laws require utilities to purchase excess electricity from households that have their own electricity generation source. In Vermont utilities must pay full retail price for these electricity purchases. Usually these generation sources are rooftop solar panels.

Utilities typically buy electricity wholesale or generate it on their own. As a result, the power utilities purchase from “distributed-generation” like roof-top solar panels, as opposed to centralized large power plants providing power for many customers, costs them more. Utilities then pass on these costs to other ratepayers in the form of higher prices.

In addition, managing power from rooftop solar sources and other distributed sources connected to the grid requires special equipment to regulate electricity flowing two ways. The costs of installing and maintaining this equipment under net metering laws are paid by ratepayers in general rather than the customers or companies who have installed or operate distributed generation sources. Such cost-shifting is regressive, because rooftop-solar owners have generally higher incomes than others, so lower-income ratepayers end up subsidizing higher-income customers.

The bottom line here is that the state should stop subsidizing upscale rooftop solar owners by making everybody else Py those extra costs.. I’ve been arguing for that for a long time.

— John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 17, 2020

by Rob Roper

The latest Vermont standardized test scores are out, and the results are not good, especially for students who have been “historically marginalized.” This is nothing new. The “achievement gap” has been persistent for decades.

In 2017, when these numbers came out, then Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb stated, “The achievement gaps between our vulnerable youth and students with greater privilege remain….”

Cut and paste from 2016 when she said, “Our most vulnerable youth- those living in poverty, with disabilities, from marginalized populations and who speak English as a second – continue to have test scores that are on average lower than our general population.”

Cut and paste from Holcomb’s predecessor, Armando Vilaseca, who said when he left office in 2013: “I am particularly concerned that we still have not made major progress in closing the achievement gap for students living in poverty.” Though it would be more accurate to say that our public school model has not made ANY progress in addressing this issue.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

In a 2015 report titled, Kicked Out! Unfair and Unequal Student Discipline in Vermont’s Public Schools by Vermont Legal Aid reported, “Vermont’s students with disabilities and students of color were two to three times more likely to be excluded from school through suspension and expulsion.”

The “reforms” put in place, designed to bolster a flawed system not alter it (expanding public school oversight to Pre-K, Act 46 consolidations, etc.), clearly are not working and are arguably making the problems worse. As you can see from looking at this year’s posted scores from the Agency of Education…

X.1 ~~~English scale scores~~~ X.2 X.3 ~~~Math scale scores~~~ X.4 X.5
Grade Historically marginalized Not historically marginalized Difference Historically marginalized Not historically marginalized Difference
Grade 3 2394 2459 65 2407 2470 63
Grade 4 2434 2506 72 2446 2507 61
Grade 5 2471 2550 79 2470 2541 71
Grade 6 2491 2568 77 2475 2557 82
Grade 7 2516 2598 82 2497 2582 85
Grade 8 2524 2605 81 2502 2595 93
Grade 9 2528 2616 88 2492 2583 91

… the longer marginalized populations remain in the system the larger the gap grows.

Perhaps it’s time to accept that this is a structural problem with the system. The way we provide education does not work for the most vulnerable in the system, and hasn’t worked for a long time. Forcing any child, especially those from marginalized groups, into a system that, as the evidence repeatedly shows, does not work for them is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

According to a VT Digger article, “Bill Mathis, the managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, said that both the age of the scores, and the fact that they largely reflected longstanding and stubborn achievement gaps, suggested that they offered little insight into what is working or not in Vermont’s schools. ‘The ball game is socio economics,’ said Mathis, who also sits on (but was not speaking for) the State Board of Education. ‘You’re measuring socio economics more so than the quality of the school.’”

In any other context this would be derided as a “dog whistle.”

Stop Police Terror D.C. Project organizer Sean Blackmon said in a June 9 NPR story regarding policing reforms, “We keep seeing a massive investment into the D.C. police even though policing isn’t working. I mean, homicides are going up in Washington, D.C. So, we have to ask ourselves, why does money keep going to an institution, an agency that is clearly not working?”

