Another Opinion, Editorial

Broad Mix of Vermonters Join to Protest Democratic Supermajority

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WALDEN – More than 100 Vermonters rallied in the statehouse on April 25 to call attention to the failures of the state’s legislative supermajority, which is pushing through bills that are making the state less affordable and leaving the environment less protected. Predictably, some media outlets ignored the rally completely. WCAX covered it, but allowed Kevin Ellis, a lobbyist for energy and land developers, to misrepresent it as an event by and for the Republican party, and solely about “cultural” issues like hunting.

Ellis is just plain wrong. At the press conference that followed the event, at least half of the speakers, including me, came not from the Republican party but from the left. What we had in common with others at the rally is that we recognize the dangers of one-party rule, no matter which side has power. Most would have protested against a supermajority of Progressives or Republicans as well, if they displayed the same attitude as Democrats today: an attitude that John Brabant of Vermonters for a Clean Environment described as, “we don’t need to listen to you any more, we’ve been put in charge, get out of our way.”

Why are so many on the left disappointed with the Democratic supermajority? Because it seems to have abandoned the left’s core principles: Democrats today are allying themselves with corporations and developers, ignoring rural working-class families, and looking at Vermont’s environment as little more than a tourist draw. The climate crisis? Despite their pious posturing, the supermajority sees mostly dollar signs: in the words of a prominent so-called environmentalist, climate change is “one of the biggest development opportunities the state has ever seen.”

Some of the protesters were there because the supermajority is actively working hand-in-glove with developers to scale back the environmental protections of Act 250. With all the talk of how Act 250 needs to be “streamlined” and “modernized”, you’d think it had stopped development cold in Vermont.

In the last 25 years alone, Williston has been turned into a corporate free trade zone filled with chain stores and surrounded by suburban sprawl. Dollar stores have sprouted like mushrooms in rural parts of the state, much to the detriment of local businesses. Long stretches of ridgeline in Lowell and Sheffield, once habitat for bears, bobcats and moose, have been blasted and bulldozed to make way for industrial wind projects. There’s a water park on Jay Peak and a luxury resort on Spruce Peak. There’s also a hole in the center of Newport, courtesy of an EB5 scandal with roots in a development-at-any-cost attitude that still infects many Vermont policymakers. If anything, many of us believe, environmental regulations like Act 250 need to be strengthened, not weakened.

Other speakers decried the supermajority’s fixation on electrification and industrial renewables as a climate “solution”, regardless of the economic toll on working class Vermonters and the environmental damage inflicted wherever the resources needed for the “green transition” are mined.

Speaker Suzanna Jones described some of that damage in China and Africa, and asked, “Have legislators informed their constituents about cobalt mining in Congo, where children as young as seven work in hazardous conditions so that Tesla drivers can feel good about their carbon footprint? . . . Of course they haven’t.” Rally co-organizer John Rodgers added, “Building solar panels in China with coal power, with no environmental standards, no labor standards, is not green.”

My point is that, despite what you may have heard in the media, the rally attendees were a broad mix of Vermonters with many concerns. What they had in common was an awareness that the legislative supermajority works in an echo chamber where they hear only their own voices and those of industry lobbyists. This rally was intended to ensure that the supermajority also hears the voices of rural working-class Vermonters and grassroots environmentalists. I just hope they listen.

A second rally will be held Thursday, May 9, at the statehouse.

Steven Gorelick, lives off the grid in a solar-powered home in Walden.

Steve Gorelick

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