Clean Energy Development Fund still in flux
In an order issued Thursday, the Vermont Public Service Board shed some light on whether it believes Entergy Corp. should continue paying into a fund for renewable energy under its agreements with the state.
The board declined to state definitively whether Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, needs to make scheduled payments to the Clean Energy Development Fund.
The Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers before the board, had asked that the company be required to continue its obligations to the state during the relicensing process. The board has allowed the plant to keep operating even though its state license expired March 21.
The board denied the department’s motion. However, it stated that Entergy must comply with all conditions of its current licenses. The board wrote that some of those obligations are arguably time-limited, and some agreements are with the state rather than directly set forth in a license.
Sandra Levine, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont, said the ruling is an indication that the board will require Entergy to continue its obligations, including payments to the Clean Energy Development Fund.
Gabrielle Stebbins, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said she is concerned the order could mean the end of the fund. A proposal in the Vermont Legislature that would replace the funding from the agreements with a tax would fund only one-quarter of the approximately $6 million the fund receives annually from Entergy.
A spokesman for Entergy had no comment on the most recent order.
Entergy attorneys notified the board April 9 that the company will place the scheduled payments in escrow until the board provides assurance that Entergy can continue operating and provided the Legislature does not approve a pending bill that would increase a tax on the plant to replace the funds.
~ Alan Panebaker
House retains philosophical exemptions – with conditions
The philosophical exemption to vaccines is safe in Vermont. The House advanced S. 199 after an intense floor debate.
The vaccine bill requires parents to sign the philosophical exemption each year and to review material provided by the Department of Health and acknowledge that their decision may have an adverse effect on their child and others. The data schools collect on the number of students receiving vaccines and reported to the Department of Health will be sent to the Legislature.
“The important thing [that] it allows in my mind, is it allows the exemption and it says that people involved have reviewed and understand the evidence based educational material provided by the Department of Health and understand the failure to complete increases risk,” Rep. Greg Clark said.
The bill avoided an attempt by Rep. Paul Poirier, a member of the House Health Care committee, to strike philosophical exemptions entirely, leaving only a religious exemption. Prompting more than two hours of debate, representatives rehashed the question of parental rights or public safety and their own personal experiences with disease outbreaks, before failing in a vote of 36-93.
Poirier argued that the crux of the philosophical exemption – parental rights – was not a clear-cut issue when it interfered with public safety. He also argued that it unfairly placed the anti-vaccine minority above the “silent majority” of pro-vaccine parents, while endangering an even smaller minority of children and adults unable to vaccinate due to health conditions.
Poirier also said he receives no funding from the pharmaceutical industries, an allegation he said has been made on the Internet because of his pro-vaccine stance in the House Health Care committee.
Rep. George Till, another dissenting member of House Health Care and practicing doctor, echoed the major talking points of Poirier’s 10-minute plus introduction, particularly the threat of public safety.
“There was no disagreement in that committee about parents’ right to not vaccinate their child. The question is does the parent who exercises that right chooses also have the right to endanger other children in school with them. To me, this is the central question of the debate,” he said.
Both sides of the debate on Poirier’s amendment seemed to agree with the basic principle of vaccination – with a few outliers questioning the influence of the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry. For many supporting the exemption, the question was more an issue of how to convince parents to vaccinate rather than whether or not they should be vaccinated the first place.
Rep. Bill Lippert said he favored the education-focused approach accompanying the modified philosophical exemption over forcing parents to fulfill a state requirement.
“Right now I’m not persuaded that suddenly imposing a requirement is going to persuade these families to suddenly vaccinate their children. I think these children are going to continue to be in our community with their parents wrestling with what to do and how to do it. And for me despite my willingness on other occasions to impose a requirement where public health is at risk and share consequences of someone else’s decision around public health decisions, I think we need to wrestle with how to get there,” he said.
~ Erin Hale
Energy bill dies in committee, for now
This year’s energy bill, which would require utilities to purchase a percentage of their power load from “renewable” sources, was defeated on a 3-2 vote in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy Thursday morning.
Sens. Joe Benning, Randy Brock and Mark MacDonald opposed the bill. MacDonald, a Democrat, disliked a proposal that would allow a carveout for IBM, the state’s largest energy user, which would allow the company to have its own greenhouse gas offset.
The bill has already passed the House. It will likely re-emerge for more discussion, according to Sen. Ginny Lyons, the committee chair.
“It’s really unfortunate if you let your personal animosity for an individual corporation to determine the outcome of a critically important renewable energy bill,” Lyons said.
The committee also attached an expanded “bottle bill” to H. 485, a bill dealing with solid waste that includes mandatory recycling. The amendment would expand the current bottle bill to allow 5-cent redemptions for plastic water bottles and other beverage containers in addition to the current program which accepts only carbonated beverages.
An amendment that would prohibit retail stores from using carry-out plastic bags in 2014 also hitched a ride on the solid waste bill.
~ Alan Panebaker
Child-care collective bargaining almost sees debate
A bill that would allow child-care providers to bargain collectively for state subsidies almost made it to the Senate floor for debate Friday.
Sen. Dick McCormack introduced the proposal as an amendment to S. 137, which deals with workers’ compensation. However, the Senate adjourned before discussing the child-care workers proposal.
A bill passed in the House last year would allow child-care workers to form a union and bargain for subsidy payments.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell has said he opposes the bill coming to the Senate floor. He said members of the local American Federation of Teachers union have tried to intimidate him into supporting the bill. Thus far, efforts to bring the bill to the floor have been scuttled.
McCormack said he takes the pro tem’s proposal to discuss the bill Monday at face value, but he said “one does wonder if he’s buying time.”
On Tuesday, members of Vermont Early Educators United-AFT union will be at the Statehouse to push for the bill to come to the Senate floor after it has been stalled procedurally.
~ Alan Panebaker
Correction: The item on S. 199, the bill on vaccinations, was corrected at 10:15 a.m. April 14, with information provided by Rep. Anne Donahue. Rep. Greg Clark’s name was incorrect in the original story, as was some information on data collection. Further corrections were made on April 15 at 6 p.m. on parts of the bill that were mischaracterized as amendments.