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The Enviromental Governor?

Inside Track


Published October 1, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

Events of the last month indicate Republican Gov. Jim Douglas has suddenly realized a good image on the environment is key to his winning a second term in office. But does the image match the reality?

Everybody knows Jimmy D campaigned as a champion of job growth and economic development. He promised to build the Circumferential Highway and he repeatedly trashed environmental groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation for opposing it. Douglas went all out on the campaign trail to portray CLF as the Saddam Hussein of Vermont.

In the 49-page "Douglas Vision," a document slicker than deer guts on a doorknob, there are 14 chapters including Transportation, Tax Policy, Technology and Education. But, surprisingly for a Vermont politician, there wasn't a single chapter titled "Environment." The closest Jimmy D got to addressing environmental concerns came in the "Permit Reform" section.

"We must lift the oppressive regulatory burden," wrote Douglas, "and ensure that the permitting process is predictable, consistent and fast."

At the top of Candidate Douglas' to-do list was removing what he termed "out-of-state special-interest groups" from the Act 250 process.

Apparently Jimmy D refuses to accept the fact that CLF has had an office full of dedicated environmental watchdogs in Montpeculiar for more than a decade. And the record indicates that CLF's "special interest" has been to uphold and defend the environmental laws of the state and nation. CLF has been defined by its dogged determination to use the courts to force Jimmy D & Co. to abide by the laws they're supposed to enforce.

Clearly, when it comes to the environment, Jim Douglas has positioned himself as the leading advocate for our investor-owned electric utilities and Big Box shopping-center developers.

A few weeks ago we asked the Gov why he hadn't said a word about the Bush administration's new rule allowing coal- and oil-burning Midwest power plants to expand without installing air-pollution controls. Douglas said at the time that he thought the attorney general's office was looking into the matter, but was unaware of the status.

Then something changed dramatically on the Fifth Floor. Sources tell Seven Days Jimmy D's political spinmeisters realized that the Gov's perpetual bashing of environmentalists, which worked on the campaign trail, was hurting his gubernatorial image. This is Vermont, after all, not New Jersey.

At his very next weekly press conference, Douglas suddenly took ownership of the lawsuit that a week earlier he knew very little about. While never mentioning the president by name, Douglas condemned the Bush administration's move, calling it "bad for Vermont."

And like his predecessor, Howard Dean, Douglas signed an executive order calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Obviously, some serious environmental damage control was under way.

Douglas' transformation from environmental basher to environmental champion has been startling. And this week, Jimmy D used the picturesque backdrop of Mississquoi Bay in Swanton to announce a "Clean Water Plan" designed to reduce phosphorous pollution in Lake Champlain. He even called for the establishment of an annual Clean Water Day in Vermont!

This from the lips of a man who a month ago was touting his beloved Circ Highway project as an "environmental" program!

Does the new image match the reality?

Well, consider that this week the same Douglas administration is officially giving renewable-energy sources like wind and solar power a big thumbs down. Jonathan Lesser, the controversial and press-shy planning director at Douglas' Department of Public Service, recently wrote that requiring Green Mountain Power and CVPS to adopt renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to wean us off the burning of fossil fuels "will neither serve to advance renewable technology at the national level, nor provide significant improvements in Vermont's environmental quality, nor provide a strong engine for economic growth in the state."

According to Lesser's September 22 letter to the Public Service Board, requiring our electric companies to use more renewable-energy sources would "exacerbate already high electric rates and weaken the Vermont economy -- something the state's residents and businesses can ill afford."

Neither a Saudi Arabian sheik nor a member of GMP's board of directors could have said it better than Mr. Lesser. The sad part is that Lesser works for the department that's supposed to represent Vermont consumers, not oil sheiks or GMP stockholders.

Patrick Berry, spokesman for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, pointed out that nowhere in Lesser's six-page letter "does he mention any empirical evidence to back up his claim that RPS will increase electric rates." Berry calls it "a regressive energy policy."

CLF's Chris Kilian, who's been on the receiving end of Jimmy D's brickbats, called Gov. Douglas' recent environmental pronouncements "lip service." While Jimmy D talks a new environmental talk, he's hardly walking a new environmental walk. Kilian noted our Republican governor "is planning on cutting Efficiency Vermont's budget while describing the Circ Highway as a way to curb air pollution. It's a joke!" he said.

Funny stuff, eh?

Speaking of the Circ -- As of last Thursday, Gov. Douglas was not aware that attorneys representing the Federal Highway Administration, the Vermont Agency of Transportation and environmental opponents such as CLF, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club had struck a deal that halts Circ construction until next summer.

The environmental groups had threatened to go to court to seek an injunction to halt construction if the bulldozers started rolling. Apparently the government felt they might be successful in their request.

Gov. Douglas, who cut a deal with President George W. Bush to put the Circ on the presidential "fast track," promised last June that the bulldozers would roll this fall.

But Seven Days has obtained a letter written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Ross, in which she writes that the parties have agreed to a "stipulated briefing schedule" that will allow a federal judge to rule on the case sometime next May at the earliest.

In return, writes Ross, "The agencies will agree to perform only a minimal amount of construction activity, including an official groundbreaking ceremony, survey work, setting up staging areas and some utility relocation work."

According to Brian Dunkiel, attorney for Friends of the Earth, the enviros view the project's fast-tracking by Dubya as a potential violation of federal law.

P.S. -- In Washington, the story of the week involves White House leaks that may have exposed a covert CIA agent. Closer to home, there's word of an investigation into leaks involving the Circ Highway case.

A few weeks ago, a confidential letter from Attorney Dunkiel to state transportation officials, we're told, quickly made its way into the hands of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, a pro-development, pro-Circ outfit. That evening it was reported on WCAX-TV. The report dissed Dunkiel for attempting to halt progress.

