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Exxon-Mobile Thumbs Nose at Vermont, Climate Change


State Treasurer Beth Pearce references an enlarged screen shot of a news website, behind her. An ad for pension loans appears above an article quoting her concern about pension funding. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

State Treasurer Beth Pearce. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

A decision by Exxon Mobil Corp. shareholders to reject greenhouse gas emission goals has reignited a debate over whether Vermont should pull its pension investments out of oil and gas companies.


Exxon Mobil shareholders overwhelmingly voted down at least eight miscellaneous resolutions at an meeting annual meeting May 27 in Dallas, which State Treasurer Beth Pearce attended. Pearce handles investments for 48,000 retirees in Vermont.

The state and other investors say Exxon Mobil’s management strategy for climate change is “wholly inadequate.” They pushed for Exxon Mobil to adopt “quantitative” greenhouse gas emission goals and present a plan for reaching the goals by Nov. 30. It gained 9.6 percent shareholder approval.

Two other environmental resolutions — one requiring the board to submit a report on hydraulic fracturing and another to appoint a specific climate change expert to the board of directors — failed with 24.9 percent and 21 percent of shareholder support, respectively. A proposal to put a third and fourth female on the 12-person board of directors received 4.3 percent support.

“The overwhelming defeat of the resolution offered by Vermont Treasurer Pearce asking Exxon Mobil to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions proves that simply asking fossil fuel corporations to change their ways does not work,” Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, said in a statement.

“The best strategy for Vermont is to divest from fossil fuel companies,” Pollina said. “It makes no sense for us to say we oppose climate change and then invest in the companies that are causing it.”

Pollina says the state needs to vote with its pocketbook, and he is putting pressure on Pearce and Gov. Peter Shumlin to sell state Exxon investments. The state senator said Vermont could set an example as the first state to divest its assets from fossil fuels.

“Obviously, we don’t want to divest until our pension funds are going to lose their value,” Pollina said in an interview. “You can divest from these kinds of funds and still have a solid investment return.”

Pearce said this week that she will continue her “shareholder activism” and encourage oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron to reduce carbon pollution.

Shumlin’s spokesperson, Scott Coriell, said the governor “doesn’t believe divestment is the sharpest tool available to combat climate change,” and is open to a conversation about the merits of divestment.

Fossil fuel divestment is the rallying cry of a climate change group based in Middlebury.

Green Mountain in College in Poultney, Goddard College in Plainfield and Sterling College in Craftsbury Common have joined’s divestment movement. Suncommon, a solar company in Vermont, announced this month its employees’ 401(k) plans would not invest in fossil fuels.

Vermont’s retirement funds are $4 billion on any given day, according to Pearce’s office, and about $101.2 million is invested in the energy industry. That total includes $1.6 million in coal, $30 million in utilities, and $69.6 million in other energy investments.

Pearce said she opposes divestment for two reasons: Vermonters who depend on the pension fund might lose money; and the state would be giving up its seat at the table with energy companies.

“We don’t think that [divestment] is a workable strategy for Vermont,” Pearce said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to give up the fight. … To me, that’s a responsibility we have.”

She referenced a study from her office’s Boston-based investment adviser, NEPC, which said that selling all stock in the fossil fuel industry would cost Vermont about $10 million.

“Many of those Vermonters stay here in Vermont when they retire, and they buy goods and services,” Pearce said. “When you look at it on whole, we’ve done a number of initiatives because we are committed to a clean energy future.”

She pointed to Vermont’s role in pushing two large companies — Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme — not to use palm oil because companies that manufacture palm oil clearcut tropical forests. Vermont was also a founding member of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, which brings shareholders together to advocate for climate change initiatives.

Sen. Anthony Pollina. VTD/Josh Larkin

Sen. Anthony Pollina. VTD/Josh Larkin

Pollina, who is one of the most vocal lawmakers in support of divestment, wants to legislate divestment if he can’t advocate for it.


“The Legislature does have the power to require or ask the pension board to divest,” he said.

This year, Pollina introduced a bill that would require Vermont to divest any assets from “the 200 publicly traded companies that hold the largest carbon content fossil fuels reserves” over the course of five years.

“We would be doing the right things for ourselves,” Pollina said, “but I think we would also send a message to other states and provide the leadership that it will take for others then to follow us.”

According to Politico, Exxon Mobil’s Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson “mocked” climate change after the May 27 shareholders’ meeting. He said the company doesn’t want to “lose money on purpose” and that society can adapt to climate change.

