For third time, elites try to rid rural Vermont of residents

Poster from the New Deal ‘Resettlement Administration.’ Credit

by John McClaughry

Among economist Thomas Sowell’s many memorable observations is this one: “Liberty is the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves, and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters’”.

John McClaughry

That observation has been particularly relevant to efforts in Vermont on two long past occasions, and to one just emerging. In all three instances at issue is the liberty to live in the backwoods, beyond the asphalt roads, bringing in firewood for the long winters, and teaching self-reliance to their children to help them become sturdy and true Vermonters.

The first instance began in 1935, when officers of the New Deal Resettlement Administration arrived in the Vermont Statehouse with a generous deal. As then Speaker of the House, and later Governor and Senator, George Aiken recalled it, Vermont would turn over half the state – submarginal lands inhabited by people of inadequate mental capacity – to the federal government. “Miles of road would be abandoned, relieving the State and towns of the necessity of keeping them repaired. Schools would be abandoned, saving more expense.” The feds would lease the lands back to the State, “which would never again permit any of this land to be occupied as homes.”

The Vermont legislators politely told the Resettlement Administration to go back to Washington and not come back.

Fast forward to 1970. The people and their legislature were rightly concerned about waves of development overrunning the capacities of small Vermont towns. They enacted Act 250, imposing ten permit criteria for larger developments. But the Act also called for a State Land Use Plan, which would determine the correct use of every acre of the state.

The plan proposed by the Environmental Board’s experts in 1972 designated vast areas of rural Vermont as “conservation only”.  After four years of bitter controversy and tumultuous public meetings, the last watered–down version of the Plan disappeared. In 1984 the legislature repealed the requirement that there even be a State Land Use Plan.

Today, thanks to the exertions of the Vermont Climate Council, comes a third attempt to get Vermonters out of the rural areas. The rationale: fighting “climate change”.

The VCC’s Climate Action Plan is aimed at “rural sprawl”  that causes ‘fragmentation of intact forests, loss of agricultural land, an increase in cars and trucks on Vermont roadways and an increase in traffic, congestion, and emissions associated with vehicle travel, and a decline in community cohesion, among other negative impacts.” Or so their Plan asserts.

The Council‘s solution: “support the development of a statewide land use planning policy and implementation plan that guides development to growth areas, town centers, and appropriate rural locations, and limits the development within ecologically sensitive/riskprone areas.”

The statement issued by Gov. Scott’s eight appointees, including VCC chair Kristin Clouser, opposes state land use planning and objects to “a state-wide goal of ‘no net loss’ of natural and working lands, without the foundational building block: a clear definition of ‘natural lands. Absent a functional definition of ‘natural lands,’ the majority recommendation is overly broad, and overlooks how a ‘no net loss’ goal is to be reconciled with the pressing needs to construct more housing and more renewable energy generation identified elsewhere in the plan. The goal as presently articulated leaves little room for economic development in the rural parts of Vermont, where such activity is desperately needed.”

Council member Sean Brown, Gov. Scott’s Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, issued this dire warning for rural Vermonters: “When you say ‘no net loss of open land or working land’ that hits rural Vermont. When you talk about ‘no new development’ and focusing it [development] in downtowns, that hits rural Vermont. Transportation changes in this plan are going to hit rural Vermonters hard. Every part of this plan is going to hit rural Vermont, which is already economically disadvantaged in many ways…”.

As I see it, what this comes down to is this: people who live out in rural areas are sort of a public nuisance, when the (supposed) global climate emergency demands that CO2 emissions be dramatically reduced through, among many other things, pushing or pulling people into favored compact settlements; and we need a State Land Use Plan to restrict the liberty of Vermonters to live where they choose to.

We’ve been down that road twice before, and liberty won out.

George Aiken explained it best in Speaking from Vermont (1938): “Why do folks live in the hills? …The reason is that some folks just naturally love the mountains, and like to be up there among them where freedom of thought and action is logical and inherent.”

Once again, Vermont’s country people need to be protected against “the raging presumptions of their betters.”

The author, a Kirby resident, is founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute. To read all EAI news and commentary, go to

6 replies »

  1. The elites of Vermont’s democrat and progressive parties over the last 60 years have adopted many positions critical of European ancestors’ habits, such as settlers moving across the continent critiquing on how the “savages” need to bring themselves into a modern way of thinking and give up the animal skin clothing and cloth shelters. And what exactly have these elites been saying and doing to the, as John describes: “sturdy and true Vermonters” over the last 60 years? The renunciation of Vermont’s dabbling in eugenics 100 years ago also garners overt virtue posturing from our Legislature, but they been practicing a similar decimation of the middle class by more subtle methods. Many rural folk have their retirements vested in their land, and these proposals steal it out from under them. Hypocrisy like that is hard to miss.
    You make some excellent points John, thank you, as always.

  2. Great point Mr. McClaughry. CO2 emission regulations are analogous to Covid virus regulations. They are, it appears, a two-pronged attack on our individual liberty and freedom… perpetrated in the name of a ‘common good’ – a false dichotomy if there ever was one.

    Both concepts are flawed in this singular way.

    Neither CO2 nor Covid virus regulations provide liability protections in the case that they prove to be of more harm than good. When taking a vaccine under Emergency Use Authorization, the vaccinated person has no recourse if the vaccine proves to be harmful. Similarly, the Vermont Climate Council offers no recourse if land-use regulations, mandated under the so-called Global Climate Emergency, proves to be harmful.

    This attack exemplifies the difference between what our Constitutional Republic has always been and what ‘Commonwealth Marxists’ are trying to make it. All I can say is ‘resist’. Protect and defend the U.S. Constitution to the best of your ability.

  3. My wife and I moved up here from Jersey over a decade ago. I was a transplant there, being from this area, (The NEK). I could not handle the stress of the inner cities. You could literal hear your neighbor breaking wind next door at night, along with the drunks pouring out of local bars early in the morning yelling and fighting on the streets. Trying to get to work & back with the endless traffic had me close to stroking out with rage…In the winter if we got a heavy snow, it was bedlam because the cities and state didn’t have the machinery to clean the streets and if you dug out your car and threw the snow on the streets or sidewalk, you’d get fined??? So people would dig out and throw it in front or in back of the vehicle next to them…

    Now-a-days, my next door neighbor is a good half mile away and every Christmas the wife brings us a Christmas reef she hand made for our outside front door..That might be the only contact we have with them the entire year and it’s fine by us…I moved up here for seclusion from the craziness of inner city life, to raise animals, plant a garden, own guns, heat with wood and yes sometimes we even turn off our electric lights and light our kerosene lanterns for the ambiance…

    If you really wanna fight climate change, I’d start with the inner cities, but this climate change/warming/cooling??…It’s a farce and one more thing designed by those that want to bring you one world govt.

  4. Great article. I especially love the phrase “presumption of their betters.”

  5. Thomas Sowell is a genius, and understands the human condition better than most. “Vision of the Annointed” Read it!!!!!!!