Similarly, last week Seven Days obtained a copy of A.U.S.A. Ross' September 15 letter to Dunkiel agreeing to a litigation schedule and a construction delay.

Ross, sources say, at first thought the enviros leaked it.

They had not.

Asked this week if an investigation was underway to uncover the leakers, Ross told Seven Days, "I can't comment on things that are not a matter of public record. I'm not commenting about anything one way or the other."


The Pollina Factor -- So far Progressive Party leaders appear cozy-comfy with the notion that Burlington's seven-term Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle is running for governor as a Democrat.

An email to Proggies last week from vice-chair Ellen David Friedman suggested Vermont Progressives' top priority for 2004 should be to rally behind Clavelle's candidacy even if he has chosen the Democrat label. The party's second priority, wrote Friedman, should be getting a Progressive Party candidate elected lieutenant governor.

In a Seven Days interview this week, Friedman said she expects Progressive Anthony Pollina to once again run for Gov-Lite in 2004. And, she expects Peter Clavelle to endorse him!

Maybe in the Land of Oz, dear Ellen, but not in the real world of Vermont politics.

Many Democrat party activists are still steaming over the colorful "spoiler" role that Tony the Prog played in the 2002 Gov-Lite race. Pollina finished third, but his candidacy split the left and clearly prevented an easy victory for Democrat Peter Shumlin.

In 2002, no one loved Anthony more than Republican Brian Dubie. Dubie didn't have a bad word to say about Tony, because Tony was Doobie-Doo's key to victory.

It's quite rare to see a statewide candidate win with just 41 percent of the vote, but win he did. And surely Lt. Gov. Dubie would be delighted to see his pal Tony take another shot in 2004. Please, please, please, Anthony!

So far, Burlington Democrat John Tracy, the former House Democratic leader, has expressed interest in running for Gov-Lite. Other trial balloons should follow. But can anyone imagine what would happen to a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who declined to endorse his Democratic running mate? Or endorsed Progs in legislative races in which they faced Democratic opponents?

Taking Pollina out early ought to be Job One for Monsieur Clavelle. We have a simple suggestion.

How about if "Gov." Clavelle offered Tony the Prog a position in his gubernatorial cabinet?

Anthony hasn't had a real job in ages. Wouldn't Mr. Pollina make an outstanding Secretary of Agriculture?

Think about it.

DeanWatch2004 -- Two months ago, we reported our favorite presidential hopeful, Howard Dean, would raise between $15-20 million this quarter. Everyone thought we were nuts.

Guess what?

Times A-Changin'? -- Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders was particularly upbeat the other day about the way things are changing in Congress. Despite the popular perception, said Sanders, Republicans are no longer marching in lockstep with Dubya.

Bernie cited four key issues: the Orwellian Patriot Act, cash-balance pensions, the new FCC ownership rules and prescription drugs. They've caused Republicans to break ranks with President Bush and vote with the Democrats and Bernie.

"I don't know if the media has necessarily caught up with it," said Ol' Bernardo, "but as the Bush administration becomes exposed for what they are, an extreme right-wing administration, a lot of folks in Congress in the Repub-lican Party are beginning to break away from them. That's why we are having success."

At last -- a light at the end of the tunnel!

Mary Fanny Update -- So when are heads really going to roll on the gazillion-dollar Renaissance Scan-dal on Hospital Hill?

There's no dispute that FAHC administrators lied while trustees, at best, looked the other way and played dumb. For $400 million, we're getting a Taj Mahal for doctors and researchers, but not one additional bed for a sick Vermonter.

According to Paul Van de Graaf, chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney's office in Burlap, the matter remains "under investigation," an investigation that has passed the one-year mark.

Van de Graff told Seven Days his office's job is to "process information, figure out what happened and make a judgment on any criminal or civil liability."

"Because of the complexity of the chain of events," said Van de Graaf, "that can't be done overnight."

Patience, folks.

McCarren Coverage -- Seven Days' scoop last week on Louise McCarren's big new utility job in Utah went statewide on the Associated Press wire last Wednesday, but was ignored by WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX-TV. McCarren is the current chair of the Fletcher Allen board of trustees.

It's surprising that Ch. 3 would ignore such a prominent public figure like Louise. She's been so high-profile for so long as a Public Service Board chairman, Republican candidate for Gov-Lite and president of Verizon's Vermont shop. Guess there just wasn't room for Louise on Ch. 3's informative newscast.

Marselis Parsons and Sera Congi did inform viewers that evening that their boss, WCAX owner Stuart "Red" Martin, had "won an award for his devotion to the community."

The award was presented by Cynosure, a local development corporation affiliated with the GBIC. Cynosure owns industrial parks.

Congratulations, Mr. Martin! How prestigious.

Red Martin also deserves an award for his generous financial contributions over the years to the Vermont Republican Party and its candidates. According to campaign finance reports for the first half of 2003, Ol' Red wrote the Vermont GOP a check for $5000.

Mr. Martin should also get an award for the kid-glove treatment his news department has given the Douglas administration. They could call it the "Red Fox Award," in honor of Ch. 3's Fox News-style cheerleading for Republicans.


Douglas on WMDs -- Incidentally, our governor got quite perturbed the other day when we asked him if he's sticking to his assertion of six months ago that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that threatened you and me. Gov. Douglas has been a loyal and staunch supporter of our out-of-control president since Day One.

"I have no idea if there are weapons of mass destruction or not," said Douglas. "I was quoting experts who say they believe that they will be found."

"Do you believe President Bush lied?" we inquired.

"I do not," he replied.

Wonder if he believes in the Tooth Fairy, too?