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Keeping us in the dark

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is refusing to release more than 500 emails and countless other documents that the agency exchanged with Green Mountain Power between January and July.

According to Seven Days columnist Shay Totten, who broke this story, the agency’s staff claims the records must be kept secret because the documents pertain to an agreement between the agency and Green Mountain Power that is part of an ongoing legal proceeding. The February agreement spells out how much land the utility must buy and conserve to offset the environmental impact of its 21-turbine wind project on Lowell Mountain.

The state’s argument: Because the agreement is being reviewed by the quasi-judicial Public Service Board, and any decisions could be appealed, it’s too soon to go public.

“Until the appeal period runs, we view the matter as being in litigation,” said Beth Robinson, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s attorney. Once legal proceedings are over, agency lawyer Jon Groveman and Robinson say, the emails and other correspondence will likely be released. By that time, of course, all 21 turbines could be built and running.

A common issue in right-to-know cases is this: Will disclosure harm the effectiveness of the action?

In this case, heck no. The state knows all, Green Mountain Power knows all, and the state Public Service Board will soon know all. The only people in the dark are the ones paying for the state’s participation in the case: the public.

Another right-to-know principle is that the public should be able to understand not only what was done, but why it was done, and by whom. Don’t Vermonters have a right to know what the state’s giving away in this agreement before it’s completely locked in?

As Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment told Totten, the Agency of Natural Resources is behaving as if Green Mountain Power were its client. “It’s hard to tell just who is representing whom,” she said. “But they certainly don’t seem to be representing the public.”