Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Meaghan Emery, a member of the South Burlington City Council.

In response to the new housing bills being considered in the House and the Senate, I am writing on behalf of the taxpayer who will be asked to pay for state mandates and as a city councilor who hears the concerns of municipal employees expected to follow through on them by providing services.

A town is like an ecosystem, and a smoothly functioning system requires the careful calibration of many parts. To repeat the refrain of businesses that have identified housing as an impediment to hiring, for the system to work, there needs to be a balance between the human and infrastructure sides of the equation. 

We agree. But when we talk about the system, we must talk about the whole system, which includes not only workers and businesses, but also municipal services, including transportation, emergency services, water/sewer, and schools. Without talking about towns and cities as ecosystems, made up of complex interdependent parts, we are bound to create imbalances and thus produce a failed model, of which many abound in this country.

Legislation, like any well-laid plan, must not be top-down. There must be a solid foundation, which requires careful groundwork in the form of municipal infrastructure. 

I ask our state legislators to consider what, in addition to housing and jobs, new residents will need and whether the state will back up the bill with prerequisite investments so that these residents can live in thriving communities. On behalf of the taxpayer, I ask them to responsibly consider who is going to pay for all that comes with state mandates. 

Beyond fairness in housing, the question of fairness extends to the burden of costs adjacent to services needed for a town or city to thrive — the ecosystem. Otherwise, when acting to fix one problem, lawmakers risk creating other problems, including for the very people they seek to help.

Many reading this will respond that population growth will cover the cost of these additional services thanks to the new injection of property taxes.


I ask you to look at property tax rates across the state. If you do, you will notice that the bigger the town or city, the higher the taxes. We here in Chittenden County pay the highest property taxes in Vermont and they are well above the national average. We — and I would suspect not only in South Burlington — have also paid for most of the costs of upgrades made to our sewer and water infrastructure in the form of bonds and fees. 

We are facing a $34 million bond on sewer upgrades this year and a foreseen bond vote on increased water storage in 2024. Our rates are increasing 8.34% and 8.51% respectively, on top of a 5.75% tax rate increase, primarily to hire more police and firefighters.

At the same time, we are facing stiff increases for needed renovations to our public schools, and specifically a $14.5 million bond for modular classrooms as an interim step until we can build capacity in our buildings for the growing student population.

South Burlington is not alone in the struggle to provide adequate housing for our workers. We are not alone in seeking equitable housing solutions to be able to welcome prospective residents who could not otherwise afford the high price of housing. And we are not alone in facing the workforce shortage in police and fire services. 

We are perhaps more alone in our search to provide enough classrooms for our growing student population in our public schools, however, and our aging school infrastructure placed our district in the 11th highest position in need of action, according to the Vermont School Facilities Inventory and Assessment. 

The latter challenges have forced our superintendent of schools and fire chief to indicate on the Act 250 questionnaire that we do not have the capacity in our schools or in our emergency services to serve additional residential structures or residents. So, as we seek to sustainably provide houses for our workers in a thriving community, we look to the state to provide needed aid so that we can continue to provide a high-quality education for their children and emergency services.

We also look to the state for needed support to make public transit viable, without which our already congested roads would become even more strained and unsafe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Bolstered public transit would likewise serve to meet the needs of our affordable housing partners, like the Champlain Housing Trust, and supports our climate action goals by reducing vehicular traffic. 

A housing mandate without state aid for increased municipal services is simply not a plan for either affordability or sustainability.

We also look to lawmakers to support homeownership. South Burlington is in a minority of communities moving from a housing profile of predominantly owner-occupied homes to rental properties. If we are truly seeking to ensure fairness in housing, as I heard Champlain Housing Trust CEO Michael Monte say at the Feb. 16 joint House and Senate hearing, we must as a state make permanently affordable rental housing and the opportunity of homeownership our top priorities. 

Mr. Monte spoke of the continuum of housing as one that moves people out of homelessness into safety and then on to the mobility and wealth-building that homeownership provides. This includes, I would argue, lessening the strain of property taxes. 

In addition, as Michael Krancer of Stowe pointed out at the same hearing, the increase in short-term rentals is a critical factor in our housing shortage. Without putting into place tax-based incentives — as economist Joe Minicozzi recommended to the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 2 — or other incentives in favor of long-term rentals or owner-occupied homes, we may as a state risk exacerbating segregation in housing, counter to the goals of the federal fair housing legislation.

So, as lawmakers consider S.100 and H.68, please consider all the interdependent parts of municipal planning and ensure that any new law would buoy the whole ecosystem so that our new residents and growing towns and cities can thrive.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Meaghan Emery: A municipal leader’s response to the omnibus housing bill.

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Julie Silverman, Lake Champlain Lakekeeper at the Conservation Law Foundation. 

I’ve spent decades sailing on the waters throughout the Northeast, including on our own Lake Champlain. In recent years, I’ve begun to notice more and more trash floating in the water and washing up on beaches. From balloons to fishing gear to plastic, this problem only seems to be getting worse.

However, one type of trash has been more abundant than any other: the bright blue and white foam often used to support docks. 

I’ve worked with volunteers to clean up hundreds of blocks of broken dock foam — some the size of clothes dryers ― that washed ashore on remote islands in Maine. And I’ve scooped up tens of thousands of tiny white beads of dock foam from Lake Champlain’s beaches after a storm. 

Commonly known as Styrofoam, this pollution isn’t just an ugly nuisance. It can cause serious harm to the wildlife that eats it. It gets into the fish we eat, and it contaminates our drinking water. 

If that weren’t bad enough, polystyrene is made from fossil fuels, which means it is contributing to the climate crisis from the moment it is manufactured. Finally, the toxic chemicals used to make Styrofoam can leach out into our waters.

Let’s be clear; docks are not the problem, it’s the plastic foam. The docks that pollute our lakes and rivers use exposed foam blocks (called “unencapsulated foam”) or floats filled with loose white foam beads. Docks with unencapsulated foam are likely older or abandoned, as many dock manufacturers no longer sell that product.

When these older foam blocks break down, or the tiny loose beads spill out, it is nearly impossible to collect all the pieces. That means we are stuck with that pollution — and the risks it poses to our environment, wildlife, and human health — for decades to come.  

It’s time to put an end to this pollution, and Vermont’s Legislature has taken notice.

A new bill, H.373 — supported by the Conservation Law Foundation and other advocacy organizations, including Lake Champlain Committee and the Connecticut River Conservancy — has been introduced that would prohibit the sale of unencapsulated polystyrene foam floatation and loose-bead foam-filled flotation in docks, mooring buoys, and other structures on Vermont’s lakes, ponds and rivers. 

