Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vermont Environmental & Land Use Law, December 20, 2011

photo by cudmore on Flickr

Shumlin releases final, “scrubbed” version of Comprehensive Energy Plan, vtdigger.org
Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan is final. But that’s just the beginning. With the official goal of meeting 90 percent of the states energy needs from renewable sources by mid-century, meeting that ambitious target is the hard part.

The state currently receives about 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Despite a legislative mandate, it has been more than a decade since the state produced a comprehensive energy plan. Now, three months, thousands of comments and more than 18 meetings later, the final version is out.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz and Commissioner of the Department of Public Service Elizabeth Miller fielded questions on the more contentious recommendations in the plan.

Shumlin emphasized the importance of shifting to a more diverse portfolio of renewable sources of energy. He accented the importance of creating more “green” jobs in the state.

Irene rains on Vermont state budget, The Burlington Free Press
The Shumlin administration is proposing $25.5 million in adjustments to the General Fund spending plan that lawmakers approved in the spring, with $24.8 million of the new costs attributed to Tropical Storm Irene.

A year ago, the administration asked for about $6 million in General Fund budget changes.

Finance Commissioner James Reardon said this year’s extra costs could be covered from savings, improving tax revenues and reserve funds — but without tapping the state’s $58 million stabilization account commonly called the Rainy Day Fund or asking for any tax increase.

“It is better news than we originally thought, but there is still a lot to be concerned about,” Reardon said during a media briefing. The administration’s budget adjustment proposal, which Reardon began detailing to the House Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon, “makes huge assumptions about what we think we will get from insurance and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Reardon said there are other uncertainties that also could change the current budget, such as how much the federal government provides for low-income heating assistance and any costs associated with the interim plans the Shumlin administration settles on to replace the now-closed state psychiatric hospital building.

VEDA approves $5.6 million in business and agricultural financing, vermontbiz.com
The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) has approved $5.6 million in business and agricultural financing, helping to leverage enough private investment to support economic development projects totaling $13.4 million.

“VEDA is pleased to help support the expansion and start-up plans of these businesses and farms,” said Jo Bradley, VEDA’s Chief Executive Officer. “These small business, technology and agricultural investments will help stimulate economic activity and create jobs in Vermont.”

Vermont delegation continues opposition to Keystone pipeline, vermontbiz.com
The Republican leadership in the US House early Sunday walked away from a deal on extending a payroll tax cut as part of a larger spending package that was also tied to the controversial oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The US Senate on Saturday approved a bill 89-10 with bipartisan support that includes fast-tracking the controversial KeystoneXL tar sands oil pipeline to an extension of the payroll tax cut. Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, as well as Representative Peter Welch, have long opposed the Keystone project and have strongly supported the payroll tax cut extension, but object to "holding Americans' tax rates hostage," as Leahy called it, to the tar sands project and to House leaders' insistence on linking them in this bill.

Sanders said in a statement: "I strongly oppose the provision to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Producing tar sands oil creates 82 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. NASA scientist James Hansen says exploiting the tar sands would be ‘game over' for our efforts to reverse global warming. I urge President Obama to call the Republicans' bluff and reject the dangerous Keystone XL project."

In a letter to the President, Welch writes, "We strongly oppose an expedited review process and urge you to reject the tar sands pipeline project because of the unnecessary and inappropriate short circuiting of the review process."

At the urging of Welch and others, the State Department Inspector General recently opened an investigation into possible conflicts of interest in the pipeline review process.

Not rebuilding after Irene, WCAX
As Vermont continues to rebuild from Tropical Storm Irene, some property owners have decided not to rebuild.

Hundreds of Vermont homes were damaged or destroyed in the August flooding. And in some cases the chances of repeat flooding makes it too risky to rebuild in the same place. As a results, dozens of Vermonters are expected to apply for a federal program to buy-out their property.

It's called the Hazard Mitigation Program and the rules are complicated. So it's unclear how many homeowners might qualify for the program.

Officials examine Irene's long-term effect on rivers, Brattleboro Reformer
About 40 people came out to a special meeting Tuesday to hear about what the storm did to Vermont's rivers, and how towns and property owners can better prepare for future flooding.

The meeting was hosted by the Brattleboro Conservation Commission, and included presentations by Windham Regional Commission Executive Director Chris Campany, Vermont Watershed Coordinator Marie Levesque Caduto, and Connecticut River Watershed Council River Steward David Deen.

Levesque Caduto said humans have been building structures and roads close to rivers for decades, but she hopes the widespread destruction of Tropical Storm Irene forces developers and legislators to take a more critical look at the regulations that allow the development, which ultimately will succumb to future floods.

"When the river moves, we put it back, and we feel protected for a while," she said. "Every time we go through the same cycle and we spend more and more money on things that will eventually be destroyed."

Levesque Caduto showed graphic photographs of where rivers were before the flood, and how they moved following Irene.

In many instances the worst damage occurred in places where the river was altered over time by roads, property development and gravel extraction.

Future floods are inevitable, she said, and the only way to preserve buildings, and lives, is by making smart choices now on how development should proceed following the floods of 2011.

"It is not worse because of where the river is. It is worse because we are there," Levesque Caduto said. "We are destroying the equilibrium. We have very short memories."