Scott picks environmental lawyer to head Public Service Board

Environmental attorney Anthony Roisman will replace Jim Volz as chair of the Public Service Board, Gov. Phil Scott announced Thursday afternoon.

Roisman, of Weathersfield, has fought a range of environmental cases over the course of his legal career, often involving energy or toxics. He will assume the post on June 12 when Volz’s term expires.

The board oversees the siting of energy infrastructure, as well as public utility rates and service quality. In recent years, the board has been caught up in controversy over the siting of large-scale ridgetop wind projects. Environmentalists are split on the issue. Most believe renewables are an essential substitute for fossil fuel energy sources that are contributing to climate change. Others say turbines are a blight on the landscape and result in local environmental damage.

Scott announced Roisman’s appointment by email about an hour after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which would have limited U.S. carbon dioxide pollution.

On Wednesday, the governor, who opposes large-scale wind, said he had ensured the new PSB chair shares his views.

“Tony has been involved in administrative and legal proceedings involving energy facilities and energy issues for more than five decades, and I believe his experience will serve Vermont well as we navigate the transition to a cleaner and more affordable energy future that supports stronger economic growth and lower costs for families and employers,” Scott said in the announcement.

Roisman has fought prominent cases against wind development in Vermont, and earlier this year he succeeded in a case to prevent a large solar project in Maryland. Roisman has also litigated against nuclear plant operators and has extensive experience litigating claims for injury from exposure to toxic substances.

From 1977 to 1979, Roisman was a senior staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the early 1980s, he was chief of the Hazardous Waste Section and Special Litigator for Hazardous Waste in the Lands and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Roisman served as executive director of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice from 1982-1987.

Roisman is a 1960 graduate of Dartmouth College and 1963 graduate of Harvard Law School. He has been an adjunct professor and research fellow in environmental studies at Dartmouth College.

He lives in Weathersfield.

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  • Pete Novick

    There is an area of northeast Quebec province in Canada that forms the north side of the St. Lawrence Seaway and just to the south of Newfoundland and Labrador. Canada Route 138 follows the coastline and some miles past the little town of Natashquan, the road ends. North and east of that point are thousands of square miles of empty land offering some of the best conditions for generating electricity from wind on the planet. There’s enough room for tens of thousands of wind turbines.

    The build-out may require 20 years, beginning with improvements to the port at Natashquan to handle turbine assemblies delivered by barge. The tiny airport could be improved and over time provide a gateway, first for construction crews, and later for turbine farm operators and technicians. Energy companies know a lot about operating in remote areas with often hostile weather: think Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

    Wind is perhaps our most scalable energy resource: you can build five turbines on an otherwise pristine ridgeline in the Green Mountain State, pocket your insanely lucrative government incentives, have utilities pay premium wholesale rates for your electricity, and still meet your political associates, lawyers and lobbyists at the first tee by 3:00 pm next Tuesday.

    Industrial wind requires – well – industrial laydown space.

    A project of this size and scope would require the sustained efforts of two national governments to provide the vision, enabling legislation, regulatory standards, oversight and environmental stewardship that only national governments can provide.

    Governments routinely lead the charge for investments that make sense but for which there is no private sector appetite for long term risk to invested capital.

    The Paris Accord left it to each signatory nation to establish its own “nationally determined contributions,” (NDCs).

    Governor Scott and his Canadian counterpart, Quebec premier Philippe Couillard could lead this effort.

    So, what are we waiting for?

    • Matthew Davis

      Or more importantly, when will opponents of energy generation in VT start advocating for forcing utilities to just buy the power we could generate here from HQ and Northern ME, and Northern NY, as well as the hypothetical project you describe? The transmission is going to be built, and likely through VT (TDI New England) so why not tap into it?

      Seems like the time is now with a gov. keen on authoritarian mandates. What are we waiting for?

    • Julia Purdy

      Exactly. And to achieve the Paris climate accord goal by 2050, it wouldn’t be 5 little windmills in one spot; you would have to line the entire Green Mountain spine – 200+ miles – with wind turbines (so saith David Blittersdorf). Drive up to the new Birdseye Wildlife Management Area (accessible off Route 4A in Ira), hike (an easy hike) up the old road to the opening under the Birdseye cliffs and look in front of you. That whole ridgeline associated with Herrick Mountain would have been lined with at least 60 500-ft turbines, had the towns of Ira and Poultney not scotched it. Now we – the people of Vermont – have this wonderful, magical resource to roam in, fish in, hunt in, relax in, photograph, unmolested by the whoosh-whoosh of windmills, the interstate-sized road-cut that leads up to them, and foundations that would support a multi-story office building.