The proposed bill would also require that docks be maintained and repaired to prevent polystyrene foam from leaking and disintegrating into the water. And any existing unencapsulated foam and loose-bead foam floats must be removed and properly disposed of within two years after the bill’s passage.  

The problem with polystyrene is that it’s brittle. It easily breaks apart when it’s exposed to the sun, wind, waves and ice. Like other plastic pollution, it also never breaks down or goes away. It keeps accumulating in our waters, in wildlife, and on our beaches.

Because of these harmful qualities, Vermonters have already banned most polystyrene foam food and beverage containers, which is already having an impact on this scourge of pollution. It’s time to take the next step and ban this toxic pollution from docks as well.

Five other states have already passed legislation regulating polystyrene foam in floating docks. Let’s make Vermont the sixth to commit to cleaner healthier water for swimming, fishing, paddling and wildlife.  

Read the story on VTDigger here: Julie Silverman: It’s time to ban toxic dock foam.

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Tom McKone of Montpelier, a former English teacher, principal and library administrator. Years ago, he chaired the Worcester Selectboard for five years.

The recently dropped charges against a man who was arrested for refusing to stop speaking at a Montpelier City Council meeting didn’t have anything to do with free speech: The point was whether we support local elected officials in their efforts to maintain order at public meetings. 

Washington County State’s Attorney Michelle Donnelly and the ACLU of Vermont did not come down on the side of protecting either democracy or free speech for everyone.

The June 2022 incident that led to the man’s arrest followed years of council frustration with his verbal attacks on city officials and his refusal to follow basic protocols, including time limits. He had been given a written warning that expressed concern over his “increasingly disruptive and verbally aggressive” behavior and that told him to keep his distance from city officials during meetings and not to touch city equipment. 

He had been given a second written warning that instructed him not to communicate directly with the now-former assistant city manager, not to go into her office, and not to sit near her at public meetings. The evening he was arrested, after he exceeded the two-minute limit, he repeatedly ignored demands from the mayor to stop speaking.

The ACLU’s 12-page amicus brief superfluously expounds on the importance of free speech and portrays city officials as getting carried away in trying to maintain the time limit on public comments. It ignores context, the ongoing, long-term behavior issues, and the fact that the councilors welcome public comments throughout meetings, as they go through the agenda.

In dropping the case, Donnelly said that, after reviewing the video, she determined that the man did not commit a crime because he did not substantially disrupt the meeting. VTDigger reported that City Manager Bill Fraser wrote in an email, “I suspect all public bodies would welcome clarity about removal of individuals who are disrupting meetings or failing to comply with meeting (standards).”

Robert’s Rules of Order, also known as parliamentary procedure, is the basis for maintaining order and ensuring fairness at meetings. At a general Town Meeting, all voters can fully participate in discussions, make motions and vote. In meetings of elected bodies and committees, those officials have full participation rights; the public can speak, but not make motions or vote.

Vermont’s Open Meeting Law enhances the goals of parliamentary procedure, stating, “the public shall be given a reasonable opportunity to express its opinion on matters considered by the public body during the meeting, as long as order is maintained.” It also reinforces that the chairperson runs the show.

The new documentary “Backlash: Misogyny in the Digital Age,” which had its first U.S. screening at the Statehouse on Feb. 7, includes an interview with linguist Laurence Rosier of the Free University of Brussels about how harassment affects women.

“These women will be the target of even more insults if they speak out publicly,” Rosier says. “If they hide and say nothing, they’ll be spared. But they’ll lose their freedom of speech.”

Isn’t that one aspect of a larger problem? We have all been in situations — at work, in school, in meetings or in social gatherings — where aggressive, rude, larger, domineering or intimidating people take over. Parliamentary procedure seeks to limit the power of those people and to make sure that softer-spoken, polite, smaller, and humble people have just as much chance to participate.

Supporting inappropriate behaviors — in the name of free speech — undercuts the freedom of speech of many Vermonters who believe in dialogue and cooperation and who are uncomfortable with conflict or afraid to speak up, out of fear of being targeted.

We should be protecting everyone and not elevating the loudest or most aggressive. We need the courts and those arguing on behalf of free speech to recognize the harm that unrestrained speakers and over-the-edge speech does to our democratic institutions, and the injustice they do to the many others whose free speech they inhibit.

Placing some idealized concept of one person’s public speech rights over public order fosters continuation of the male-dominated world and is particularly harmful to women and marginalized groups, their potential to participate in elective or appointed office, and their comfort, safety and willingness to exercise their free speech rights. 

When an individual refuses to abide by common social norms and asserts that limitations are not for them, they, themselves, are jeopardizing their speech rights. We should not blame city councils, town selectboards, school boards or other local governing bodies for standing up to them. 

We can’t get enough people to serve in local government, and we can’t keep some good people who step up. Across the state, many people are afraid to speak at local meetings or at Town Meeting. 

We need to enforce the expectation of order and civility at public meetings, so that all Vermonters will feel that those meetings are for them. If citizens don’t feel safe and welcome, they won’t speak up, and we will have allowed their freedom of speech to be taken from them.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Tom McKone: Whose free speech is threatened?.

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Jeremy Rathbun of Middlebury, a licensed mechanical professional engineer, licensed site designer and a provisional class 3 wastewater operator in Vermont. He is a member of AFSCME Local 1201. 

I have been following the progress of S.5 this year with excitement and concern, a concern magnified as I receive mailings encouraging me to contact my senators and representatives to vote no. 

While I am excited that Vermont is taking action toward meeting our climate goals, I will admit I am very concerned about the structure we are setting up to do so.

I thought sharing these thoughts and concerns regarding S.5 in a public forum might spur some answers and/or public debate. They are as follows.

A) Cost: The secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources stated that the proposed bill could raise the cost of fuel oil by as much as 70 cents per gallon of fuel. Several lawmakers have stated that number to be inaccurate, but have provided no number to replace it. Sen. Chris Bray has disputed the cost numbers offered by the Agency of Natural Resources, touting numerous studies that have been conducted that provide more accurate information.

Simply put: If the folks working on the bill feel their information is more accurate, then what is the number? If 70 cents per gallon is wrong, how much will the bill add to the cost of fuel oil?

At the end of the day, there are folks in this state who will not be able to afford thermal upgrades even if their share of the cost is only $500. Lord knows I was in that situation once myself as a young parent. We all deserve to know what the impact of this bill will be on those among us with the least of means.

B) Jobs: With not enough people in the trades now, we need to do a hard look at who is going to do all of the equipment upgrades and thermal retrofits that this bill will encourage. We do not have the people available to do work currently scheduled, let alone the large influx of residential work this bill will create. 

The lawmakers sponsoring the bill have stated time and again how they want to structure it to help working-class people in Vermont. I would make the following three suggestions to help address that.

