Vermont lawmakers met this week to confront how the state shall move forward on President Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP, a federal trade agreement between twelve nations surrounding the pacific rim including Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam. The treaty has come under heavy scrutiny by state and federal legislators from both republican and democratic parties. Concerns over the economic impact the partnership may have on state economies has driven debate across the country and Vermont has been no exception. House Democrat Steven Berry of Bennington pleaded to congress to reject the partnership as a deal that only projects the economic will of corporations. Rep. Berry continued to project insecurities about how Vermont made products would fare over the TPP’s implementation, asking the congress if it were willing “to give up the Vermont brand name?…
The Vermont House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reviewed the controversial S.230 bill on Wednesday and heard arguments from the lead administrators of renewable energy citing in the state. James Sullivan, the Executive Director of the Bennington County Regional Planning Commission addressed his concerns that growing fines on fossil fuel utilities would be transferred to the tax payers. Other municipalities such as Franklin County held reservations about whether public opinion would be positive enough to carry through with the citing of renewably viable land. The bill addresses town roles in implementing new energy sources such as wind is part of a statewide effort to be 90% carbon free by mid-century. Because there is no single energy source that can provide services for the whole of Vermont, the lofty goals of state are designed to incorporate a number off different types of fossil free energy sources including solar, wind, and geothermal.
Legislative Council Aaron Adler met with the House committee on Natural Resources and Energy wednesday to discuss proposed changes to the Vermont Energy Development and Improvement Act. The amendments, described as ‘technical’ by Mr. Adler met immediate backlash from Rep. Klein, committee chairman who sharply stated his disagreement with the council on the notion that the amendments are purely logistical. The changes to the act would increase the scope of regional development plans in Vermont municipalities, in an effort to promote the development of green power such as wind and solar. Despite this, the bill acts more as an incentive for towns to adopt green energy technologies rather than a binding mandate. The vague wording and lack of enforcement measures provided by the bill brought into question whether the proposal can be not only effective but relevant in its implementation. A number of the representatives present, including committee Vice Chair Kesha Ram commented on the the unclear wording of the bill, noting that a law that is not precise in its choice of words opens the door to possible law suits.
Johnsbury Representative Janssen Willhoit (R) met with The Vermont House Committee on Health Care to offer amendments on House Bill 620, pleading to provide exemptions to churches and other houses of worship from contraception requirements under the law. The Vermont law mirrors the Affordable Care Act in that mandated employee health insurance policies must cover certain forms of contraception. A number of states have provided exemptions to religious organizations under the justification that paying for contraceptives violates their right of free exercise, when it violates a religious tenant. Rep. Willhoit described the absence of an exemption rider “as ordering a hamburger without the pickles” and has taken a stand to ‘defend civil liberty.’ The proposed amendments give Vermont regulatory agencies to do what is best for the state and would only apply within the church, not non profits or religious affiliates such as Saint Michael’s College. In fact, Rep. Willhoit continued, that “most states do provide this, we are in the minority” and further noting that Vermont, as one of the least church aligned states is talking about adding costs to protect religious liberties.
Representatives of the waste disposal industry met with law makers today to discuss to Vermont’s mandatory recycling law Act 148. Concerns over the effectiveness of the imposed franchise tax, a surcharge for every ton of waste collected, and the practical infrastructure to carry out the law incited a strong dialogue in the committee.
Vermont’s universal recycling law, passed in 2012 bans the disposal of any and all recyclable material by July 2016. Further, the disposal of organic material, principally food scraps, will be illegal by the middle of the year 2020. The time frame passed by Vermont legislator was to the most part an effort to incrementally phase the act into effect, allowing for the infrastructure changes needed to adequately implement to law.