    • Paul Drayman

      I’m not familiar with that region of which you refer. Just because it is a relatively uninhabited area, that doesn’t mean it isn’t environmentally sensitive or important for some other reason. I guess it’s worth taking a look. There would be many hurdles to cross, not the least of these would be political and economic in both Quebec and Vermont. Being built in Quebec would eliminate most of the financial benefit for U.S. companies so there’s another obstacle.
      I’ve seen wind fields like this in the California deserts. To many, a desert is simply wasteland. That is not true at all. Those developments are strange and shocking to see. Is this a project that is actually under consideration?

  • bill_christian

    The question is not whether wind farms harm the environment. The question is whether they cause more harm, or less harm, than burning coal and fracked natural gas. That is an easy question.

    • Stewart Clark

      No. The proper question is: Does industrial ridge-line wind produce more energy with less environmental damage than solar ? I’d like to see a response based on science. And please, there’s no “farm” in solar or turbine-based installations.

      • Matthew Davis

        That’s a pretty subjective question, but one metric that is used in comparing impacts of energy generation is EROI. Wind has a considerably higher EROI than solar and most other forms of electrical generation.

        The subjectivity arises however when considering one’s view of “environmental damage”. Some clearly see ridgeline wind development as highly damaging while others do not. The apparent hypocrisy of the whole debate here in VT however is that most of our electricity is imported from out of state and we really don’t have to deal with the damage here. Others do, and when folks make claims that wind is damaging our environment without any apparent consideration of impacts from our energy use outside of our state, that seems to me to be a serious problem.

        Additionally, if one wants to make a claim that one type of land use (wind) damages our environment while other types of land use (ski areas for instance) do not, it kind of makes it difficult to take that critique very seriously.

        • Stewart Clark

          EROI (energy input required to produce energy) evades my question.

          • Matthew Davis

            Then what metric do you propose?

        • Steve Woodward

          Why the disdain for ski areas? Many of your previous posts are critical of the industry. Why stop with them? What about golf courses? How about cookie cutter housing developments? Or, marinas?, even though they are on the water. Our number one economic driver is tourism and leisure, not industrial wind turbines. People come here to ski, golf and boat, and take in our natural beauty, not to look at wind turbines. Just answer me on this. Where is it inappropriate for Ridge line wind in Vermont?

          • Matthew Davis

            If we are to be consistent, all development in VT should now be required to meet the same sound standards. That should prevent any more change don’t you think?

            “Where is it inappropriate for Ridge line wind in Vermont?” There are many areas that are inappropriate. Act 174 provides an opportunity for every region and town to determine where wind will be sited. The NRPC determined 30 MW would be appropriate in that region. Where will that be sited?

        • Paul Drayman

          The grid is where almost all the electricity generated in N.E. is distributed. The sources include, primarily, fossil fuel, nuclear, hydro and a tiny bit of R.E. from solar and wind.
          Yes, we import a large amount of the electricity we use here in Vermont, however almost every bit we do produce here is from renewable sources including hydro and almost 100% of that goes into the grid, as well. (BTW please spare me the industry’s pitch that R.E produced in Vermont tends to stay in Vermont. The reality is that electrons move at approximately 186,000 miles per second and in addition the sources and destinations are untraceable.)
          Yet, the electricity from the grid that we all share is comprised of only 5% R.E. from solar and wind. Why is that?
          That is because other N.E. states have in the past, refused to develop solar and wind on their land and only recently have made minuscule plans to expand in that direction.
          We (actually out of state or out of country companies) could build wind and solar sites all over our hills and pastures (which is where all the development is proposed and occurs) and pump that all into the grid and the percentage of R.E. in that network would only change a few points. We, the citizens of these rural regions would, though, be able to look in any direction and say “Boy, we are saving the planet !!!”

          • Matthew Davis
          • Paul Drayman

            Matthew, I’m not sure what aspect of the site you want to share. I have studied the ISO site on numerous occasions and have formulated some of my opinions from the data there. From the link you suggested, here is a quote:
            “For the foreseeable future, the region will require
            resources such as natural-gas-fired units that can
            do what wind and solar resources cannot: make
            large contributions to meeting regional electricity
            demand; run in any type of weather and at any
            time of day; quickly change output levels; and
            provide essential grid-stability services. On
            frigid winter days in particular, the region has
            no alternative but to depend on fossil fuels and
            the remaining nuclear power stations, while also
            working to improve fuel accessibility for natural gas-fired
            Since Vermont (as I noted in my prior comment) produces nearly 100% renewable energy and the rest of the region has made little or no effort toward that goal. As that quote verifies, we could cover every available acre of Vermont with wind mills and solar panels and that would change almost nothing. The percentage of power in the grid from wind and solar would remain close to 5%.