1) 29 V.S.A. § 161): Make all work subsidized as a result of this bill subject to state capital construction project prevailing wage rates. This guarantees that all workers will be paid the prevailing wage for their work. This will help our local workers be paid properly for their work, and will help prevent shoddy contractors who underpay their workers from taking advantage of this program.

2) Made in the USA provision: Many American companies, such as Trane, assemble heat pumps in plants right here at home. Work subsidized as part of this bill should have Made in the USA provisions to support American workers, and reduce the carbon footprint of the equipment through reduced shipping distance from overseas.

3) The Vermont Protecting the Right to Organize “PRO” Act (S.102): The Vermont Pro Act should be passed hand in hand with S.5. Nothing will encourage folks to go into the trades and build out our technical base like ensuring the workers who go into these trades have power to bargain for fair wages and benefits for their labor. S.102 will help strengthen those rights for workers, and make it easier for existing workers to form unions to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. All of this will make the trades more attractive and encourage more folks to go into them.

C) Existing fuel oil and gas dealers: At the end of the day, S.5 will hurt folks who deal in fuel oil, natural gas, and propane. Everyone understands we must address our climate goals, but at the same time we are talking about actively impacting business in one sector, with no talk of recompense. Again, this is directly affecting the working-class folks who built these businesses as well as the folks they employ. 

The bill needs to include a provision to make these folks whole. It is in no way addressed in S.5, and that is a glaring omission. Job loss in working-class communities can be as destructive as climate change, if not more destructive.

These are just a few of the questions and comments I have regarding S.5. I agree something must be done to address climate change, but it is not fair to do that on the backs of the poor and working class, which I fear this bill does. I thank all of the senators and representatives for their time working on the bill, and I hope the suggestions presented above can be incorporated by the final bill.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Jeremy Rathbun: Ideas for easing the impact of S.5 on the working class .

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Ed Campbell, chair of the board of trustees at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, and Bob Fairbanks, vice president of the board of trustees at St. Johnsbury Academy.

Like so many in our rural Vermont communities, we have deep and extended family ties to St. Johnsbury Academy and Burr & Burton Academy. 

St. Johnsbury Academy was founded by Erastus, Thaddeus and Joseph Fairbanks in 1842, and members of the Fairbanks family have served on the academy’s board of trustees ever since. 

Burr & Burton was founded in 1829, and Campbell family members have attended the academy and served on its board of trustees for five generations, covering more than 100 years. 

That kind of longevity gives us not just a sense of connection to the schools we currently serve as trustees, but also a sense of history, and an awareness of what these schools have — and have not — been in their almost two centuries of educational service. 

Faced with a legislative challenge to the system that has served our communities for generations, there is much to debate. One point, however, deserves not debate but rebuttal: the premise that the historic academies were once public schools. They are independent. They have always been independent. And they have used that independence to fulfill a public educational mission across three centuries, providing opportunity to rural Vermonters through a system that predates the public education system in Vermont. 

Along with Lyndon Institute (1867) and Thetford Academy (1819), St. Johnsbury Academy and Burr & Burton were incorporated by the Vermont General Assembly, as were all private institutions prior to the enactment of the 1913 corporations law and a constitutional amendment prohibiting further grant of acts of incorporation by the General Assembly. 

Other institutions similarly incorporated include our private postsecondary institutions of Saint Michael’s College and Norwich University, as well as Northfield Savings Bank, Passumpsic Bank, the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, and the Vermont Historical Society. 

Years later, the Internal Revenue Service recognized each of the historic academies as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations: St. Johnsbury Academy in 1937, Lyndon Institute in 1937, Thetford Academy in 1972, and Burr & Burton in 1974. They remain not-for-profit organizations today. 

The town tuition program began in 1869 and independent schools have been receiving public tuition ever since. For very brief periods in these schools’ 150-plus years of history, one or more may have fallen under a definition of “public school” in Vermont statutes, but that reflected the General Assembly’s intent to treat them differently from other independent schools for purposes of setting tuition rates; it did not change the way they were governed as independent, not-for-profit organizations and it did not subject them to public school requirements. 

While the historic academies have always had a commitment to serving the students from nearby towns, they have also enriched their communities by operating boarding programs for domestic and international students and by serving private day-tuition students. Their independent status has enhanced their ability to benefit from private giving and to establish and maintain endowment funds. 

Notably, independent schools generally have not been eligible to receive state school construction aid. The impressive infrastructures at St. Johnsbury Academy and Burr & Burton have been acquired from private funding. 

Our boards of trustees are committed to the important mission of educating our young people and educating them all in an excellent manner. The independent nature of our schools allows us to be innovative, strategic, flexible and responsive to the rapidly changing needs of our

students. Burr & Burton’s Success Program and St. Johnsbury Academy’s new Literacy Lab are just two examples, and they underscore why we value our independence. 

As our legislators debate various proposals impacting the educational landscape of our two corners of the state, it’s important to note that this is not a partisan issue but a geographic and rural issue. We respectfully request that they keep in mind that we have always been independent schools, and we want to continue to be independent schools that serve our communities responsibly and well. 

Read the story on VTDigger here: Campbell & Fairbanks: Independent schools with a public mission .

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Narain Batra of Hartford, author of “India in a New Key” and “The First Freedoms and America’s Culture of Innovation.” He’s affiliated with the Diplomacy and International Program at Norwich University and publishes the Freedom&Geopolitics newsletter and podcast about media, culture, politics, technology, and America’s global role.

Hovering all around, over death and destruction, are the vultures of war — arms manufacturers, energy companies, politicians and oligarchs, black-market traders, and human traffickers.

The Biden administration has come to a definitive conclusion that Russia’s wanton aggression against Ukraine — which has brutalized and killed thousands and thousands of innocent people and destroyed cities and towns — was not only an act of horrific war. Russia has committed war crimes. 

At the Munich Security Conference in late February, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “We have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity. And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes — you will be held to account.”

The war crimes, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, included rape, “execution-style killings,” “torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution and mock executions” and the deportation of “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.” 

We do not know how long Ukrainians will keep suffering. U.N. agencies, International Criminal Court, and other international legal bodies would take their time to determine whether Russia committed crimes against humanity. 

That said, 3,610 miles away, a muted voice from a poor country dared speak up that the war has created windfall profits for some companies.

Talking with Tanvir Gill of CNBC at the G-20 meeting in New Delhi, Bangladesh Finance Minister AK Abdul Momen said, “In this war, some companies are making runaway profit … energy companies and the defense companies. Therefore, we will argue that those companies that are making runaway profit, they should dedicate at least 20% of the profit to those countries that are most affected, like us.”

The collateral damage the war has caused on the poor countries far away from the battlefield has been tremendous.

