• Candidates lock horns over power, wilderness
    By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | October 03,2006
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    MONTPELIER — Two very different visions of Vermont emerged Monday night as Republican Gov. James Douglas and Democratic challenger Scudder Parker met in their first debate on the environment.

    In Douglas' view, the state has made significant strides in protecting the environment and easing the complexity of regulatory appeals. Although it's not out of the woods yet, the state is on its way to securing electricity for the future, he said.

    But Parker said Vermont has been stuck in neutral for four years. Since Douglas took office, Parker said, too little has been done to clean up lakes and streams, and the state has missed opportunities to prepare for the expiration in less than a decade of two-thirds of its power supply contracts.

    The issue that perhaps best distinguished the two men's differences was the recent controversy over the proposed expansion of wilderness areas in the Green Mountain National Forest. Parker said Douglas' late intervention in the bill, which would have increased the acreage of wilderness lands within the forest, effectively killed the legislation.

    "He got that bill killed," Parker said. "I would have supported the bill as our congressional delegation introduced it."

    Douglas said he was "flattered" that Parker believed his letter raising concerns about the size of the wilderness expansion had such an impact. But he rejected that assertion.

    "The ways of Washington are a mystery to me," Douglas said, adding he is confident the bill will be passed by Congress before the end of the year. "I want more wilderness," Douglas said, adding "I don't know what the exact right number is."

    The U.S. House and Senate are expected back for a lame-duck session after the November election, but it is unclear if they will take up the bill, which would add roughly 42,000 acres of wilderness, to the nearly 60,000 now protected.

    The two candidates made their remarks at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, at a debate sponsored by the Vermont Natural Resources Council. More than 100 people attended the event.

    The number of people at the event was evidence of the importance of the issued discussed, VNRC Executive Director Elizabeth Courtney said.

    She said there is "a growing concern that Vermont is at a crossroads — that choices that are critical for the state will be made by us or for us."

    The wilderness bill was one of several issues that led to pointed exchanges between the two men Monday night.

    Douglas said an energy bill he signed into law after being passed by the Democrat-led state Legislature prepares the state's citizens to discuss how to map out the state's future electricity supply and to decide controversial issues like whether wind turbines should be built on the state's mountains.

    "We can plan our energy future together," Douglas said.

    But Parker said the issue "really does not call for more rounds of sitting down and talking about it."

    Action needs to be taken now, Parker said. He faulted Douglas for what he said was the state's failure to buy hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers.

    If he were governor, Parker said, he would have called the utilities in the state together and pushed them to enter a partnership to buy the dams. He would also have urged the towns where the dams are located to use eminent domain to hinder their sale under bankruptcy, Parker said.

    "You will pay more and not even know you could have paid less" for power, Parker said.

    But Douglas said that the state did make a bid on the dams, which ultimately sold for roughly $505 million.

    "Someone else bid more," Douglas said. "It would have been irresponsible to simply buy the dams" because of the risk to the utilities' bond ratings and to the state's debt load, he added.

    Energy planning in Vermont needs to be based on efficiency programs and increased renewable energy sources including wind power, which also help address the reliance on fossil fuels and the danger of global climate change, Parker said.

    If the Vermont Yankee plant is to continue operating after its current license expires, it must undergo a full, independent safety review, he added.

    Douglas agreed that the state should generate more renewable power, but he said his emphasis was on small-scale wind projects, and on power derived from farm and forest sources, including vegetable-oil based "biofuels."

    The governor said he is in discussions with Quebec officials about the future of the massive Hydro-Quebec power project and whether it will continue selling electricity to Vermont.

    Contact Louis Porter at louis.porter@rutlandherald.com.
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