News roundup – debates, bus/truck emissions, failing dairy farms, etc.

GOP Lt. governor candidates debating now 

Guv pledges zero emissions in trucks, buses

UVM dings online students for $2600 facilities fee

25 dairy farms close since pandemic began

No quarantine needed if travel destination ‘bumps’ after reservations made

Letter to Editor by Pat Finnie: What’s more exclusive, “Liberty and Justice for All” or “Black Lives Matters?”

By Guy Page

July 14, 2020 – Vermonters can hear the GOP Lieutenant Governor Debate now on Vermont Public Radio. The debate, moderated by VPR newsman Bob Kinzel, features candidates Dana Colson Jr., Meg Hansen, Jim Hogue, Scott Milne, and Dwayne Tucker. VPR says that if you have a question for the candidates, share by calling 802-552-3425 and leaving a voicemail or by emailing community@vpr.net.

Gov. Scott will debate other GOP gubernatorial candidates before the August 11 primary, he told Seven Days recently. Further details were not announced. 

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Scott pledges Vermont to reach zero emissions in bus, truck sales by 2050 

Governor Phil Scott today announced that Vermont has joined 15 states and the District of Columbia in signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that calls for 100% of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to be zero emission vehicles by 2050.

The MOU sets a framework for financial incentives but is voluntary and does not (yet) require specific fees or payments, such as a carbon tax. The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a similar regional framework for controlling transportation emissions, is further along in its development and does recommend carbon taxation. 

States signing the MOU are California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

“This agreement is an important step forward in our ongoing commitment to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road in Vermont,” said Governor Scott. “Electrifying buses and trucks while making the technology more affordable and accessible is key to meeting our state emissions goals, and this agreement will help move the market in this direction.”

The transportation sector accounts for 44% of Vermont’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up 14% of the on-road sector total. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles include large pickup trucks and vans, delivery trucks, box trucks, long-haul delivery trucks and school and transit buses. Nationally, truck emissions are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and truck travel is expected to increase significantly in coming decades.

Today, there are at least 70 electric truck and bus models on the market, with more new models expected over the next decade.

“Electrifying our trucks and buses is a critical step in achieving statewide emission reductions and protecting public health in Vermont,” said Department Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Peter Walke. “Cars and trucks are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. Entering into a collaborative agreement will help us significantly reduce these and other harmful emissions.”

The MOU is a non-binding, voluntary initiative, according to language in the MOU. It sets a framework for financial and non-financial incentives, but does not (yet) require specific fees or payment mechanisms, such as a carbon tax. 

The MOU is facilitated by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM). For more information, visit https://www.nescaum.org/.

At his press conference today, Gov. Phil Scott said the intent is to drive the industry towards electric vehicles, and thus drive down the cost. “This is a long ways out….we have to drive industry, so that the cost will come down…..If we sit back and allow the industry to build internal combustion engines, we will still have high emissions.”

Subsidies are a possibility in the future but are not on the table right now, he said. 

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Online UVM students dinged for full “comprehensive use” fee 

UVM students who attend online may have only “virtual” enjoyment of campus services, but the cost to use them is very real. UVM online students still must pay $2600 campus facility usage fee – even though they can’t set foot on campus. 

A Vermont parent whose oldest child will attend UVM online this fall says the student is still being charged for the “comprehensive” fee charged for use of the library, student union facilities, buses, athletic facilities etc., even though the student is not allowed on campus. 

The parent, a longtime nurse at the UVM Medical Center, wrote to Vermont Daily: “As you know they are having kids decide online only or live on campus. She is choosing online only. They are STILL making students pay the comprehensive fee: $2600. It’s for use of Davis center, athletic facilities, buses etc. —- yet they can’t step on campus. And, they snuck in a $200 increase in the ‘comp fee’ for fall 2020! I’ve tweeted UVM and (President) Garimella asking how this is even happening. For a school hoping students will come, they  are very close to losing one.” The parent received the following response from a UVM admissions official:

“I understand your frustration and am likely unable to provide you with a response that will satisfy you.  You are correct, students who choose the at-home option are to remain at home. The comprehensive fee is not a usage fee, it is a fee that supports a variety of services that are part of what make a comprehensive university a comprehensive university. I don’t know your daughter, so I can’t speak to precisely which opportunities she might access from home (and, again, this is not a usage fee), but I do know that the library, career center, and identity centers are providing virtual services and activities and there are other items on the list that are relevant to at-home students.”

The parent said to Vermont Daily, “doesn’t seem even right to do! And the explanation…so they touted no increase in tuition but they are getting $2600 per kid and most won’t be using any of it.”

Gov. Scott at his press conference today said he hasn’t discussed the issue with UVM yet, but it could come up, and meanwhile Vermont state colleges offer a lower-priced alternative. 

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25 dairy farms lost since pandemic began

Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts announced a federal Covid-19 aid package to Vermont farmers today. Vermont has lost 25 dairy farms in the four months since the pandemic began, he said; normally the loss rate is 1.5 dairy farms per month, and the higher rate of loss can be explained by the pandemic-related loss of markets, including restaurants and schools. 

Will this rate continue? It’s impossible to say, Tebbetts said. On the upside Vermonters rediscovered the kitchen and cooking with Vermont products. But the loss of restaurants and schools more than offset that smaller advantage, he said. There is also some hope that worldwide demand for dairy will increase, he said. 

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Cancel travel if destination exceeds 400 cases/million? Not necessarily

July is the month when Vermonters flock to the coast of Maine for sun, surf and seafood. Unfortunately, some Vermonters have made lodging reservations, only to discover afterwards that the popular York county resort areas of Wells and Ogunquit had more than 400 Covid-19 cases per million – thus requiring a 14 day quarantine upon return, according to the Vermont Health Department website. 

However, when apprised of this situation at the governor’s press conference today, Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said she doesn’t expect Vermonters to cancel reservations if their destination county bumps over the 400/million limit. Instead, Vermonters should just be extra careful during the visit, and “be thinking about laying low a little bit” upon return, she said. 

The State of Vermont can’t update the map daily without risking a “start and stop” effect of states going over, then under, then over the 400/million standard.

PHOTO: Meg Hansen and other candidates for GOP nomination for Lt. Governor will debate on VPR at the conclusion of the governor’s press conference today.