          • JohnGreenberg

            “we could cover every available acre of Vermont with wind mills
            and solar panels and that would change almost nothing. The percentage of power
            in the grid from wind and solar would remain close to 5%.”

            Given that Vermont’s electricity consumption
            is roughly 5% of the ISO-NE total, it’s clear that if VT produces 100% of its
            power from renewable sources, it would add roughly 5% to the grid, while if Vermont produced no
            renewable energy and imported all of its electricity from the grid, there would
            be 5% less renewable power on the grid.

            That only shows that Vermont
            is a small fish in a (relatively) large pond. Most of us already knew that.

            The question remains: where should Vermont
            source its electricity? The fact that we use a lot less than our
            neighbors doesn’t answer that question.

          • Paul Drayman

            I have no problem with Vermont producing from R.E. the same amount of power it consumes. Your figures and terminology are are not quite right. Obviously, production and consumption are not the same. The 5% I refer to of the power from the grid attributable to wind and solar are from all sources over the entire N.E. Region. If Vermont doubled it’s current contribution to the grid from wind and solar, it would not double the amount of renewable content in the electricity we share. Conversely if we produced no power in Vermont, it would not reduce the renewables in the grid by 5 %. Also, just for clarity, some of what we contribute is Hydro and a small amount of a few other fuels.
            I do feel, however, that if we are going to increase our contribution to the electric network, there should be a plan worked out, not an edict from the Legislature and deals made between corporations and the PSB, with towns and citizens being thrown a few bones as a pacifier.

          • JohnGreenberg

            You’re right: my language above was sloppy. I’ll restate my core point.

            Vermont’s consumption (demand) is 5% of the ISO grid’s total demand. If Vermont were to meet all of its demand with 100% renewable production, the total impact would not exceed 5% unless our production were to exceed our demand. Vermont is a bit player.

            “There should be a plan worked out.”

            Planning in Vermont has gone on for decades now. DPS produces Comprehensive Energy Plans and periodically updates them. The legislature takes testimony from DPS, the Board, and outside experts before writing its legislative mandates. The PSB hears litigated cases, with lawyers representing multiple players and points of view, before arriving at decisions which become “case law” guiding future projects unless modified by legislation or the courts. And of course, all utilities engage in planning to assure adequate power sources.

            If this doesn’t meet your demand for planning, please explain what would. Who should formulate
            it? How should it be implemented?

    • Steve Woodward

      Bill, it’s not only a question of if it harms the environment, how about if they the harm the people that live near them? Is this more damage to the environment than burning coal or fracked gas?
      I believed in a balanced approach to any governmental decision. The full steam ahead days are over thankfully. Your pro wind posting has just poked a rabid skunk. Remember, those are your words not mine.

      • Matthew Davis

        No that is not more damage to the environment than burning gas or coal. That damage is less than even a small ski area in VT. You want to see damage, go take a walk up Killington in the summer.

        Building roads for wind turbines, while typically seen as “destruction” by the anti-change movement, is significantly less impact than the damage from mountain top removal or fracking. That is clear, and anyone that questions that is clearly out of touch with reality.

        • Steve Woodward

          We have a new buzz word: “anti change movement.” I am not anti change, I am anti ridge line wind devolopment. Clear cutting for ski areas was done 50 or so years ago. Then over development along the slopes led to act 250, in order to curb more deforestation. So now it’s ok to go back and repeat the same mistakes? Some say that section 248 accomplishes the same thing is that 250, but that is up to debate. Labeling people who disagree with you “clearly out of touch from reality”isn’t very befitting of a back-and-forth dialogue on something we disagree about.

          • Matthew Davis

            “Clear cutting for ski areas was done 50 or so years ago.”So just because it was done in the past, ski areas should not be held to the same standards as wind development today? Snowmaking makes noise and impacts water quality. Several streams/watersheds are impaired due to ski area development and associated stormwater runoff. SIgnificant impacts to wildlife as well…. TO simply oppose one form of ridgeline development today while ignoring the impacts of other forms seems pretty hypocritical…does it not? Additionally, ski area development is not done…it will continue in the future. Should it be allowed to?