Pollina said Tillerson’s comments mean that “Vermont clearly does not have a significant seat at Exxon Mobil’s table.”


 JUN. 12 2015, 5:14 PM LEAVE A COMMENT

The Vermont Progressive Party, whose origins date back to Sanders’ surprise victory 34 years ago in the Burlington mayoral race, endorsed Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination Friday in a news release.

Fifteen elected officials who ran on the November ballot as Progressives, including State Auditor Doug Hoffer, the only statewide Progressive officeholder, signaled their support for Sanders.

The signatories included state Sens. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, and David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden. Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, was not listed on the news release but he said in an email that he supports Sanders and would make his own announcement.

Pollina said the U.S. needs Sanders’ voice in the race.

“Bernie really means what he says,” Pollina said in the release. “It’s a rare thing to have a politician who’s so consistently committed to doing the right thing for people.”

Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, said Sanders’ views on working families, climate change and other progressive issues should be part of the national debate.

“I doubt most Americans have heard a serious political voice like his before: it’s refreshing and I think our country is ready for it,” Pearson.

The other elected officials were:

Rep. Susan Hatch Davis; Rep. Mollie Burke; Rep. Sandy Haas; Rep. Diana Gonzalez; Rep. Robin Chesnut¬ Tangerman; Rep. Amy Sheldon; Burlington City Council Chair Jane Knodell; Burlington City Councilor Selene Colburn; Burlington City Councilor Max Tracy; Burlington City Councilor Sara Giannoni; and Winooski City Councilor Robert Millar.

The Progressive Party’s state committee will vote on a presidential endorsement in September.

Originally published in the VTDigger:

VPP Officials Quoted in NYT Article on Healthcare



Alissa Carberry, 24, a child care worker with Type 1 diabetes, said she had insurance with a $1,900 deductible and had to pay 40 percent of costs after that. CreditJacob Hannah for The New York Times

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Just a few years ago, lawmakers in this left-leaning state viewed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act as little more than a pit stop on the road to a far more ambitious goal: single-payer, universal health care for all residents.

Then things unraveled. The online insurance marketplace that Vermont built to enroll people in private coverage under the law had extensive technical failures. The problems soured public and legislative enthusiasm for sweeping health care changes just as Gov. Peter Shumlin needed to build support for his complex single-payer plan. Finally, Mr. Shumlin, a Democrat, shelved the plan in December, citing the high cost to taxpayers. He called the decision “the greatest disappointment of my political life.”

As the United States Supreme Court prepares to rule in a case that could gut a major element of the Affordable Care Act — federal subsidies for low- and middle-income people — Vermont should have little to worry about. Only states that use the federally run insurance marketplace stand to lose subsidies if the court rules against the Obama administration, and Vermont is among the 14 states that fully run their own.



Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in December that he was shelving a plan to create the nation’s first single-payer health care system.CreditGlenn Russell/The Burlington Free Press, via Associated Press

But even though its residents’ subsidies appear safe for now, Vermont stands as a cautionary tale. Despite an eventual cost of up to $200 million in federal funds, its online marketplace, or exchange, is still not fully functional, while disgust with the system is running deep among residents and lawmakers alike.

Meanwhile, the hopes for a single-payer system, once tantalizingly close, may be lost for years. Under such a system, the government operates onehealth insurance plan for all residents, covering their medical costs instead of having private insurers do it.

“It’s just been a spectacular crash, really,” said State Representative Chris Pearson, a member of Vermont’s Progressive Party. “We’ve gone from this vision of being the first state to achieve universal health care, to limping along and struggling to comply with the Affordable Care Act.”

The bitterness stems partly from the fact that Vermont had some of the biggest elements of the Affordable Care Act in place long before it took effect. Health insurance companies here already could not refuse to cover people, or charge them more, if they had pre-existing medical conditions. The state also already had more generous Medicaid eligibility rules than most, and programs that helped lower-income people pay for private insurance, which made it less expensive for many than the new exchange plans.

To many Vermonters, the new federal law complicated a state system that had already provided good coverage and muddied the route to an even better model.

“This law, by preserving the private insurance system and treating health care as a commodity, made us do things that Vermont otherwise wouldn’t have done,” said James Haslam, the executive director of the Vermont Workers Center, a grass-roots group that has made universal, government-financed health care its central cause.

To strengthen support for such a system, the workers center is dispatching volunteers like Alissa Carberry, 24, to talk about their disappointment with the Affordable Care Act and why the state should not give up on its single-payer dream.

Continue reading the main story

The Health Care Supreme Court Case: Who Would Be Affected?

