Saturday February 9, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Gov. Peter Shumlin wants no part of a moratorium on wind turbines.

The second-term Democrat is well aware that commercial-scale wind power is a controversial topic in his native Windham County.

But he also has pushed hard for more renewable energy sources. And during a visit to Brattleboro on Tuesday, Shumlin said he does not agree with a proposed three-year moratorium on all wind-power development.

"Climate change is our single greatest challenge," Shumlin said. "And I don't think banning renewables is wise or prudent when we're losing the battle on climate change."

The moratorium, which is part of a Senate bill introduced last month, has won support from wind opponents.

That includes officials from the Town of Windham, who last year unsuccessfully fought the planned installation of wind-measurement towers that could lead to the county's first wind farm.

State Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Townshend, backs the moratorium and said he expects it to be considered by the full Senate, though he predicts that the vote would be "very close."

Galbraith also has introduced legislation that bans industrial wind turbines on state land and allows "affected" communities to vote on whether to allow a wind project to move forward.

"It gives the affected towns a say," Galbraith said.

Shumlin has supported the idea of allowing communities that would host a wind farm to vote on the matter.


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But he also advocates for an "inclusive, thoughtful, expedited process" for pursuing all forms of renewable energy -- including wind power.

"My own view is, we should harness all of the renewables in a thoughtful way in this state," he said. "We're leading on that. We're growing jobs because of it."

Shumlin added that "the biggest threat to our ridgelines is not a few windmills. It is climate change."

The governor also took a dim view of a House bill that would impose new gun regulations. That includes banning high-capacity magazines and requiring instant background checks at gun shows.

Shumlin said that's a matter for Washington, D.C., not Montpelier.

"I believe that any attempt to legislate gun control has to be a 50-state solution and must therefore come from Washington," Shumlin said. "It's only good, common Vermont sense that if you have one rule in Vermont and a different rule in Kentucky and New Hampshire ... you're not going to fix the challenge by having different laws in different states."

Shumlin applauded President Barack Obama for attempting to tackle the always-thorny gun-control issue. But he's also not sure that lawmakers have a good understanding of firearms.

"The devil is always in the details. It does make me a little nervous to have a bunch of city boys trying to define what an assault weapon is," Shumlin said.

"Although I happen to use a bolt action, there are many people hunting deer in Vermont who don't use a bolt action," he said. "I don't want to do anything to take away their guns or their pursuit of their sport and their management of their wildlife."

Shumlin is much more supportive of the idea of labeling a food as genetically modified. But he is not sure about the legal practicality of a recently introduced state House bill mandating labeling for "genetically engineered foods."

He compared the effort to the state's ultimately unsuccessful attempt in the 1990s to require labeling of dairy products from cows that had been given a growth hormone called bovine somatotropin (BST).

"I wish that we could figure out a way to have GMO labeling in Vermont. I just think it's a basic right for consumers to know what they're buying," Shumlin said. "The legal challenges there are tremendous because of the Second Circuit (court) decision that overturned the BST bill back when we required BST labeling."

"I'm all ears if some smart lawyer can figure out a way to not repeat the case we've already had," Shumlin said, adding that "it doesn't mean it can't be done, and we're going to work on it, but it's not easy."

In other news from local legislators:

-- State Rep. Mollie Burke says a conversation with a tow-truck driver led to a new bill that could better protect used-car buyers.

The Brattleboro-based Progressive Democrat said the driver told her "we need a lemon law for used cars." After looking into the issue, Burke found that another legislator and staffers from the state attorney general's office also were interested in the issue.

The result is a bill that would establish a 30-day or 2,000-mile warranty for vehicles that were sold for $4,000 or more.

A buyer or lessee also could return a used car and get a refund if the vehicle did not pass inspection within 10 days and the estimated cost of repairs exceeds 10 percent of the car's price.

The law would apply only to those who sell four or more cars per year.

"It's basically a consumer-protection bill," said Burke, a House Transportation Committee member. "We tried very hard not to make it punitive for dealers."

The bill has been referred to the Commerce Committee.

"Testimony is being taken on it now," Burke said.

-- There will be no shortage of testimony on the proposed gun bill. But state Rep. Mike Hebert, a Republican who represents Vernon and Guilford, already knows that he does not support the law.

Hebert said he wants more exploration of the mental-health issues behind gun violence.

"The clip size is not what's important. What matters is, why is this person doing this in the first place?" Hebert said.

He added: "We've got to do better than feel-good legislation. We need legislation that actually does something."

-- Also expressing skepticism on Friday was state Rep. John Moran. The Wardsboro Democrat's target was Shumlin's proposal to tax "break-open" gambling tickets to raise $17 million for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, weatherization efforts and clean-energy development.

Moran, vice chairman of the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, said that plan leaves "good programs without a viable funding source" because Shumlin's revenue projections aren't realistic.

"Break-open tickets, also known as pickle cards, jar tickets, or rip-off tickets by those who don't win, are games of chance sold in bars or veteran clubs, with the proceeds going to nonprofits," Moran said in an e-mail to the Reformer.

"The legislative Joint Fiscal Office puts the $17 million figure closer to $6 million and, after testimony in my committee and Ways and Means, I think the estimated revenue would be closer to $2 million, if even that. The financial and social cost to service organizations and nonprofits, in my opinion, make this proposal a nonstarter."

-- Five Windham County House members signed onto a bill that would make low-level marijuana possession a civil matter rather than a criminal offense.

The measure mandates a civil fine of not more than $100 for those who are at least 21 and are caught with up to 2 ounces of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants or seven immature plants.

Violations would "not result in the creation of a criminal history record of any kind," the bill says.

Anyone under 21 would be "subject to the same penalties as provided in law for underage possession of alcohol."

Supporting the measure are Burke, David Deen of Westminster, Dick Marek of Newfane, Mike Mrowicki of Putney and Tristan Toleno of Brattleboro.

Mike Faher is the political beat writer at the Reformer. He can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.