There’s no gainsaying the fact that the war has been a big business for several industries, especially oil producers, arms manufacturers, cybersecurity companies and food supply chain companies.

The top five oil producers made about $200 billion in profit from the soaring oil prices since the Russian invasion. Bumper profits and high prices at the gas pump outraged President Biden. Accusing them of “war profiteering,” he said that unless they “invest in America by increasing production and refining capacity … they’re going to pay a higher tax on their excess profits and face other restrictions.” 

That’s what he said before the midterm elections, and what he repeated in his State of the Union address, calling the record profits outrageous. Instead of reinvesting to raise production, “they used those record profits to buy back their own stock, rewarding their CEOs and shareholders.” The filthy greed of the global oil companies has global repercussions hurting the poor everywhere.

Not far behind are major arms manufacturers, for whom the Ukraine war too has been a profit bonanza. Writing in Responsible Statecraft, investigative journalist Eli Clifton said, “Shares of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics appreciated in value 12.78 percent on average in the one-year span. … The war’s outcome remains unclear, but one thing is certain: the outbreak of a major war in Europe will spur U.S. and European weapons purchases for years to come. … In other words, a humanitarian, geopolitical, and economic disaster for the world has at least one silver lining: profits for arms manufacturers.”

But when the war is over or reaches a no-war/no-peace stalemate, rebuilding Ukraine’s infrastructure would present more than a $1 trillion bonanza for American and European construction companies. And one wonders if China’s Belt and Road would keep away from it, or hustle and muscle into it to grab the windfall in spite of its condemnation of the West and its unwavering support for Russia. For China, every international tragedy is a diplomatic and business opportunity.

One might justify corporate greed and obscene war profits as nothing but good business — good for big bosses and shareholders of global oil companies and arms manufacturers. But for poor developing countries like Bangladesh, many of which have been struggling with the burden of debt financing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the repercussions of war and sanctions have been unbearable.

According to a recent IMF report, “Bangladesh’s robust economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was interrupted by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Rising global commodity prices, supply disruptions, and slowdown in external demand have led to a sharp widening of the current account deficit, depreciation of the Taka, and the rapid decline of foreign exchange reserves. The resulting high inflation, slow growth, and stringent measures to compress demand are disproportionately impacting the poor.”

Why should Bangladesh and other poor countries pay for Putin’s war?

Last year at the U.N. Climate Change Conference held in Egypt, rich industrial countries entered into an agreement to compensate poor developing countries for “loss and damage” caused by their emission of greenhouse gases and pollution into the atmosphere. The “loss and damage” compensation would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.

By the same token, a similar platform needs to be created by the United States, Europe, along with big oil corporations and military contractors who have made immense profits from the war, to compensate poor developing countries, the countries that have become victims of the war as its collateral damage. 

Read the story on VTDigger here: Narain Batra: Criminals and profiteers are the vultures of war.

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Don Keelan of Arlington, a retired certified public accountant.

The good news is that the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company does not operate in Vermont. Although it might run as the part-ownership of CSX/PAR, we are saved from the havoc that Norfolk Southern created in East Palestine, Ohio. 

However, our train wreck is coming down the tracks: S.5, recently passed by a vote of 18-10 by the Vermont Senate. 

In a subtle move, S.5 will have all Vermont homes and businesses convert from fossil fuels to electricity. Its methodology is so convoluted and its implementation so costly that an amendment was attached, postponing its start for two years. During that time, the Agency of Natural Resources will study how the bill’s complex structure will work or not work. 

More bad news was directed at certain Vermont Climate Council members, who had a large hand in seeing that S.5 got through the Vermont Senate. There are members of the 23-person council who would personally gain from the adoption and immediate implementation of S.5.  To have a direct conflict of interest was never a reason for not serving on the council. 

Regardless, my wife and I are considering converting our 200-year-old home and our transportation needs to all-electric. We determined that the train wreck is coming, and we want to get ahead. We obtained cost estimates from our electrician and heating contractors, and from Tesla. Below are our discoveries:

  • Buy10 Mitsubishi heat pump units                                          $60,000
  • Provide electric service to each pump                                       $8,000
  • Convert oil-fired furnace to standby mode                               $1,000
  • Replace kitchen Garland gas stove with electric                      $5,000                                     
  • Replace gas stove in den with pellet stove                               $4,000
  • Replace 33amp Winco gas-fired generator with
    equivalent two-week backup battery storage  unit               $60,000                                         
  • Provide new building for battery storage due to fire risk       $20,000
  • Add electric service to house for 200 amps                              $5,000
  • Replace all external garden/field gas equipment                      $6,000
  • Install a Level 3 charger in garage                                              $1,000
  • Replace two gas cars with Tesla, Model Y Longrange           $55,000 
  • Contingency/sales taxes at 10% of above                               $22,000                                        

     Total estimated cost to do full-conversion to electric              $247,000

There may be credits to offset the above and the sale of our cars, one a 2002 Tahoe, and the equipment. However, we are doubtful anyone would want to purchase gas-fired equipment knowing that they will be forced to convert at a future date. 

We will, however, no longer need to send dollars out of state to pay for 1,600 gallons of fuel oil and 600 gallons of propane. Instead, we will be sending more money not only out of state but out of country, to Green Mountain Power’s parent company in Canada. 

After some soul-searching, my wife and I decided that we have to ignore that the batteries to be installed in our house and car have material mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Upon further research, the mining is referred to as artisanal mining (by hand) and accomplished by men, women and children (read Cobalt Red). 

Moreover, the metals used to make the batteries are processed in Communist China under horrible working conditions. As long as such working conditions are not local, we can, at least for now, ignore them and get on with the conversion.

We have some issues to overcome before we can convert: Will our tradespeople be available; will the supply chain meet our deadline; and most critically, where will we obtain $247,000? 

One can surmise that Vermont has a dozen train wrecks to deal with and more on the way. Why would the Legislature set another wreck in motion?  Could it be that out-of-state influencers are driving this train?

Read the story on VTDigger here: Don Keelan: The train wreck has been temporarily postponed.

As Reported by VTDigger

Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Patricia Meriam of Barre, who is pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

To help those interested in the current situation at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, please consider the college’s leadership web page statement, which reads: “We believe in collaborative leadership that considers and values all voices in our global community.”

It’s important for readers to keep in mind that the Vermont College of Fine Arts Board of Trustees has not shared any official records — no conversations, no building improvements cost analysis, no appraisals, no financial projections — produced during its considerations resulting in the decision to move residencies out of state and sell all its Montpelier campus buildings except College Hall — steps the trustees now insist were the only ones possible in order to preserve the college. 

Most importantly, the board members did not take the essential step of seeking the voices of the very community they were entrusted with stewarding.  

