Commentary

‘Scribblings’ returns!

Former lawmaker weighs in on global warming, Ukraine, mailed-in ballots

The proposed destruction of the Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park is one of the poorest decisions the State of Vermont has ever made, and it should be reversed, former Rep. Tom Koch says.

By Tom Koch

It’s been a bit more than 20 months since I’ve written the last “Scribblings.” Some have asked me to write more often. Others, I’m sure wish I would just stop writing. Well, I guess that’s what the DELETE button is for! So here are a few of my thoughts on current issues.

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I accept the “settled science” that human activity is contributing to global warming. But I also recognize that weather has changed naturally from time to times over the eons. So, I believe what we are experiencing may be a combination of human activity and natural events, and what proportion each contributes may not be capable of precise definition. Regardless of that lack of precision, I believe that we should be doing all that we reasonably, practically, and affordably can do to minimize our carbon footprint on this planet. But what have we done?

Perhaps 20 years ago, more or less, there came a rush to install wind turbines on our mountain tops. Besides the obvious impact on the scenic beauty of our Green Mountains, little attention was paid to the roads that had to be built up the mountains for construction and maintenance of these turbines. Little thought was given to their safe disposal once they had run their useful lives. And most significantly, some were built without recognizing that the grid did not have the capacity to receive the electricity generated by these outsized windmills. Credit for generating power by wind was sold out of state, so Vermont got no credit for the burdens of these creations. And about the only people who made money from all this was the developers, who collected money not for selling the power produced, but by soaking up various forms of government subsidies and incentive payments.

Another major effort to turn our power sources “green” is the installation of solar panels across the state. Many solar installations are found on rooftops of homes and businesses; they do generate a small amount of power and have negligible impact on scenery. I personally have twice investigated putting solar panels on my home but concluded that, over time, it was a break-even transaction at best—pay my electric co-operative, or pay the solar installer—so I have not put solar on my roof. 

Others have made the opposite decision and seem to be happy. Of greater concern is the proliferation of solar “farms” that occupy acres of prime land and, in my not-so-humble opinion, are just plain ugly. Once again, Vermont’s rural scenery is being impacted by a rush to generate “green energy.” But most of all is the fact that there is no plan for safe disposal of these panels when they wear out after about 20 years. California invested heavily in solar several years before Vermont got started, and their panels are now being retired, and they are ending up in California’s landfills, because there is no market for them or their parts, either here or overseas. So, what is the future of solar in Vermont? I’m not sure anyone has a good answer.

Now there is a big push for electric vehicles (EVs). Congress just passed a major act that is being hailed for its support of the EV movement. On September 14, President Biden announced the release of $900 million to support construction of EV charging stations in 34 states across the nation. California has adopted a ban on the sale of fossil-fueled vehicles in California as of 2035, and because the Vermont Legislature has passed a law mandating that Vermont will copy whatever climate-related policies California adopts, there is already a regulation in the drafting stage to ban the sale of fossil-fueled vehicles in Vermont as of 2035!

I would suggest that we might hit the PAUSE button here. Consider that the electricity needed to fuel EVs has to be generated somewhere, and for the foreseeable future, a large portion of that power will come from fossil-fueled generating plants. Then ask where we will put all of the charging stations. If it takes 5 minutes to put gas in your car and 30 minutes to charge an EV, it would seem that charging stations will have to be six times as large as gas stations, and if the range of an EV is significantly less than the range of a gas-powered vehicle, we will probably need more charging stations than we now have gas stations. Of course, all of this depends on the availability of the major component of EV batteries—lithium. And lithium is in short supply. It will require a major expansion of lithium mining to fulfill what EV batteries will need. One possible source of lithium is China, but should we risk allowing China to put a stranglehold on our transportation system the way Russia has put a stranglehold on Europe’s heating system? I think not. Finally (at least for now), one has to note that batteries wear out, so one needs to ask whether there is a plan for recycling or safely disposing of dead EV batteries. My conclusion to all of this is that if we do not hit the PAUSE button, we should at least adopt a “go slow” approach and take the time to make sure that EVs are a solution and not just another problem.

Admittedly, all of this so far is pretty negative, but I don’t think what we’ve been doing makes much sense. But let’s look on the positive side and ask what can we do that is reasonable, practical, effective, and affordable?

First, we can take another look at nuclear generation. Activists worked for years to close Vermont Yankee, but when it finally closed, it was for economic, not environmental or political, reasons. Very simply, power generated by natural gas cost less than the power produced by Vermont Yankee, and in old fashioned terms, Vermont Yankee simply “couldn’t compete and went out of business.” As we gradually eliminate fossil fuels, and with new technology, nuclear power once again becomes an attractive option. Now, neither I nor anyone I know is proposing to build a new nuclear plant in Vermont, but we can certainly consider purchasing a larger portion of our energy needs from clean, reliable, nuclear energy available through the grid.

