Throughout history, large business has sought to control government. The seeking of this control makes excellent business sense because, by having friends in government who smooth the regulatory path, much more profit can be made, at least in the short term. Interestingly, few people complain at first when such hand-in-hand relationships between governments and big businesses are formed. Eight years ago, when I first wrote that the government and the banking and the Euro deals would probably lead to a 20-year downturn in the world economy, there were no Wall Street protests.
The following examples of government marching in lock step with big business are meant to show why international giant Gaz-Metro/Green Mountain Power (GMP) is gleefully offering to pay a huge premium over market price to buy CVPS and expand its power.
The first example is absolutely fantastic, and I couldn’t have dreamed it up if I’d tried. This travesty has the full blessing of Gov. Shumlin and Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) Deb Markowitz, as well as the Public Service Board (PSB).
It goes thusly: GMP was told that, in order to put wind turbines on Lowell Mountain, they would have to set aside nearby lands containing habitat similar to the habitat on the lands being degraded or compromised by this development. GMP was able to mitigate destruction on its lower elevation lands by preserving three large nearby parcels to mitigate the environmental damage there. But, GMP couldn’t find replacement acreage for the fourth zone, which is the rare high-altitude montane forest of the ridgeline itself, home to reclusive animals like bobcats that feel safe running these ridges. This ecologically-sensitive fourth area is also to be the most heavily blasted and bulldozed, being the site of the 459-foot-tall turbines and the super-wide crane and service roads between them along the ridge. The problem of mitigating this area seemed insurmountable.
But voila! The solution was for Vermont officials to allow GMP to declare the destroyed ridgeline itself, plus the area that is mostly an actual stone’s throw away from the whirling turbine blade arcs, to be its own mitigation zone. GMP has been allowed to start destruction and to later find a lesser area elsewhere to be given to those animals as a consolation prize. In the meantime, this area is mitigated because those reclusive animals will now be allowed to crawl under and beside the whirling blade tips of the large turbines.
The officials who dreamed up this mitigation scheme should be called to sit front and center facing a group of professors of ecology and their students to try to explain and answer questions about this so-called mitigation. I can picture seeing these officials red-faced and squirming in their seats under the questioning, especially when it is pointed out that there is a well-established tradition in Vermont’s environmental history of requiring a large amount of montane forest to be preserved whenever a developer compromises even a small amount of this rare forest in this state. GMP’s own maps show an extensive expanse of montane forest along Lowell ridge.
Another example of GMP’s cocky power in this state concerns their abysmal attitude toward the safety of their workers on just the two GMP sites we have investigated. A few weeks ago, a fourth safety violation report against GMP was filed with VOSHA, Vermont’s agency in charge of Vermont worker safety. This latest report described a tall, mature tree that GMP’s workers recently cut completely through but left standing against another tree, as well as leaning over a trail that is regularly used by workers at GMP’s Lowell Mountain construction site. This set-up is one version of what is called a widow-maker, and it shows an indisputable lack of caring for worker safety. But I’ll bet this powerful corporation will say otherwise, as they did when it was reported to VOSHA that GMP left a large section of turbine blade many yards long hanging from the top of a large tree for two and a half years at its other wind turbine site in Searsburg. Instead of saying, “sorry, we did wrong,” GMP, typical of a powerful corporation, accused us of trespassing, even though a GMP employee directed us there. Also, the cocky GMP said that this piece we saw and photographed was only the lightweight skin of a turbine blade. These turbine blades don’t have lightweight detachable skins.
Because of these hazardous violations and others, like allowing hooked up 90-pound propane cylinders to be strewn about at Lowell, I expect at least one worker to die at GMP’s Lowell Mountain wind turbine construction site before it is completed.
I see symbolism in Mary Powell putting on and running Gov. Shumlin’s Inaugural Ball. GMP seems to control this tiny state and its complacent, starry-eyed officials. Why else is Gov. Shumlin not speaking out against GMP for better worker safety, and VOSHA is giving GMP slaps on the wrist for safety violations when VOSHA has historically held smaller companies’ feet to the fire for lesser safety violations? And why is ANR totally complacent about the joke of mitigation on the Lowell ridgeline when they have historically taken smaller companies by the ear to protect high-elevation environment during development?
Most recently, GMP has brazenly taken construction shortcuts while smashing their way up Lowell Mountain, causing much environmental destruction. One huge road bank is already collapsing because GMP was too uncaring to build it properly, and in other places sediment is going everywhere. The mighty GMP knows that this state’s officials will never require them to pay fines proportional to the $60,000 fine that a small golf course just had to pay for their environmental damage. A few days ago, ANR Secretary Markowitz squeaked that GMP’s most recent environmental situation at Lowell was “routine.”
Will we be protesting several years from now after our electric bills go sky high because of the rubber-stamping approval by your compliant state government which will allow our electric rates to climb much faster than inflation in spite of the continuing economic downtown? The Wall Street Journal recently wrote, with fascination, that electric companies are still being guaranteed long-term rates of 9 percent when 30-year guaranteed bonds are only 4 percent. Those rates used to be much closer to each other.
Get ready to submit to the power of Green Mountain Power. Our government already has.