If the court rules against the Obama administration, millions of Americans could lose their health insurance subsidies.


Ms. Carberry, a child care worker with Type 1 diabetes who earns $30,000 a year, said the insurance that her employer provided last year, from Vermont Health Connect, had a $1,900 deductible. Even after she met the deductible, she said, she still had to pay 40 percent of the cost of supplies like an insulin pump. She dropped the plan this year and switched to her partner’s insurance, which is less expensive but still onerous.

“Let’s continue to work for something better,” Ms. Carberry said.

Under the single-payer law that the Vermont Legislature passed in 2011, the state was to seek a waiver in 2017 to trade its insurance exchange for the government-run system. Most of its 625,000 residents would be eligible for a uniform package of benefits under that system, which would be financed with a mix of state and federal funds.

But Mr. Shumlin and his advisers concluded the plan would require “enormous” new taxes, including an 11.5 percent payroll tax on all Vermont businesses and a sliding-scale income tax of up to 9.5 percent. In all, he said when he announced that he was shelving it, the plan would require about $2.5 billion in additional revenue in its first year, in a state that raises only about $2.7 billion in taxes annually.

Many Vermont health care advocates say support for the governor’s plan was also seriously eroded by dysfunction in the state online insurance marketplace. Problems with that exchange had “hurt, there’s no doubt,” public confidence in the effort to achieve single-payer universal coverage, Mr. Haslam said.

Other state-based exchanges have experienced as much or more turmoil: Oregon and Nevada essentially shut down their marketplaces last year, requiring residents who want subsidized insurance to enroll instead through the federal marketplace, Hawaii is also planning to switch to the federal exchange this fall, at least temporarily, after running out of money. Massachusetts was forced to rebuild its exchange last year after it failed to function, and has spent more than $250 million, mostly in federal funds, on it so far.

A number of state-based exchanges, after receiving a total of nearly $5 billion in federal establishment grants, are also encountering financial problems because they now must cover their own costs.



Trinka Kerr, chief health care advocate at Vermont Legal Aid, a Burlington-based group that fields hundreds of calls per month from people having trouble with the state’s insurances exchange.CreditJacob Hannah for The New York Times

But Vermont, with its initial view of the Affordable Care Act as a bridge to a single-payer system, is in a singularly unhappy position.

“There’s a backlash against all things health care reform because Vermont Health Connect has been such a bad experience,” said Trinka Kerr, the chief health care advocate at Vermont Legal Aid, which gets several hundred calls a month from people who have encountered problems with the exchange, including billing errors and even delayed access to care. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I’ll just go without insurance,’ and we try to convince them that’s not a good plan. They don’t like the way this is working and want to go back to the old way.”

Rob Muessel, a self-employed security consultant from Shelburne, is one of those people. He said he spent hours on the phone with Vermont Health Connect representatives over the past year, trying to resolve problems. Most recently, when his daughter got a job with benefits in March, he called the marketplace to get her taken off his plan. Six weeks passed before he got a call back from an exchange employee, who had to spend more than two hours helping him redo his entire application for what should have been a simple fix.

“That just blew my mind,” said Mr. Muessel, 61. “I think it’s time to pull the plug, because it may just be an unending money pit.”

In a blistering report released in April, Douglas Hoffer, the state auditor, detailed a number of unresolved problems with Vermont Health Connect and said it would be “prudent” to develop a plan for “an alternative model for running an exchange.”

Mr. Shumlin had set a deadline of May 31 for Optum, the second vendor hired to fix a problem that has prevented thousands of Vermonters from easily changing basic information in their account, such as if they have a baby, get married or move. Workers have had to process such changes by hand, costing the state extra money and creating a backlog of 10,000 change requests. On Monday, Mr. Shumlin announced that Optum had fixed the problem, allowing such changes to be made in a matter of minutes, although customers will not be able to do so without assistance until later this year.

Optum has a second deadline, in October, to automate the process by which exchange plans are renewed from year to year. In an interview, Lawrence Miller, the state’s chief of health care reform, said the state was analyzing the costs of various alternatives, including switching to the federal marketplace, should the exchange still be broken in the fall.

Mr. Miller said he would prefer Vermont to be “tucked away in a fully state-operated marketplace until we see exactly how the Supreme Court rules” in the subsidies case. A great deal of uncertainty remains about whether people would be able to keep their subsidies if the state started relying on the federal marketplace.

Mr. Miller added that Vermont intends to remain a leader in health care reform, particularly with a plan to replace the traditional system of paying health care providers for each procedure with one that pays them based on outcomes, including under Medicaid and Medicare as well as private coverage.