Second, we can expand our use of hydro power, both large and small. We already purchase a substantial amount of our power from Canadian hydro, and we should give serious consideration to any opportunity to increase the amount of our-of-state hydro in our power mix. Likewise, we should reconsider our hostility toward small, in-state hydro. For the last 25 years, we have been tearing down dams that generate power in order to let fish swim upstream; rather than doing that, it would make more sense to keep the power and build fish ladders to facilitate fish migration. 

The proposed destruction of the Green River Reservoir is one of the poorest decisions the State of Vermont has ever made, and it should be reversed!

Third, we should take reasonable steps to reduce our need for more energy. We are already investing heavily in winterizing homes; this makes sense and should be continued at a responsible pace. Likewise, we are providing assistance for installation of heat pumps and more efficient appliances, and this helps to reduce the demand for power. What we should not do in an effort to reduce energy consumption is to adopt policies designed to ration energy by deliberately raising its cost, whether that be via a “carbon tax,” a “clean heating standard,” or any other name! Such a policy would hurt the people who are least able to afford the increased cost, while those able to afford it will complain about it but still keep consuming.

Finally, perhaps Vermont should step back and let other states be the guinea pigs for a change. There are those who argue that Vermont, with its many forests and woodlands absorbing carbon dioxide, already has a negative carbon footprint, so we are already “doing our share” to fight climate change. Certainly, we should repeal the mandate to follow California—the craziest state in the nation, in my view—over every cliff they choose to jump off. Let California and other states show us what works and what doesn’t work, and then let us thoughtfully adopt the energy policies proven to be the best, wisest, and most effective.

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The history of the world can be told by recounting the seizure of one people’s land by another. The Old Testament, not the earliest record of such conflicts, contains numerous stories of battles over the control of land. Conquests have continued through Alexander the Great’s crusades in Asia and Africa, Caesar’s exploits in Gaul, William the Conqueror’s defeat of Harold in 1066, Napoleon’s empire building, our own expansion through native American lands, and Hitler’s lebensraum that led to World War II, to list only a few examples.

It used to be acceptable behavior, but the wars and indescribable human suffering that inevitably ensues must finally be deemed unacceptable.

We see Russia invading Ukraine, without reason or justification of any kind except that Vladimir Putin wants to put the USSR back together. Similarly, we see China threatening to invade Taiwan. 

It’s time for the international community to say “Enough! No more!” It’s time to declare any nation that attempts to seize land from its neighbor to be an outlaw. It’s time to declare all current boundaries permanent, even if there are arguments why some change or another should be made. But any change must be made voluntarily, not by force of arms.

As a start to this admittedly idealistic (and some might say unrealistic) proposition, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has chosen to lead the defense of Ukraine. He is not only defending the possession of land, but he is standing for the proposition that Russia has no claim in law to Ukraine’s lands. He and his people are fighting, but they are fighting for peace, and his efforts should be recognized.

In about three weeks, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded. I can think of no worthier recipient than President Zelenskyy for standing for the principle that seizure of another nation’s land is no longer acceptable. Acceptance of that principle might be the greatest impetus toward a lasting world peace, and the Nobel Prize Committee has an opportunity to promote that acceptance.

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Finally, I note that ballots for this year’s General Election will soon be mailed to every registered voter in the state. Whether that is a good thing to do or is fertile ground for election fraud is not the subject of this comment. The decision has been made to mail the ballots, and now there is no reason not to vote!

The ballots can actually be voted and returned to one’s town or city clerk as soon as they are received by the voters. I usually vote shortly after I get my ballot. That way I know that if the weather is horrible on Election Day, or I happen to wake up very sick, my vote will still be counted even if I can’t get to my polling place.

Others may not be as certain of their votes and may wish to listen to the candidates as the campaigns get closer to Election Day.  And some just like the tradition of going to a central voting place in town to do their “civic duty.” Either way, that’s fine. But the important thing is to make sure to vote! There are many examples of elections being decided by a handful, or even just one, vote. Your vote does make a difference, and especially if you have been dissatisfied with what your elected officials have been doing, you have every reason to vote!

Early or late — September 30 or November 8 — please vote!

“Scribblings” originated as a report on legislative affairs while the writer was a member of the Vermont House of Representatives from Barre Town. Since then, it has been written less frequently and with less focus on the legislature and more of whatever happens to move the writer. If you are not on the distribution list and wish to be added, simply send your name, town of residence, and email address to TomKochVT@gmail.com. If you are currently on the distribution list and wish to be removed, make that request at the same address—no offense taken.

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