Just a paper tiger


Tuesday, March 13
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal decided to take a swipe at one of its favorite targets -- Vermont.

Geoffrey Norman, an author, columnist and the editor of the conservative economic blog, vermonttiger.com., wrote a column that derided the Vermont Legislature and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin as being "quixotic" in their quest to deal with the effects of global warming.

"It's a pretty good bet that whatever the Vermont Legislature does about global warming and greenhouse gases, nobody in India or China or anywhere outside of the state will notice," Norman wrote. "If every living creature in Vermont disappeared tomorrow, their lack of activity wouldn't compensate for the carbon dioxide produced by one of the coal-fired generating plants that China brings on line every 10 days."

But the real meat of Norman's column is not making fun of those crazy hippie freaks in Montpelier who insist that global warming is a problem and that Vermont can provide leadership for the rest of the nation in how to be green. Instead, his diatribe is just another boost for nuclear energy and our wonderful little reactor in Vernon, Vermont Yankee.

Norman trots out Patrick Moore, the ex-Greenpeace member turned schill for the nuclear industry, and the now-familiar talking point that nuclear energy is clean and green energy.

If Vermont really wanted to prove its commitment to fighting global warming, Norman wrote that "it could accept the risk of storing spent nuclear fuel or construct bird-chewing wind farms -- or both. In short, it could step up and take a hit for the environment. ... A truly 'bold,' environmentally conscious state would go nuclear even more."

Leaving aside the twisted logic -- the threat of global warming is exaggerated, but just in case it isn't, we should build more nuclear plants -- Norman overlooks some important facts.

For starters, the spent fuel that Vermont Yankee and the rest of the nuclear plants generate is hardly benign. It will stay dangerously radioactive for 100,000 years, and there is still no long term plan for safely storing or reusing the waste. Nuclear power is "clean," only if you overlook the radioactivity that is released in every phase of the nuclear production cycle from the mining of the uranium through the spent fuel that no one has figured out what to do with.

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In addition, Norman repeats the fallacy that every other advocate of the continued operation of Vermont Yankee likes to say: the state cannot afford the loss of the current provider of one-third of Vermont's electricity.

That's not true either.

As former state Rep. Steve Darrow pointed out in Saturday's Reformer, the Vermont Department of Public Service found Vermont could reduce its electrical use by more than 30 percent with cost-effective efficiency measures.

While political pressure has prevented the state from fully following through on energy conservation, the realties of climate change, peak oil and a volatile energy market will force everyone to use less electricity.

Darrow also points out that wind could provide 20 percent of the state's electricity and that there still is time to get wind farms built by 2012, when Vermont Yankee's current operating license expires. The main obstacle is Gov. James Douglas and his vehement opposition to industrial wind power, unless its located far away in Quebec where no one can see it.

Wood, methane and biomass-fired electric plants will all have a role to play, as will solar and hydropower. In short, Darrow believes that "energy efficiency, new technology and renewable energy will be the new players."

Instead of being part of the problem, this state is poised to be part of the solution. Norman may think it is "quixotic," but instead of clinging to obsolete and dirty technologies, Vermont will lead the way in creative and innovative ways to generate electricity and use it more efficiently.

And yes, the rest of the nation will take note, just as it has every other time when Vermont's boldness on issues from slavery to civil unions forged a path for others to follow. Vermont has been and will continue to be the model for environmental responsibility, no matter what the naysayers like Norman write.


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