The same could be said of the Vermont public school system. And should be.

— Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 18, 2020

By David Flemming

On June 11, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance held a webinar to discuss a bill “establish(ing) a task force to study and consider a State apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery. Vermont lawmakers remain SILENT on the matter, despite the national racial unrest.”

VRJA asked attendees of the webinar to read H.478, a bill aptly titled “an act relating to establishing a task force to study and consider a State apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.” It has 6 sponsors:  Rep. Brian Cina (P-Burlington), Rep. Kevin Christie (D-Hartford), Rep. Selene Colburn (D-Burlington), Rep. Harold “Hal” Colston (D-Winooski), Rep. Mari Cordes (D/P-Lincoln), and Rep. Diana Gonzalez (P-Winooski).

H.478 would “recommend (four) appropriate remedies in consideration of the Task Force’s findings on the matters described in this section:”

1. “How the injuries resulting from matters described in this section can be reversed (?) and provide appropriate policies, programs, projects, and recommendations for the purpose of reversing the injuries”

2. “How, in consideration of the Task Force’s findings, any form of compensation to the descendants of enslaved Africans is calculated”

3. “What form of compensation should be awarded, through what instrumentalities, and who (indeed!) should be eligible for such compensation.”

4. “How, in consideration of the Task Force’s findings, any other forms of rehabilitation or restitution to African descendants is warranted and what the form and scope of those measures should take.”

The Task Force would consist of 11 members, 3 appointed by the Governor, 4 by the Senate Committee on Committees, and 4 by the Speaker of the House. “At minimum, 4 appointees shall represent major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice, including the NAACP, Justice For All, and Black Lives Matter.”

It’s no surprise that legislators have “remained silent” the bill, letting it languish in the Government Operations committee since February 27. After all, Governor Scott declared a state of emergency on March 13. Even before Covid-19 wrecked Vermont’s economy, the idea had questionable merit. Now that Black Lives Matter has become a lead headline, the bill is likely to receive renewed consideration.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

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June 12, 2020

By David Flemming

On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate considered a bill for amending the selection process behind the Board of Trustees at the University of Vermont (a public university). One Vermont Senator lambasted the new approach, calling into question why diversity should take precedence over merit to be on the Board.

The UVM board currently has 20 men and 5 women. The bill would create a “State goal” for which the UVM Board would “achieve gender balance by 2025…that the 25 member Board is composed of 12 or 13 members who identify as women.”

Senator Brock (R-Franklin) questioned this thinking (watch Brock’s statement here). “When we fill positions, when we elect people, when we do any other form of selection, we do it on the basis of the best person for the position. We don’t assign them to particular groups and classify them as in effect, fungible, in terms of women, or men, or disabled, or members of minority groups, or by color, or by sexual orientation or anything else. And what this bill does is it does just that.”

Brock continues, “I wonder if we’re going down a very slippery slope in which today we say there should be a certain number of women, on the board regardless of qualifications or over-qualifications.”

He concludes, “next, we’re going to say that we need a certain number of people of color, we need a certain number of people who need to be classified and included because of their sexual orientation. In this particular case, we say a certain number who identify as men, a certain number who identify as women. But we make no mention of people who don’t identify as either or who are transgender. How often do we need to include a definition of what a person is, as opposed to who a person is?”

And that really is just the point. Positions such as those on the UVM board should not be looked upon as checking off a box to fill a position. This is even more true in the aftermath of Covid-19. UVM just recently cut salaries and is facing the prospect of paying “$8.7 million in pandemic-related expenses.” UVM needs the very best Board members with the most creative ability to balance the needs of its students while preserving its reputation as one of the best research universities in the country.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

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S.348 – AN ACT RELATING TO TEMPORARY ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE YEAR 2020, MYERS AMENDMENT

FAILED
in the State House of Representatives
on June 10, 2020, by a vote of
50-95