            “Labeling people who disagree with you “clearly out of touch from
            reality”isn’t very befitting of a back-and-forth dialogue on something
            we disagree about.” TO clarify, my point was related to the suggestion that wind projects impact the environment more than burning natural gas or coal. Clearly there is nothing to debate as facts are facts….wind power has considerably less impact.

    • Tim Vincent

      The easy answer:
      Natural gas is far preferable.

    • Victor Stagnetti

      Well I think it’s a little more nuanced than that… there are questions about where the turbines are sited, the power they generate goes to, which companies profit from these arrangements, what level of local control should towns have over accepting or rejecting proposals in their backyard, etc.

    • Dan DeCoteau

      They cause harm to my eyesight and ruin the beauty of our state with monoliths reminiscent of The War of the World aliens spinning slowly where mother natures portrait has been ripped from the ground and replaced by questionable technology for huge money interests. We banned roadside billboards to protect our landscape and now clutter our hills with steel turbines and cover our fields with ugly solar panels to satisfy the gods of climate change in an area smaller than a postage stamp on the face of the earth. All the while pretending that man can control the earths climate when we can’t even forecast the weather 4 days out.

      • Phil Greenleaf

        Billboards signify greed – Wind Power certainly represents a more refined and progressive ethic. False equivalent. Try again.

        • Matt Young

          We don’t have any billboards in Vermont, not a good comparison

          • Phil Greenleaf

            I know- I was questioning the point by Dan DeCoteau. See his text for the false equivalency.

  • Mark Bowen

    Good move by the governor in my view. Time to hold the horses on wind and other large scale energy projects in this state and proceed intelligently and thoughtfully. Unfortunately, greed and corporate interest corrupt even the noblest intentions in this country. That has certainly been the corrupting influence on so-called renewable energy development in this state, and our hapless former governor simply aided and abetted.

    • Willem Post

      500-ft tall industrial grade wind turbines on Vermont’s environmentally sensitive, pristine ridge lines is a total oxymoron.

      They do not belong in Vermont.

      Scott is absolutely doing the right thing for Vermonters after 6 years of having to suffer the insult of such monsters.

      It would be much more cost-effective to concentrate on, and provide incentives for:

      – Increasing the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

      – Requiring “zero-net-energy”, and “energy-surplus” of all NEW buildings.

      – Increasing the mileage of the vehicle population.

      These measures would reduce the energy bills of households and businesses, and likely would reduce CO2 emissions by at least 50%, with:

      – Minimal government regulations, taxes, fees and surcharges.

      – Minimal capital cost.

      – Near-zero visual and other adverse impacts.

  • Felicia Scott

    A distinct improvement over the poor choice of John Volz. Hopefully there can soon be an improvment over Margaret Cheney as well.

  • David Dempsey

    Vermont utilities have been saying for the last few years that they don’t want or need more wind energy. Just saying.

  • Keith Stern

    The real questions are 1. is solar and wind the energy sources of the future? and 2 if not is spending all the resources i.e. taxpayer dollars that are being diverted from R+D finding the solution sooner wise? and 3 how many years use does it take to offset the carbon emissions building wind turbines? and 4 what environmental costs are there to scrapping solar panels in the future?

  • Julia Purdy

    “Environmentalists are split on the issue. Most believe renewables are an
    essential substitute for fossil fuel energy sources that are
    contributing to climate change. Others say turbines are a blight on the
    landscape and result in local environmental damage.” Your statement is catchy and believable if we don’t look too closely, but it’s like an asymmetrical mathematical equation: the two sides of the issue are not comparable, as you state them. It compares apples and oranges. To believe that “renewables are an essential substitute for fossil fuel energy sources” does not mean that one can’t also oppose turbines for other reasons, i.e., because they damage the landscape and the local environment. And conversely, to oppose the destructiveness of wind turbines on the ridgelines is not the same as opposing the development of renewable energy sources by other means, such as one that has been consistently ignored in this go-round until very recently, hydro.

    It is possible for both the “most” and the “others” to accept both propositions.

    • marjkramer

      Is it possible that hydro is resisted by Trout Unlimited and fishermen and that they have to much power in Vermont.

  • Paul Drayman

    Actually, Burlington gets less than half of its power from its own power generation, Mc Neil and Winooski. As far as I can see,the rest of it is all purchase contracts, which are simply on paper. The electricity itself from a dozen or so facilities goes into the grid. Some of these are Hydro Quebec, ISO N.E., NYPA, Georgia Mtn., Sheffield, Next Era (a hydro Co. in Maine).. Even McNeil and Winooski go into the grid, but they are essentially within the City of Burlington,