Citizen lobbyists required
Editor of the Reformer:
Vermont prides itself on having "Citizen Legislators" as opposed to professional politicians while the lobbying in Montpelier for special interests is done by well-funded professional lobbyists. For the past eight years our legislators and regulators have been bombarded by renewable energy lobbyists. The message has been that Vermont must do "everything" and we must "do it now" to save the planet from climate change. The urgency of the "pitch" has made it seem as if Vermont alone is responsible for the emissions that cause climate change. This message has been delivered by the well-paid lobbyists at VPIRG; REV (Renewable Energy Vermont); KSE Partners (the lobbyists who represent GMP and Iberdrola Renewables) and a long list of people who view Vermont as a candy jar for collecting extravagant renewable energy incentives.
Their circular strategy involves promoting an array of state energy goals that have no basis in our true energy and emissions profile. They then insist to the legislature that there must be no barriers to erecting inappropriate projects because these same "state goals require it." The result is a state energy policy that has produced an avalanche of unintended consequences so appalling that the Select Boards of more than 160 towns signed The Rutland Resolution asking the legislature to take another look at the lack of clear standards for siting renewable energy projects.
Last week, the Senate and the House unanimously passed slightly different versions of S.230 in spite of furious lobbying by the renewable energy industry. The story of S.230 is highly instructive, because the "pros" weren't the only lobbyists in the Capital. For weeks the committee rooms of the Senate and House have been filled to overflowing with citizen-lobbyists identifying themselves by wearing neon green safety vests. The legislators learned that the Vermonters most opposed to big wind and solar sprawl include those who know the most about the subjects because they deal with the unintended consequences every day and because they have studied the issues. The legislators heard first hand the bitter results of a regulatory policy of "any solar, anywhere, anytime." They learned about the tragedies in Lowell, Sheffield and Georgia Mountain of nearby residents driven from their homes, or to distraction, by wind turbine noise far exceeding what the developer promised.
To prevail on S.230 We The People lobbied on our own behalf — tirelessly and effectively. The result is that, "We" have been heard. "We" are the people who live near already existing large wind installations. "We" includes the folks threatened by similar projects in Swanton, Irasburg, Grafton and Windham who want justification for issuing CPGs for utility generation on ridge lines and near settlements. "We" are the people from towns where solar arrays have been placed in disregard of local policies, preferences and town plans. "We" are Vermonters who have donned our green vests in solidarity and went to Montpelier and walked the halls and haunted the cafeteria of the Statehouse, just like the big-money lobbyists. "We" talked to the legislators. "We" testified before committees. And "We" learned a lot.
None of us citizen lobbyists opposes renewable energy. None of us denies the need for Vermonters to do our part in reducing emissions. We do oppose allowing those who profit most having total control of what gets built and where. And we oppose squandering our state's natural resources and heritage on projects that will not help slow climate change.
The lesson is this: in a state with a citizen legislature where big money increasingly influences policy decisions, there is no substitute for well informed, articulate and persistent citizen lobbyists to represent our own interests. If we don't do it, who will?
Mary and Heath Boyer, Windham, May 11