Quite a few years ago some folks gathered around a tavern fireplace in Bennington to plan strategy against some powerful big-money investors. The homesteads and way of life of the former were being threatened by land-grabbing speculators financed by the latter. Over mugs of hard cider in the soft light of a crackling fire, the homesteaders decided to send one of their members over to Albany to file a complaint with the Royal Governor of New York.
It must have been quite a scene when Ethan Allen, no doubt bedecked in his finest suit of homespun, strode into the plush offices of an attorney general arrayed in the finest linens money could buy. Ethan did his best to state the claim of his poor neighbors. Little did he know that the recipient of his words was actually well connected with the rich land speculators who fully intended to either evict him and his neighbors from their homes or subvert them into being tenants on the very farms they had hacked from the wilderness. Leaving in frustration, Ethan remarked that the gods of the valleys were not the gods of the hills and that he would be happy to “retire into the desolate caverns of the mountains with the hardy Green Mountain Boys to wage war with mankind at large.”
Last week I was reminded of that famous scene as I watched Sheffield resident Luann Therrien nervously approach a podium in front of a large crowd at the Statehouse. With her toddler on her hip, she described how her home and way of life have been invaded by the noise of gargantuan wind machines put up by rich, out-of-state investors. Wrapping themselves in an appealing cloak of green, they seek to become richer through massive tax incentives. Their success depends upon our willingness to ignore the destruction of an environment we Vermonters have fought long and hard to protect.
Those rich investors are pulling out all the stops with extraordinary measures. Luann appeared on the heels of a pro industrial wind press conference called by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a similar lecture presented in the House chamber by noted author Bill McKibben, and in the midst of a well-funded media splurge by major environmental organizations. Luann, with her barely audible voice, was clearly barking at the Big Dogs. It occurred to me that the spirit of Ethan Allen was alive and well.
Nine state senators, including the entire contingent from the Northeast Kingdom, have cosponsored S.30, a bill designed to answer Luann’s plea. It calls for development of a regulatory process that would protect Vermonters like Luann. It seeks to prevent destruction of our most sensitive environmental areas and wildlife habitat. Will today’s Vermonters respond to these rich developers as the Green Mountain Boys did to the land-grabbing Royal authorities of New York? I hear a bark from the desolate caverns.
This op-ed is by state Sen. Joe Benning, of Lyndonville, who represents the Caledonia-Orange District in the Vermont Senate.