While walking the corridors of the Vermont Statehouse it can be difficult to distinguish between a Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) lobbyist and one working for an energy developer. In fact, one that was employed by VPIRG is still working at the Statehouse, but has recently become employed by industrial wind developers.
Who’s lobbying for whom is a question that comes to mind when observing Vermont Public Interest Research Group lobbyists in action in Montpelier. Most recently VPIRG teamed up with energy lobbyists and attempted to derail S.230, a bill in the Senate designed to make improvements to Vermont’s flawed energy siting policy.
VPIRG has abandoned its core principles time and again by opposing accountability on human health and environmental impacts, as well as honesty on productivity and CO2 reduction on these so called renewable energy projects. That being said, I guess one shouldn’t be surprised that VPIRG’s executive director Paul Burns gets testy when questioned about the influence of developers’ money in his organization. After an energy forum, when I asked him about the conflicting interests, Burns’ quick responses were, “Their name is not on my paycheck!” and “You can’t prove that!” – along with a few rude remarks I won’t repeat.
VPIRG’s climate and energy program director Ben Walsh stated he opposed retroactive sound monitoring on industrial wind projects. As quoted in Vermont Watch Dog Report in the Barton Chronicle (April 4, 2016): “Going back and saying every wind facility has to have sound monitoring, that could cost us hundreds of thousands annually even if no violation happens.” Who does Ben Walsh mean when he says “us”? Mr. Burns, testifying before the Energy Siting Commission (2013) alongside energy lobbyists and industrial developers stated he did not feel communities should have a say in siting industrial projects. VPIRG’s position has not changed since, and it begs the question: Why?
Again the question must be asked: Who is lobbying for whom? Who is VPIRG really working for? Is it average Vermonters, making sure they have a say in public policy debates, or is it corporate interests? It’s become painfully obvious that VPIRG has sold its soul to the very corporate interests from whom they are supposed to be protecting the public. With a $2 million annual budget and a for-profit wing not included in the figures, along with a revolving door between their board of directors and the energy industry, it’s clear where their interests really are. Where is the informed and genuine commitment to the protection Vermont’s natural resources and informed, responsible renewable energy projects? Who are the intended beneficiaries of VPIRG’s self-described “campaign for bold climate action”?
They might as well drop the “P” and replace it with “C.”
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Keith Ballek, of Sheffield, who is chair of the Sheffield Planning Commission and the Sheffield Democratic Committee, a member of the Caledonia County State Committee and a delegate to the Vermont State Democratic Committee.