No faculty, students, alumnx, and only a few select staff were given a voice in the decision to hold residencies at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and to liquidate all campus real estate assets but one. Program directors were unaware of these discussions and thus were not consulted on our residency needs. And after numerous requests by community members to access more detailed evidence of our leadership’s due diligence, only the most general of summaries have been shared. 

It now appears the board of trustees and senior administration were developing their plan to move to Colorado and sell the Montpelier campus properties from at least 2020 until the public announcement in June 2022 — a time period during which there was a curious absence of any Academic Council meetings. 

Up to 2020, the Academic Council (consisting of faculty, program chairs and directors, and other administration) had met on a monthly basis to discuss programmatic concerns and initiatives, and to plan any big developments for the school’s future. Newly, under President Ward’s leadership and during the pandemic, when Zoom meetings became a standard mode of communication, not a single Academic Council meeting was called.

Today I offer that it is the failure of the board to share substantive information and decision-making that is responsible for any lack of understanding and widespread dissent on the part of our college community. 

Given that we haven’t been able to review all that went into what feels like rash decision-making, we cannot be certain that divesting from the Montpelier campus is the only way forward. Everything the wider Vermont College of Fine Arts community knows indicates there was time to explore more options, solicit more community expertise and aid, and co-develop a plan with other stakeholders, including core faculty, program directors, student reps, and staff.

The recent loss of college staff expertise has been most astonishing; four of six program directors have resigned and at least 15 other resignations have occurred in staff and faculty since June 2022. Additionally, our community needs an update on current enrollment numbers since the announcement, and a plan for what the administration is doing to ensure that staff and faculty stop leaving.

At time of writing, 573 people have responded to a Vermont College of Fine Arts community poll that was recently circulated; 73% are strongly opposed to the direction the board and senior leadership are taking the college, with 11% somewhat opposed. 

Given the widespread community dissent for their drastic plans, it seems the trustees would be wise to consider some new steps from where we are at this moment vs. where they were when senior administration announced their decisions.

The board members should meet with the Vermont College of Fine Arts community to transparently present their research and analysis of the move and campus sale. Here, they would share the detailed records of building cost analysis, financial projections, and the options of host schools they explored from 2019 to 2022. Then, listen to the community about their concerns and suggestions. Next, press pause on the sale and create a plan for new option exploration. And finally, invite faculty, staff, student reps, and alumnx to be part of the co-development of those other options.

In my view, it’s clear the widespread opposition to the board of trustees’ actions isn’t born out of resistance to downsizing the campus or ensuring future financial viability for the college. From the onset, constituents have been both frustrated and angered that there was absolutely no outreach or attempt to involve our community in these discussions. Given that even the board has admitted (and tax filings suggest) there was no immediate financial distress for the college, there was likely time to find alternative ways to downsize and update the campus, increase our fundraising capacity, and make use of our community loyalty while exploring other local and regional campus options in the interim.

To so swiftly disassemble a revered model of progressive arts educational leadership, which has taken over 30 years to build, has consequences for all of us. I urge the trustees to admit their miscalculations and return residencies to Montpelier for winter 2024 and summer 2024, while thoughtful collaboration on next steps takes place — this time with more of our esteemed global community involved.

There is trust to be restored.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Patricia Meriam: Vermont College of Fine Arts trustees must restore our trust.

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Jessica Clark Louisos of South Burlington, a registered professional engineer who regularly works on Vermont’s infrastructure. She is past president of the Vermont section of American Society of Civil Engineers and currently is chair of the Infrastructure Report Card.

Funding from the federal infrastructure law is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for communities to improve infrastructure systems we depend on every day. 

That is why it is critical lawmakers approve the $150 million in federal match funding in the governor’s fiscal year 2024 budget request. This plan ensures Vermont is able to take full advantage of federal funding opportunities. This money would be used to support drinking water and wastewater systems, support service line replacement projects, and ensure our water remains clean and safe. 

The Agency of Transportation has identified 223 projects across the state that will be supported by the matching funds. 

There is a long lead time for communities to prepare projects, so it is critical for community leaders to know that matching funds will be available when projects are ready. Make Vermont’s commitment clear so that communities have the time to prepare for these large, important projects. Any project delayed now would almost certainly cost more later, so acting now is the most fiscally responsible path.

The Vermont section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2023 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure last month, with nine categories of infrastructure receiving an overall grade of C, the same grade issued in the state’s 2019 report card. 

That means Vermont’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition and requires attention. This report underscores the challenges and successes of Vermont’s infrastructure. Aging assets, a largely rural population, and extreme weather events present challenges to Vermont’s infrastructure. The report highlights the age of Vermont’s infrastructure and the investment needed to improve and maintain systems that are crucial to everyone’s health and safety.

Infrastructure investment means more jobs, safer communities, and more money in taxpayers’ wallets. Vermont families and businesses cannot afford to underinvest in the systems that get us to and from work, send water directly to our faucets, and keep the lights on. We all pay a hidden tax for faulty infrastructure — the more we invest, the less it costs us in the long run. The American Society of Civil Engineers Failure to Act report estimates each American household is losing $3,300 per year due to infrastructure inefficiencies — that equates to an average car payment each month. We can ease the burden on families and businesses by investing in these critical structures.

While the current federal infrastructure funding is providing a temporary boost in spending and funding, Vermont needs to take full advantage of every dollar by providing matching funding and following through with project implementation. 

State funding for many key infrastructure programs is not sufficient or sustainable for the future. Infrastructure systems need continuous investment to provide safe, reliable services that we all need.

For more specifics on infrastructure needs in Vermont, view the report card and all nine categories here.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Jessica Clark Louisos: Support governor’s budget to take advantage of federal funds.

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Heidi Tringe of Montpelier, a partner and multi-state practice lead at MMR, and an honorary commander in the Vermont Army Guard; and Neale Lunderville of South Burlington, president and CEO of VGS (Vermont Gas) and an honorary commander in the Vermont Air Guard.

When Vermont faces an acute crisis — floods, pandemics, national security events — our first thought is often: “Call out the Guard.” With a phone call from the governor, the women and men of the Vermont National Guard drop everything to help our beloved state in its time of greatest need. 

From Tropical Storm Irene to Covid-19, the Guard has been critical to Vermont’s response, relief and recovery efforts.

When our national leaders need some of the most well-trained and advanced units in the military — from specialized winter operations to advanced fighter missions — their first thought is often: “Put the Vermonters ahead.” Last summer, President Biden called on the Vermont Air National Guard to defend NATO airspace in the face of Russian hostilities in Ukraine.

Their selflessness is without question. Their courage sets the standard. But after their service to us, military retirees need our support. 

