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Hot Coals in Vermont

by JOSH FRANK

Howard Dean often talks tough about environmental protection and renewable energy expansion. But his gubernatorial record stands in glaring opposition to his rhetoical posture. In fact during five campaigns for governor in Vermont, the mainstream environmental group Sierra Club, never once endorsed his candidacy.

Conservation Law Foundation lawyer Chris Kilian opined in a September 2000 Rutland Herald editorial, “The privilege to earn a profit in Vermont does not automatically come, as Dean apparently believes, with a free pass to pollute our waters, despoil our natural resources or destroy our communities.” Dean said in an interview last year, “In Vermont, I was pretty much in the middle–the business community on one side, the environmental community on the other.”

When California’s energy crisis peaked, Howard Dean was spurring discussion about building a possible coal-fired plant in Vermont. Environmentalists were more than outraged. Although Dean did require car dealerships to sell a certain number of electric cars per year, he was no savior in Vermont.

“The resulting hue and cry,” Jonathan Lesser wrote an article in the Burlington Free Press following the incident, “was so strident that he might as well have proposed a state holiday celebrating child molesters. ”

Tom Elliot, the former political director of the Sierra Club in the 1990s, who valiantly protested governor Dean’s environmental mishaps reminisced, “Howard Dean’s environmental record in Vermont is toxic.”

Observers in neighboring downwind New Hampshire worried about Dean’s coal vision, ”It’s clearly the wrong approach,” said Steve Blackledge, director of New Hampshire Public Interest Research Group. ”Coal plants pollute more than other fossil fuels. And if Governor Dean wants diversity in fuel source, he should be pushing clean renewables.”

“I’m a little surprised and distressed to learn that the governor of Vermont seems to think that a new direction in Vermont’s energy policy requires more coal-fired power plants, given what we know about the contribution coal-fired plants to air pollution,” said Charles Niebling, who works for the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests. ”It would be cleaner than [those in the Midwest]” said Niebling, “but yes, there is some irony in the fact that he wants to get tough on coal plants in the Midwest and is proposing to build one in Vermont at the same time I’m a little surprised and distressed to learn that the governor of Vermont seems to think that a new direction in Vermont’s energy policy requires more coal-fired power plants, given what we know about the contribution coal-fired plants to air pollution,” Niebling said.

Environmentalist’s so criticized the idea of a coal-fired plant that governor Dean let it go. Had he continued the so-called debate over the coal facility, it would have met with certain political suicide for the Yankee governor. When a Democrat like Dean becomes president, let us hope that environmentalists stick it to ’em. We don’t need to revert back to the Clinton era when environmental groups supported NAFTA, and spineless democratic senators such as Max Baucus of Montana mustered fast track legislation and the Salvage Rider Bill through congress — which ultimately laid the blueprint for Bush’s chainsaw forest plan. We can do better. We must.

We’ll see how New Hampshire reacts to all this as they get to cast their vote for or against governor Howard Dean on Tuesday. But let’s remember that even the new Skull and Bones hopeful John Kerry said he wouldn’t endorse the Kyoto agreement. Looks like the environment loses either way.

JOSH FRANK is writing a book on Howard Dean. He can be reached at: frank_joshua@hotmail.com

 

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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