Purpose: The underlying bill, S.348, would remove the Governor from the decision making process of how to conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearing the way to allow for a process in which “live” absentee ballots would be mailed to all registered voters on the statewide checklist, regardless of a request (roughly 500,000 ballots). The purpose of the Myers Amendment is to, under these circumstances, discourage the practice of “ballot harvesting,” a controversial practice in which campaign operatives and/or activists collect ballots from voters, often resulting in undo influence over voters, fraudulent filling out of ballots, and destruction of ballots. The key language in the amendment reads, “An early voter absentee ballot may be returned only by the voter; the justices of the peace who delivered the ballot, if applicable; or an authorized family member or caregiver acting in the voter’s behalf,” as well as defining criminal penalties if violated and mandates a civil investigation if there is reason to suspect this kind of fraud is occurring.

Analysis: Mailing live ballots to 500,000 addresses for an election in which roughly 300,000 Vermonters are expected to vote will create a situation where 200,000 unclaimed/unwanted ballots are in circulation for anyone to collect, fraudulently fill out, and submit.

Those voting YES on the bill believe that with the unprecedented action in Vermont of mailing ballots to voters who did not request them, knowing that tens of thousands of names and addresses on the statewide voter checklist are invalid, people having died or moved away, and examples of “ballot harvesting” fraud occurring in other states, specific safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this from happening in Vermont.

Those voting NO argue “ballot harvesting” should not be prohibited in Vermont, and the practice will not lead to fraud.  


As Recorded in the House Journal, June 10, 2020: “…Shall the House propose to the Senate to amend the bill as offered by Rep. Myers and others? was decided in the negative. Yeas, 50. Nays, 95. (Read the Journal, p. 1160-1162). Watch the floor debate on YouTube.

Related: 
Roll Call! Senate Removes Governor from “All-Mail Election” Decision, 21-7 (2020)
Roll Call! Senate Blocks Measure to Prohibit “Ballot Harvesting” (5-24), 2020

How They Voted
(Click on your Rep’s name to send an email)