Vermont is one of only a few holdout states where military pensions are taxed. Don’t Vermont’s veterans deserve to have the same retirement benefits already awarded to retirees in 43 other states? 

The answer is an unequivocal yes. It’s long past time. We urge lawmakers to do right by our Guard members and pass H.597, an act relating to exempting military retirement and military survivor benefit income.

Let’s put their service in perspective. Guard members swear an oath and sign a contract for service as volunteers, agreeing to aid their states during crises and serve their country in times of war. Guard members are often asked to deploy to austere, challenging environments for anywhere from six months (Air Guard) to a year (Army Guard). 

Recent deployments have sent Guard members to the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, and southwest Asia. They leave their families behind, missing first steps and first words, birthdays and holidays, to face danger in foreign lands. Their service is not the same: Unlike any other profession, members of the armed forces and their family members must shoulder the unrelenting weight and worry that comes with a separation of months and miles.

On these deployments, there is no guarantee of returning home the same, or at all. For over 20 years, Vermont Guard members were deployed to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. They faced IED, mortar and rocket attacks. Sixteen members of the Vermont Army Guard were killed in action. The memories of their “Angel Flights” — caskets draped with the American flag — remain painfully fresh and never forgotten. 

The majority of Guard members are traditional drilling members, which means they are working a dual career track, either in civilian employment or students. Every Guard member is required to complete military education courses in conjunction with drill weekends and annual training throughout their career. They must stand ready to respond to emergencies on short notice. 

They do this while simultaneously preparing, training and deploying in support of their federal mission across the globe. The work of our Guard never ceases. 

As honorary commanders for the Vermont National Guard, we are paired with local units in the Air Guard and Army Guard to support their mission in the community. From our front-row seats, we witness the extraordinary dedication, ability and professionalism of the women and men of the Green Mountain Boys. 

With its inherent risk and personal sacrifice, service in our nation’s military has no equal. After a career defending our nation, military retirees and their survivors have earned the benefit of a tax-free retirement. 

If their service and sacrifice alone do not convince you, there’s an economic argument: Vermont is losing out on the many military retirees who are still of working age. They often make a financial decision to spend their post-military years in another state, where their retirement is not subject to taxes. 

As Vermont continues to face a workforce shortage, the help of these well-trained retirees would be a boost for the state. The tax loss is a pittance compared to the benefit of a thriving economy and vibrant communities.

As a state, we must express our gratitude for the women and men of the military with more than words. Let’s join the rest of the nation and pass H.255 to exempt military retirement and military survivor benefit income.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Tringe & Lunderville: It’s time to honor our military service members and pass H.255.

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Dan Fingas of Plainfield, Vermont movement politics director for the bistate grassroots organization Rights & Democracy

Speaking to people across Vermont, whether at an organizing meeting, around a kitchen table, or even in the halls of the Statehouse, there is a theme that consistently emerges during the winter: Heating is expensive and burdensome. 

And for people who are working for low wages, or single parenting, or renting a unit in a drafty old building, these costs can be the difference between balancing a budget and not being able to afford the month’s bills, or making tradeoffs with other essentials like food.  

The problem is only getting worse — in the past two years, we have seen the cost of fuel oil rise by almost $2 per gallon, and kerosene has risen similarly. Propane prices, which were already high, have also risen, more slowly, but steadily. Nearly 40 percent of Vermont households heat with oil or kerosene. 

While wealthier families may be able to absorb these costs to a certain point, low- and moderate-income households are already being hit hard. And not only are these fuels expensive, they are also dirty and produce high emissions. The heating sector is one of the biggest sources of climate pollution in our state. 

As a member-led grassroots organization working to win changes that improve the lives of working Vermonters, Rights & Democracy believes that Vermont must do its part to ensure a just transition to a clean energy future that mandates renewable energy and ends our reliance on dirty, volatile fossil fuels. And we must guarantee that everyone benefits — especially Vermonters who have been most impacted by past and current harms. 

No matter what we look like, where we live, or how much money we make, we all deserve to be able to keep the heat on and stay warm in the winter without worrying about how we will pay for it or how it is impacting our health. 

By passing S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, this year, we have the opportunity to make meaningful strides toward this vision. The Affordable Heat Act will require fossil fuel importers to invest in and offer clean, affordable and price-stable heating options for all Vermonters, with a focus on weatherization and other solutions that reduce energy use — for example, a heat pump to replace an old, outdated oil furnace. S.5 offers a path toward a cleaner, greener future for us all, while ensuring that all low- and moderate-income households — including renters — can benefit from this transition. It places requirements on corporations to make these options available and affordable; homeowners and renters will not be mandated to make changes. 

Unlike a similar bill that failed last year, which Rights & Democracy did not support, S.5 contains specific targets to center equity and affordability; accounts more fully for life cycle emissions of a given heat source and requires these to decrease over time, which will phase out biofuels; and incentivizes energy use mitigation. 

The policy as currently written requires that 60% of investments in the residential sector go to low- to moderate-income Vermonters. It also requires that 50% of investments for low- and moderate-income households go toward measures that will lower those Vermonters’ energy bills, including weatherization, heat pumps, solar, and geothermal. For renters, any upfront costs not already covered could be taken care of by existing programs like the Weatherization Repayment Assistance Program. Finally, the bill will establish an equity advisory group to guide implementation, and ensure that renters have a seat at the table.  

Right now, fossil fuel companies and their high-paid lobbyists are spending thousands to stop this bill. They’ve recently spent over $25,000 on ads opposing this transition that will require them to help us all access cleaner heat sources and options to reduce energy use, which will save us all money over time. 

This is our moment to stand up to corporations that are focused only on protecting their bottom line, and demand better. The Affordable Heat Act is not perfect, but it is an important step in the right direction, as we continue to push for a full, just transition.

I was happy to see the Affordable Heat Act recently pass the full Senate with a strong majority. As it heads to the House Committee on Environment and Energy, please join me in reaching out to your legislators about why you support S.5, and in calling for the strongest bill possible to support equity, affordability, and a thriving, clean energy future. 

It’s time to end our reliance on expensive and polluting heating sources, while guaranteeing that everyone benefits.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Dan Fingas: All Vermonters deserve clean and affordable heat, and S.5 will deliver.

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Beth Sachs, a co-founder of the Vermont Energy Investment Corp. She served as its executive director for 22 years.  

I have been working to mitigate climate change for 50 years, experiencing the 1972-73 oil embargo, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Hurricane Katrina and now so many more “unnatural” environmental disasters wreaking havoc around the world.

The more I learn, the more terrified I become about how climate change will affect all life on the planet in ways we are finally beginning to understand and accept. I have to hope that it’s not too late to do something about it before the Earth cannot sustain life. 

We are at a point now where we have no more time to ignore this and must do everything we can to stop and reverse global warming.