Pointing out that Vermont’s was not the only state-based exchange to still be struggling, he added, “I talk to my colleagues elsewhere and, good God, this just wasn’t set up for success.”

Progressives join Corren public financing lawsuit

  April Burbank, Free Press Staff Writer2:54 p.m. EDT June 5, 2015


The Vermont Progressive Party announced Friday that it has joined a court dispute over campaign finance laws.

The party is backing Dean Corren, a Burlington attorney and former Progressive/Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, against Attorney General Bill Sorrell's use of public financing laws.

Corren's campaign qualified for $200,000 in public financing on the condition that he not accept any additional contributions.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell argues that a Democratic Party email in support of Corren was a campaign contribution, and in March he called for the Corren campaign to return $52,000 in public funds and pay up to $20,000 in fines.

RELATED: $52K sanction against Corren over $255 spending

Corren responded by asking for an injunction in federal court, arguing against the constitutionality of the cap on contributions and other portions of the public financing law.

Sorrell has asked the court to dismiss the case and says in court filings that he conducted "regular duties of his office" by bringing the enforcement action against Corren.

Court records show that the Progressive Party, Burlington resident Richard Kemp, Montpelier resident Steven Hingtgen and Montpelier attorney Marjorie Power joined Corren's case May 13.

Hingtgen, Kemp and Power are former Progressive candidates for lieutenant governor.

"If Sorrell's actions stand, public financing is dead," Progressive Party Chairwoman Emma Mulvaney-Stanak said in a statement.

John Franco, the lawyer representing Corren, said the additional plaintiffs show that the case has far-reaching constitutional implications.

"What we're facing right now is a system that allows no relation at all between the political party and the candidate," Franco said.

Megan Shafritz, an assistant attorney general, says the office plans to ask U.S. District Court to dismiss the Progressive Party and other new plaintiffs for lack of legal standing.

Overall the Attorney General's Office has argued that the federal court should dismiss the case to avoid intervening in a state civil proceeding.

Contact April Burbank at (802) 660-1863 or Follow her on Twitter at



Originally published in the Burlington Free Press:


 MAY. 31 2015, 9:43 PM 1 COMMENT

Austine School and the Vermont center for the deaf and hard of hearing.  Photo by Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer

The Austine School in Brattleboro. Photo by Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer

Along-existing Hearing Advisory Council will be renamed and repurposed to ensure that the State of Vermont is providing the services children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing need through all stages of their lives.

Lawmakers began hearing concerns about services for the deaf community after the closure last year of the Austine School for the Deaf and the Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Brattleboro, Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, said.

“I started getting calls from parents saying ‘We have to make sure we get the services our kids need,’” since the Austine School in Brattleboro closed, said Pollina.

While it’s unlikely that Vermont will open a school for the deaf any time soon, Pollina said there may be a way to create programs for deaf children — perhaps hosted at one of the state’s colleges.

Pollina sponsored a bill that sought to establish a commission and a “bill of rights” for people who are deaf or hard of hearing this past session, S.66.

The Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony from people within the deaf community and advocates about the effect the closing of the Austine School and the center had on the deaf community in Vermont. The bill passed the Senate, but stalled in the House.

While the bill did not end up becoming law, there is a compromise being worked out now by the administration to expand an existing council into a body that would have members of the deaf community included.

The Shumlin administration is in the final stages of expanding the mission of the Hearing Advisory Council, according to Aly Richards, deputy chief of staff and director of intergovernmental affairs for the governor.

“We want to make sure that everyone is at the table and that services are continuing in an appropriate fashion,” Richards said.

Following the closure of the Austine School, the Agency of Education contracted with the Nine East Network educational company to provide school-based and parent/infant programs for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Susan Kimmerly, director of Nine East Network, said the closure of the state’s only school for deaf students is “the main lightning rod.”

“What we’ve tried to do this year is replicate what was provided, and at the same time, we’ve been reviewing our services so that we can address the issues that were brought up with S.66,” said Kimmerly.

Mary Essex, president of the Vermont Association of the Deaf, speaking through an interpreter on Friday, said when the Austine School and the center closed last year, many services, as well as jobs, for deaf and hard of hearing adults went away. “A lot of people in the deaf community got laid off,” she said.

There was a misunderstanding at the state level that the Austine School only served children, Essex said. The school also served as a center for services for Vermont’s deaf and hard of hearing community.

“They were all housed in the same spot,” said Essex. “It was not just a school program … It was everything.”