Janet Ancel (D – Calais) – NO
Peter Anthony (D – Barre) – NO
Sarita Austin (D – Colchester) – NO
Robert Bancroft (R – Westford) – YES
John Bartholomew (D – Hartland) – NO
Lynn Batchelor (R – Derby) – YES
Christopher Bates (D – Bennington) – YES
Scott Beck (R – St. Johnsbury) – YES
Matthew Birong (D – Vergennes) – NO
Thomas Bock (D – Chester) – NO
Patrick Brennan (R – Colchester) – YES
Timothy Briglin (D – Thetford) – NO
Nelson Brownell (D – Pownal) – NO
Cynthia Browning (D – Arlington) – YES
Jessica Brumsted (D – Shelburne) – NO
Thomas Burditt (R – West Rutland) – YES
Mollie Burke (P – Brattleboro) – NO
Scott Campbell (D – St. Johnsbury) – NO
William Canfield (R – Fair Haven) – YES
James Carroll (D – Bennington) – YES
Seth Chase (D – Colchester) – NO
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P – Middletown Springs) – NO
Annmarie Christensen (D – Weathersfield) – NO
Kevin “Coach” Christie (D – Hartford) – NO
Brian Cina (P – Burlington) – NO
Sara Coffey (D – Guilford) – NO
Selene Colburn (P – Burlington) – NO
Hal Colston (D – Winooski) – NO
Peter Conlon (D – Cornwall) – NO
Charles Conquest (D – Newbury) – NO
Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D – Bradford) – NO
Timothy Corcoran (D – Bennington) – YES
Mari Cordes (D/P – Lincoln) – NO
Lawrence Cupoli (R – Rutland) – YES
Carl Demrow (D – Corinth) – YES
Eileen Dickinson (R – St. Albans) – YES
Kari Dolan (D – Waitsfield) – NO
Anne Donahue (R – Northfield) – YES
Johannah Donovan (D – Burlington) – NO
David Durfee (D – Shaftsbury) – NO
Caleb Elder (D – Starksboro) – NO
Alice Emmons (D – Springfield) – NO
Peter Fagan (R – Rutland) – YES
Charen Fegard (D – Berkshire) – NO
Martha Feltus (R – Lyndon) – YES
Marianna Gamache (R – Swanton) – YES
John Gannnon (D – Wilmington) – NO
Marcia Gardner (D – Richmond) – NO
Dylan Giambatista (D – Essex) – NO
Diana Gonzalez (P – Wioski) – NO
Kenneth Goslant (R – Northfield) – YES
Maxine Grad (D – Moretown) – NO
Rodney Graham (R – Williamstown) – ABSENT
James Gregoire (R – Fairfield) – YES
Sandy Haas (P – Rochester) – NO
Lisa Hango (R – Birkshire) – YES
James Harrison (R – Chittenden) – YES
Nader Hashim (D – Dummerston) – NO
Robert Helm (R – Fair Haven) – YES
Mark Higley (R – Lowell) – YES
Matthew Hill (D – Wolcott) – ABSENT
Robert Hooper (D – Burlington) – NO
Philip Hooper (D – Randolph) – NO
Mary Hooper (D – Montpelier) – NO
Lori Houghton (D – Essex) – NO
Mary Howard (D – Rutland) – NO
Kathleen James (D – Manchester) – NO
Stephanie Jerome (D – Brandon) – NO
Kimberly Jessup (D – Middlesex) – NO
Mitzi Johnson (D – Grand Isle) – PRESIDING
John Killacky (D – S. Burlington) – NO
Charles Kimbell (D – Woodstock) – NO
Warren Kitzmiller (D – Montpelier) – ABSENT
Emilie Kornheiser (D – Brattleboro) – NO
Jill Krowinski (D – Burlington) – NO
Robert LaClair (R – Barre) – YES
Martin LaLonde (D – S. Burlington) – NO
Diane Lanpher (D – Vergennes) – NO
Paul Lefebvre (R – Newark) – YES
Felisha Leffler (R – Esburgh) – YES
William Lippert (D – Hinesburg) – NO
Emily Long (D – Newfane) – NO
Terence Macaig (D – Williston) – NO
Michael Marcotte (R – Coventry) – YES
Marcia Martel (R – Waterford) – YES
James Masland (D – Thetford) – NO
Christopher Mattos (R – Milton) – YES
Michael McCarthy (D – St. Albans) – NO
Curtis McCormack (D – Burlington) – NO
Patricia McCoy (R – Poultney) – YES
James McCullough (D – Williston) – NO
Francis McFaun (R – Barre) – YES
Leland Morgan (R – Milton) – NO
Kristi Morris (D – Springfield) – NO
Mary Morrissey (R – Bennington) – YES
Michael Mrowicki (D – Putney) – NO
Barbara Murphy (I – Fairfax) – NO
Linda Myers (R – Essex) – YES
Logan Nicoll (D – Ludlow) – NO
Terry Norris (I – Shoreham) – YES
William Notte (D – Rutland) – NO
Daniel Noyes (D – Wolcott) – NO
John O’Brien (D – Tunbridge) – NO
Jean O’Sullivan (D – Burlington) – NO
Carol Ode (D – Burlington) – NO
“Woody” Page (R – Newport) – YES
Kelly Pajala (I – Londonderry) – NO
John Palasik (R – Milton) – YES
Carolyn Partridge (D – Windham) – NO
Avram Patt (D – Worcester) – NO
David Potter (D – Clarendon) – YES
Ann Pugh (D – S. Burlington) – NO
Constance Quimby (R – Concord) – YES
Barbara Rachelson (D – Burlington) – NO
Zachariah Ralph (P – Hartland) – NO
Marybeth Redmond (D – Essex) – NO
Peter Reed (I – Braintree) – NO
Lucy Rogers (D – Waterville) – NO
Carl Rosenquist (R – Georgia) – YES
Brian Savage (R – Swanton) – YES
Robin Scheu (D – Middlebury) – NO
Heidi Scheuermann (R – Stowe) – YES
Patrick Seymour (R – Sutton) – YES
Charles “Butch” Shaw (R – Pittsford) – YES
Amy Sheldon (D – Middlebury) – NO
Laura Sibilia (I – Dover) – NO
Brian Smith (R – Derby) – YES
Harvey Smith (R – New Haven) – YES
Trevor Squirrell (D – Underhill) – NO
Thomas Stevens (D – Waterbury) – NO
Vicki Strong (R – Albany) – YES
Linda Joy Sullivan (D – Dorset) – YES
Mary Sullivan (D – Burlington) – NO
Randall Szott (D – Barnard) – NO
Curt Taylor (D – Colchester) – NO
Thomas Terenzini (R – Rutland) – YES
George Till (D – Jericho) – ABSENT
Tristan Toleno (D – Brattleboro) – NO
Catherine Toll (D – Danville) – NO
Casey Toof (R – St. Albans) – YES
Maida Townsend (D – South) – NO
Joseph “Chip” Troiano (D – Stannard) – NO
Kelly Cota-Tulley (D – Rockingham) — NO
Tommy Walz (D – Barre) – NO
Kathryn Webb (D – Shelburne) – NO
Rebecca White (D – Hartford) – NO
Theresa Wood (D – Waterbury) – NO
David Yacovone (D – Morristown) – NO
Michael Yantachka (D – Charlotte) – NO
Samuel Young (D – Greensboro) – NO