One of the myriad actions we need to undertake is to stop burning fossil fuels, so we must: a) stop all future investments in the fossil fuel industry, b) rapidly divest from our current holdings, and c) invest in clean, renewable energy. 

Fossil fuels are driving catastrophic climate change that disproportionately impacts rural and marginalized, disenfranchised and disinvested communities. Climate change is also creating a critical public health problem, making many existing diseases and conditions worse and helping pests and pathogens spread into new regions. Research from Harvard University recently found that one in five deaths worldwide are due to the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in huge costs to our health care system.

We need to pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment bill (S.42 and H.197).  This legislation would require the Vermont Pension Investment Commission to make a plan and implement divestment of the state employee pension funds it manages from fossil fuel companies. These actions are crucial to both protect the state’s pension funds and to protect the environment, and they will contribute to our meeting the goals of our state’s Climate Action Plan. 

We can do this without negative impact on pension holders or taxpayers. From the experiences of numerous other funds that have divested without losing value, it’s clear this is doable. 

Recent reports show that divestment would not be detrimental, and in some cases would actually result in increased income. For example, an analysis of Colorado’s pension fund over the 10-year period ending in November 2022 shows that it would have earned an additional $2.7 billion in returns if it had divested from fossil fuels.

A recent report titled “Two Economies Collide: Competition, Conflict and the Financial Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment” from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis clearly predicts a decline in fossil fuel

assets over the long term: “Weak economic performance and an unstable future for fossil fuels have made it clear that divestment can be achieved without financial harm to any individual investment fund.” 

Other recent reports have reached the same conclusion. The investment firm BlackRock concluded that divested portfolios “experienced no negative

financial impacts” and “outperformed their benchmarks.” 

Vermont pension funds will face similar losses if the Vermont Pension Investment Commission does not divest soon from fossil fuels; therefore, the fiduciary obligation of the commission — to maximize the value of the pensions it manages — requires that it divest from fossil fuels. 

And we are not alone in taking this action. An estimated 1,500 funds worldwide have now committed to divesting more than $40 trillion from the fossil fuel industry, including the state and city of New York, the state of Maine, the province of Quebec, and the Vatican.

If we can hope that our children and grandchildren will survive and thrive on this planet, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and we cannot continue to support the growth of the fossil fuel industry. We need to divest now.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Beth Sachs: State pension system needs to divest from fossil fuels .

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Ed Baker of Burlington, a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers, host/producer of the Addiction Recovery Channel and a person with the lived experience of poly-drug addiction and injection drug use, presently in recovery for 38 years.         

We are morally obligated to come to grips with reality here in Vermont, to decisively face our truth and, as a state, respond. 

Since when do we allow fellow Vermonters to die without rushing to their aid with all we’ve got?

I’m talking about poly-drug overdose death, the toll it’s taking.

You’ll note a consistent reluctance on the part of official spokespersons to comment on “trends,” always waiting for more data.

Well, here’s a trend: It’s getting worse, quickly, with overdose deaths likely near quintupling between 2010 and 2022.

And, considering the absence of innovative harm-reduction programming, namely overdose prevention centers, it’s very difficult to place any stock at all in the current public health planning to ameliorate this disaster.

Fentanyl is involved in over 93% of the deaths here in Vermont; there’s an alarming increase in overdoses involving cocaine and methamphetamine; and xylazine, a horse tranquilizer that complicates the clinical course of overdose and causes severe soft tissue infections, is more and more commonly being detected in the unregulated drug supply.

The most recent data, released by the Vermont Department of Health in February, states that as of November 2022, there were 212 confirmed overdose deaths, with another 22 deaths waiting to be confirmed. In the first 11 months of 2022, there were potentially 234 deaths due to drug overdose, with December’s tragic additions not even figured in yet. This is compared to 217 lost Vermonters in 2021, at that point the worst year on record. 

All the above information is borne out by reliable data available to us now, yet we persist in a bureaucratic “whistling by the graveyard” as though somehow “more of the same” will somehow suddenly make a difference in this clear and disastrous trend. 

Politically driven arguments to nullify reliable data and allocate expenditures to more traditional programming are ill-founded, in my humble opinion. 

Arguments reflecting the supposed rationality of stockpiling funds readily available to take the bite out of future “tough times” are as near to “let them eat cake” as I’ve heard in my lifetime. 

Ask the 217 loved ones taken by overdose death in 2021, or the likely 240-plus taken from us in 2022 about future tough times.

We are back on our heels, for sure.  We need to admit our responses are limited and therefore inadequate, and we need to follow the available science in this field. We need to be all-in to save lives now.

At the Vermont House Committee on Human Services hearing on Overdose Prevention Centers on Feb. 24, testimony was presented that graphically depicted the tough times we are in right now, and what science and experience are teaching us.   

Myself and Sarah Russell, special assistant to end homelessness for the city of Burlington and co-chair for the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, describe our tragic times, myself reviewing the latest data available in Vermont, and Sarah from her firsthand experience reversing two potentially fatal overdoses at the Warming Shelter in Burlington in early February.              

Our testimonies were followed by the expert testimony of Kailin See, senior project director at OnPointNYC, the first sanctioned overdose prevention center in the USA; and Dr. Brandon Marshall, professor of epidemiology at Brown University in Rhode Island and an expert on overdose prevention and overdose prevention centers (please see above link for these testimonies).

At OnPointNYC, since its opening on Nov. 30, 2021, more than 2,300 participants have been served, utilizing the centers some 55,000 times, with over 700 overdose reversals. The estimated savings in costs to New York City related to law enforcement, hospital and emergency responses and sanitation services are more than $15 million to date.

Dr. Brandon Marshall eloquently summarizes the wealth of research data available on overdose prevention centers worldwide, with emphasis on their scalability to a state like Vermont.

More than 100 evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies have consistently proven the positive impacts of overdose prevention centers, including: 

  • Increasing entry into substance use disorder treatment, and the delivery of medical and social services.
  • Preventing overdose deaths (there has not been a single overdose fatality at any overdose prevention center worldwide), and safely managing on-site overdoses.
  • Providing a safe place for people who use drugs to find connection and care without stigma or fear of criminalization.
  • Reducing the amount and frequency that clients use drugs.
  • Reducing public drug use and syringe and/or other drug paraphernalia litter.
  • Reducing HIV and hepatitis C risk behavior (such as syringe sharing or unsafe sex).
  • Saving costs due to a reduction in disease, overdose deaths, and need for emergency medical services.

To date there has been an absence of systematic review of this data at the Opioid Settlement Abatement Advisory Committee. This committee now has access to $10 million designated to reducing accidental polydrug overdose death.                                                 

Please recommend due diligence be practiced regarding the potential of overdose prevention centers by emailing the state health commissioner,, today.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Ed Baker: Vermont ignores data on effective overdose prevention.