Essex said many groups in Vermont, from gays and lesbians to Native Americans, have representation at the state level. But deaf people, she said, are treated like second-class citizens. “Where is the deaf program? They don’t have any,” she said.

While the association is hopeful that a renamed council with expanded membership will address concerns in the short term, they still want to see S.66 advance through the House in the second year of the biennium, Essex said.

“They need to study these issues that are going on,” Essex said.

The administration’s plans to expand the council and appoint more members, Essex said, will be “a temporary stepping stone to try to get everybody on the same page.”

The deaf community is advocating for a cradle-to-grave program for people who are deaf and hard of hearing in Vermont. “We want to be first-class citizens,” and ensure access to services across all ages, she said.

Essex said parents of many deaf children have left Vermont since the Austine School closed, to ensure their children receive the best education possible.

Evelyn Dixon of Berlin, whose son, Paxton, 4, was born deaf, said Friday that concerns for parents are deep. She and her fiance, Zach Sherman, and their two sons, are moving to Maryland in a few months.

Dixon said Paxton has been receiving services since he was six months old, and has a one-on-one communication facilitator, who is deaf, as well.

Their family is relocating because Paxton has no opportunity to socialize with other deaf children.

“Vermont needs some sort of deaf program so that deaf children can interact with one another freely and not be isolated,” said Dixon. “We are moving this August so that he can attend a deaf school; it’s best for his education, we feel. We are moving to the Frederick, Maryland area — it’s considered one of the best schools for deaf children in the country.”

Dixon said, “There’s absolutely nothing in Vermont.”

The Hearing Advisory Council is being asked to report back to the Legislature by mid-January, with the following:

• An assessment of the education services and resources available;

• Any losses or reductions in services or resources due to the closure of the Austine School and the center;

• Any attempts to restore services;

• An assessment of the risks and benefits of mainstreaming;

• The feasibility of establishing a centralized school;

• Any recommendations for alternative methods of ensuring that children of the deaf community are not socially isolated and have adequate opportunities for direct contact with language or communication mode peers; and,

• A recommendation on whether the General Assembly should adopt a Bill of Rights specific to the deaf community.

Originally published on VTDigger:

Pollina pushes governor on fossil fuel divestment

 | May 27,2015

File Photo

Sen. Anthony Pollina, of Washington County, is pressing Gov. Peter Shumlin to drop the state’s fossil fuel investments.

MONTPELIER — Sen. Anthony Pollina is calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to take a leadership role in the state’s divestment of fossil fuel companies.

Pollina, who was elected as both a Democrat and Progressive in Washington County and has introduced legislation calling for the state to shed its investments in companies that profit from the creation of carbon emissions, is taking his case directly to the governor after the state signed an agreement last week to curb its fossil fuel use.

“If Vermont is serious about taking on climate change, we have to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and invest more in green industries,” Pollina said.

His call follows action last week by Shumlin, who joined a host of states, Canadian provinces and international municipalities in a pledge to make significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions, which nearly every climate scientist agrees are contributing to climate change.

However, Pollina said the action should be coupled with divestment of fossil fuel companies.

“It’s hard to take the administration’s climate pledge seriously when the state of Vermont is investing in companies responsible for the climate damage the administration says it opposes,” Pollina said. “It makes no sense to invest in something you oppose and you know threatens your climate and your economy.”

Fossil fuel investments within the state’s $4 billion pension portfolio total about $98 million, or a little less than 2.5 percent of the overall fund. The portfolio includes nearly $8 million invested in coal companies.

The Vermont Pension Investment Committee, which manages the pension portfolio, has repeatedly voted not to recommend divestment of fossil fuel companies.

Divestment does not appear to be a priority for most of the state’s 48,000 employees who share in the pension portfolio. In 2014, the state began offering portfolios free of fossil fuel companies. So far 171, or about 0.35 percent, of employees have taken the option.

Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell pointed to the proliferation of solar power around the state and investments in energy efficiency during Shumlin’s time in office, while reiterating the governor’s position regarding divestment.

“As the governor has said, he doesn’t believe divestment is the sharpest tool available to combat climate change,” Coriell said. “He is open to a conversation about the merits of Vermont divesting.”

During the most recent legislative session, Pollina introduced legislation that would have the state divest itself of fossil fuel company stocks within the next five years. That bill could be revived during the 2016 legislative session.

“While the big oil companies are profitable, there is plenty of evidence that our investment can do well without them,” Pollina said. “Five years is plenty of time to make the transition, and we could certainly start with the coal company stocks.”



Originally published in the Times Argus:

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