SEE MORE ROLL CALL VOTES
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June 11, 2020

by Rob Roper

Correction: The Mad River Barn contacted us and asked us to make clear that they are not closing. One partner in the business is leaving for Florida, but the other is trying to restructure the business to keep it going in this difficult health and legislative environment. We apologize for the error.

A sad story in the Valley Reporter tells of the closure of an iconic local business tells of the difficult challenges forcing major changes at an iconic local business, The Mad River Barn in Fayston, and one owner’s intention to leave Vermont for more business friendly Florida. While the COVID-19 economic shutdown was the last straw for the inn/restaurant/wedding venue, it was not the only straw.

As the Valley Reporter states regarding owners Heather Brown and Andy Lynds:  

Brown said that the impact of the political climate in Vermont on their ability to run a successful business was significant. She cited a minimum wage law that increased front-of-the-house hourly wages by 50 percent which means that front-of-the-house workers (receiving tips) are earning an average of $49 an hour which can’t be shared with back-of-the-house employees.

“That’s one reason why Vermont has not turned out to be a good place for us. The Legislature doesn’t understand the reality of running a business and thinks that business is bad and that business owners are bad,” she said.

“Those kinds of things should be considered in policies and they’re not, which have catastrophic downstream conditions.”

Yes, these things should be considered, and no they are not. Instead, rather than exploring ways to help businesses such as the Mad River Barn succeed, our legislators are now working on a bill make it illegal for them to provide their guests with shampoo, conditioner, etc. in mini-plastic bottles. So, you can understand why business owners are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Vermont.

If we want our state to successfully emerge from this COVID-19 recession, the priorities of the legislature as well as its overall attitude will need to change.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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June 9, 2020

by John McClaughry

Stowe businessman and columnist Tom Evslin, in his blog called Fractals of Change, wrote on Monday that the Global Warming Solutions Act, that passed the House back in February and is now before the Senate, has “huge implications for Vermont and Vermonters. It will almost certainly raise energy costs. It establishes a new unelected commission to set energy policy. It allows anyone to sue the state for any real or perceived lack of anti-carbon action.”

“Even if you like the bill, it needs work. It’s full of internal inconsistencies. It’s ambiguous on whether plants removing carbon from the atmosphere counts towards the State’s carbon goal. It’s an unprecedented (and perhaps unconstitutional) abdication of legislative responsibility. Certainly one would want the Senate to consider the implications of this bill in a state which was at full employment when the bill passed the House and now has historic unemployment and lines for food handouts.

“The more important you think the Global Warming Solutions Act  is, the less you should want it rushed. We don’t know what emissions will look like next year. We don’t know how vulnerable we will be to further pandemic. We don’t know if we’ll be dealing with an influx of urban escapees or exodus of the unemployed. We must focus on this year’s priorities. Hopefully we will deal with them well enough (and be lucky enough) to consider our next steps on global warming next year.”