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Jennifer Lovett, a resident of Starksboro.

Human-wildlife conflict poses a major challenge for the conservation of carnivore species globally. Today black bears inhabit only about 60% of their historic range in North America, mostly due to human persecution. Large home territories and a varied diet can easily lead them into conflict with humans. 

Wildlife agencies consider bear hunting to be a means of deterring these incidents but there is little evidence to support this. In fact, there is evidence that hunting bears is counterproductive as a means of reducing human-bear conflicts. 

A recent extensive study, utilizing data from 2004 through 2019, concluded that the most effective way to manage bear and human interactions is through coexistence and proper management of attractants. 

The comprehensive study, conducted in Ontario, Canada, investigated the relationship between the hunting of black bears and the number of negative human-bear encounters. Data was collected on human-bear interactions before and after a new spring bear hunting season was introduced in selected wildlife management units in addition to the existing fall hunt. 

Reported negative incidents were studied before (2012 and 2013) and after (2014 and 2015) the spring season was added both in the selected hunting areas and in control areas with no spring hunt. In 2016, a spring season was implemented in the entire province. Data from 2004 to 2019 was analyzed to establish long-term patterns of confrontations before, during and after this spring season was universally implemented. 

Results showed that more bears were killed when the spring season was implemented, but there was no reduction in the number of human-bear interactions; in fact, there were more conflicts in areas with the new spring hunt than in control areas without hunting. The study’s authors conclude that: “Regulated, presumably sustainable harvest was ineffective at reducing human-bear interactions and incidents in the near-term and might have increased both.”

Factors influencing the numbers of bears killed by hunters and the causes of human-bear conflicts were also studied. The results echo those of several other studies conducted in the U.S. and Canada, demonstrating the negative impact of hunting large carnivores on controlling negative interactions with humans or livestock. According to the authors, “Programs promoting coexistence between people and wildlife, including education, capacity building, and management of unnatural food sources are likely to be the most successful at reducing conflicts between people and bears.”

Several independent studies show that bears generally avoid people when natural food is available to them. In Ontario and many U.S. states, bears are hunted primarily with bait. In Vermont, baiting bears is prohibited but other unnatural attractants — such as unprotected cornfields or beehives, bird feeders, and accessible animal feed — may attract bears just as effectively. 

Because bears are opportunistic feeders, these practices reinforce and condition them to seek unnatural food sources. This is especially pronounced in the spring, when bears emerge hungry from hibernation, and continues into the summer months as they forage for the calories necessary to fatten up for the winter. The data affirms that “there were indeed greater rates of conflict between bears and people … after the initiation of the spring season.”

Hunting bears is ineffective as a conflict deterrent and may make the problem worse. The authors conclude: “A suite of measures promoting coexistence — including attractant management, education, enforcement of regulations on securing attractants, and local capacity building for management of conflicts — will help to ensure viable populations of carnivores while limiting the potential negative effects on human safety and livelihoods.”

In Vermont, 20% of the bear population has been hunted and killed in the last couple of years. Many hunters use the excuse of reducing bear conflicts as justification for the hunt. But research clearly proves that to be wrong. 

Close to half of the bears killed in Vermont each year are females; many of them probably have cubs or yearlings. When these orphans lose the protection and guidance of their mothers, they may become the very “nuisance” bears we hear complaints about. 

There is much to consider when it comes to killing and managing these animals, including social dynamics, habitat loss and fragmentation, the impact of climate change, and the role of human behavior. I urge Vermont Fish & Wildlife to consider this science seriously when recommending policy.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Jennifer Lovett: Bear hunting may actually increase human-bear conflicts .

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Commentaries are opinion pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters. Commentaries give voice to community members and do not represent VTDigger’s views. To submit a commentary, follow the instructions here.

This commentary is by Robert Zeidler, a resident of Georgia, Vermont.

I’m grateful to be able to write a follow-up to the excellent letter by Jonathan Baker. In it, he outlines his experiences, so far, with living with a couple of heat pumps. 

But there is even more to the story.

No one has any objection to living in a world where we have clean air and clean water. However, the current headlong rush to something, anything, by yesterday is naive, although it is well intended, no doubt.

Electrification as it’s currently laid out is going to be a disaster. Take a scenario like we recently experienced during a snowstorm where areas were without power for a period of time. When everything is run by electricity, what are the good citizens of remote towns going to do when they lose power? Homes that run on gas/oil/LP can almost always get by powering their furnaces with a tiny generator from a hardware store.That won’t be possible using electricity only.

So, the common refrain is that the grid needs to be “smart” and reconfigured. That means installing more power lines, and maybe even burying them in the interest of reliability. It’s a great goal, and should be pursued. How would that look?

Permitting anything of that dimension would be an epic undertaking, especially in the courts. Then there are the materials involved. Power lines are made of copper. It is estimated that America will need twice to three times as much copper as it uses currently to achieve its grid goals. Not even during World War II did we double the production of any base material. 

And where does the raw copper come from? Apart from Michigan, it comes from those ugly open mines out in the western states.Or from South America. Are we going to ask those areas to further destroy their respective environments for our benefit? 

Also, with all of that demand, what will the pricing look like? That copper then has to be smelted and processed and there are only three or four places where that is done in this country, currently anyway. It’s not an environmentally friendly process. Again, do we put our needs ahead of the needs of the residents of those states? 

Perhaps we could plunk down a smelting operation here in Vermont. No? Thought so. And what about the labor to install all of these lines? Even if enough bodies can be found, what about the training, etc., involved?

The point is, getting this accomplished is a worthwhile goal and should be accomplished, but it’s not going to be in 10 or even 20 years. At the same time, pundits should pump the brakes on their predictions of impending doom, and instead start preparing for adapting. It’s not a disaster we’re facing, but merely a change. Winters may be shorter and warmer. Skiing and sugaring may be affected. But, at the same, maybe farmers will have a longer growing season. Maybe they will be able to double-crop. We won’t know until we get there.

And lastly, we should consider how things will work once we trade the old boss (fossil fuel companies) for the new boss (electric utilities). Electric power will be cleaner but there is no way it will be cheaper. All of those upgrades will cost billions and someone has to pay. And lest anyone think “That’s federal money!” just remember there is no such thing as government money. 

In the short term, we can weatherize homes, and maybe set minimum specs on replacement equipment regarding their efficiency. Solar is good on individual dwellings but not as a primary wholesale solution; it just won’t work in Vermont. Use Germany as an example. Just not enough sun for long enough. Leave that to places like California and Florida.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Robert Zeidler: The headlong rush to something, <em>anything</em>, by yesterday is naive.

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