Amen to that, Tom.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 8, 2020

by Rob Roper

In a spectacular example of fiddling while Vermont burns, the Senate Finance Committee voted 6-1 to advance a bill, S.227, to “to prohibit the provision by lodging establishments of personal use products in small plastic bottles.” This directive would come as Vermont’s hotels and bed and breakfasts, a huge part of Vermont’s critical tourism industry, have been decimated by the COVID-19 prevention measures.

Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) had this to say about it:

“Why are we doing this? Well, one of the things we heard is because the large hotel companies are already going in that direction. And they may be. So that again is my point of why do we have to legislate it if it’s something they’re already doing? Well, perhaps the reason we have to legislate it is they want us to force everybody else to do it. But, it’s in their competitive interest to do it that way. Not necessarily in the public interest. And as we look at what the public interest is here… we ought to be focused on issues that really matter at this point. Why are we spending the hours that we’re spending on dealing with tiny little bottles? To prohibit people from using them, but still making them available at the desk if anybody wants them, and then making it effective three years from now. That to me doesn’t make any sense. I look at what we’re supposed to do in this body, and I’m saying, yeah, the public will look at this and laugh at us. And they ought to!” (Video: 48:08-49:25)

Though other members of the committee expressed some reservations about the timing of the bill, and recognized the poor optics of passing it — Sens. Pearson (P-Chittenden), Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) and Cummings (D-Washington) — none but Brock, in the end, voted against it.

This bill impacts an industry that is, as one of the senators noted, “struggling for its existence.” Any added regulation, any added cost to doing business at this point is nothing less than cruel. So why would six out of seven senators do this? VPIRG is “bombarding” legislators with form letters demanding that S.227 be made law, so…. Hopefully the full senate and/or the House will apply more common sense and empathy should it get that far.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 5, 2020

By David Flemming

All of Vermont’s counties have been hit hard by unemployment after Covid-19 restrictions came into play in March. But some have been less impacted than others.

Orleans has had the “least worst change” going from 4.6% unemployment March 14 to 21.6% on May 23

Most of Vermont was doing pretty well unemployment wise before the crisis, with 12 of the 14 counties sporting unemployment rates below 4.0%. Fast forward to May 23,and the story is very different. Only two counties had unemployment rates below 20.0%- Franklin and Orange, at 19.8%. The other 12 counties were all in the low twenties, topping out at Lamoille’s 24.7% unemployment rate.

Before the virus hit, Chittenden had the lowest unemployment rate in Vermont. Now, it has fallen to the middle of the pack at 8th highest, with a whopping 21.6% unemployment.

I am curious to see how these trends will impact Vermont’s labor force after the Covid-19 restrictions are lessened. Vermont’s industries are not evenly spread out across the state. And some are more easily able to adapt than others. Tourism is the least flexible industry, simply because it requires a free movement of people to be sustainable, which seems highly unlikely in the near term.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 5, 2020

by John McClaughry

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee is creeping forward with the House-passed Global Warming Solutions Act. This is the legislative atrocity that would instruct the Agency of Natural Resources to do anything necessary to achieve carbon dioxide emissions goals that are almost certainly impossible of achievement  – all without any legislator ever voting on them. 

One particularly repugnant section would let any climate warrior organization sue the State government to get a judge to demand that the sweeping emissions rules be implemented further. Here’s what the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had to say about that:

“We oppose the section providing a Cause of Action to any person based upon the failure to adopt or update the plan or rules. In January we testified that our experience with the law suits surrounding the Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load was that a tremendous amount of money was spent on lawyers and lawsuits that could have been spent on implementing projects to address the problem. For seven years while cases were adjudicated, the regulated community waited to be told what exactly they would be required to do. No one wanted to spend vast sums of money to address stormwater management when there was no assurance that what they did would be acceptable or adequate.”

This bill is designed to feed climate change lawyers, and send the bill to taxpayers. It’s high time to scrap the whole sorry thing.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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